Tag Archives: journals

Dear Journal…I Finally Found a Way to Stay Organized!

As an intervention specialist who works with 4 different inclusion teachers and meets with students in 6 different rooms daily, I have to be very organized. As a traveling teacher, I find I am always needing something I don’t have with me and running back to my classroom isn’t always an option. None of the rooms, except my own, have a desk or a place to call “my own.” I sit my belongings on tables, bookshelves, counter tops and window sills. I carry a pencil, a pen, and a highlighter – which are usually all lost by the end of the day.

I have tried all different kinds of ways to document, organize, plan, and take notes in the inclusion classroom. I have made charts, tables, and forms on the computer. I have tried writing notes during class and then typing them up later in Word or Excel. I have used folders, binders, clipboards, and bags. Every system seemed to work for a few days, or a few weeks, but I always abandoned them. Sometimes, I think it is possible to be too organized.

Finally, in November of this past school year I found a system that lasted for 3 nine weeks and I plan to use it again this coming fall.

This method is not high-tech or expensive. I use a basic composition book – I opted for one with a faux leather looking cover versus the marbled black and white, because our 8th graders each carry two of those.


I carry it with me all day long and I write everything I think of or need to remember. This includes but is not limited to:

OAA scores, alternative schedules, team notes,

staff meeting notes, IEP/ETR dates,

a day by day plan for each inclusion class,

brainstorming ideas for my Resource Room class,

documentation for my intervention study hall,

small groups for our Rock the OAA days,

lists of missing work and retakes.

I use Post-It Index tabs across the top for my most important pages.

I also keep a supply of sticky notes on the inside of the front cover. Sticky notes are good for daily TO DO lists or notes to students.

I also carry a clipboard with worksheets, study guides, and other important papers.

I wanted to scan the pages and show you some samples of my layouts, but because I write in pencil and because it is very worn, it is hard to read. For that reason, I am going to type up some samples on Notes and show you some ideas of how to lay out the pages.

This is a sample of my documentation for my Intervention Study Hall. I keep brief notes on what we work on each day. This is my “secret weapon” when a student says we didn’t work on an assignment or that I didn’t help him. It also helps me remember what we did when students were absent.


This is a sample of a two page spread for my “This Month” tab. I talk to the inclusion teachers and pencil in the main lesson(s) for the day so I always know what is up. It is also helpful to have this two page spread to glance at because I can see if there are too many tests on a given day and I can plan for my intervention study halls.



This composition book lasted me for 3 nine weeks and there is still room to spare. I can picture 15-20 years from now a whole bookshelf of worn books full of notes. I decided at the end of the year to write a list of my IEP students in the back of the book – just to remember their names. (I wish I had this thought 16 years ago!)

Tweedle Dee bought me this composition book at the Dollar Tree for Christmas. How sweet is that?


She obviously noticed how important my other journal was, as I always carry it in my purse. (You never know when you might think of a good idea). I turned this journal into my “All Access Pass” journal. This is where great ideas begin….


Novel Playlists

A recent post I read, entitled Remember When, got me thinking about mix tapes and and listening to the radio as a kid. My sister and I used to write down the lyrics to songs – rewinding again and again and again until we figured them out (and we still probably didn’t have them right.) I remember making mix tapes for my best friends, my family, and to play by the pool. Little has changed…I am still making mixes for my kids, my boyfriend (I know, sappy), and to play in the kitchen while I’m making dinner. Same idea, but now we call them playlists. And it’s easier than ever; hit a few buttons on iTunes or YouTube (and then  Zamzar it) and you’ve got the ultimate playlist. I just finished a “Carnival 2012” playlist for my boyfriend’s middle school carnival. This playlist is a hit with my two kids at home and will definitely be part of our 11 hour ride to Myrtle Beach.

A great way to connect with kids (especially teenagers) is to incorporate current music into your teaching. Some teachers play music as students enter the classroom or as they do seat work. At our school this spring, we were all set to “Rock the OAAs” and played great 80’s music every Friday a.m. over the P.A. system.

One way that I incorporated music into my classroom was by making a novel playlist for our 2nd novel of the year, Stargirl. The idea came to me the first year I did this book with my Resource Room. A very popular song at the time was “DJ Got Us Falling In Love Again” by Usher and it fit perfectly with Chapter 31. So perfectly, that I downloaded it and played it for my class. I asked them why it was a good song choice. Seeing their reaction (one quiet, backward boy actually got up and started dancing), I knew I was onto something. I quickly worked on a playlist that weekend and burned 11 CDs.

On the day before Christmas Break, I reenacted a scene in the novel where Stargirl leaves loose change around town for children to find; I left 11 pennies in random places around my room. I “charged” everyone one penny for their Christmas “gift.” And we spent the rest of that period listening to the playlist and discussing how each song fit in the novel. It was a hit.

The second year I taught the novel, I decided to take the playlist to a new level. First, I updated it to make it “current” and I set up my lesson plans to include the playing of tracks after the appropriate chapters. I created extended response prompts that required the students to reflect on the song, explain how it related to events of the chapter, and evaluate if the song was a good choice.

Below is my Stargirl playlist, which I still listen to regularly. It still brings back some great memories of some great moments in class.

“Stargirl” Playlist

Do you have a summer playlist? Are you taking a long road trip this summer (with 4 kids)?
Here is the “Carnival 2012” playlist, which I am now renaming “Myrtle Beach or Bust 2012”, if you need some inspiration.

“Myrtle Beach or Bust 2012” Playlist (1 hour and 30 minute playing time x 7 = approximately 11 hours in the car)

A Picture Is Worth…2 or 4 Points

Do you spend a lot of time teaching your students how to answer short answer and extended response questions for state tests?

Do you do daily journal writing (or do you wish you had enough time to do journal writing?)

Do your students hate it?

I have a fun way to tackle it all.

Using pictures, images, and photos gathered from various places, I create writing prompts that model the wording of constructed response questions.

To get started, you are going to need to gather a lot of pictures.

  • You can use your own if you are an aspiring photographer and have the time. It might be fun to include images from your own town.
  • Look for creative writing websites that provide a daily photo prompt. One of my favorites: 365 Picture Prompts to Inspire Your Creativity.  Go to this website every day this summer and you’ll have almost 90 random pictures to get the year started. Another good site that also offers tips and a starter set of photo prompts is Picture Prompt-In-A-Box
  • Find images online. The possibilities are endless. Sometimes I search for pictures related to what we are studying. Sometimes I just use random pictures I find while browsing.

To organize your prompts, find a system that works for you. Some suggestions:

  • Post your photo prompt online if your school uses Edmodo or another social learning network.
  • Create folders or photo albums on your computer.
  • I use a single SMART Notebook file and simply add a new page each day. I am able to type the prompt below the picture (and then clone the page if I need to modify it for another class).

I start each day with a photo prompt on the SMART Board. At the start of the year, we spend a lot of time discussing the parts of the question, what makes it a 2-point or 4-point question, and how to mark their answers with numbers to show that they have answered it completely.

To mix things up, allow students to respond in different ways throughout the week. Again, find what works for you and your students. You could use spiral notebooks, composition books, dry erase boards, computers, or personal electronic devices. Our school is piloting Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) next year, so I hope to have my students use an app (like Pages or Notes) or Edmodo from time to time.

While students are writing, circulate around the room and help individuals with weak skills. This is a good opportunity for one-on-one intervention. If you are working on a particular skill in grammar, you could reinforce it as well.

Encourage a few students to share their writing each day. Because this method leaves some room for creativity, you may find you have some budding authors. Each week, take a grade on one of the prompts. Sometimes I grade for content. Sometimes I grade grammar and mechanics.

Below are some examples I’ve used in my 8th grade Resource Room.

(The last two show some of the markings we use for Extended Response.)




Do your students write every day?

Where do you get your topics?

How do you practice short answer and extended response?

Cheap and Easy (Dry Erase Boards in Your Classroom)

One of the learning tools I love to use the most is also one of my students’ favorites: dry erase boards.

Three years ago I bought a large 4′ x 8′ sheet of hardboard at Lowe’s for around $11.00. For a minimal fee they cut the board into 32 12″x 12″ boards. I think the total bill was less than $15.00. I purchased economy packs of wash cloths at Dollar General. While dry erase markers can be pricey, our team has them on the supply list (1 pack of 4 for each student). We put these markers in a huge basket and they are for general use in the classroom.

We use these boards almost every day in some capacity.

Any paper/pencil activity that can be put on the SMART Board can be done on a dry erase board. (Especially good for grammar, math problems, multiple choice activities, and fill in the blank type worksheets)

I have my students write an occasional short answer/extended response/journal entry on a dry erase board. I love when students ask if they can get another board because they don’t have room for everything they want to say.

I use them with our online textbook. It’s not very easy to get computer time in our building but by using the SMART Board and the dry erase markers, I can easily use tutorials, review activities, and vocabulary lessons with the whole class.

Dry erase boards are also a great way to do formative assessment. It’s very easy to get an overview of how well the students grasped the daily lesson.

So let me sum it up:

Pros of dry erase boards
+ Less paper/pencil tasks
+ Less photo copying and less waste
+ Allows for movement around the room (Sometimes they can sit on the back counter, the floor, away from their desks)
+ Accountability (“Everybody, boards UP!”)
+ Engaging (Everyone can answer every question, not just one student)
+ Forgiving (It’s easy to erase mistakes and try again)

Cons of dry erase boards
– Not practical for graded assignments
– Kids love to doodle. (I admit I am a “doodler”. You should see my decorated notes from staff meetings!)
– The markers stink! (I strongly recommend specifically putting low-odor markers on your supply list


The pros clearly outweigh the cons.
(Artwork by my daughter)

%d bloggers like this: