Sunday, August 9, 2015

Classroom Management

It's Back to School time.  It's the time for hope, renewal, new challenges, and joy.  We, as teachers, begin to create plans for our class and what we want to happen. 
I doubt this would be part of our dreams for the upcoming year:
But it happens. 

What you do on the first day, during the first weeks, will determine your school year.


That is a bold statement.


But it is also true.


I am not a self-proclaimed expert on classroom management but I do have 20 years of teaching experience in a variety of settings and those experiences have shaped the teacher I am. 

 It doesn’t matter where you work because I have worked there, too.  I’ve worked in highly impacted, impoverished, and transient schools all the way to schools that want for nothing.  I’ve worked with children who only speak a language other than English to those that speak just as well, if not better, than I do.  I’ve worked with children whose parents who appear to be uninvolved (which I do not believe is really the case) to those who are so involved I’ve wished they had a full time job.

I’ve come to the conclusion none of that matters. 

 It is the culture you grow and nurture that matters.  I call it your Classroom Culture.
Classroom Culture is part classroom management.  But it is also how you decide to go about managing behaviors.  It is the emphasis you place on systems rather than emphasis on growing and learning and acceptance.
There are no secrets about classroom management.  You need to be consistent and predictable.  You have to be firm in your beliefs.  You can’t be loosey-goosey with your expectations.  You must be fair. For some of us this is easy and for others it is hard.  I think this has to do more with how much thought we put into the culture of our class and what we believe rather than just implementing a system because everyone else does.

I do not use a behavior management system.  We expect children to behave a certain way and they should not be rewarded {or punished} for behavior.  When you manage behavior using a system there are problems.  What about the student who is always good? Do they get rewarded every day?  Or do they even get noticed?  And, why?  Because they are acting like we EXPECT them to??

 If we really expect it, why would we reward it? If the culture of our classroom is that everyone behaves a certain way so we feel safe and can get the important work of learning done, then there is no need to.  If we believe that we are all learning and there will be days we make mistakes and that's ok, we foster that safe, caring, community.  If we say,  "We spend a lot of time at school and we want to look forward to and actually enjoy being in our classroom", then we must all be a part of creating that place.  If we agree we all want to fit in and be accepted, then we work together to create that place.  This is our classroom culture.

Consider the student who got into trouble the first five minutes of school.  Perhaps he wanted attention and negative attention is better than none.  If you use a behavior management system, she now has no way to redeem herself so she may as well be naughty the entire day. If you deal with the behavior privately and move on, the student's self-esteem is left in tact and they can have a positive day.
Behavior  management systems call attention to negative behaviors.  EVEN IF YOU REWARD THE POSITIVE.  You are also publicizing behaviors that are not anyone else’s business.  EVEN IF YOU SPEAK TO THE STUDENT IN PRIVATE.  If everyone understands the behavior system then everyone knows who is “good” and who is not.   When parents come into the room they will know, too. 

Here is my key question: Why should we reward something we expect? 

  Do adults get a special reward for being a law-abiding citizen? 

Why should we punish when we get less than what we expect?  Do we punish kids for reading below grade level? 


It is our job to teach them how to become a better reader.   Likewise, it is our job to teach positive school behaviors.  Students are learning how to do this.  There will be hiccups and bumps in the road.  There will be that one student who hasn’t a clue how to behave.  A behavior management system is not going to teach them how to behave.  You are. 
These are the children who need us the most but probably push us away the hardest.  They push so hard we may even want to turn our backs on them.  But then nothing happens.  We all lose in a situation like that.  We need to break down those walls and get to know them.  Build a relationship with them.  I guarantee that you will find at least one redeeming quality if you take the time.  Go in with that mindset.  Do not go in thinking that this student was place in your classroom to make your hair turn gray.  That won’t work.

 In my years of teaching I’ve had a few students whom I swore were put in my class to punish me.  {I’ve even thought that about my own children through certain seasons}.  I had to dig deep to build relationships.  But by the end of the year, I loved that student as much as the others.  They are the ones who come back to visit me year after year.  They were the ones I knew I made a difference with.  And that is why I do this work and, I believe, is why we all are teachers. 

I didn’t write this post to say I’m a great teacher and you are not if you use a system to manage behavior. I implemented classroom management systems when I first started teaching. When my children began school I started reflecting about it.  My oldest is a people pleaser and has never been in trouble at school.  My son is …well, let’s just say he is the opposite.  My daughter never got noticed for being a role model.  My son, on the other hand, got A LOT of attention.  They were even jealous of one another for a while.  My son knew the principal very well.  My daughter had never been in her office {but wanted to}.

Reflecting on my own children’s experiences made me think about my classroom. What kind of culture did I want?  How did I want my students to feel about themselves and their classmates?  What could I live with and what could I ignore?  What were the non-negotiables?  How would I deal with less than stellar behavior? What would make me get out of bed everyday without hesitation wanting, actually looking forward to, going to work?

When I really thought about it, I realized I didn’t like what I was doing.  I decided to look at the whole child and the root of the behavior. I decided to create a classroom that I loved going to.  I got to know all of my students.  I built relationships with them, and their families.   I decided not to get mad at students who misbehaved but love them.  I fostered relationships among students where everyone felt as if they belonged and they were an integral part of our "school family".   It hasn’t been an easy road.  There are times, very few, I thought it would be easier to have Class Dojo than have to call parents or meet with them. But it’s not my philosophy.   

So, sit down and really think about what you want from your classroom and for your students before school starts.  When you are firm in your beliefs it is so much easier to follow through, no matter what you teammates or the teacher next door is doing.  What works for someone else may not work for you.  You have to decide for yourself what outcomes you want.  Then, do it!  You won’t look back either.
I'd love to hear your stories and what worked for you {or didn't}.  I truly believe that together we are better and the sharing of all experiences, both positive and negative, creates change.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Back to School and TPT's We Love Back to School Sale

So it's Monday morning and I woke up to the alarm clock.  I haven't heard that darn alarm in 9 weeks!  It was so shocking that I jumped right out of bed.

Then, I remembered why it was going off.

Could it be?

Is it THAT time already?


Not today, anyway.  Not this week, actually.  I am just not ready. 
Besides, it's still summer.  Let's go back in September.
When summer is over.
It is called "Summer Break", you know?
I am headed to a 2 day math training for our new program, Bridges Math.  I am {sort of} excited to go because then I will know what my teammates are talking about. 
You see, they went to the training in June.  But I was enjoying my summer. In California. On the beach. While they were in training.
So, today, they will be sleeping in.  Enjoying their summers. While I am in training.
Seems fair, right?
To make this day a little more bearable is the fact that I get to shop TPT's We Love Back to School Sale.  I love shopping sales!  I will probably shop during the training's restroom break.  Every break.  Both days.
My entire TPT shop, all 241 items, will be 28% off with code BTS15 at check out.
I recently added a few great items you would be interested in.
I'm in love with my Reading Responses that Improve Comprehension pack!  In. love.
This unit contains 32 reading responses that were designed for differentiated learning to be used during guided reading, whole class activities, independent work, Daily 5 or center work such as listening or Read to Self, or even homework. The activities were carefully crafted for a variety of young learners to aid in reading comprehension and can be used with ANY book!
This was field tested last year and I ended up with amazing readers who had great comprehension skills.  Who wouldn't love that?

I also put up a freebie for you.  It's my Caddy Pack!  This provides tools for your students to have at their fingertips so they do not waste a second of learning.
Snag yours here!
I spent a lot of time this summer updating my products so if you own any of my products you may want to see if it has been updated so you can download the newest version --for free. 
Well, I am going to be late to my first day of school and we wouldn't want that to happen. 
Wish me luck {I'm going to need it}. 


Sunday, August 2, 2015

iTeach First Bloggers Back to School Giveaway - It's a Big One!!

It's that time of year again. 
Back to School!
The teachers of iTeach First have a FABULOUS giveaway for you!
Who doesn't want an iPad Air 2 with a shock proof, kid-friendly case that also doubles as a desktop stand, a stylus pen, and an iTunes gift card?  
You can use this iPad as a personal device to help you get organized and lead whole-group activities, as a small group learning center, or as an individual choice time or enrichment activity.  With so many free educational apps to choose from these days, the possibilities are endless. No matter how you chose to use it, we know that it will become a favorite resource in your class this school year.
Winning this would make anyone's back to school special!
To enter, just fill out the simple rafflecopter entry form here.
Here is an iPad app my first graders love.
It is called Learn Sight Words.  It is great for the primary grades.
Just for fun, comment below to tell us why you want to win it, or how you would use it in your classroom. I can’t wait to hear all of your fun ideas. Best wishes to you all, and may the odds be in your favor!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Summer Recap

It feels like yesterday I was counting down the days until summer and now it is time to go back to school.

Why does the summer always fly by??

My family has been super busy this summer and that left me very little time {actually no time} to blog.  So I thought I'd share a summer recap.

We were home for about a half week and getting ready for my son, Nick, to go to camp.  He has been going to the Easter Seals of the Rockies camp for 3 years and loves it. 
Usually it is a respite time for the rest of the family.
But not this year.  My daughter and I went to California instead. We drove 16 hours from Colorado to Southern California.  Emily was trying out for a gym there that has 6 locations in California, Nevada, and Arizona.
First, we went to Del Mar.  Luckily the fair was going on so we got to enjoy that.


The day we went to La Jolla, and almost everyday thereafter, June Gloom had set in.  I am an ocean girl so it didn't stop me for enjoying the salt water.

We traveled around Southern California for a week then headed to Vegas. 
After a few days we had to leave.  Tryouts were over and we had a plane to catch to the East Coast. 
We didn't really get to enjoy Utah as we were in a rush but it is a beautiful state to drive through.  And the speed limit is 80 most of the way =)
We were home for a day when it was time to leave again.  This time the whole family went.
Emily and I had spent a lot of time in the car so we were thrilled to fly.  We went straight to Cape May to visit Tom's dad.  He rents out his beach house most of the summer so we wanted to have the opportunity to visit before the chaos started.  The kids hadn't been there in 5 years and remembered why they loved it there.  Nick went fishing with Tom and his brother.  He caught a sand shark, a sting ray, and a flounder.  Nick was overjoyed with his ocean catches.
Our entire family lives in NY and NJ so we spent two weeks visiting and catching up.  My nephew graduated high school and we were able to attend.  I spent a lot of time with my brother, Will, who had a heart attack in March and his family.  It was such a relief to see him at home.
We spent time in NYC, the best city in the world.  I feel so at home and miss living there.
The highlight of our time in the city was visiting TPT.

I've always wanted to go "behind the scenes" and see how TPT works.  This is a community I've belonged to since late 2010 and was ecstatic to have that opportunity!
Jodi, Jillian, Sam, and Karen showed us around the office.  Everyone was so friendly!  We went into a conference room and chatted.  It was if we were old friends. 
My daughter left thinking that she wanted to work there!  I was reeling from their positive energy for days.  {And then I got to see them again in Vegas}
Emily started watching Gossip Girl on Netflix this year so I surprised her with a Gossip Girl Tour.  She loved, loved, loved it.  I cannot tell you how many times we said, "And who am I? That's a secret I'll never tell.  I know you love me. XOXO Gossip Girl"
After almost 3 weeks on the East Coast, it was time to leave.  I had to get to Vegas for the TPT Conference!  I had 2 days to unpack, do laundry, and repack for Vegas.
I found a bargain flight last winter so I knew I was going to get there before my roomies.  That's ok.  It was a balmy 106 degrees, so I headed for the pool. I had been traveling since the beginning of June nonstop and needed some R&R.

I fell in love with the misters around the pool.  They were very necessary in that heat.
That night was the Blogger Meet Up.
Only 1,100 people attended.  It was crazy and fun but I was totally overwhelmed.  I get very quiet and reserved in big crowds.  I wish I could just be myself, but I was just too uncomfortable.  I definitely had sensory overload. 
Let me be honest with you...
There are people in this blogging world who are super creative and intelligent and I would love to meet them.  However, I am not the type to be running up to someone and start fawning over them.  It is just not me. 
I just watched all of those people who are comfortable doing that.  It was entertaining and next year I will know what to expect.
Here I am with a group I know - my Colorado blogging buddies.

Here I am with the sweet Laura Martin.

Some girls I met up with at the Primary Mingling Session on Friday morning.  I was very grateful for them bringing me out of my shell a little.  I even had lunch with Aly and Mr. and Miss Giraffe (who are the cutest couple EVER).

Paul doing the keynote on Friday morning.

The sessions were jam-packed with great information both days. By Friday my head was swimming with information and I just needed time to process it all.  It was not going to happen for me in Vegas but I hoped once I got home the following night I could have a good night's rest in my own bed and wake up and go over my notes.  Those were my plans....
 Nichole from The Craft of Teaching, myself, and Sara from Mrs. P's Special Education Classroom in the photo booth at the Farewell reception.

I thought this was my last look at Vegas until next year but, haha, it was not.
I got home from the TPT Conference on Saturday night and on Monday morning Emily and I were driving back to Las Vegas.
When we were in California in June, Emily tried out for a new gym to continue her All Star Cheer journey.  Well, she made the team in Las Vegas.  We had to go there to meet her host family, see if she thought the team would be a good fit, and attend choreography.
Emily loved the gym and her team immediately.  I really like her host mom and family.  The owner wanted her to move out immediately.  So, we drove home and packed her up to move away from home.
At first I was excited for her and her new adventure.  Then it hit me that my 16 year old would be living almost 900 miles away from me for close to a year.  I knew this would happen but I didn't think it would until college.
After soul searching, long conversations with my husband, and lots of prayer, we agreed to let her try it.  It was an amazing opportunity that she had worked hard to get to.

 One week ago we took her to the airport to go to Las Vegas. 

On a one way flight...


We waited until it was time to board and after hugs and kisses

she was gone.
In the past week I have spent many an hour in the fetal position in her bedroom.  I prayed and still pray that we made the right decision.
I burst into tears while I was cleaning my car and found a bag of her goldfish shoved under the seat.
I've sprayed my house with her perfume so it smells like she is still here.
I'm not going to lie.  It is hard.  I hope it gets easier.  Maybe once school starts. 
But for right now it's minute by minute.
 I speak to her several times a day and she is doing great!  She loves her living situation (she is living with a teammate the same age as her from New Mexico).  She is thrilled with her team and she claims she does not miss home.  I guess that means my husband and I did a good job in raising her.  We all want our children to grow up to be happy, caring, successful, and independent, right?
But it is hard.
 I need your help friends.  Will this get easier?  What should I do with myself?  I need your help please

Friday, June 26, 2015


Do you have students who can tap out each sound in a word but cannot put it all together to make a word?

Do you have students who sound out words when writing but miss sounds and put the sounds in the wrong order?

What about children who only hear the beginning and final sound?

Every year I am surprised by how many first graders are not yet able to do these things.  I have more than a handful that cannot rhyme as well.  Some can hear rhymes but cannot produce them and others just cannot rhyme.

Will this effect their reading and writing?  Absolutely.

 These students are lacking phonemic awareness.

Before children learn to read print, they need to become aware of how the sounds in words work. In the same way we have students orally rehearse their stories before writing children need to work with phonemes, or sounds, before attaching letters to them. This is phonemic awareness.

 Phonemic awareness is essential for beginning readers and must be systematically taught. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate individual phonemes, or sounds. All this work can be done in the dark – with no letters attached. Without phonemic awareness, phonics makes no sense.   Phonemic awareness is an excellent predictor of reading success and it must be explicitly taught. 

"One of the most compelling and well-established findings in the research on beginning reading is the important relationship between phonemic awareness and reading acquisition." (Kame'enui, et. al., 1997)

"The best predictor of reading difficulty in kindergarten or first grade is the inability to segment words and syllables into constituent sound units (phonemic awareness)." (Lyon, 1995).

The skills required for phonemic awareness are:

  - Identifying sounds - Although there are 26 letters in the English language, there are approximately 40 phonemes, or sounds, in the English language. Sounds are represented in 250 different spellings, for example,  /f/ could be ph, f, gh, or  ff.

 -Rhyming - Students need to identify if words rhyme or not.  They should be able to produce a rhyming word from any given word. (The latter is typically the more difficult task.)

 - Syllable awareness - Being able to count how many syllables are in a word and manipulating one of the syllables (e.g.: "Say insect without sect.  In.")

 - Compound Word - Building of and deleting one of the words that creates the compound word.  Building:   Teacher says, "Butter" and  pauses, then says, "Fly".  Students say, "Butterfly."
Deleting:   Teacher says, "Say skateboard without skate."  Students say, "Board."

 -Onset/rime manipulation - The onset is the part of the word before the vowel, however, not all words have onsets. The rime is the part of the word including the vowel and what follows it.
Teacher says, "Rab" and pauses.  Then says, "Bit".  Students say, "Rabbit."
Teacher says, "Say dentist without den."  Students say, "Tist."

 -Beginning, final and medial sound isolation - Singular phonemes and digraphs

Children can first isolate an initial sound, followed by the final sound.  Isolating the medial sound usually comes last.  Isolating digraphs is an easier skill than isolating blends.

 -Blending and segmenting phonemes- Blending means putting the sounds together.  (Ex.: /c/ /a/ /t/, cat)
Segmenting is the act of isolating each phoneme in a word.

 -Manipulating phonemes by adding, substituting, or deleting sounds -  The most challenging of  the phonemic awareness task is the ability to manipulate or work with individual sounds in spoken words. Children who can think about and manipulate phonemes become better readers and spellers. They distinguish and remember words that are similar such as spray and may and spring. Manipulation tasks include addition, substitution, and deletion.

Performance on manipulation tasks such as substitution "have yielded strong predictions of, or correlations with, reading achievement." (Lundberg, Olofsson, and Wall, 1980; Mann, 1984; Rosner and Simon, 1971)

Do you teach this important skill?  If not, that is probably what is missing for your at-risk readers.  As a reading specialist who worked with 3rd-5th graders who were below grade level, 80% of them did not have phonemic awareness. It makes sense that they could be close to or even on grade level in the primary grades but once words got larger with more irregularities, they had no clue how to attack these words.  Even though they were taught phonics, they did not have the foundation for it - phonemic awareness.
When I returned to the classroom eleven years ago, I made sure that I spent ten minutes a day teaching phonemic awareness. That short amount of time has been worth it, for sure.  Over this time I have created a phonemic awareness curriculum.  It has been modified and adjusted until now.  I am slowly publishing it on TPT.  The first month is up individually and bundled.  The bundle is only 11.99 right now but will eventually be $29.99.  I will add each month to the bundle as it is published, which will be by December 2015.  Snatch it now for this super deep discounted price.