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Friday, December 1, 2017

5 Tips to Help Tired Teachers Survive Until Winter Break

Winter break is in sight and the students all know it. This time of year can be the toughest for even the most seasoned of teachers. It's important to maintain control over your classroom yet still find the strength to enjoy the holidays with your students. Becoming a Scrooge or the Grinch isn't fun for anyone, including yourself. So here are my five tips for surviving until winter break.

1. Resist the Urge to Ease Up on Expectations!
This time of year finds teachers struggling to stay sane and composed, especially when you have a classroom of students who know you are at the end of your rope. The perfect time for them to get away with doing things they don't normally get away with doing. Resist the urge to loosen your expectations and classroom rules. I promise you it will backfire! A lackadaisical teacher will only compound the chaos in the room. Students can smell a tired teacher from a mile away. Take a breath and a second to remind students of the rules and correct whenever necessary, every. single. time.

2. Make a List and Prioritize!
Make a list of everything you need to get done in your classroom from now until break. Yes, you do have time to sit down and make a list! It takes a few minutes but it's worth it in the end. Now read through all that is on the list. If you are anything like me, there are things on that list that are non-negotiable. Find time for these in your teacher planner. Semester exams created and printed? Time to get grades done? Check. Christmas program practices? Check. Now that you know what you have to get done, you can schedule in a few (A FEW) fun activities for the holidays. One activity I always do in my classroom is put up a tree and ask my students to make ELA-related ornaments. It's a simple activity and takes less than a class period, while giving your students (and yourself) a chance to spread some holiday cheer. This free "Reading is a Gift Ornament" template can be found in my TpT store.
My classroom tree from last year.

3. Sleep, Eat, Drink, Move. Repeat.
Sleep: A tired teacher is an unhappy teacher. Taking care of yourself is a must, especially during the weeks before winter break. Resist staying up late each night, preparing for the next day. Loss of sleep makes it harder to think and worsens our (already short) patience. There is nothing wrong with a short catnap when you get home from school to get reinvigorated.

Eat: Even thought it's always easier to grab something on the run when we are busy and tired. Resist high carb, high fat meals. Not to mention the endless stream of sweets in the teacher's lounge. I'm not saying abstain...just keep it all in check. Extra pounds and a sloggy metabolism won't help you to keep your mood and energy up.

Drink: Dehydration can impact your mood and mental clarity in a very short time. Remember to take water with you to school and drink water often. Also, imbibe in small doses. A glass of wine at night can help everyone unwind from a day with students.

Move: Even five minutes of exercise can boost your mood. Head outside for a walk at lunch to clear your mind. The crisp air will wake up your senses and invigorate your body. Find time to exercise 30 minutes at least three times a week to help burn off negative energy.

4. "Just For You" Time
Take some time to do whatever makes you happy and relaxed. Get your nails done...walk the for holiday gifts...get a massage...take a drive...go to dinner with friends. Do something to ease your stress and allow your brain to center itself. A frazzled teacher can run out of steam quickly, especially the few weeks (and days) before break.

5. Prepare for January
It's always hard to get back into the swing of things when you return in January. Do your future-self a favor and get plans done for the first week back. Make copies that you will need, create new seating charts, take down holiday decorations. Anything you can do to make things easier on yourself in January will be appreciated by "future you". No one likes to come back to a mess or a long must-do lists.

When stress begins to rise, think about the well-deserved time off you will soon be enjoying. Use the break to rest, relax, and recharge. For tips on regaining your sanity during break, see my post titled "10 Ways to Regain Your Sanity During Christmas Break" from last year's 12 Days of December.

Remember there are two more teacher-authors that are included in today's blog hop: Cullom Corner and OC Beach Teacher. Be sure to head over to their blogs for more useful information.
12 Days of December Day Two Teacher-Authors

Come check out the other 10 days of teacher-authors for more chances to win some great prizes.

Friday, July 28, 2017

10 Classroom Procedures to Establish at Start of School Year

Every teacher wants a classroom that resembles a well-oiled machine. Students know what to do and how to do it. Students know the teacher's expectations of them. Students are not left wondering and they can feel confident and ready to learn. When students are anxious and confused about how the classroom operates, they aren't able to put their best foot forward. In my classroom, there are 10 essential classroom procedures that I focus on the first week of school. This allows me to get my students dialed in to my expectations quickly and the classroom runs more efficiently. Teachers, myself included, thrive on efficiency. 

The procedures I focus on the first week of school are:

1. Entering the classroom--If your students are anything like mine, they wait until the last minute to rush into the classroom. This creates a problem when they are all trying to squeeze in the door at the same time and get to their seat before they get marked tardy. To keep this from happening, I establish a strict expectation for entering the classroom for my students. It's important to get this procedure started from day one of the school year. It's much tougher to break the habit of pre-class chaos than it is to bite the bullet and teach the procedure right away. Create a solid tardy policy and enforce it from the beginning. For example, my students are considered tardy if they are not in their seat and working on warm-up when the bell rings. We are a very small school and students do not have to go far to travel from class to class so this works for my classroom. Figure out what works for your classroom. I have always thought that most of the discipline issues at the start of class can be remedied with a solid, specific procedure for entering the classroom. 

2. Warm-ups / bell ringers--Warm-ups get students working immediately upon entering my classroom. They are effective because they take the first five to seven minutes of the class period to get students "warmed up" for whatever is being introduced, reviewed, or re-taught in class that day. In my classroom, I put the To-Do on the interactive whiteboard and the students know to check when they enter the room.  Once this routine is established, students know they should be in their seats and working when the bell rings. This is essential to the flow of my classroom because it allows me time to take attendance or answer homework questions while the class is working on their warm-up. Once the time is up, we move on to the content for the day. 

3. Cell phones--It is policy at my school that students cannot have their cell phones out at all during class. Even though this is the policy, I always had students that tried to push the rule. Because of that, I made a place specifically for cell phones to go in my room. If you are in my room, your phone must be parked in the cell parking lot (picture below). That is the expectation. As soon as students enter my classroom, they know they are expected to place their cell phone (turned off) in the pocket that matches their number.  When the bell rings at the end of class, students know to pick up their phone on the way out of class. Again, this works in my classroom. This may or may not work in yours. As is the case with all procedures, you must figure out how your classroom will run. 

4. Restroom--Students need to know the appropriate time to use the restroom in your class. It is important to share your expectation with them. In my classroom, students can only leave to go to the restroom during individual work time. I understand that emergencies happen and I would never keep a student that was in distress away from the restroom. That being said, it is still crucial that my students understand the procedure for going to the restroom. In my school, students must have their planner filled out and teacher signature before they can leave. This is why they can only leave to the restroom during individual work time.  If this procedure was not in place, students would be interrupting class activities and discussions.  Learning is still the priority and I explain this at the start of the school year. I have seen many ways to deal with restroom breaks. Again, it depends on what you expect out of your students and your classroom.

5. Turning in work--Typically teachers have set aside a location in the classroom for students to turn in work. It is important that this location is labeled and the procedure explained. Do not assume because the location is labeled with their class name that students will know what it is for. Teach the procedure explicitly. Because my school is 1:1, most of the work is done and submitted in Google Classroom. Most of the time, there is no tangible paper to place in a basket or bin. There are times though that my students turn in something they have handwritten. It's especially important that I remind students often where to turn in work, especially because they don't use it often. 

6. Agenda board--It is important for students to always know what the plan is for the week. It helps them to stay on top of assignments and aware of what is happening in the class each day. Every Monday, students get out their planners and copy the information from the agenda board. I go around a check each planner as they are working. Students that have correct get a reward coupon. This is a procedure I teach at the start of the school year. Students know they can always refer to this agenda board and their planner to see what is planned for each day, especially handy if they are absent.

7. Leaving class--It never fails...each year I have students who try to pack up five minutes early during those first few days of the school year. To stop this, I created a procedure that tells students exactly what they need to do to leave my classroom. I call it "The Two Minute Countdown" (poster example can be found below). I teach this procedure explicitly at the start if each school year and I have a sign up as a reminder. This has helped the "early packers" and gained me extra minutes of instruction.

8. Signal for attention--There is nothing worse than waiting for the class to settle down enough so class can begin, begin again, and again...Some students (many students) like to talk with those around them and are many times unaware that a teacher is trying to get their attention. As a new teacher, I was bad about standing and waiting for my class to notice me. This took valuable class time away from content. Because of this, I created a procedure to get my students' attention. I flicker the lights off and on. I teach this procedure the first day of class and we practice it often.  Choose a signal that works for you. I have seen teachers use sounds, music, lights, and hand gestures as signals.  

9. Small groups--Students know how to talk with each other, but they typically do not know how to work collaboratively. In my classroom, students sit three to four at a table. Collaborative activities happen every day in my classroom. I cannot assume that students know what this looks like. This needs to be taught explicitly during the first few days of the year. If your classroom does not tend to have a lot of collaborative activities, you can hold off on this procedure until later. Again, decide what works in your classroom.

10. Classroom library--I teach this procedure on the second day of class no matter what. It is important to me that my students learn to enjoy reading. To do this, they have to have books in their hands from the start. Checking books in and out of my classroom library ensures there are records of the books students have read and keeps my books from disappearing. It's a win-win. I walk my students through the process as they check out their first books. It usually takes most students a few times to get the hang of this. It's important to repeat the explanation of this procedure often. In my classroom, I use Booksource's Classroom Organizer to manage my classroom library. It's student friendly and easy to manage as a teacher. 

None of these procedures are a one-time explanation. They all require multiple times of explicit teaching. All of these procedures are included in the syllabus that I give to my students at the beginning of the class. I use a flipbook design that is glued into student interactive notebooks. This ensures that they don't get lost and are always at student fingertips. You can find this editable syllabus at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Always remember the words of Harry and Rosemary Wong, "Effective teachers have a classroom management plan with all the procedures necessary for a classroom to run consistently and smooth for learning to take place." Have a great start of the school year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Best of 2016 TpT Products

As the year ends, I wanted to look back at my most popular products and show how I use each in my classroom. Each of the links below take you to the products in my TpT store. 

1. Editable Flipbook Syllabus Template-This product was created out of sheer necessity. Every year, most of my students "misplaced" my syllabus and it was a constant struggle for students to remember all of the policies and procedures of my classroom. Knowing that my students never seemed to lose their interactive notebooks, I thought they were the perfect place to insert my syllabus. So I created a flipbook syllabus that fit perfectly within the dimensions of their composition notebooks. At the beginning of the school year, this is the first thing I give to my students. I pass them out and the students participate in a syllabus scavenger hunt to get acquainted with the information. They take the syllabus home and go over it with their parents (syllabus requires a signature of student and parent). The next class students put the flipbook together and glue into the front cover of their interactive notebooks.


2. New Year's Puzzles for Grades 4-12-The few days at the beginning of the 2nd semester (after Christmas break) are always a time for re-teaching policies and procedures and getting the students back into the swing of school. I use this product for one day activities that my students can work on during the class period. They are also great because they require no planning time to get them ready. 

3. The Westing Game Novel Detective Notes-This product was created as a way for my students to keep all of the details of this mystery organized and in one place. This novel is chock full of characters and clues. My students were always getting confused and lost in the details. This product is the perfect tool to help my students be good organized detectives.

4. WWII and Holocaust Book Reading Journal-Each school year, I do a Holocaust/WWII unit with my students. I have done the unit as literature circles with 5-6 books around this theme. I have also had each student read a different book. This product came from the first time I did this unit with each student reading a different book. I needed a way to keep each student accountable for their reading and their learning. This journal gives students a different theme related prompt for each day of reading. My students like the independent reading feeling of this product and by second semester, they have the skills and the responsibility to do this independently. We then discuss broad themes that are found in all of their books and learn more about the Holocaust & WWII.

5. WWII Novel Scrapbook Project-This product grew out of the same unit as the product before. I needed a way to assess my students at the end of the Holocaust/WWII unit. Since each student typically read a different book, I couldn't just give an exam over 20 different books. This product includes multiple intelligences and pushes students to use their higher order thinking skills. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Regaining Your Sanity During Christmas Break

Teachers, it's time to start the countdown! Christmas break is almost here and it's important to begin thinking of how to recharge and rejuvenate while on break. Don't wait until break begins to start thinking of ways to stop, relax, and savor your time away from school. Remember that teaching is stressful and we all need this time to regain our sanity by recharging our batteries. I struggle with this as well so I thought of some ways that I can relax and regain my own sanity. 

1. Get lots of sleep: One thing we as teachers always seem to skimp on during the school week is sleep. Christmas break gives us the perfect opportunity to catch up on some sleep. I don't mean binging on sleep but a new routine will help your body respond to the increase in sleep. Go to bed at a reasonable time now that you won't need to stay up late grading and planning for school. Turn off your alarm clock. There is nothing better than switching off that alarm and allowing yourself to sleep in...even if your internal clock only allows you to sleep in an extra 30 minutes.  Consistent, long night's of sleep will do refresh your body and mind. And those naps you never wanted to take as a child, take them all now!

2. Turn off your email: We live in a 24/7 world and we all tend to check our email constantly during the school week. Be brave and turn on your away from office feature during break. If you feel that is too drastic, set specific times during break to check your school email. Remember you are allowed to enjoy your break and need to be taking things more slowly. Constantly checking your school email and voice mail requires you to remain in the school routine. Start as soon as break begins and follow through.

3. Create a relaxing environment: If your home looks like mine, it's not always the relaxing place I need it to be. Weekends are spent cleaning the house, then it's Sunday and time for school again. It's hard to relax if their are cleaning and other house chores that need to get done. Take some time your first day and do a bit of cleaning. Yes, I know you are tired and cleaning takes energy, but it will result in you feeling much happier relaxing the rest of your break.

4. Eat well: Just like sleeping, teachers tend to slack on good eating habits when we get busy and overworked. Take the extra time to enjoy your meals. Spend time having meals with friends and family that you have missed seeing. Spending time with those we care about can boost our souls.

5. Binge-watch something: Break is the perfect time to catch up on shows that you never had time to enjoy during the school week. You have permission to binge-watch any show you choose. I myself am planning a Gilmore Girls marathon! The sheer joy of being able to do something unproductive for a few hours is bliss to the overworked, over-scheduled teacher. When in doubt, shout "On to the next episode!"

6.  Get some fresh air: If your classroom is anything like mine, the air in my junior high classroom is really stale and usually stinky. Whether you live in a cold place or hot place, get outside and breathe in some fresh air. It's a great way to clear out the cobwebs and rejuvenate your body. Take the dog for a short walk, play with the kids, sit outside with a good book (if it's not a frozen tundra (teehee), and if you are feeling really motivated, take a fast walk or jog outside instead of hitting the gym.

7.  Plan something to look forward to: You might not have the time or the money for a week in a fancy beach resort, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some treat time planned into your break.  Simple things like meeting friends for lunch, going to the movies or theatre or having a well-deserved night out will help you to feel more relaxed and to enjoy your time off. Try to do something you don't have time to do during the regular school week. If your anything like me, I never have the energy or the time to go to an actual theater to watch a movie. I have already purchased tickets on Fandango to go see Passengers with a giant bag of popcorn in my lap.

8.  Indulge yourself: Look after and treat yourself.  Extra-long baths, a manicure, a pedicure, a stroll through a bookstore, or even an afternoon at Starbucks surfing the Internet and taking in the scene are all things that might make you feel better.  You know what works for you – the kind of activities that feel terribly indulgent are just what the doctor ordered when you’re recovering after the first half of the school year. Just do it!

9.  Get inspired: Take some time to inspire yourself and boost morale for the second half of the school year. Search Pinterest for motivational quotes and videos. Spend some time reading your favorite teaching books that you typically do not have time to read during the school year. 

10. Allow yourself just one day for school work: Typically there will be some work to be completed over the holidays: preparing lessons for the first week back or getting your classroom ready.  You’re likely to worry about all that needs to be done until you take control of it.  The easiest way to do this is to tackle it head on.  Some people prefer just to get on and get everything done the first few days of the break and then relax.  Others prefer to gear back up for school by working at the end of the holiday. Do what works best for you. My go-to activity for my class (and myself) to do the first day back is a Looking Back Looking Forward: New Year's Resolution Activity. You can find it in my TpT store as a freebie.

One more tip to save your sanity! Remember there are 6 more days of great ideas, freebies and giveaways!  

Today you can enter to win the following

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Laughing All the Way Secondary Blog Hop

       As teachers we know how trying the month of December can be for the best of classrooms. This year is going to be no different in my middle school ELA classroom. It's always difficult for my students to keep their heads in the game, instead of off in dreams of sleeping in and not having to come to school for two weeks of break. By this time, we could all use a break, even though it's just not possible.  Even though the students think it's torture to ask them to think for the next 4 weeks until break...I often get the "Ms. U why can't we just watch movies and do easy stuff? It's almost Christmas. We should do stuff that's fun." So I tell them that we are going to do something REALLY fun...sing Christmas carols and decorate our classroom Christmas tree. Keeping to myself the rest of the details. Typically students try to size me up and call my bluff but I always keep my poker face on. Eventually curiosity gets the best of them and they go with it.
       "Singing" Christmas Carols: As a way to pull in the excitement of the holidays while still keeping my eye on common core, I use Christmas carols as text for close reading. By this time, my 7th graders are starting to get the hang of the process so I can push them a bit. I find that these songs are typically ones they can sing but have never thought about the meaning of the text they are singing. It's a perfect close read situation...they are familiar with the text but have not looked closely at it.  For my close readings, I use a lesson structure that allows me to scaffold the questions, increasing their intensity and difficulty with each read. For example, I use the song "Deck the Halls." Using this text, I created three sets of questions:

  • One set for the first read that focuses on KEY IDEAS & DETAILS. These questions assess my students' ability to find the main idea, identify story elements, and determine key details of the passage. 
  • One set for the second read that focuses on CRAFT & STRUCTURE. These questions assess my students' ability to focus in on author's craft and word choices made by the writer. They analyze how the text is structured and why the author wrote the text the way he/she did. 
  • One set for the third read that focuses on INTEGRATION OF KNOWLEDGE & IDEAS. These questions require students to analyze the text further by using all that they have already discovered while also relating to other texts and media. 
       Each of the sets of questions can be done in various ways: partners, cooperative groups, individually. You know your class' ability best. Let that knowledge be your guide.

       Looking for a way to implement this activity with no prep or hassle? You can purchase my exact set of questions along with the text in my TpT store by clicking on the link below.

       Decorate the Class Christmas Tree: It wouldn't be the holidays without a tree in the classroom. My students always love to see the tree show up and I can always get them excited to help trim the tree with their own work. Every year, I have the students choose their favorite book they have read so far in the school year and create an ornament book review. It's a great way to get them reflecting on their reading life and an awesome way to offer suggestions to other students who are looking for the next great book to read. To do this, I created a template for my students to use.

Students draw the cover of the book they chose and then write the feel the book is "a gift". Then they cut them out and fold them. I laminate them and add yarn or string. I then return the ornament to the students so they can trim the tree with them. 

Student Example Using The Seventh Wish
The Trimmed Tree in my Classroom
       You can find this Reading is a Gift Ornament FREEBIE in my store by clicking here.

I hope the holidays are as wonderful in your classroom this year as I am planning mine to be. Happy Holidays!

Remember to enter our giveaway to win a Starbucks or Target gift card!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Teachers Pay Teachers Sale


Happy Monday everyone!! I am so excited to share with you that TpT is having their annual Teacher Appreciation Sale May 3 - 4! That's tomorrow!! If your cart is anything like mine, it's FULL to the top with great products. My cart is full of products I want to use the end of this school  year and during the upcoming school year.

Now is the time to open up your wishlist and add more to your cart. Look ahead to next year at your curriculum and / or buy products that you have had your eyes on for awhile. It's your time to be appreciated!!

I'm linking up with Jen from Teaching in the Tongas on a TpT Wishlist Linky. Be sure to check out her blog for most wish listed products from other sellers.

So here are my most wish listed products from my TpT store The Marvelous Middle. Click on each of the photos below to see the product in my store.

This item is one that I currently is something that I created when I taught 6th grade. I love teaching mystery and The Westing Game was one of absolute favorites. My students always had so much fun trying to "out-sleuth" each other and be the one to figure out the "Who Dunnit?"  Now that I teach 7th and 8th grade I still have readers who love to read this book independently. Sometimes if I have a reader struggling to keep all the clues straight, I print off this product for them to use as they read. They love having their own detective notes. 

My second most wish listed item is a product that I use every year with my class. Every year, we do a Holocaust unit and this response journal is what I use with my students while they read. I have used it for literature circles and I have used it for whole class novels. It works great either way. This product is a good way to assess your students' learning quickly. They also enjoy that the questions / activities change each day that they have reading to do in their novel.

The last item is one of my favorite projects that we do in my classroom each year. It is also done during my annual Holocaust unit. After the students read their novels, they create scrapbooks that require them to synthesize all the content from the novel. This project touches on plot, setting, characters, and theme. It requires them to write about their reading and construct something that the novel's main character would have kept in their own scrapbook. They must get into the shoes of the main character and think like they do. I have yet to have a class that does not love this end of novel project.

So what are some of the items on your wishlist? Please share them in the comments below. I am always on the lookout for engaging activities for my students.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Spotlight: Beneath by Roland Smith

Book Summary

Patrick has idolized his big brother, Cooper, all of his life. The two brothers are close but are very different. Pat is scared of many things, including tight spaces. Coop, on the other hand, has a love of exploring dark and deep places. Coop decides to start digging in his back yard and soon digs a tunnel through the neighborhood. During the dig, Coop hits a gas line and there is an explosion that injures Pat. Coop is full of guilt and decides to move away without saying goodbye to Pat. 

Fast forward a year...Pat receives a strange package from Coop. The package contains a voice recorder and a cryptic message. Coop never felt the need for technology, like most teenagers. Receiving a voice recorder from Coop shocks Pat but he follows his brother's directions and they begin communicating via recordings. Eventually Pat begins to worry about Coop and sets off on a mission to find him. In order to find Coop, Pat must overcome all of his fears...Can he do it??

My Thoughts

Beneath is a fascinating account of Pat's search for Coop and what happens when he finds him. Through Pat's narration and Coop's recordings, the book is written in a diary and epistolary format. Both points of view are woven into the story, which I find could be problematic for struggling readers. Luckily, the text formatting also switches depending on the point of view. It's important that struggling readers understand the format before the story will make complete sense. 

Pat is the true hero of this book. The reader sees him struggle to overcome his fears in order to save Coop at all costs. There is also a strong female character that goes on the journey with both boys. 

Once I added this book to my library and did a short book talk, my students could not wait to get their hands on it. Always a good addition when there is a waiting list to read it as soon as it gets to my library! 

With a Lexile of 610, this is a perfect book for struggling middle school boy readers looking for a book that reads quickly and is full of adventure. It has enough adventure to keep them on their toes, while still presenting a character with strong traits. Pat's character develops steadily over the course of the book and would be excellent to graph his change from the start of the book to the end of the book.

My favorite thing about this book is as crazy as it's premise seems, there are many things in the story that are well within the realm of possibilities. I am already screaming for a sequel!!