Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cooperative Learning + Freebie

Hey there teacher friends! I'm not even going to start making excuses for being an absent blogger because (a) I know you all know just how busy the beginning of the year can be and (b) it would not be very proactive of me to make excuses (habit #1, if you remember!). So with that, I'm going to share a few things with y'all that I made and used to get the year started.

A few years ago, I went to a Kagan training with a few other teachers from my school. Ever since then, I've made a conscious effort to incorporate cooperative learning strategies into my lessons. One of the very easiest ways to encourage cooperative learning is to set up your classroom desks in groups, not rows. In my room, if you remember, I have round tables instead of desks, and I chose those on purpose because I love how easily they lend themselves for group work and student participation. At the training, I learned how giving students roles and assigned partners within their groups would also help foster the cooperative learning style, so I made these table mats to help my students remember their roles:

This is how the mats work: you can see that each student has a number as well as a letter assignment and two partner assignments. Because of this, if you ever needed to have students get supplies or record their answers while working with their table group, all you have to do is assign a number to a certain job - say, all kids who are #4 would be the record keepers. The numbers and letters also help if you ever want to mix up the way the kids are grouped - you could have all the letter As stand up and then find a partner with someone who is standing OR with someone who is sitting, or you could group all the ones together, all the twos, and so on, so that the kids get to work with a group other than those kids at their table. Shoulder partners and face partners are just terms that help kids remember who to talk to if you ever ask students to share their thoughts, predictions, or connections during a lesson.   

I laminated these mats and put them in the center of each group's table. My table groups are named and also have a color, so I made each mat match the table's color. I made these round to match my round tables, but I also created rectangular table mats for those of you who have long tables or clustered desks. If you are interested in using cooperative learning table mats in your classroom, you can find them here for just $1 in my TpT store! The file includes both the round and rectangular mats in five colors! 

Now, about that freebie: when I started my reading lessons this year, I made sure to spend a lot of time discussing with my class what it means to pick a just right book. Since my third graders aren't really learning to read anymore (they're reading to learn!), they are much more free to pick books. However, I wanted to be sure they were choosing books that were not only on their level, but books that they'd enjoy and be able to understand. That's where the I PICK phrase comes in. This little acrostic comes from the 2 Sisters, and it stands for:

To help my students remember the phrase, I made these bookmarks for them to fill out and color. I gave my kids the blank ones (with just letters) because I wanted them to complete the phrase themselves - I figured if they had to write what the letters mean, they'd be more prone to remember it! Here are a few examples of what my students came up with:

I know that not everyone's kiddos will be ready or able to write in the phrase themselves, so I also made a version that has the phrase included. I love seeing my kids use these in their books, and most of my students have been doing a great job choosing books that are just right for them. If you'd like to use these bookmarks in your class, you can download them for free here in my TpT store!

I hope your weekend was wonderful, and that you and your class are having a great start to your year!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Beginning of the Year

Hey there friends! I know it's been awhile, but I'm still here! I started back at school on Monday, August 20th, immediately following a four day trip to California for one of my dearest friends' bachelorette party. My flight leaving LA was delayed, and I nearly missed my connection to Austin in Phoenix - I was the second to last person on the plane! If I hadn't sprinted through the airport I would have probably been stuck there overnight, as there were no more flights to Austin that night. Thank goodness that didn't happen, and I made it back to school on time along with my teacher friends.

The first day of school for students was August 27th, but we had a Meet the Teacher night the Thursday before school started, so I got to meet all of my new kiddos before the first day. I had every intention of sharing my room pics, back to school info, and first week plans with y'all before school started, but it seems I always forget just how overwhelming the first days back at school can be! I'm finally feeling more settled and on top of things, so for today, I want to share pictures of my classroom:

This is the view when you walk in the room. Two of the best decisions I made this summer were to get rid of my teacher desk and to move my teacher computer next to the student computer. I haven't missed my desk at all (I don't have nearly as many piles of papers now!) and I've been much less inclined to check my email during the day now that my computer is incorporated into a student area.

This is what you see to the right of the door - I love my new giant dry erase calendar (it's from PB Teen, and it's on sale right now!). Below the calendar are my emergency plans and sub folder. Those files are resting on top of a small bookshelf that is used to hold student lunch boxes. To the left of the monthly calendar is our daily class schedule, and underneath that is a student desk that holds Friday Folders and filing basket that holds all the papers accumulated throughout the week (those papers are what go home in the Friday Folders - things like lunch menus, PTA announcements, graded papers, etc.).
My classroom library is to the left of the door. The brown shelf on the left is where my math station supplies will go (in the black baskets); the bottom shelf holds dry erase boards, lap boards, and clipboards. The tall brown shelf now has text books on it, and the colored file bins now house my students' writing folders and journals. The green file boxes on top of the shelves are my students' book boxes (or browsing boxes). These boxes hold the books the kids are currently reading and their morning work journal, desk folder, and reading workshop folder. The bookshelf on the right shares a wall with our classroom bathroom, and above the shelf is my 7 Habits tree.    

The door to the classroom bathroom is to the left of the homework holder hanging file. I was inspired by this pin to make a sign to hang underneath the mirror that says "I can see the leader in me!" (source). The counterspace to the right of the sink is where students put their take home folders and agendas and the space underneath has two huge bins that hold student backpacks (one for boys, one for girls!).

This is the back wall of my classroom. I spent a good chunk of my summer organizing my math and science supplies, which are housed in the tall gray cabinet.  Last year, I stored a bunch of lord knows what underneath the counterspace - I just hid it with a polka dotted curtain like the one that's underneath my sink. I love how much more open my room looks because I'm no longer using that space as storage, and it's been a wonderful spot for the kids to write. I cut up an old writing process poster I had to make it eye level for the kids so they can see it as they sit back there and write! This is also where my word work/work on writing supplies are stored for Daily 5 (more info on those supplies to come in a follow up post).

This is my favorite space in my room - my teacher "desk" area (which is really the guided reading table). I spent a lot of time organizing and purging my teacher resources this summer - I'd collected a lot of duplicates and junk in five years of teaching, and it feels great to have less stuff! I'm really OCD about things matching and being organized - need proof? If you remember, the red bulletin board above my sink is for reading. Guess what kinds of books are in the red plastic bins on my shelf? Yup, my reading resource books. I also made my students' reader's workshop folders red. I love me some color coordination! I also spent way too much time creating binder covers for my teacher, sub, and student data binders (you can see them on the second shelf with the chevron spines), but having them all match makes my OCD heart happy! Also, I'm super in love with this space because of my handy dandy rotating desk apprentice from Staples. I love how all of my supplies are right there at my elbow, and the center section holds hanging files. 

I love this wall - it's behind my guided reading table, and it's full of memories from former students and pictures of my family. I made a section of the dry erase board to note student objectives for each subject for each week.

This is the view from my teacher area. The carpet to the left is where we gather for read alouds and syergy meetings. This view better shows where the bathroom is, and you can see the black plastic letter trays on the sink counter where the kids store their folders and agendas (the backpack bins underneath the counter are kind of hard to see, though). The computer station is underneath the yellow bulletin board.

These were all taken before the first day of school, so a few things have changed since then - for example, I now have 5 round student tables instead of 6. I have 20 students, and each round table seats 4, so 5 tables is perfect. If I happen to get another student at some point this year, then I'll have to get that table back, so although I know I'm running the risk of having to rearrange, there is so much more space without that sixth table so I think it's worth it!

I am in love with my classroom this year - it's by far the best set up I've ever had. I love how coordinated everything is, even down to the black border I used for each bulletin board. I just cut up strips of black construction paper to make it, and even though it took me several tries and many hours to get everything hung just right (each board is 12 inches from the ceiling - I told you I was OCD), I love how streamlined it makes my room look, so it was totally worth the time and effort.

I have loads more to share about the beginning of our year, so check back soon for another post about first week activities and ideas on how to begin teaching the 7 Habits to your class! Have a wonderful week, friends!