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A Reflective Writing Task for the New Year

Looking for something for your class to do right after the Christmas break?  Do you want something with easy prep?  Should it be not too challenging for the kids, but still ask them to be reflective?  This is just what you need!

This booklet has been very popular, with lots of encouraging feedback.   If you purchased this last year, you are in luck!  Go to "My Purchases" on TpT and you should be able to redownload the new copy.  If you haven't purchased this yet, what are you waiting for?  Click on any of the images to go to TpT now!

Not quite sure?  Here's some feedback from previous buyers:




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100s Chart Hidden Picture

Merry Christmas!

Naughty or nice, here's a little treat to fill your stocking today!

It's a great activity for many grade levels - challenging for the little ones, and something for free time for those in grades 4/5.  One day in the summer, I gave the file a bit of a facelift.  So, you might have this already.... I didn't change the actual worksheet, just the cover/credits pages.  But, if you don't - head to my store and get it now.  It's FREE! 

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Brainology: Teaching Students About Growth Mindset and the Zones of Regulation

Recently, our hallway brain board got a bit of a facelift.  We went from this....

to this...

I have to admit, I was a bit sad to take down the fixed and growth mindset self-talk.  We referred to them often with a lot of students.  They were really powerful.  But, alas, we must move on.

Crystal asked her students to draw what is inside their brain.  She didn't give them too many requirements.  Some chose to have their page oriented landscape, though most chose portrait.  Some chose to use one colour, while others had many.  If you know her children, they are actually very accurate and quite insightful!
At our school, we teach the Zones of Regulation school wide. 

Being that my students are in fourth grade, they have a fairly good understanding of the four Zones already.  To refresh their memories, we read the book "The Way I Feel."

Everyone folded a paper into 8 spaces.  The book showcases 13 emotions, so we had more than enough room to work with the front and back combined.  I read each emotion, but I didn't reveal the actual emotion.  My students had to guess.

Once they had guessed correctly, I projected the emotion on the SmartBoard with a corresponding Zones images.  This really helped a few of my low students with spelling.  Their job was to write the emotion and guess the Zone that emotion belongs in.  At the end of the book, we discussed each one.

Next, I assigned students a Zone.  They met with the other students of the same Zone to discuss all the emotions that would belong there.  They then returned to their desks where a poster was waiting for them.  The task was to write in their assigned Zone and fill in the face with an expression that properly represented the Zone.  Around the edges, they had to write a variety of emotions for the Zone.

I'm not thrilled with these photos.  I really need to bring my proper camera to school.  The iPhone just isn't cutting it.

I hope that these posters will be helpful to others as they pass by!  I know I've referred to them a few times.

Do you use the Zones of Regulation in your classroom or school?

Are you interested in even more bulletin board ideas? Do you want to save time by finding them all in one place? Follow the image or button below to grab your copy of my free bulletin board inspiration guide. 

Take me to the guide!

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Classroom Elf on the Shelf!

It's that time of year again!  For the last two years my classroom has been graced with the presence of an elf during the first week of December.  I wonder if we'll get one again this year?

If you're organized like me, then you like to be ready.  This Classroom Elf Setup Package includes all you need to introduce your elf at home or at school!

Package includes:
♥ Magic gloves tag
♥ Unwrapping instructions
♥ Letter from Santa
♥ Recovery dust label and letter
♥ Certificate of health
♥ Elf surveillance poster
♥ Writing paper (lined and interlined)
♥ Elf setup ideas
♥ Naughty or Nice graphing activity

There is a boy and girl version of each file and black and white files for most pieces.  This package was updated this year for a fresh look.

You can check out these posts to see what the last two elves got up to:

Or, head on over to my TpT store to pick up your copy of this jam packed file.

Helping to inspire,
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Brainology: Teaching Students The Power of Positive Self Talk

These last few weeks have been a blur.  I don't know where they've gone... honestly.  A quick recap:
1) Thanksgiving
2) Smart Conference.  What a treat this was, and I will blog about it sometime, but it was a week of planning and a week of conference-ing. (That's a word, right?)
3) Meetings.  IEP, Book Studies, Harassment Seminar, Staff Meeting.  Just lots of meetings.
4) Sickness.  Why do I always get a cold at this time of year?
5) Report Cards.  Currently procrastinating on those by writing this blog post.  You're welcome.  :)

In the midst of this craziness, Crystal and I decided to whip out another bulletin board.  'Cause, you know? Why not?

First stop, Dollar Store plastic table cloth section.  You can never have too many plastic table cloths on hand. 

Our inspiration for this board was our Growth Mindset lessons we've been doing.  The lessons are inspired by these two books:

We created the brain on this board with above mentioned plastic table cloths.  They are twisted together and bunched up.  Some are full length and some are trimmed down.  Just twist, fluff and staple every few inches.  The white side has black tissue paper inside, just to give it a bit of dimension in the colour.

I am not sure why we took this photo.  I think someone texted "What are you doing" and I sent this back.  It's hilarious anyhow.

Here's the final product.  The "STOP" piece up top is just layered paper plates.  I had to sort a lot of letters to spell all those words.  Some how I had all the pieces.  I still can't really believe it, actually.

Our kids provided the self talk pieces for growth and fixed.  It was really interesting to see this process.  The task was to write one thought, whether growth or fixed.  For fixed, they had so many thoughts on their cards!  I read somewhere that the average human thinks 5 times more negative things than positive ones.  I believe it after seeing this task.

And some positive self talk.... my favourite growth mindset piece: "It's not over until the fat lady sings".  Too funny.

If you're after more ideas for teaching growth mindset, follow my Pinterest board.

Are you interested in even more bulletin board ideas? Do you want to save time by finding them all in one place? Follow the image or button below to grab your copy of my free bulletin board inspiration guide. 

Take me to the guide!

Pin this post.

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Calm, Alert and Learning: Chapter 2

I'm slowly working my way through a second read of Stuart Shanker's book, "Calm, Alert and Learning".  A team of us at my school are reading this book and will be meeting in a few days to discuss Chapter 2.

If you'd like to read my previous posts, click here and here.

I'm really enjoying re-reading this book, as I'm more focused on ideas like "Zones of Regulation",  "MindUp" and "Mindset".  When working on my year plan, I actually put in a section called "Brainology".  (Side note: I love that term!  I read it on another blog somewhere, but don't remember where.....)  My hope is to do a minimum of one lesson a month from one of these programs.

If you really sit down and look at each of these, you'll start to see a lot of overlap.  Though "Calm, Alert, and Learning" is different from Zones and MindUp in that it doesn't contain a series of lesson plans,  the philosophy is very similar.  I'm attempting to weave these together into a cohesive flow applicable to grade 4 and the specific needs of my classroom.  Wish me luck on such a big task!!

Anyhow, on to Chapter 2 thoughts....

This chapter starts out by recognizing that we are seeing increasingly large numbers of children who are angry or sad and even some who seem to be completely devoid of emotion.  Shanker notes that it's difficult to say how or why this is happening, but states that urbanization, changing family patterns and a lack of exercise and impromptu play could be to blame.

I would agree that as our children become more "plugged in" they are becoming less aware of their surroundings, both in a physical and emotional state.

This quote really struck a cord with me.  I agree completely with this!  And, I think it's important that parents and the public are aware of this challenge.  Our day as teachers is about so much more than just teaching reading and math.  I am constantly checking the emotional state of each of my students and doing my best to up or down shift with brain breaks, effort based praise, proximity, etc.

This chapter provides some excellent examples and strategies that I think will help me become more successful in monitoring those many emotional states.

There is a case study of a teacher named "Kyle" that looks at his grade 6 classroom and their emotions.  Kyle found that his students weren't really even aware of what emotion was and how to recognize it in others.  Through deep thinking discussions, looking at emotions in animals (which I think children can connect to much easier than their own emotions, I wonder why that is?), ranking and creating gradations of emotion, yoga and deep breathing, he was able to create an emotionally aware classroom.  There are so many excellent ideas here that I think tie in wonderfully to the Zones lesson "The Zones in Me".

This quote bothered me.  It bothered me because I know this, but struggle with it.  I know the process is important, for sure.  But, the final product should look good too!  Shanker argues that we should be placing value on students individual skills and strategies.  Again, I agree with this.  What I think he fails to mention is that the finished product is a summary of the process.  If a student scribbles in their colouring, or misspells words as they rush to complete, to me that says they put little value on the process.  Those who present a neat, well laid out project clearly spent more time considering the finer details.

I am totally aware that a science project is not meant to be an art project, and that some students have better fine motor skills than others.  I do take into account varying ability levels.  What I ask for is a students "best work" and we talk about how that may look different for different people.

The second point to consider is that students are constantly comparing. They may not do it vocally, but they are.  There's nothing worse that posting an art project on the wall and that one glaringly obvious messy job is staring back at you.  Everyone sees it.  The child who created it sees it.  For some, this can be a huge hit to their emotional state.  For others, they could care less.  I guess the key is to be aware of your students and their emotional needs.
Here are two self-regulation based products from two lovely ladies I know:

1) Hall Stars: This is a management system for younger students and is meant to be used while they walk down the hall.  The goal is to have them become self aware of their hallway behaviour over time.

2) What Zone are You In: Similar to my Zone Check-in I posted about briefly in Chapter 1, these bookmarks are meant to be kept personal.  Being able to identify the zone they are in will help them to take actions to regulate their behavior. Being able to regulate behavior will lead to positive experiences and successful learning.

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Lest We Forget

Remembrance Day is a solemn occasion, but one that needs to be given top priority in the classroom in November.  I don't feel like most children really know what we are remembering on this day.  A true sign of their innocence as children.

A memorable story for me, is Erika's Story by Ruth Vander Zee.  I first heard this picture book when the librarian at a past school read it to my students.  It is the heart breaking tale of a woman who was a child during the Holocaust.

My students and I have been working with this book for a while, and will continue to do so until Remembrance Day.  Their final task will be to write in role as adult Erika sending a letter to her mother.

Finally, I saw this clip on YouTube for a pop up card.  I think that it's a great variation on a poppy wreath.  I plan on making these with my class on Thursday.

Interested in some blackline masters you can use with any Remembrance Day book?  Click the image or button below to get your copies.

Send me the blacklines!

Helping to inspire,
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The Book Whisperer: Chapter 7

Letting Go

A bittersweet post today, as I'm on the last of my 7 posts of "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller.  I'm always sad when I finish any book, and a professional read is no different.  Myself and others have been providing our thoughts on each chapter, week after week.  Today, we're looking at the last chapter "Letting Go".

You can read my previous posts here:

And, as always, links to the posts of others for chapter 7 can be found at the bottom of this one.

Wow.  What a powerful chapter this one was for me.  I got two pages into it and started crying.  Okay, if you know me, you know I cry often, but not usually while reading professional texts!  The story leading me to tears is about students moving on to the next grade and expressing frustration over the way the new teacher teaches.  Now, I have taught, and do teach, with a lot of really great people.  The problem here lies within, for me at least.  I am a control freak.  I have a way.  I like it.  I am clearly open to the ways of others (as proven by me reading this book), but I have strong opinions and it's tough to sway me.  Donalyn wonders what the point of her working so hard to instill a love of reading in her students if it is just going to be crushed in the new classroom.    She says, "I wish I could talk to their teacher, but there is no way that I could question another teacher about what she does in her classroom".

My teacher's union has fought long and hard for our teacher autonomy.  I respect that greatly and am deeply thankful for it.  I can't imagine teaching a certain way because someone told me I had to.  I'm not sure I would be a teacher like that actually.

That being said, I also really believe in consistency.  Consistency in math language, consistency in behaviour expectations, and consistency in skills development.  It's so confusing for a student to learn to write via the 6 Traits one year, master that vocab, and then go into another classroom and hear the exact same stuff, but with different language.  They just don't realize they are building on the skills they already have!

I have felt the way Donalyn feels in that moment.  I don't want to question the way a colleague is teaching.  I trust that they have their reasons for what they do.  I have felt judged during collaboration.  I have felt that people thought they were more than (or less than) me.  I wish we didn't compare to one another.  I wish we could just walk into someone else's classroom and say "hey, this happened to me today.  What do you think?"  The colleagues I feel comfortable doing that with are much less in number.  And why? I don't really know...

But I digress...

This quote is so true.  That really is the goal of teaching reading in school, isn't it?  To foster a love of reading that lasts a lifetime.  For me, this means allowing my students to read many books, to talk about books, to write about books, and to share book recommendations.  Though I may do this in a way that is different from others, I think that if I am enthusiastic about it, my students will be too.

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The Book Whisperer: Chapter 6

Cutting the Teacher Strings

We're coming near the end of my 7 week book study with on "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller.  Myself and others have been providing our thoughts on each chapter, week after week.  Today, we're looking at the second to last chapter "Cutting the Teacher Strings".
You can read my previous posts here:

And, as always, links to the posts of others for Chapter 6 can be found at the bottom of this one.

This may be the most lengthy chapter, but it also was the most thought provoking chapter.  As I read Chapter 6 I really critically looked at my teaching practices and assessed why I do what I do.  I must confess I am guilty of what Donalyn describes - at times, I think I have taught a certain way simply because that's how others have done it.  As I progress through my teaching career I feel this happening less and less as I come into my own.  It really is so important to think about why we are bringing each and every lesson into our classrooms!

This chapter starts out looking at "tried and true" language arts standbys.  The first item looked at it the whole class novel study.  I felt some assurance reading this part.  Donalyn argues that whole class novel studies take too long, don't meet the needs of all readers, ignore student interest and devalue prior reading experience.  I agree 100% with each of these points!

I've always started the year with guided reading and worked to more independent reading around Spring Break.  As the year begins we work on the items I'll be looking for: connecting, questioning, inferencing, book talks, response journals.  We do this through guided reading small group sessions and through modeling with a whole class read aloud.  When spring rolls around we move into literature circles, fairly closely to what Faye Brownlie describes in her book: Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses.  (This is actually pretty similar to what Miller describes on pages 128-129.)

What I like about Brownlie's Lit. Circles is that the students do get choice, but the choice is limited.  I usually pick 6 books, present each one, and have the students pick their top 3.  From there, I put them into groups and can usually put them in the book that best fits their reading level with the bonus that they chose it!  Being that I teach grade 4, I think that the students do need the structure of a system like this, with classmates they can work with on the same topic.  Miller is writing about her experience with grade 6 students, and I think that for them, it's fine to have everyone reading different material.  In grade 4, I'm just easing and transitioning them into that model.  Maybe Miller would disagree with me, I don't know.

I've recently learned more about independent reading the Smart Learning way.  I'm really excited about adding more of this to my classroom.  The gist (as I could easily write several posts on this alone and hope to in the future) is that students are talking to each other more during quiet reading time.  (Talking and quiet, I know.  That's why it's independent reading.  Not quiet reading.)  I don't mean the whole time.  At the beginning and at the end.  Students are forced to put their minds on text by explaining what they already know in their book, answering questions about it and thinking about personal goals for their reading.  After reading, they will reflect on their goals.  There's much more to it than this, but these are the elements I hope to start in my classroom this week!

So, back to the book.....

Donalyn warns of standardized testing and comprehension tests after reading books.  I'm really fortunate that in B.C. we don't have standardized testing as many describe in the United States.  In grade 4, we do have the FSA (Foundational Skills Assessment), which tests literacy and numeracy skills, but it's not the same.  My heart goes out to those teachers who must teach to a test and then be rated on their student's achievement.   I feel that I can meet my prescribed learning outcomes in a fairly flexible way, and that by encouraging students to read more often and from a variety of genres I have no problems doing that.  This again is why I am so excited about her book challenge.

Other items cautioned against are book reports and book talks.  One time (and one time only) did I have my students complete a book report.  The process was so painstakingly long!  The quality I wanted just wasn't there, and many of them really were not motivated.  The task was too large and drawn out.  And, it sucked to mark.  I won't be doing another, that's for sure.  I've seen book reports on Pinterest done up on science fair boards, and although that intrigues me, I think it would be a similar drawn our process when time could have been better spent else where.

As for book talks, I haven't done them or seen them done in the way that Donalyn writes about.  That too seems really long and drawn out.  I do the "Say Something" strategy from Faye Brownlie's book I mentioned above.  I really like it!  It's quick, fast moving, and can be done in smaller groups.  Now, I do this with students during guided reading or literature circles who are all reading the same book, so there isn't any persuasion to get others' to read the book also.  Which is why I am interested in the book commercials Donalyn writes about on page 137.  It sounds really fun and like something that can be done at any time you have a few spare moments.  This is something I will try to add into my classroom for sure.

Other practices warned against include: round robin and popcorn reading, reading incentive programs, and reading logs.  I don't do any of these in my classroom, and this post is getting quite long, so I'm just going to leave it at that.

Chapter 6 sparked your interest?  Click the links below to read some more posts!

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The Book Whisperer: Chapter 5

Walking the Walk

Welcome to week five of a seven week book study!  Some blogging friends and myself are sharing our thoughts each Monday until mid-November about the book "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller.   You can get to the other ladies posts at the end of this one.

You can read my previous posts here:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

In Chapter 5, Donalyn stresses the importance of reading frequently and talking about reading with your students.  She says that students give her credibility because they know she's talking about her passion, not just something they need to get done for marks.  It's our job as teachers to be reading role models for our students, so we'd better be reading ourselves.

Sadly, according to a study she shares, many teachers aren't reading much.  On average 4 books a year!  How can we ask our students to read 40 (as Donalyn does, or 30 in my case)  books a year if we are only reading 4?  Don't be a hypocrite!  I know our lives as teachers are quite busy, and I'm sure you already know that too.  So, honestly, I can see why teachers are only reading 4 books a year.  I'm not sure exactly how many I read myself.... I can tell you it isn't 30 or 40 though.

Miller doesn't leave you hanging, feeling bad about your hypocritical self!  She shares her tips on how to improve as a reader (for teachers, not students!) to be able to better serve as a reading role model for your class.

When I look at this list, it makes me feel better.  It makes the task sound manageable.   

I told you last week that I was reading the first book in the Fablehaven series.  Well, I'm proud to say it is written on my book challenge sheet and I'm working on book two!

My students were really thrilled when they learned that I was also doing the book challenge.  And I will be honest, some of them are beating me!

How do you serve as a reading role model for your students?
I'd love to know about it in the comments!

Want to read some more?  Click the links to see more posts on Chapter 5!

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