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It's Too Loud In Here: Voice Level Management

One of the very first lessons I teach each year has to do with voice levels.  This classroom management piece is so crucial to the entire year.  I am one of those teachers who prefers a quieter room.  I just can't handle 30 voices going at once.  I know it's distracting for many children too.  If you think you can relate, keep reading.  I hope I can help!

Teaching voice levels really takes 15 minutes - which is why it's so amazing it works all year!  There are many different poster sets out there you can use for reference during this lesson.  I've created three: chalkboard, tropical watercolor and brights themed.  The posters make a great year-long visual.


I place all posters from 0-4 on my whiteboard in order from lowest to highest ahead of time.  I've also got a summary piece with all the levels on one page. The levels that I use are:
0 - Silent
1 - Whisper
2 - Partner
3 - Groups
4 - Presentation

I go over each card one by one.   The first card is the easiest for kids to understand, 0 - silent.  No sound.  Things get a little bit louder from there: whisper, partners, groups.  When you get to 4, it's a bit trickier.  One voice is nice and loud (the loudest in fact) but all the rest are silent and listening.

Once I've talked about each, we practice.  I start at 0, everyone is quiet.  Then I move to 1, and the room is filled with whispers.  We work our way up and then back down to 0.  I like to them randomize the numbers.  The kids find it fun and it shows me they really understand each level.

Even as soon as the very next day, I was able to say "I would like a volume level 1 for this activity" and my class was able to get off to work with a whisper voice! 

Do you use voice levels in your room?
How do you manage volume? 

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The Book Whisperer: Chapter 2

Everybody is a Reader

Welcome to week two of a seven week book study!  There are 6 ladies (myself included) sharing our thoughts each Monday from now until mid-November about "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller.   You can get to the other ladies posts at the end of this one.  You might even see a few freebies along the way!

You can read my Chapter 1 post by clicking here.

I love the story at the beginning of Chapter Two.  Donalyn describes the first day of school, going over rules and procedures.  A boy raises his hand and asks, "When will we be allowed to check out books?"  Startled, she answers with, "now" and they head over to the book bins.  There they sit, Donalyn giving her book recommendations, and even more powerful, students giving theirs.   What a beautiful scene it must have been.  

A sentence I love:

Miller says she has noticed three trends in reader types.  At first, I thought she was wrong - and missing some.  Surely there is more than 3 types of readers!  But, after reading her excellent descriptions and student examples, I agree.  I love that she is acknowledging reading as a continuum of learning.  She refuses to call the lower end readers as "struggling".  Rather, she refers to them as "developing".  According to her,  the types of readers are:

The fact is, every year you get a classroom full of varying readers.  They aren't going to all love it.  They aren't going to all be able to do it at the same level.  So how do you accommodate them all?

In my classroom, I don't put my entire class library out all at once.  I only put out about half at a time.  This is for a few reasons.  The first is that I like to keep it fresh.  I honestly have so many books!  It's a bit overwhelming if they are all out at once.  Also, many of my novels are too big at the beginning of grade 4.  My students are usually not ready to read a novel of that length.  I do have some longer books out, but I save many of them for later on.  I still have a huge variety of topics out there to choose from.

Finally, Donalyn gives examples of a student survey.  She is wanting to learn more about their interests, so she can make more accurate book recommendations to each child.  How great is that?

I've done a reading survey with my class before, but it's always been focused on their attitude toward reading.  Her survey has one question about books and the rest is all about other aspects of their lives.  I'm loving it.  At the back of the book, she shares a black line for a different survey, referred to as the "Reading Interest-a-Lyzer".  It's more like the traditional survey I have given before. 

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The Book Whisperer: Chapter 1

There and Back Again

I'm so excited to start week one of a seven week book study!  Some blogging friends and myself will be sharing our thoughts each Monday from now until mid-November about the book "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller.  I know this is not a new book; I had heard so many great things about it from others I had to check it out.  I'm glad I did!  I'm feeling so inspired by her ideas, and can't wait to share them with you too!

Each week, we will all be posting our thoughts, chapter by chapter.  You can get to the other ladies posts at the end of this one.  You might even see a few freebies along the way!  Excited? Me too. 

Chapter 1 is called "There and Back Again".  It's about Donalyn's journey as a reader from child to teacher.  You can tell right away that she has a strong passion for reading - she shares a story of her and her husband and writes, "Books are our love letters (or apologies) passed between us, adding a layer of conversation beyond our spoken words".  All I can say is, "wow".  I think that's so romantic!!

Donalyn says she has her first wake up call in regards to reading when she shared the book "The View from Saturday" by E.L. Konigsburg with her grade 6 students.  She loves this book and was sad to see them just going through the motions - doing the work because she asked, but not loving it.  I've been there too!  I don't think to the same extent, because I think with 4th graders it's a lot easier to make them love things.  Do you know what I mean? If they love you, they tend to love everything you ask them to do.  They aren't as tough a sell as 6th graders.  However, I have definitely had a few in the past who are just doing the work so that I won't give them a hard time.  

Her solution? Make reading more personalized and open ended.  Instead of assigning a book, let them choose.  Instead of having pages of fill in the blanks type questions, discussions and personalized written entries that are meaningful to real life.  She describes her classroom as a workshop, and her students as reading apprentices under this new model.

The last tip that Donalyn gives in the chapter is to stay true to yourself as a teacher.  She warns that if you try to emulate the "master teachers" who've written books, you'll always be feeling stressed out and inadequate.  Take the ideas, and adapt them to make them work for you and your students.  Share your passion.  Such an important thing to remember in this world, reading or otherwise.

One thing I realized, was that my kids had enough time to read books, but I wasn't really giving them browsing time.  They are allowed to browse during quiet reading time, but I usually am giving them heck if they are over there for more than a few minutes.  I thought of my own book browsing in the book store.  I can spend hours in there!  Why am I harassing them to pick a book and get to reading?  One change I'm making this year is to have a specific browsing time once a week.

Check the links below for more thoughts on Chapter 1!

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Dream Big Bulletin Board: Part 1

In my To Do post a while back I wrote about my hallway bulletin board.  If you go back to that post, you'll see that I was planning on doing a "brain" themed board.  I've since changed my mind completely.  I still have plans to do that board - but thought it would be best a bit later, after my students had some preteaching and could fully understand why I was doing it.

Therefore, the "Make a Giant Book" pin on Pinterest made an appearance.  I couldn't find a link to an original source for this pin, so if you know, I would love for you to tell me.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much to go off of; just what you see here.  So, Crystal and I did what we do best - we made it up.

My props master assisted in all the "dangerous" parts, like the use of a knife.  I'm pretty well banned from these tasks.  It could be a left-handed thing, it could be that I'm just not coordinated enough. 

We used a giant cardboard box.  It wasn't a fridge box as the pin suggested, so maybe ours is smaller than the original.  We just worked with the dimensions of what we had.  

I failed to take some photos in the middle here.... After we cut the back piece of the book, we wrapped it in shiny blue wrapping paper.  This will serve as the cover of the book.

We made the top piece narrower in height than the cover, but kept it the same length.  The reason for this was to account for the curve.  As the pin suggested, we put score marks through the cardboard to help it bend. We wrapped it in white paper.  We thought about making the paper a bit loose to help with the curve, but the score marks really did the job and we didn't need to.

From some cardboard scraps we made the top and bottom (or, the pages) of the book.  We did this by tracing the curve of the large piece, cutting out and wrapping in white also. (I really hope I'm making sense here.)

We (well, Crystal, another thing I am banned from) hot glued the top and bottom pieces to the book.  At this point it was pretty sturdy!

I just love the curve of the book!  So fun!

Next comes the challenge of attaching to the board..... Click here for part two of this post.

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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Using Cribbage to Teach Number Sense

Crib is one of my favourite games and, sadly, it seems like many children do not know how to play it!  Here in FSJ we have many inside days during the winter.  I have often stayed in my classroom with children teaching them how to play cribbage.  It's really got a few rules and minimal cleanup - perfect for a short play time.  (Kids can also save their game and continue at lunch, which I know is a a complaint about many board games in my room.)

The game of cribbage is all about adding numbers from 1 - 10 and combining numbers to make 15.  Being able to see the relationship between numbers is crucial for kids in developing number sense.  Looking for 15s is a great way to strengthen the fact that numbers are made up of smaller numbers (or, the Whole-Part-Part relationship.) John Van de Walle says this about Whole-Part-Part relationships: “To conceptualize a number as being made up of two or more parts is the most important relationship that can be developed about numbers” (Van de Walle & Folk, Elementary and Middle School Mathematics, Can. Ed., 2005, p.98).

Practicing this skill can change the way that student's look at numbers.  When they are given an addition or subtraction problem with larger numbers, they will be more likely to look for strategies to problem solve if they've spent time pulling apart smaller numbers.  Not to mention that the ability to quickly add basic numbers will help greatly as they progress through larger problems.

I believe you can teach cribbage to children as young as grade two.  For them, you might want to simplify the rules or introduce them bit by bit:
1st game: look for 15's only
2nd game: look for 15's & pairs
3rd game: 15's, pairs, runs
4th game: 15's, pair, runs, nobs
5th game: demo entire game and let them play independently!

Crib boards are often sold at the thrift store for a dollar or two.  You can also buy little, travel size ones at the Dollar Store.  I'm sure if you made a request parents would donate a few boards as well.

Have you used cribbage in your classroom?  Tell me how it works for you!

If you want more ideas for strengthening basic math basics, check out my Pinterest board.
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Calm, Alert and Learning: Introduction

The staff at my new school decided at the end of last year to do a book study this year.  The book they've chosen is "Calm, Alert and Learning" by Stuart Shanker.  Shanker is a self-regulation expert.  I've read this book before, but it's been a while.  I'm hoping that this book study helps me become a bit more focused and I can take more away from it the second time around.  We will be meeting to discuss each chapter, but lets face it, I can't remember what I ate for dinner last night.  I'm recording my thoughts here and I hope they can benefit you as well.  Today I'm talking about the Introduction.

This quote grabbed me right away.  It's literally in the second sentence!  I agree completely with this statement.  In my experience, students who are able to self-regulate consistently do better than those who can not.  It makes sense - if you can not regulate your body, you aren't focusing on the learning.  Clearly then, this is something we hope to be able to improve in all students.

Stuart states that there are five domains that link together in regard to self-regulation.  Each domain gets its own chapter, but a brief run-down of each is given in the introduction.

1. The Biological Domain

This domain has to do with energy level in the nervous system.  Shanker says that energy level can be a factor in how children respond to stimuli in their environment.  

The example that I connected with most was that of students unable to sit for long periods of time in the hard classroom chairs.  I hate those darn things!!  I try to allow kids to work around the room: standing, sitting, even laying down.  I have a class set of clipboards which means there is no need for a desk.  Though unfortunately, for some with self-regulation issues, this opens up a whole new set of distractions....

The other point I need to be conscious of is that those who are clicking a pen, jiggling their feet or doodling are self-regulating.  These actions are helping them remain calm and alert.  I guess the trick here is to find something for them to fidget with that isn't so annoying to the rest of us!  I'm hoping to find more about this in Chapter 1.

2. The Emotional Domain

This one is pretty self explanatory - he's talking about emotions whether negative or positive. Strong emotions can make it challenging for students to even begin to try and self-regulate.

3. The Cognitive Domain

This one might be most important to teachers as it's the domain relating to attention, problem solving and memory!  This immediately made me think of basic fact recall in math.  Again, looking forward to some strategies for this.

4. The Social Domain

So many students have such trouble here!  Shanker talks about social intelligence and the importance of teaching children social cues. I think I do a lot of this in the beginning of the year as I build my classroom community, but need to integrate more throughout the year.

5. The Prosocial Domain

This relates to friendship, acceptance and empathy.  I will be paying close attention to this chapter.  I'm thinking back to a student I had in the past with zero empathy.  He was possibly my most difficult student to help with regulation.  I can see a lack of empathy affecting the other domains.  If you are unable to help others (or see a need to do so), you probably don't put much value on self-regulation at all.  

Lastly, I'll leave you with a quick graphic of the Six Critical Elements to Optimal Self-Regulation.  Shanker argues that these span all 5 domains and will help you help your students achieve optimal self-regulation.  It doesn't look like he refers to them in any major way elsewhere (no chapter dedicated to this at least).

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What Kids Should Wear on their Feet

Inside shoes need to be more than clean. Take a look at what one teacher suggests for back to school shoes for kids.

Today I'm writing about shoes.  In my district, students need to have a pair of shoes just for inside.  This cuts down on the mud and dirt that makes its way into the building.  Also, we are often wearing winter boots or rain boots around here, and those really aren't practical for all day.  I don't think this is too different from other school districts, but you can correct me if I'm wrong.

I spend way more of my day on shoes than a person would think.  Do you have your shoes on? Tie your shoes please.  Did you tie your shoes yet?  Don't pick apart your shoe lace.  Your shoes are scuffing the floor, please clean it up.  I really just don't have the time for it.

I'm throwing my shoe suggestions (preferences!) out there, in the hopes that some parents may read this and understand why I am constantly complaining about shoes.  I understand why they send their kids to school with what they do - they like them, they'll wear them, it's a good deal... it makes sense.  Unless you spend a few days in a classroom, I don't think you would ever give shoes a second thought.

Girls are the worst shoe offenders in my opinion.  And, I try to go easy on them, because I wear a different pair of shoes nearly every day myself.  If I have a girl who can remember to change her shoes for gym, I usually don't hassle her too much.  But, when the pretty party shoes with the slick bottoms make it in the the gym, now I am concerned for her safety.

We really don't have much storage space either. So again, if the student can remember to take the fancy shoes home each day, I'm okay with that too. It's a girl thing, I get it. We just need to be safe and tidy.

These are all examples of shoes for girls I discourage:

The flip flop really goes both ways.  They are usually only an issue at the start and end of the year for me.  My problems with flip flops are:

1 - They are easy to take off.  This means I often have kids walking around the room barefoot.  Not safe with all the clutter that can fall out of desks.  What if someone left a pair of scissors on the floor, or a runaway staple?  It can happen, and I'd really rather we didn't have toe stabbings.

2 - They are easy to take off.  I know, I just said that.  But, if there is a fire drill, we don't have time for you to figure out where you left your flip flop.  We have to go, now.

3 - Kids usually wear them outside and in.  This means we are tracking in dirt and sand from the playground.  It gets everywhere.  Not cool for the custodian.

Another popular one is skate shoes.  Skate shoes have a few issues as well.

1 - Please test the bottoms first!  Most skate shoes will mark up the floor.  This means a student, myself, or the custodian is on their hands and knees erasing scuff marks.  Not enjoyable.

2 - Skate shoes don't have any support.  The bottoms are flat.  Day after day on your child's growing foot it can lead to problems.  I've had one student who wore skate shoes day in and day out and ended up needing orthopedic insoles for the rest of his life.  They can lead to back and knee problems as well.

3 - They just don't tie up tight enough.  They are often being slid off (see the problems with that above), or flying off in gym.  More than once someone has been smacked by a flying skate shoe.

Sometimes, kids come to school with shoes with a pull string. I can see why parents buy these. Shoes like these typically have great support and are well made shoes. It's also really easy for the child to pull that string, have their shoes on nice and tight, and be ready to go. If I was a parent, I probably would buy these too. Don't get me wrong, these shoes aren't bad. My only caution here is that after a few months the pull string gets all stretched out. At that point, it can become dangerous. It dangles on the floor and I've seen kids step on it and trip. It's really not easy or comfortable to just shove it into the shoe either. So, parents please, send an extra set of regular laces with these. That way, when the pull string gets all stretchy, we can switch them out and your child remains safe.

My favourite of shoes: the running shoe. There is nothing wrong with the traditional runner. It's got great support for your growing child's foot, most don't mark up the floor (beware black bottom shoes!), the laces last, and they come in flashy designs for your trendsetter kids. I wholeheartedly request that you send your child to school with a pair of regular running shoes. If they can't tie, a velcro pair works just as good (although, in grade 4, I am going to request that they learn to tie shoes, just because of the social aspect.)

Teachers: What shoes do you love (or love to hate?)
Parents: What shoes is your child wearing to school? 

Inspired by this post? Save it to Pinterest using the image below!

Inside shoes need to be more than clean. Take a look at what one teacher suggests for back to school shoes for kids.

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Journal Writing 3: Criteria and Editing

I always discuss criteria with my class before we even write the first journal entry.  That way, students know exactly what is expected of them right away.  My class glues a criteria sheet to the inside cover of their journal for easy reference.
Click to download the freebie!
I photocopy the criteria onto brightly coloured paper so it jumps out at them each time they open their book.  As you can see, I mark their journals out of 7.  I feel like the first two marks are freebies, honestly.  However, there's always someone who doesn't add the date!

You'll notice that give two marks for amount of writing.  Journal writing is rarely writing that becomes published.  Quality is important of course, but the focus is on quantity for me.  In my mind, journal writing time is a skill practice time, and the more you write, the more you are practicing.  I do want it to be legible, and that's where the last three bits of criteria come from.

This might not be suitable for you and your class, but if it is - you can click on the image and download a copy of the criteria page - for FREE!  I would love it if you came back to this post and commented on how it worked for your class if you use it.

Click to download the freebie!
I aim to give 30 minutes of writing time for journal.  Sometimes it is more or less, if we have a special event or a longer prewriting discussion.  At the beginning of the year, most students have trouble making the "1/2 page single spaced or 1 page double spaced" criteria.  I'm slightly lenient on this in September, and stick more to the expectation by the end of the year.
As I said above, journal writing is about getting your ideas out and practicing the skill of writing.  Revising and editing are important too, but we get plenty of practice on that through other ways of writing.  I do encourage my kids to write the entire time, but there are students who wrap up early.  This is when I will ask them to edit.  
I might make them to edit independently or with a classmate who is also finished.  When they peer edit, I like to have the other person read their writing to them.  The other person will notice mistakes the author would skip over because they know what they intended.  The author needs to listen for errors and correct them.
Students can revise on their own too.  One fun method I use for that is my Rainbow Editing file.  I have several laminated copies for children to refer to.  In this, I ask kids to edit with a variety of coloured pencil crayons.  Different colours mean different things.  Red means "capital letters" and blue means "adding details" for example.  Kids love colours and it makes the revising process fun.

When I mark their journals, I will correct words I feel that should know.  ("with" and "they" get me every time! )  I might add in a period, or some quotation marks too.  I ask them to spend some time reading my comments (I try to write a sentence or two of feedback to everyone) at the start of the next journal write time.  This is when they will correct the few spelling/punctuation errors.

 That's all folks!   I'd love to know about the criteria you use for marking journals, and whether you have students edit them or not.

Be sure to read these posts as well!
Journal Writing: Picture Prompts
Journal Writing: Group Journals

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