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The Every-Single-Week To Do List

I am a big planner. Actually, a huge planner. I love To Do Lists and notebooks and planners.

If you are also a planner you can follow me on my Instagram dedicated to my planning obsession – @momplantastic

I currently keep two Erin Condren Life Planners up-to-date at all times. One is for work and one is for my personal/home/kid/pet life.

I was very fortunate to win a huge giveaway last Mother’s Day from over 20 shops on Etsy.

Don’t be jealous, but I walked away with over $600 in free stickers for my planners. I’m pretty much set for at least a year.

Anyway….how is this school related?

Well, the one sticker I found I really needed was a To Do list for things that happen EVERY SINGLE WEEK.

I could have found someone to make me a customized sticker on Etsy, but I decided to try my sticker maker, which I bought at Joann’s.

I then brainstormed a list of current needs and came up with this nifty little sicker I’ve been using for the past few weeks. I can easily update it as things change.

The fact that by the end of my planning period today I had everything checked off for the week….Well, I call that a happy ending to an otherwise stressful week!

Happy Weekend, Friends! I hope you have some fun PLANS in your near future!

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The Day I Gave All My Students iPhones (Part of the IXL Series)

I took a big risk a few months ago by putting on my cheesy teacher hat and pushing out an idea that came to me as I was trying to encourage my students to use IXL.

In a grand opening-of-class announcement, I told all of my students, “Ok guys, I’ve been thinking and I have a plan. You are all getting an iPhone. I got this deal on iPhone 1s, and you will get to add apps to your phone for your hard work on IXL.

Oh, the look on their faces!

I then proceeded to pass out white paper copies of this iPhone template I tweaked from Coffee, Cats, and Crayons on TPT.

Oh, the look on their faces!

“Now, I know this is an old model, and it only comes in white with black lettering, but I talked to people in the main office and they assured me that they would be coming out with a new model soon. They also promised new colors were in the works.”

I had to keep it up…

“Please be very careful with these phones. I didn’t get insurance on them. So if you lose your phone at any time you will get a new one but you will have to your apps will be wiped clean.”

And we were rolling…

The iPhone incentive is working well in my room. Students earn one sticker for each LA skill they complete to satisfaction. As I wrote before, I’m flexible with the SmartScore to accommodate all learners.

I check their progress once a week by customizing the the reports and award apps/stickers in a little one-on-one conference.

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A student selects his apps for his latest progress on his IXL ticket and gets to upgrade.

Once their iPhone 1 is filled with 12 apps, they upgrade to an iPhone 2 and so on.

Their old phone goes in the “showcase” under the dry erase board.

Only a snapshot of the dozens of iPhone 1s and 2s that have been retired in the showcase. 

Students receive a prize for upgrading, as well.

This was a fun day ~ The day I shared all the prizes connected to the upgrades.  They got a kick out of this.

When the first student upgrades to a new phone, I present our newest model: “The iPhone 2 has just been released. It comes in a lovely Butter Yellow.”

The iPhone 3 is “Peppermint Pink.”

Recently I had one student upgrade to the “Mint Green iPhone Cuatro.” He is the the envy of many; not because he got a prize from Prize Box 1 but because he was the first.

I’ll admit, this is an incentive program that takes dedication and organization on my part. I’ve tweaked it a little by adding special BONUS apps throughout the week such as:

  • Scoring a 100% in Newsela Quiz earns you 2 apps, while a 75% earns you 1 app.
  • I had a tiered level of rewards for growth in winter MAP scores.
  • Perfect attendance by the whole class for the week or 100% completion of homework.
  • Sometimes just helping out in class or being a leader earns you an app.

Playing the part of a Verizon salesperson is challenging, but I’ve spent enough time in Verizon to know key phrases that make it feel authentic, which makes it even funnier.

Almost all of my kids love it.

Secretly, even the ones who act like it’s dumb? Well, they love it, too. They even tell me what their stickers represent. (If they get a little emoji with headphones? “Oh yes, I got my music app!”)

Oftentimes, making a reward silly is all it takes to reel in a middle schooler.

Sometimes, it’s about making the experience seem like a reality. Not many of my kids have iPhones, so this is almost like having the real thing – even if it’s just within the walls of my classroom.

Always, it’s about ensuring everyone sees some success and everyone gets credit for working hard.

What do you think of my incentive plan?

Could it work in your classroom?

Do you do equally silly or crazy ideas to motivate students?

I’d love to hear your ideas, questions, and thoughts in the comments!

RELATED POSTS:
IXL Bulletin Board
Blog Series: IXL in My Classroom

IXL Bulletin Board

As promised, here is the first of several IXL related posts.

This is how I highlight the skills we are working on for the week…or two weeks…or month…depending on how many snow days we have!

The board is divided for my three different classes: a 7th grade class, an 8th grade class, and my C+M stands for “Core Plus More” which is our part of our Intervention program.

We are often studying different things at different times so the charts get moved around quite often. (Many of my anchor charts are Pinterest inspired.)

The “73,300 Questions” above the board shows how many Language Arts questions my five classes have answered collectively since the beginning of the school year.

The “Target > 85” refers to their SmartScore.

The SmartScore is a hot topic in our building right now. What is fair? What is reasonable? What is realistic?

I went to the IXL FAQs and found that a SmartScore of 80 is considered “good,” 90 is “excellent,” and 100 is “mastered.”

I chose 85 because it seemed to be a good challenge for the students I work with.

At times I will tell a student to work towards a lower SmartScore if they are truly working hard and still struggling.

I also encourage students to “Level Up,” meaning if they are working at the 5th grade level and hit 85, the should Level Up – I tend to make a silly video game noise when I say this- and try the related 6th grade skill. (More on that later).

Of course, I’ve had students ask, “Can I get higher than 85?”

Without a doubt- go for it!

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Blog Series: IXL in My Classroom

Last year, one of my coworkers kept talking about what I heard her says as “I Excel,” an online learning program she signed up for using one email, then another, then another…as her free 30-day trials ran out.

Seeing as I gave her my email to use at one point, and tending to shy away from things like this, (why, I don’t know!?) I never got on board.

I mean, I was already using Kahoot, Padlet, Quizlet, Quizizz, Skills Navigator, Schoology, and had just started using Google Classroom. Did I really need another reason for my  class to be on the Chromebooks?

Things changed this year when our building was able to buy the full features of the Math and Language Arts curriculum with our 21st Century Grant.

Now I have incorporated IXL into my classroom, as have many teachers in the building.

The big questions though…

  • How should we use it?
  • How much is too much?
  • What should we expect from students?
  • Should it be graded?
  • Should it be homework?
  • How can we keep it fresh?

While this page has lots of inspiration for using IXL, I thought over the next several posts I would share a few of the ways I use IXL in my classroom that seem to be effective, and tell you some of the things that haven’t seemed to work.

Just look at the progress we’ve made so far!

Screenshot 2018-01-21 at 9.59.01 AM

This  graphic represents 111 students I work with throughout the day, including some who are part of our after school program.  It includes ELL students just starting to speak English, IEP students working several grades below grade level, and students working at grade level. This chart represents only the Language Arts topics.  NOTE: October had the most actual “school days” due to holidays and weather.  (I had to think about this because I was shocked to see how the numbers dropped off as we moved through the months.)

Do you use IXL?
What are your favorite strategies and methods?
What motivates your students?
What questions do you have?
Please share your ideas, thoughts, and questions in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom from the Grip of Facebook

When I first came back on the blogging scene a month and a half ago, I wrote about the app called “Freedom”. The app allows me to block websites and certain apps on my phone.

I basically have all social media (except Instagram) blocked for 23 hours a day. I can only access those sites from 9 pm-10 pm.

It’s been over a month, and my Facebook habit has been broken. I don’t miss it at all.

Maybe twice a week I will use my Chromebook to just check my notifications, but I’m realizing the less I use it, the fewer notifications I receive.

Before I tell you the positive changes it has made in my life, let me put a few disclaimers out there.

First of all, if you enjoy Facebook and other forms of social media, I respect that. This is about me and my personal decision.

Now, onto why I had to get away from Facebook, in particular.

It’s not that I don’t care about people’s lives, but sometimes it’s overwhelming to read about every tragedy. The world is so full of sad news, and it hurts my heart to read more. I would often find myself in tears over a link I clicked on, but I had absolutely no connection to the person whatsoever. I would hope if something tragic happens that I need to know about right away, I would be contacted outside of Facebook.

Sometimes the negativity of every gripe and “Dear (fill-in-the-blank)” letter that is posted brings me down. I know people use FB as a sounding board, a dumping ground, and place to vent, and that’s ok. I used to do it too ~ before I broadened my circle of Facebook friends beyond my immediate family and closest friends. Once I added colleagues and old high school acquaintances, it just felt weird to post those personal complaints.

Then there are the time-sucks ~ mainly the quizzes (for example, Which Disney Princess are You?) Let’s be honest, any true princess fan knows how to pick the right answers to get the princess you already think you are or want to be. (If I want to be Jasmine – which of course I do, I mean have you seen Aladdin? – I pick a tiger for a pet.)

All of this probably sounds harsh, so let’s get to the focus of this post: What positive things has Freedom (and leaving Facebook) done for me?

I read more. Always an avid reader, I now grab the iPad instead of my phone. I’m on my third book of the year already.

I truly relax. Instead of scrolling during lunch, I read a magazine. I pet the dogs while I drink my coffee.

I get on that stinking treadmill. I’ll admit, right here, that part of the treadmill habit is because I’ve learned about the joy of binge-watching on Netflix. Now I make myself watch at least one episode of a binge on the treadmill.

I feel happier. First off, see above. More exercise leads to better moods (so I read in a magazine at lunch one day). But also… less comparing, less jealously, less wanting of things I don’t have in my life. Less reminders of bad or sad break-ups because a post is similar to something I once felt or said or thought or shared on Facebook.

I plan. I am of a special group of people they call “planner addicts” or “planner girls.” My Erin Condren Life Planner obsession is a hobby, provides a creative outlet, and balances my work and play.

I create. Blogging, writing, bullet journaling and lettering are other things I’ve been working on instead of getting lost in Facebook.

I listen. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. I listen more – to my kids talk, to music – I’m particularly obsessed with the soundtrack to “The Greatest Showman”- and to the music my kids make.

After the free trial of Freedom was up, I did pay the full-year “premium” price for the app. I think it was about $20, which seemed worth the time and peace I gained from it.

What app could you/would you say “Good-bye” to if you could?

How could it/would it change your life?

Reading Folks

My 7th grade Language Arts students will be starting the novel, Seedfolks by Paul Feischman this week.

I really wanted to do something different, like my Literature Circles. However, I only have 8 students in this intervention class, and I knew I needed to make some modifications for something like this to work this year.

This new collection of Seedfolks Chapter Worksheets has 13 graphic organizers (all the same, but labeled with each character’s name.)

Screenshot 2018-01-07 at 4.48.30 PM

I plan on completing the first few together, and then have them work with a partner or group on others.  At some point near the end of the novel, they will do one on their own for a grade.

I also made 8 different pages that look like this:

Screenshot 2018-01-07 at 4.51.43 PM

Each page will ask the students to list three character traits, which is a review from earlier in the year.  Also, on each page, the students will have to ask one question, as if they were talking to the character in the chapter. I’m excited to see what they come up with for this box!   The box across the bottom and the box on the right-hand side are  different on each of the eight pages, covering a variety of reading skills including:

  • Inferring
  • Visualizing
  • Characters
  • Making Connections
  • Author’s Craft
  • Asking Questions
  • Reflection
  • Evaluating Text

My plan will be to pass a different one out to each student at the start of the chapter, and then we will discuss in a literature circle type fashion.

Seedfolks is based on the concept of individuals coming together to create a community garden.  My lessons will be based on the concept of a community of readers.

I may just call them my “Readfolks. “

Tiny Check Sheets for Grading

In an effort to make my grading more efficient and to provide appropriate instructions and feedback for my students, I created several “tiny grade sheets” for writing assignments.

Originally, I printed these out on colored paper, cut them, and stapled a slip to each assignment when it was turned in.

Over the past few months I decided it made more sense to paste the tiny grade sheet right into the assignment.

The benefits are obvious:
1) Saves paper
2) Reminds students what they need to include in the assignment
3) Saves time
4) Provides a permanent record they can clip in the binder (no lost quarter-slips of paper)

I have created one Google Doc with three of my most commonly used grade sheets: Tiny Check Sheets for RACE and Paragraphs

  • The single RACE response
  • The double RACE response (or what I have labeled as RAC²E Response)
  • The 5-7 Sentence Paragraph

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As I create an assignment, I just go to the Google Doc and copy and paste the grade sheet into the text of the assignment.

This works for hard copies that I pass out in class, but it also works with Google Classroom when I post a template for students to work with.

Note: This does require me to print out the submitted assignments. However, we are doing more and more of our writing on Google Classroom these days, so it’s worth it. (If you don’t know the trick to printing an entire class’s work with the click of one button, go look up pdf.mergy)

I know there are rubric add-ons, applications, and extensions you can put into Google Docs, but sometimes I get so tired of looking at the computer screen, I just find this a better option for me.  Plus, who doesn’t love to grade with their Paper-Mate Flair pens?

How do you speed up grading?

How do you provide feedback?

What other grade sheets, check sheets, or rubrics would be useful in your classroom?  

Leave a comment and share your thoughts, ideas, or questions!

 

My Felt-Board Message is Different than Yours, and That’s Okay.

2018 is here! Happy New Year!

As I sat home last night with my two dogs and 1.5 cats (Ellie was around somewhere, I suppose) waiting for my teenagers to come home from parent-chaperoned parties, I scrolled through Instagram.

I’ve done that a lot over break. Probably too much.

As much as love the written word, I love the images more. The whole “a picture speaks a thousand words” concept, you know?

I enjoy seeing the happiness of others – my extended family, my work friends, people I don’t even know – celebrating major life events.

Sometimes, I admit, it leaves me thinking, “What would I put on one of those trendy felt-boards if I owned one?”

What if I owned one when I was me ….20, 18, 12, or 8 years ago?

Would I have jumped on the felt-board bandwagon?

Would my life have been captured in public posts announcing the biggest moments of my life?

I’m sure it would have been.

We all want to share our happiness, our joy, and our life-changing moments with the world.

But what if my happiness this past year was different than yours?

What if the things you celebrated seemed like tiny accomplishments or things you wouldn’t carefully spell out on a felt-board, but they made you feel good just the same?

It’s ok.

Really.

We are all in our own seasons of life, and all the things that make each season exciting are going to look a little different in photos and on felt-boards.

It doesn’t mean my 2017 was less than, or greater than, yours.

My 2017 was just different.

I suspect my 2018 will be exactly the same – different.

May your 2018 be felt-board worthy, if not on Instagram, then simply in your heart.

~Melanie

Happy New Year Tic-Tac-Toe

We’ve got about 36 hours left in 2017 and less than 4 days left of break, so it’s lesson planning time…

We start back on Wednesday, which I know will be rough. (Better than a Monday though!)

For my “First 15” (i.e., bell-ringer, bell work, seat work), my students will have a special Tic-Tac-Toe board to tell me a little about their break. (Download the PDF at the end of this post.)

I want to hear about everyone’s break, but I also don’t want to stress any of my students out with a standard journal prompt about their best gift or favorite part of being away from school.

Shortly before break, I saw a quote on Instagram (which I will paraphrase here): The best part of the holidays for some kids are the days leading up to break.

That spoke to me.

Not everyone had the best break. Not everyone got trendy clothes, cool shoes,  expensive gadgets, or a wallet full of gift cards. Not everyone had family surrounding them. Not everyone had delicious meals around a big table.

I’m asking my students to respond to just 5 or 6 of these prompts, because then I will know how their 2017 ended and how our 2018 will begin.

Happy New Year Tic-Tac-Toe

I hope your holiday break was filled with rest, relaxation, and some fun.  I hope you are recharged and ready when that alarm goes off in a few days. May 2018 be your happiest Happy New Year yet!

Melanie

Maybe now it’s time…

Freedom.

Have you heard of it? It’s an app that lets you disable websites and apps on your phone for set periods of time.

Right now I’m am being super strict. I allow myself one hour per day when I can actually be on social media.

That’s 23 straight hours of no Facebook, no Twitter, no Snapchat. (I can’t figure out how to block Instagram, and I still need to see pics of cute dogs, planners, and Christmas trees.)

It’s only been 9 days, but I feel like a lot of bad habits have been broken.

I don’t reach for my phone first thing in the morning.

I don’t reach for my phone while I’m watching tv.

I don’t reach for my phone when I’m with friends.

What do I do with my time? The same things I’ve always done but with more attention and more intention.

Maybe now it’s time to get back to blogging.

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