Teacher Chat! (Rachel, 6th Grade Teacher)

Note: I was blessed to be able to teach 6th grade with Rachel. She always had great ideas and such a fun energy that made her a successful teacher!

What grade(s) do you teach/have you taught?

10 years of teaching 6th grade!

What’s one thing you do to prepare for/get through parent-teacher conferences?

I make sure I am prepared and organized. I have a folder for each student with their report card, a progress report that shows all of the assignments, test scores, and often a note with upcoming important dates. It’s good to have water close by since I do a lot of talking. Mentally, I remind myself that both I and the parents want what is best for the student, so we need to work to be a team.

What’s one of your favorite end-of-the-year activities to do with your class?

Kindergarten Day. We have one day where we do a lot of kindergarten-type activities (play doh, coloring, calendar, story time, centers, etc). Anything that involves writing or coloring is to be done with their non-dominant hand. I teach small groups how to use a combination lock in one of the centers so they will be able to (hopefully) open their lockers once they hit middle school in a few months.

What’s one thing you do to encourage good behavior in your class?

I have my students help create a list of desired rewards, then print them in a series of boxes, and cover them with scratch-off stickers (found on Amazon). If there is a certain behavior I’m trying to encourage (working quietly, turning in assignments, etc.), each time they do what is desired I give my students a letter to spell a word, or an initial in a set of boxes on the board that they have to complete to earn a reward. When they finish the word or fill the boxes, then I draw a name for who gets to scratch off one of the stickers to see what reward they get.

Tell us about one thing you wish you’d known when you first started teaching.

Do not grade every single little thing that is turned in. So much of it is practice, and it doesn’t need more than a glance and a mark that it was completed. I made myself crazy spending countless hours grading stuff that wasn’t necessary.

 

What gets you through a hard day?

A chat with someone who gets it, and sometimes a good hug. Teaching is hard, and it often seems to be getting harder with each younger group of kids. I just try to remember that I am doing my very best, I’m human, and if there is one kid (or parent) that is really hard to handle, I only have to deal with them for one school year.

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Getting the Most Out of Ticket Jar

I received free products from Oriental Trading Company in exchange for sharing my thoughts on this blog.

As a teacher, I have found that the more positive praise I do, the less negative I have to deal with. One of the best systems I have used is my ticket jar system. Most people have probably heard of a form of this. I do ticket jar every Friday. It’s a good system for me because it can be individual incentive and group incentive. Here are 3 tips we’ve come up with:

All Roads Lead to Rome: At first it seems like I have tons of different positive incentives, table points, house points, class rock party points, class activity time points, individual tickets. It is true, but the beauty is that these “different” systems all come back to tickets. (That will make things so much easier on you as a teacher., I promise)

Here is an example: My students sit in tables. They earn points for their table by transitioning quickly, working well together during a project, all turning in certain assignments. At the end of the day, whichever table has the most points, each person gets 2 tickets.  (Table points convert to tickets!)

Another example: If I have an important paper that I need signed and brought back, I use tickets to bribe students to take it home, get it signed, and brought back. Works every time!

Let Ticket Jar Feed Itself: I encourage students to make donations of toys they don’t want or random items that their parents are willing to buy at the dollar store. When they make a donation, I give them a ticket just for donating. Also, I promise them that I will put their ticket back if I pull it on that item. Mindy didn’t do this her first year and ran out of cool prizes really fast. Then she had no budget (of course!) for replenishing it, so it didn’t have near the power to motivate her students.

Be Cheap: It can be expensive handing out things each week. Here are a few tips on that too:

  1. Get students to donate (as mentioned above).
  2. Collect “cool rocks” on all your vacations, hikings, adventures, whatever. I teach 6th grade and they are really into a neat rock!
  3. Oriental Trading Company: They have cheap bundles of items. You can buy big mixed packets or a specific item that you know will be a winner. I recently bought a huge bag of sticky hands for less than ten bucks and I am pretty sure it will last the whole year!
  4. Dollar Stores and Thrift Stores: Dollar stores often have packs of pencils or candy. Just figure out the unit price to decide if it’s a good deal! If you get something from a thrift store, make sure it is clean or better yet, still packaged!

Using Birthdays At School to Create Positive Classroom Culture

 

Birthdays can be distracting at school. But if you play your cards right, you can use birthdays to create a positive classroom culture. By focusing on positive characteristics of the birthday kid, you can allow for natural discussions on topics such as friendship, being polite, following directions, etc. I’ve got a simple page we use to acknowledge a birthday kid’s positive traits. I start by writing mine for the whole class to see (using the document camera). I talk about something the child does well, and praise them for it (subtly reminding the rest of the class of that expectation). Then I have each student complete the page for that student as well. I challenge them to use a vocab word (from the current week or past) in their writing and only let them do the picture AFTER they’re done writing.

Click here to download the full size PDF: I like ____ because

Click here to check out my other thoughts about celebrating birthdays at school.

Color Coding with Highlighter Tape

I received free products from Oriental Trading Company in exchange for sharing my thoughts on this blog.

I am teaching 6th grade and I have been assigned two different classes this year. It is pretty tricky to track each class and keep them straight. I decided to color code each class to help me keep track of them each.  I colored one red and one blue.  To help me easily keep track of papers, I use highlighter tape from the Oriental Trading Company. The tape is colored but you can see through it. I can write things and put the tape on top of it. It has been a life saver as I look at paperwork, class lists, and general color coding. The highlighter tape has four colors (red, blue, green, orange), so you could even use this tape to track ability grouping, or below, approaching, proficient, and advanced levels in any subject. I recommend this to any teacher who has multiple classes or tracks data.

Current Homework & Important Papers (CHIP) Folder (Guest Post)

Graphic3CHIP stands for “current homework and important papers.”

One pocket is for current homework that students have been assigned. The other pocket is for important papers (reference sheets that we use frequently, reading  passages that we are working on, group work info, etc.). Nothing else goes in this folder so that it doesn’t get cluttered. I use the boomerang folder for assignments that have been graded and papers for their parents and pretty much anything that is in their take home mailbox. This system has been helpful in keeping my students organized.

Click here to see the full-size PDF: chip-folder-cover-pdf.

About the author:
Lauralee specializes in dual immersion (English/Spanish) and math education. She currently teaches sixth grade. She enjoys travelling and spending time with family.

Best Practices for Teaching Students with ADHD (Guest Post)

ADHD tips stickerA classroom is a microcosm of society, and just like in any society, there are outliers who stand apart from the majority. As a teacher, you strive to keep your classroom fair and develop your lesson plans to suit the various spectrums of learning. At some point, you may encounter a student with ADHD who poses a challenge for your standard classroom management techniques and your carefully curated curriculum. A student with ADHD has the brainpower for learning, however their unique brain composition makes it difficult for them to focus on the subject matter. The more you understand this condition, the more you can help your student.

What Is ADHD?

About 11 percent (6.4 million) of school-aged children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD in their lifetime. Boys have a higher ADHD diagnosis rate than girls, and the average age of diagnosis is at 7 years of age. Make sure you know the signs of ADHD so you can recognize when a kid may need special help.

The symptoms of ADHD are grouped into three categories: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Behavioral signs related with inattention include: easily distracted, doesn’t follow directions, fails to finish tasks, has difficulty with organization. Hyperactivity can manifest itself behaviorally as excessive talking, always moving, difficulty with volume control, inability to stay seated and fidgeting. Impulsivity includes blurting of answers, unable to wait for his or her turn and interruption of others.

Classroom Challenges

A child with ADHD will cause interruption within the classroom and may have difficulty in the completion of their individual tasks. You must anticipate their behavior and develop appropriate reactions that will keep the mood positive, help the child with ADHD and keep your entire class on track with their learning. In the classroom, children with ADHD may struggle with long-term projects, group work, difficult math equations, reading and writing. Regardless of your ADHD student’s struggles, make sure you never shame him for his behavior, but instead encourage him or her towards academic success.

Have a brief conference with the ADHD student and come up with a secret code or signal for when he or she is distracting the class and must re-focus his attention, like a hand signal or a light shoulder tap. Don’t over-do the signals; refrain from pointing out every instance when he or she is off task and only the moments when his or her behavior is a distraction for the whole class.

How You Can Help

Create classroom accommodations for your students with ADHD. Seating assignment can help limit distractions in the classroom. Make sure they are seated away from the windows and the door, put them near your desk and organize the classroom desk formation in rows, rather than table groups. Deliver task instructions in a clear and concise way. Write on the board step-by-step instructions that the students can easily follow and provide other visuals like charts and pictures.

Allow writing assignments to be completed on a computer, rather than in handwriting. A student with ADHD often thinks faster than he or she can write, which can result in messy handwriting and a loss of cohesive thought. Utilize writing prompt tools to help the student practice their composition skills. Help the student with his or her organization and provide the entire class with five to 10 minutes of desk organization and cleaning time at the end of the day.

Work one-on-one with your ADHD students and come up with a special organization system for them. A strong organizational system may include color coding, a three-subject notebook or three-ring binder, and a planner where he or she can write down important assignments and due dates.

About the author: Joyce Wilson is a retired teacher with decades of experience. Today, she is a proud grandmom and mentor to teachers in her local public school system. She and a fellow retired teacher created TeacherSpark.org to share creative ideas and practical resources for the classroom.

 

5 Things Substitutes Wish Full Time Teachers Knew (Guest Post)

Subs Wished Teachers KnewAbout the Author: Christine writes her own blog called Confessions of a Modern Day Substitute Teacher. She has been working in the education field for 7 years as both a teacher and substitute.

1) Substitute teaching jobs can be hard to find

Sometimes there are A LOT of substitutes in a division or district. This means that it is difficult to pick up sub days for a substitute. As a substitute teacher I wish that any teacher that liked what I did with his or her class and didn’t have a regular substitute already would ALWAYS book me. Maybe this seems greedy but it gives me a day that I don’t have to try to compete for online.

2) A substitute’s time is valuable too

So please give us a bit of a break at some point throughout the day. I’ve been a teacher so I know that we often work through recess breaks, on our preps, and maybe even for part of our lunch as well but you don’t have to fill up a substitute’s time with marking on her prep and recess’… because sometimes we need a break too. Don’t get me wrong… I’m more than happy to do some marking. Just don’t leave a large stack of it expecting me to get through it.

3) Please talk to us

I wish regular teachers knew how awkward it can be in a staff room for a substitute teacher. I’m not the most outgoing person so having to sit in a room filled with people I don’t know… well it’s awkward. The other week I was at a school, in a crowded staff room, and no one said anything to me. It was awkward and I quickly ate and left.

4) Try to make the day run as smoothly as possible

I wish teachers realized that I don’t know your students names (and I likely won’t learn them all by the end of the day)… so if at all possible seating plans are a HUGE help. That way instead of saying “you in the red shirt, sit down!”, and having everyone check the colour of their shirt, I can just use that student’s name. When I was a full time teacher I used a little whiteboard that I tacked above my desk to draw in all the tables and where students sat. I moved students around as they began to cause trouble where they were so using a whiteboard meant I didn’t have to redraw and write everything every time.

Be wary of leaving a bunch of extra time for a substitute teacher to fill. I’m experienced enough that I could probably get through an entire day without a proper plan… but that doesn’t mean I want it to happen! Other substitutes don’t come with as much experience or ideas on what they could do to fill time. If a substitute arrives at your classroom with no plan I think it is unfair to expect the day to go well. I wish teachers knew that any visitor to their class does not know where to find things. Keeping things neat, tidy, and organized helps a lot. This way substitutes don’t have to waste a bunch of time trying to hunt things down that to the regular classroom teacher would easily find.

Fire drills, lock downs, and other events students practice for are often scheduled in advance and staff members usually know about them (at least in my school we always did). If you know there is going to be a drill of some kind I wish the regular teacher would let their substitute know about it. Once I was in a middle school that despite being with a different class every period I was required to find my homeroom outside and take their attendance. What chaos! I couldn’t remember what my class looked like to even attempt to find them then I had to figure out if they were in the front or back of the school! For lock-downs, remember to leave a key and tell me where the kids normally sit.

5) But most importantly…

My wish for teachers is to keep in mind that for the most part substitutes are in a different school or classroom or subject every day. This means new rules, procedures, students, and assignments every day. Although it can all fall under the umbrella of “teaching” it can also seem a bit like a new job every single day. Can you imagine going to a new job every day? Do you think some of your days may be a little off? So regular teachers, my wish for you is to be prepared and understanding when a substitute comes into your class.

Thank you, Christine, for this thought-provoking post! 🙂 -Mindy

Get to Know Your Reading Buddy/Neighbor

My Neighbor sticker When I was in elementary school, my class was always partnered with another class so we could do “Reading Buddies.” My school always partnered a younger grade class with an upper grade class so we could get together and read each month. This provided us a unique opportunity to read to/listen to another student. Each kid was assigned a kid from the other class and we were partners the whole year. We occasionally did a craft or something with our reading buddies as well. Anyway, it was fun to get to know my partner as the year went on.

My Buddy sticker

This inspired me to make 2 little “get to know you” pages that teachers can use within their own classroom or between classrooms of students in an arrangement like “Reading Buddies.

Click here for the free printable: Get to Know Your Buddy and Get to Know Your Neighbor. Enjoy!