December 27, 2015

Camp Read-A-Lot

This should maybe be titled:

Camp Read-A-Lot: Saving This Teacher's Sanity Since Thanksgiving 2014.

Let me tell you about a little "tradition" I've started in my classroom. As you all know, the days before any break can be harried, stressful, and crazy at best. Especially by the time Thanksgiving comes around, we may be looking forward to upcoming testing, going to battle daily with "that kid", trying to get some final writing samples published, and just overall trying to make it through to the holiday.

Last year, I took this opportunity to plan a special event on the last day before Thanksgiving break. My goal was for us to have fun, to do something "academic", stave off misbehavior from boredom, and have something to hold over their heads look forward to for the week. I also didn't want to create a lot of extra work for us-I wanted it to be low key.

As usual, I created an invitation to give to the kids as my way of announcing our special event. I invited them to bring their flashlights (or headlamps or even Camelbacks!) and wear plaid. Last year, I invited my kids to bring sleeping bags and their own tablets to read on.

The afternoon before the event, I prepped our room and set up a center rotation. I made some "tents" out of table cloth, made a "fire" out of a box and some tissue paper, rearranged some seating, and covered my tables with butcher paper for a fun sharing activity.

I set up a rotation to take us pretty much through the entire day and assigned students to groups of 5 or so. Oh, and of course, I turned the lights out and opened the windows for the whole day. Here were my low prep stations:

Fireside Stories-Students settled in around the fire or under a tent for some free reading.
Canoe the Accelerated River-Students read at their seats and then took an AR text. 
Hike the Technology Trail-Students did reading on the RazKids website, which they all have logins for.
Crafting Cottage-Students made a bookmark with a bunch of leftover stuff from my closet.

There were a few other activities that we did as a whole group:

Read Aloud-These were Thanksgiving themed for us!
Book Sharing-Students got to use markers to write the titles of some of their favorite books on the tables I had covered with butcher paper. 
Eating S'Mores-We made s'mores in the microwave and took them outside to eat and have extra recess to celebrate our fun day together. 

At the end of the day, there were happy kids, happy parents, and a happy teacher. Oh, and lots of hugs to send me off to a wonderful Thanksgiving break!

December 23, 2015

Reflections of 2015 Linky Party and Countdown

Today I am linking up with for a 2015 Reflection. Let’s do a little countdown, shall we? Here is my Top 10 for 2015!

10. TPT
In February, I decided to start trying to sell some of the things I have been creating these past eight years as a 2nd grade teacher on a pretty cool website called Teachers Pay Teachers. Do you know it? Jk. My coworkers have been nagging me to do this for ages, but I knew it would be a lot of work. I wanted to do it right. I had to check into the legalities of my creations, clip art use, etc. If you’re reading this, you probably know the drill. So I finally took the plunge and got creating! I am pleased with how it is going so far, but hope to add more and really make a name for myself in the TPT world.

9. Starting The Blog
At the same time I began TPT, I knew that having a blog was going to help me sell products. Furthermore, it was going to help me share ideas. I think that in my own classroom, my best work does not happen in a way that I am able to market through a product, so having a blog is a great way for me to reach out and share! My then boyfriend-soon-to-be-fiance helped me create a logo. Soon after beginning the blog, I knew I was going to need some design help, so I found and hired Alexis at Laugh Eat Learn to do the work for me. Check her out!

8. Engagement

In March, I got engaged to the love of my life! Read about it in this post.

7. TPT Seller Challenge
In June, I took the TPT Seller Challenge. Or, I started to take the Challenge. I think I participated in 3 out of 4 weeks. It was a good experience because it got me reflecting on my work so far and helped me hone some skills. Read about what I learned and did through this challenge here and here.

6.  Baby Cora
I got a new niece! This was basically the highlight of my summer. She is super sweet, and loves to smile and squeal. I’m glad that I have both a nephew and niece to spoil and I’m so thankful to live a little bit closer to my sister now than I did in the past.

5. The First Day
Yes, the first day of school was a momentous and important occasion in 2015. It was my first new school since my first year of teaching. In the week leading up to it, I felt like seven years of first days did not adequately prepare me for the first day of year eight. I was so nervous! But it went beautifully. And it was only the first of many beautiful days.

4. Moving Again
In September, we bought and moved into a dream condo in a great location in Atlanta. We love working together to make this place a true home. Most recently, we finally got a sofa!

3. A New Place
I could dwell on the past and get all sappy, but I already did that here. As 2015 comes to a close, I could not be more thankful to have found a teaching position in a wonderful new school. The Lord certainly answers prayers. Finding a new school to work in is about so much more than location. It’s about finding your place. A place among a community, coworkers, and children. We all have a place, don’t we? And right now, mine is really lovely.

2. Getting Married
In October, the best day of the year happened. Our wedding day. Check out this post for some more pictures and details.

1. Jamaica
Our honeymoon was a huge highlight of our year together. We waited about a month after our wedding to go to Jamaica (had to take advantage of Thanksgiving  break) and it was so amazing. Ah, I can close my eyes and almost feel the warm tropical breeze right now…oh wait, that’s just December in Georgia!

Jan Brett

Once upon a time, a close knit team of 2nd grade teachers decided to ring in Winter with a Jan Brett author study. They read books, did activities, and even hosted a Rotation Day for related crafts and snacks. Changes have happened, all for the good, and these three teachers no longer teach at the same school together...

...But THIS teacher keeps ringing in the holiday break with a Jan Brett author study. Even when she doesn't really have time for it because she is supposed to be stressed out by her Expeditionary Learning "Showcase" scheduled for the three days before the holiday break (What?! How did that happen?!)

Anyways, I wanted to share a few ideas for using Jan Brett's books in a middle elementary classroom. I think that her most famous book, The Mitten, is one often shared with younger kids for a variety of reasons, but there is so much good stuff that older kids can learn from her books as well! You might be surprised by just how excited your “grown up” students will get about reading her stories.

You should know that while many of her stories have a holiday theme, many of them do not-they just happen to be set in snowy places! This may help you if you have students of different cultural or religious backgrounds in your classroom.

Let's get to the learning point. Jan Brett's books can be used to teach many of the Literature common core standards. Here are a few of my favorites:

Teach or review traditional literature by sharing The Mitten, Gingerbread Baby, and Goldilocks to name a few. Some of her pieces, like The Umbrella, or The Three Snow Bears, are traditional stories re-imagined in a new setting. 

Compare and contrast Jan Brett's traditional literature with more familiar versions. Compare and contrast The Mitten and The Umbrella or The Three Snow Bears with Goldilocks. Students could draw and build their own Venn diagrams to compare and contrast two of her books. 

Study the ways characters change and what they learn through their experiences. In The Wild Christmas Reindeer, Teeka learns to use love and patience to train Santa’s reindeer. In Home For Christmas, Rollo the troll loses his tail when he learns a lesson about being part of a family.

You absolutely must watch some of Jan Brett’s videos where she gives lessons on how to draw some of her characters. Not only can students follow along, learning to draw in Brett’s style, but they learn about her process, inspiration, and craft as she describes her work. My favorites are How to Draw a Hedgie, Gingerbread Baby, and A Baby Polar Bear. You can access her videos by clicking here.

I suggest that you stay close to the computer to pause the video as students are following along. Jan can move rather fast. I also suggest letting students use dry erase boards for their first go round. If you have time, they can transfer their work on paper after that. If you have a lot of time, they can also use watercolor and sharpies to make their picture look great! In How To Draw a Gingerbread Baby, Jan gives instruction on watercolor which may give new ideas for students to try.

Throw a Jan Brett winter party! Many school districts are moving away from the traditional Christmas party, and I promise you that if you throw a Jan Brett party, your kids will not miss the Christmas theme!

Serve mitten cookies, make a Swedish heart ornament, do a Hedgie craft, eat Gingerbread, and more! The possibilities are really endless and so much fun.

I hope you enjoyed my ideas. I tried to keep things simple this year because we were preparing for a showcase. My main goal is to enjoy the books, learn from the author/illustrator, and keep those kiddos excited to be at school with me!

December 11, 2015

Doubting Teacher

Maybe it's because of all the December assessments...
Or maybe it's because I shouldn't have clicked on that education-bashing article getting shared on Facebook...
Or maybe it's because I can't seem to get these papers graded, this closet organized, those two kiddos to get along, or that one to finish a writing project...
Or maybe I've read too many blogs or seen too many Instagram posts written by those "perfect" teachers...

Whatever "It" is, it's causing self-doubt.

Do you struggle with this? This week I really started to notice just how much I doubt myself at work. I pour over data and checklists and spreadsheets. I feel relief to see numbers going up and dismay and bewilderment when they go down. 

I just reread that last sentence. I don't even feel pride or excitement to see numbers going up, but relief. That doesn't seem right, does it?

Day after day, I talk to myself in a way that might at first be reflective, but in the end plants seeds of self-doubt and worry. 

Did I challenge those kids?
Did I support them enough?
Does she really get it?
Shouldn't I be able to get them to think and respond more deeply? 
Do they look forward to coming to school?
How did I miss that?  
Did I come down too hard on her?
Did we smile, share, or laugh enough today?
Am I really an effective teacher? 

Reflection breathes life in to us as professionals. Doubt destroys. So where is the line?

I'm not writing this post because I want someone to pat me on the back and encourage me. In fact, my self-doubt would cause me to not believe you anyways, and besides, I am the only one in my classroom witnessing the days as they pass.

No, I wrote this but to just say, if you're like me, you're not alone.