Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Creating "Roaring Good Writing" Folders

Gotta love Calvin!  He's always good for a laugh.
So let's talk writing.  I think if I were told I could only teach one subject, I'd pick writing. No other subject area allows students to be as expressive as this one. 
I've mentioned before that I like  using the traits as a cornerstone to my writing program. They help students gauge the progression of their skill as writers. 
It helps them take ownership of their learning.

Our school's mascot is the Wildcat so my writing board slogan is "Writing We Can Roar About"
We refer to the writing traits as targets and discuss which ones we want to be able to hit as we begin writing each day.  My mini lessons many times will revolve around a particular trait or target and how we can be sure to show that in our writing. We examine how successful writers use these traits as I read aloud great literature to them.  Students begin reading books with a "writer's eye". They will exclaim, "Wow, that author had a great idea for that book!"  or "I love that spooky mood that the author created!"  You need only to model this thinking out loud for students yourself a few times.  Students catch on to it and begin looking out for examples of great writing when they read.
They will surprise and delight you with their observations...promise!

In an effort to keep their writing materials organized each student creates a  Roaring Good Writing Folder.

I have parent volunteers staple two pocket folders together.  I am sure to get the pocket folders that have the brads.
In the first section, we hole punch and insert all the printables in the packet.  About the Author comes first.  On this page students tell about themselves.  Students are able to use these ideas as "seeds" to write stories about throughout the year. I have also included a "Write from the Heart" sheet. They fill the heart will mini illustrations and labels of people, places and things they love.  Students are experts when it comes to themselves and writing is a way to share about their likes and dislikes.
The writing packet also includes handouts that students use as references when they write. Print outs of commonly misspelled words, homophones, types of writing, descriptions of the traits etc. help students become more independent during writer's workshop time. All these go in this section.

The second section of the folder is filled with lined paper. When I teach a writing skill or strategy the students will glue the note sheet about it onto the lined paper.  They may add notes that they handwrite or we may write a short bit together on these sheets. Grammar or writing  notes such as using apostrophes, capital letters, matching verb tenses, etc. may get added here.  We reserve the pockets for their writing work.  They do that on lined paper which is easier for me to collect and take home to check.

Interested in having your students create "Roaring Good Writing Folders"?
You can pick up your set of printables to make writing folders here:

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday's Words for the Week

LOVE this!  Isn't this great advice?

So as we turn the calendar page from July to August next week, I hope my teacher friends take the opportunity to slow down and appreciate the many simple joys of this summer season while we still can.  Each day brings an authentic offering... moments of abundant joy and contentment.
We need only to open our eyes to it.

Yes.  Let our hearts awaken to the transforming power of gratitude.
Wishing everyone a great week! -Doris

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Building Math Fact Fluency with Speed Tracks

Yes, I think most teachers would agree with the NCTM on this one. We are overloaded with student data these days. Assessments, screeners, benchmarks...these numbers graphs and charts all give me information on how many problems my students could answer correctly. But to gain a better  understanding of where students are, to really get into their heads to find out why they got those problems right or wrong,  I need to spend close up time with my students as they work, talk, and even struggle through the math.
It's kind of like being a coach of a sports team. I watched my daughter's softball coach as she worked with her on hitting. The coach said, "Go ahead and swing, let me see what you're doing." That's what I have to do when teaching math.  I have to observe and watch them try and sometimes fail so I know where their strengths and weaknesses lie. So I know what my next move should be.
This is why I'm sold on guided math.  This framework is going to give me the opportunity to meet with smaller groups which will give me a chance to see them "swing the bat" and do the math.  

I'm looking at ways to document what I observe.  Here is the suggestion give by Barbara Blanke during the Guided Math conference I attended last spring.

I'm still thinking about this but am considering a notebook instead.  I'd love to hear what you all have tried in the past.

So I know that if I'm going to meet with small groups I must have something in place for those students not in my teacher's group.  We have no time to waste in third grade so I want my students involved in rich, independent or partner math learning  activities that provide practice of basic skills and problem solving tasks.

One activity that I know is of benefit to all my students is developing their math fact fluency with speed track sheets.   I love using these because students can use them as an independent activity or with a partner plus they can all be working on sets of facts that they need the practice with. It is so easy to individualize.
My kids make flashcards of the addition facts using ten frame cards.  They write the fact and color in the dots of the tens frame.  They write the answer on the back.  The process of practicing is easy. They just flip a card, call the answer and if they are right they place it on the race track sheet and go to the next fact. 

They time themselves to see how fast they were able to correctly call out the sums of the ten cards and get to the finish.  They document that time on the recording sheet and go for race number two.
Students are also responsible for recording any facts they missed or that slowed them down.
These are ones they will attend to by practicing in different ways.
The recording part is key.  I feel it helps to start taking ownership of their own learning and progress.

These are the times I use that I got from Really Good Stuff.  They are kid friendly and so easy to use.
I've made a variety of these fact fluency race tracks.  Some students will race around the track twice using twenty cards instead of ten.
Some students may be working on subtraction, multiplication or division facts. 
Lots of ways to individualize and differentiate for the different learners in your room.  
Here is an example of the recording sheets students mark progress on.  I like how students are competing with themselves.  With each race they are attempting to beat their own time and not their partners' time.
I'm offering this bundle of math fact fluency race tracks and supporting material on my TPT store.
Head here for your copy:

Other suggestions for building speed in recalling basic math facts?
Please share!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Making A Difference

Wow, what great discussion and response from yesterday's words for the week!  Thanks to everyone who dropped an email in my box.  I loved reading them all...your words warmed my heart, they made me smile, they made me think. 
Check this out...Karin Alders even sent us a significant question sheet she typed out in great fonts and colors.  I loved it so much I asked her if I could put it on my TPT for free for anyone else who is interested in a copy.  I've already printed it and placed it in my writing journal. I'll refer to it in the evenings when I reflect and write about my day.
Will I say yes to all these questions every day? Probably not but it is something to keep in mind and something to strive towards.
Would you like your own copy?  Head here to print a free copy:

LOVE IT....thanks Karin!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday's Words for the Week

I was with my Life Lessons Group last week.  We had a great time reading/ talking about the book, Living the Significant Life by Peter Hirsh and Robert Shemin.
In it they share the thought:

Yes, love it!
I think most teachers teach because we are trying to make a difference, we want to leave a mark.

Johnathan Fields discusses more on the topic in his blog. In it he questions how he can know he is making a difference. He has come up with a metric or a short list of questions that serves as a reminder, something" he can regularly refer back to as a vehicle to refocus on what matters most."
You can read more about it here:


Finally, I want to thank Christine from Knowledge is Power. She sent me this song clip after I had recently posted "Lift My Eyes".   I think this song is so fitting in thinking about significance and what our ambition in life is and what it could be.  It was uncanny because just a day after she sent it to me our Praise Team led us in this song during worship.  It was one of those moments that just makes me bow my head. You know, one of those times when you truly believe God is speaking to you?
Coincidence?  Maybe. Something I needed to hear and listen to?  Most definitely. 
So now let me share the words of this beautiful song  with all of you.
Thanks, Christine!

Thanks to everyone else who also sent me words/songs  I've added many new ones to my playlist!
Linda S. suggested starting  Sunday's Song of the Week.  Love that idea too! 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Being the Best ME I Can Be: Teaching Social Skills

I've had requests to share first week of school activities and how I handle classroom management. I'll try to cover both with this post.    I gather my kids close and share a lot of read alouds during those first few days of school.  Most are short and sweet but serve a few different  purposes.
One reason is to begin adding strategies to the CAFE board.  This board has the CAFE on the top when students arrive on the first day but the students and I add the strategies gradually as I introduce and  model them.  By the end of the week, I want to have at least one strategy under each letter.  I posted about this board last summer so you could check back there for more info or better yet, read the book by the sisters: Gail Boushey and Joan Moser:
Here is the CAFE board that we create and refer back to all year long:

Another reason I read aloud is to begin conversation about our PBIS  (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) program that we run in our school.  It is a school wide system that focuses on students being: responsible, respectful and productive.

I love the positive aspect of this program and most students respond well to it. Let's face it though for whatever reason we will all have some students who still have a hard time being respectful to others, responsible about their learning and productive in getting work done.
Years and years ago I worked at another school with a large population of students with behavioral concerns.  Negative behavior was impacting student success in such a big way that we spent our professional development time one summer being trained by The Boys Town Education Group from NYC. It was an amazing week of inservice and the manner in which I handled discipline in my classroom was forever changed. 
The truth of the matter is that some children are coming to us without an understanding of the social skills they need in order to be successful.  We can complain and say it's the parents' jobs to teach them but if it hasn't been done, someone has to step up to the plate and do what is right for the benefit of these students and their classmates.  So yes, I sacrifice some time in the beginning of the year  to explicitly teach students how to behave and to give them the all important "rationale" (Boys Town Word)  for doing so.  We go as far as doing some quick role playing of scenarios and situations and then after it is taught, students are held accountable for their behavior...no excuses.  My mantra is: I say what I mean and mean what I say.  Kids are smart, if I'm not consistent in my follow through they will notice, take advantage and the program will never work as it is intended. This is KEY for behavior management success!

So here are some award winning books by Julia Cook.  They were written for the Boys Town Best Me I Can Be program and are excellent springboards into discussions about those social skills I want students to be practicing all year long.  There are more in the series so check them out.  I got my books from Amazon.  I read one a day until all skills have been introduced.  I refer back to them all year long.  These books are engaging, entertaining and the messages are empowering to kids.  

  After all books are read and social skills introduced, I have my students reflect on which one they believe they need to work on if they are to be the best third grader they can be. We share them while practicing our respectful listening.  Students make a pledge to work on it and write and decorate a pennant which we hang.  We work as a classroom family to help and support each other in keeping our promises.  We celebrate success when students do so.
You can download the copies of the pennants free by visiting me here:

So now I'd love to hear from you!  How do you help your students maintain positive behavior in your classroom?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Exploring Place Value: Pocket Chart and Card Game

It's my hope that my third graders come to me with a solid understanding of numbers and operations and that they are able to use this understanding in flexible ways that will allow them to solve some more complex math problems. It can be a slow and gradual process for some and I think most would agree that we can help our students along with an increase in number exploration and thinking and many exposures to visualizing numbers in a variety of contexts. In third grade we extend students' thinking of place value as we cross over to the thousands place. These are some big numbers for these little kids!  It's been my experience that the exploration of the pattern is important here. We always start with the base ten blocks. Third graders need to "see" these numbers to  gain an understanding of just how big they really are. We compare the one to the one thousand, the ten to the ten thousand, and the hundred to the hundred thousand. We spend lesson time building these big numbers.

Here are two read alouds that explore what a MILLION is.  Third graders are fascinated by this number and their little minds seem to be proccupied with it.  Even though we don't teach through to the millions place in third grade, I give them a quick exposure to "get it out of the way". 
We end up spending LOTS of time exploring numbers with these base ten blocks. 

We even duct taped 10 of the thousands cubes together to create the 10,000 rod.  Wow, that was one BIG number!  There were many AH HAH moments when they realized the shape of the tens rod was the same as the shape of the 10,000 rod.  Here emerged the visualization of the number pattern. Success!

Pinned Image

Along with the blocks we begin to take a look at the place value chart as it extends to the thousands place.  Each student creates a pocket chart and cuts out number cards to use when building these numbers. They keep them in a baggie in their math folder so we can keep working with it all year long.   I like to start  lesson with warm ups to help them gain practice in building these numbers.  Some times I represent it in word form and they have to create it in number form, other times I give them expanded form.  Students need much practice to gain flexibility in representing numbers in all three ways.

I've put together printables so that you could download the chart and number cards to make with your students.  I've also included a game that gives students practice adding/subtracting and comparing these large numbers.  Check here for more details:

Thank you for all your purchases thus far!!   Profits from this sale will be going towards a fund set up for a student in need!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday's Words for the Week

Can it  be July 15 already? Really??  Our first official day back in our county is August 14 so with 4 weeks to go my focus is on my family and enjoying what this season has to offer.

For this is the Day that the Lord Has Made;
Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad in It.
 Psalms 118:24

Hope you are all enjoying these beautiful sunny summer days!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Brain Buddies Reading Strategy Reference Poster Set

Heard sad news , one of our students was involved in an accident with a lawnmower and will have to lose his foot.  Lucky for him he is part of a strong, supportive family, full of faith.
He and his family will endure a long period of recovery and treatment.
My prayer is that they will feel God's blessings of courage and strength to get through the next few months.

In an effort to do a small part to help them I would like to donate my TPT profits this month to a fund that has been set up for him. ( I will keep to my  promise to post a freebie for each paid item I post..so keep checking back for those!)  But know that if you do purchase materials from now to the end of July, you will also be making a donation to this important cause.

After many delays, I finally got around to reworking the Brain Buddies reference board posters that many of you have been requesting.  Thanks for your patience!! 
I have them listed on TPT if you are interested:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Strategies for Developing Basic Fact Fluency

Yes, well we are relying on technology to support learning in the classroom but hopefully we are  not to this point yet! Research still shows and experts still agree that the ability to recall math facts fluently is necessary if students are to be successful in attaining higher-order math skills. I  have seen how slow math fact retrieval can impede my students' progress.  I like to say that authomatic recall of the facts "frees the brain" to be able to focus on more complex math thinking tasks. 

So how can we help our students develop their math fluency?  I believe in a strategic approach to teaching  math facts versus memorization of isolated facts.  I also think it is critical that students begin to generalize their math fact knowledge.  In other words, I want them to be able to apply these strategies and extend their thinking for use with larger numbers. For example, I want them to see the connection between  4+5, 40+50, 400+500. 

Because future math success is dependent in part by this immediate and effortless recall of facts, I do spend the first couple of weeks working on a review of all these strategies into my math block. It is review for third graders so I just devote the first 15 minutes or so on a strategy.  I use visual representations when covering each one: number lines, ten frames or triangle fact family cards allow students to "see" the math.  Students then create color coded math strategy flash cards to use for fluency practice during center time. 

Here are the strategy posters that I will post this year for reference.  I will shrink them in size and students will also get a copy to glue into their math journals.  We will add examples in our journals and will be sure to extend that thinking for each strategy by including more complex examples.

Here are some examples of the strategies we cover. The entire set is  available free on TPT if you are interested in downloading them for yourself

 We assess student progress once a week with a timed math check up.  Students take ownership of their learning by graphing the number of problems they were able to answer each week.  We stress that PRACTICE MAKE PROGRESS.  If the graph is not showing an increase, then more practice needs to be done. 

Have you explored this fabulous site? WOW...lots of great math materials to download for free.