Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday's Words for the Week

It is nearly January. A month of new beginnings. As winter weather draws us indoors, it allows us the perfect opportunity to look inward. Only dreams give birth to change. So what are your dreams for 2014?  The New Year brings with it a bountiful blessing of time;  three hundred and sixty-five days  of opportunity, fifty-two weeks of promise, twelve months of possibility and four seasons of abundance.  We are blessed to be given another year to live inspired.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Guided Math and a Holiday Game

Ha...I'm feeling like I could use a long time out.  The holidays are upon us and the kids are super excited. It can be a real challenge to get them focused on instruction this last week before our holiday break. 
I'm running math stations on a regular basis this year and am looking to incorporate some hands on math activities to keep the little ones as engaged as possible.

Do you use guided math in your classrooms?  I would love to hear from others on whether or not you find it to be an effective way to teach math.
I'm also always seeking out the most efficient way to organize and run the groups. So please share your management strategy. 
I've gotten questions about how I run it in my class so here is my approach for now. Currently I run three groups: Teacher Time, Partner Practice and On My Own Time.

I have a very diverse group of learners so creating these flexible groups has been critical  in differentiating my math instruction.   I gear my teacher time to the needs of these groups. The content and pace of my instruction will vary depending on the group that is with me.
My one concern is time.  I need more of it for some of my groups.Some days I will  skip my teacher time for my most capable math students; giving them an additional partner practice activity to do. This gives me more time with those who need more direct teaching.

My math tubs have grown in number.  I have organized my partner practice games into these drawers by math strands. The organization of materials can make a huge difference in how well this approach works for you. Simplicity is key.  I only keep about 3-5 games in each drawer.  I make sure they are simple enough for students to learn and then remember.  We keep going back to review the concepts already covered.

One of my favorite purchases for my guided math time have been these transparent sleeves from Really Good Stuff.  We use them all the time.  I can slide in papers and students use them with dry erase markers for practice.  This was a really good buy and saves me on copy paper.

I wanted to share a quick and easy math holiday game.  Here is a rounding practice game that I will run during partner practice time this coming week.  I covered rounding weeks ago but running stations allows students more exposures to previously covered material so it always stays fresh.

Go to my Teachers Pay Teachers store to download your free copy of this game if you would like

Would love to hear your tips and tricks to making Guided Math work for you and your students!
Please share!
Comment or Email me 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Integrating Content into Reading: The Moon and Cycles

This is the name of my game!  I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that we are only 8 DAYS until this sweet moment.  We have been working so hard but there is still so much to teach in this nine weeks.  I've been talking to many of my Virginia teacher friends and it seems we are all in the same boat.  LOTS of curriculum to teach in a short time especially if you factor in the varying abilities and readiness levels of some of our third graders. 

One way I've been trying to get it all in has been to do a great deal of integration across the curriulum.  The state has suggested we increase the percentage of nonfiction we are using to teach reading and so we are reading tons of science and social studies texts during our reading block.  This helps especially since the state of Virginia has also reminded us that our pass rates for our social studies and science tests go up this year. YIKES!

Along with our reading we are creating our make and take study guides to give students some hands on materials to review key information with.  Here are the materials we used to teach our Cycles Unit  information with. 

We store it all in a file folder with a ziplock bag stapled to the back.  Along with these manipulatives, students have vocabulary cards that they can use to review the key terms.  

Students enjoyed making and using these moon viewers.  They took them home and used them to identify and record the moon phases for the month.


Along with the nonfiction reading, we read some tales from different cultures.  Tales like this one: Why The Sun and Moon Are in the Sky  were told as a means of explaining why the sun and moon exist. 
We added a poem/song to our poetry anthologies during our study of the moon.  This song was sung to the tune of "The Ants Go Marching One By One" and helped students review the phases of the moon by singing a silly, catchy song.  There is strong research backing up the use of songs, rhythm and music to help with memory. Kids love it when their homework is to go sing their learning songs to a grownup.  Not so sure what the grownups think about it..oh well, whatever it takes, right?

I've also started giving my students weekly nonfiction passages to practice their fluency with.  They read it with their reading partner each day and time the readings.  Students love to see their graphs go up over the week's time. They are very motivated by the graphing of their own data.  I love the fact that they end up reading important content information five times!  I make sure that key vocabulary is included in each passage.  I can check off five exposures right there. They illustrate the text with a meaningful diagram or drawing.  After the week is through we practice our test taking skills by answering some comprehension questions modeled after the BIG TEST questions. I make sure they are text dependent questions and students must highlight where they find the proof for each answer they mark.

Training the students of the correct way to be a fluency reading partner was important. They have done such a great job.  I teach them to give positive praise and friendly feedback after their partner reads. They are so encouraging of each other.  Awesome!
We are also writing across the curriculum.  I've loved the connections that result from an integrated approach. Will post about writing next time.
How about you?  Would love to hear how you are managing to "get it all in"!!!
Comment or Email me at

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday's Words for the Week

This quote seemed fitting for the upcoming week.  For one, my third graders are  currently learning about the contributions of the Ancient Greeks.  It's crazy to think that over 2,000 years ago Socrates was thinking and sharing these words. I wonder what the Ancient Greeks filled their "too busy" days with.  It is clear from my overscheduled, overbooked, and often overwhelming life that I can still learn a lesson from this ancient philosopher.  
Many months ago I went on an outdoor retreat and as I enjoyed the serenity of being in the woods I was struck with the realization that nature is never in a hurry. Rather, there is a calm, peaceful and even divine rhythm to it all.   After that time I began making a more deliberate effort to protect my peace and to practice walking gently through my days. I believe it is what God intends for me.  Yet, with the demands of school and now the holidays, I again run the risk of living on autopilot and rushing right past all of life's small wonders. So this December I will guard my peace with all I have and will refuse to overload my holiday schedule. 
 I will beware the barrenness of a busy life. 
Thank you for this reminder, Socrates.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Teaching Connections

A colleague and I have been coaxed out of our blogging hiatus by "two guys teaching in a basement." Actually, Jill and I  were working on  a Virginia teachers networking project when we stumbled upon Teaching Underground, a blog written by Steven Turner and Richard Lindsay. Apparently, these two high school teachers from Albemarle, Virginia, really do teach in a basement and in their spare time share their insights on teaching and education through their blog. I was immediately struck by their thought provoking  commentary and an hour later we felt compelled to post on our own blogs again.

 Here is what Steven and Richard say about blogging:

After teaching together for over a decade and sharing our stories and insights with each other across the hall and at the lunch table, we've decided to open a window to our little part of the world.  We could never provide comprehensive insight into the American public education system, but we can provide insight into some of the teachers, students, parents, and citizens who make our system what it is today, for better or for worse.

We hope that by sharing from our experiences that others may find ways to relate.  Maybe in some way, our "lunch table" just got bigger, and instead of three or four people sitting in the basement helping each other navigate the complex interactions between adults and children we've taken a step toward a community that moves forward together in conversation and action to make a difference for the better.

We aren't as concerned with "Waiting on Superman" as we are with becoming super men and women leading a generation to become super themselves.

I can relate to their rationale for blogging and thoroughly enjoyed sitting at their "lunch table" for awhile.
 Check them out here:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday's Words for the Week

I need to thank all my blogger friends who continue to follow me and send me love and encouragement even when I'm not posting and even when I don't always respond right away. I don't deserve it, but boy do I appreciate it!  I'm trying to get my feet back on solid ground but I feel like I keep taking one step forward then two steps back again. I apologize to those I have not gotten back to yet! Forgiveness was on my mind a lot this past week.  Little Ruth, back in 1791, was on the right track when she made this sweet sampler.
A different century, but the same story and I, too, am grateful.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday's Words for the Week

I got to celebrate turning another year older today.  I'm feeling so blessed to be where I am at this point in my life.  Hard life lessons have taught me so much. I am older but so much wiser and determined to not take even a single day for granted.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday's Words for the Week

 I have been enjoying getting to know my new third graders this year.  They are a diverse group each with his and her own unique story and now I get to step in and get to take on an important part-assume a lead role.  Such a responsibility, such an honor, such a privilege. 

I believe I was meant to be in their lives and they in mine. They add value to my life.
I pray I am able to do the same for them. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday's Words for the Week

My Bible study group is finishing up our reading of Timothy Keller's book and video series, Gospel in Life. What a great one this was! So many thought provoking points in this series.It focused on how to live out the gospel in our day to day lives- first in our hearts, then in community and finally how to bring it out into the world. Schools are rooted within community so I found this series helpful in my dealings with children, parents and whole families.
Our last lesson dealt with mercy. Timothy Keller makes this point, "Clearly, Christians who understand grace will not be quick to give up  on an "undeserving" needy person. Christ's mercy was not based on worthiness. It was given to make us worthy. So also our mercy must not only be given to
those who reach some standard of worthiness."

A good lesson for me. As a public school teacher I must reach out to make a connection with each and every child and parent I come into contact with no matter what their background and situation is.  Each one is deserving of compassion and mercy.
Let me give it freely.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday's Words for the Week

After a hot few days here, we were blessed with a cool, clear weekend.
I took full advantage and spent the majority of my time out of doors.
We biked and spent time on the water. It was a great diversion from my work load and the stress of the week.
As devoted as we are to our jobs, I think it is equally as important to spend time unwinding and pursuing other interests.  It calms my spirit and makes me a better teacher, friend, mother and wife. word of the week and year.
How do you achieve it?  Would love to hear from you!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday's Words for the Week

School officially begins with children on Tuesday. I am looking forward to the school year ahead but know that teaching is not always easy and I will encounter many obstacles that must be hurdled and challenges that will need to be overcome. I adopted "I Will Not Be Shaken" as my teacher anthem toward the end of the last school year. Take a listen...

"This mountain rises higher. The way seems so unclear. But I know that You go with me. So I will never fear. I will trust in You.  Whatever tomorrow brings...together we'll rise and sing...we won't shaken.
We will trust in You.  We will not be moved."
Great words of strength for those of us who believe.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Back to School Preparations

Wow, what a crazy, busy week it has been.  I worked a full five days and there is still more to do. 
I got to meet my new third graders today during our Back to School morning. Students came to see the classroom and drop off supplies.  One of my teammates shared this idea for a Back to School Treat bag. I am offering the tag free on TPT.  
Head here to get your download:
 I set up a "Wonder Wall" for students and parents to post questions about this new grade level. I also like to use a wonder wall whenever I begin a new unit.  I simply change out the topic.  This gives me a chance to gauge students' prior knowledge and gives them a focus as we search for answers to their questions.  My new third graders have lots of questions about recess and lunch.  One sweet child wonders if she will be nervous on the first day.  We can learn a lot about our students when we give them a chance to question before learning!
 I also ran my first estimation station.  Parents and students estimated how many starbursts were in the jar. This is also an ongoing routine in my classroom. I try to change out  this station weekly to give students practice in estimating with many different units. We estimate weight, length, time, temperature, etc., etc.  It is a great way to connect math with other areas of the curriculum too.
Although I am exhausted by the work it takes getting ready for a brand new school year, I am super excited about the possibilities and the chance to get to work with these children this year. Thank goodness we have a long weekend to recharge and reenergize for our first week with students. 
So how about you?  Would love to hear about your plans for the new year. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday's Words for the Week

The final week of summer vacation has come and gone. We start back tomorrow for a work week before students arrive after Labor Day.  Are you ready to face the challenge of a new school year? 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Writer's Workshop: The Writing Cross Check

I love this quote about writing from Maya Angelou.
Third grade is an exciting year to teach writing.  Kids are just starting to get a sense of how powerful their writing can be. If we allow them the opportunity,  their deepest thoughts, feelings, dreams and fears will come spilling out onto the paper. I  remember standing behind a student writer whose mother had died a few years earlier.  Students were given the task of writing about their most prized possessions. Kids around him were writing about stuffed animals, video games and footballs. This little boy wrote about a box his mother had given him before she died. Oh my goodness, I still hurt for him and the tears still well up in my eyes today. Powerful stuff for the writer and the reader.  I don't think there is any part of our school day that allows students to be as expressive and as creative as time devoted to writing.
If we set up the right atmosphere for writing, students will very willingly write VOLUMES.
So early in the first weeks of school we set up and go over how to use our writing office.
We create a special folder to store our writing.
We go through the traits of writing and what a writing rubric is.

We also go over the writing cross check.  We do many shared writing pieces during the early weeks of school.  After each one I will model the cross check and we will analyze the writing together using this approach.  I want to get them to the point where I will just say or ask....Cross Check  and they will know what that entails. I wanted to add this to my writing folder so I made up a document and am offering it free at my TPT store. 
Click the link below if you are interested in a free download:

How do you foster independence in the writing process?  I would love to hear!  Please share!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday's Words for the Week

                              The perfect to-do list for the final weeks of summer break.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sunday's Words for the Week

I had to deal with a bit of turmoil in my life this week. 
I was led once again to this solution...

The simple one word answer to all the hard questions and problems in my life.
Let me remember this.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Revised First Day of School Activity for Fourth Grade

Sorry, fourth grade friends! After hearing from some of you,  I got to work on adding a fourth grade page to the file I shared on the last post. I've revised the file so head back to my TPT store to get your free download.
Click the link below.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Slapping Syllables: Decoding Multi-Syllabic Words

Right...and by third grade there is much installing to do! The bar has been raised once again and  teachers across the state of Virginia, as well as our common core teacher friends, are trying to figure out how to best support students as they are expected to read and comprehend more complex and difficult texts.

I recently read this book by the team of Douglas Fisher,  Nancy Frey and Diane Lapp. I appreciate the way these researchers tackle difficult educational issues and then lead us to practical solutions.  They make some interesting and well founded points regarding text complexity.  Through this book, the authors discuss what exactly makes a text complex and then suggest ways to help students navigate through these more challenging reading tasks.

So we know that reading involves multiple cognitive tasks and it requires SO much more than just reading the words on the page. Yet, that is where our readers must start.
 Decoding is a prerequisite skill that can and must be taught in these early grades. Being able to decode words easily and efficiently will help our readers  free their brains, allowing them to focus on the complex thinking involved in understanding difficult texts.
My plan is always to introduce key decoding strategies early on in the third grade year so that I can then work on coaching them as they attempt to use these as they read during guided reading sessions. In third grade, students are exposed to many multi-syllabic words. When faced with this decoding challenge, one of the best strategies to use is chunking or breaking  words into smaller syllable parts.
This year, I am going to introduce this idea with the song, "Big Word - You Don't Bother Me!" This is sung to the tune of "Shoo Fly -Don't Bother Me!"
Third graders are assessed on their ability to determine number of syllables.
We will practice breaking multi-syllabic words by slapping the syllables with fly swatters as we count them. You can find fun flyswatters at a dollar store.

 I will also expose them to syllable breaking rules or patterns during minilessons.  Students will glue rules into our reading journals and they will record examples that we find in the books we are reading.
I'll keep these patterns posted so that we can refer to them as we read.
Finally, we will play games that will give students opportunities to apply these rules and practice breaking words in a fun way.
I'm including this set in my TPT store.  You can check it out here:
How are you preparing for the challenge of increased reading rigor?
Would LOVE to hear from you!
Email me!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Words for the Week

Where do you go for your tune up?
  I used to spend entire summers in the Catskills of New York and always felt a sense of peace and contentment there.
I headed to the Blue Ridge in Virginia this weekend.
It does wonders for my soul.