Wednesday 30 September 2015

New Favourite for Organization

Anyone who knows me as a teacher knows that I love to organize absolutely everything in my classroom. I enjoy finding new ways to store materials, resources, and other classroom goodies in a way that keeps everything neat and tidy but still easily accessible. Enter one of my new favourite finds for this year:

I found these plastic binder envelopes at Costco this fall and I love them. They can hold up to 100 pieces of paper and are strong and durable. I have to admit I don't actually use them in binders as I find they tend to stick out too far when the binders are closed (just a hint of OCD when it comes to my classroom) but if I cut off the 3-holes with scissors they fit perfectly in the white magazine holders from IKEA.

The best part about these babies is the price. It cost $10.00 for 25 plastic sleeves and I can think of so many uses for them. At this point I am using them to hold all the little bits and pieces I use for each of my Math units. Some of the envelopes hold the pieces for our interactive notebooks while others hold the cards needed for Math games. I was actually surprised at how much they held. The nice thing I can easily label them with a Sharpie and since the plastic is nice and smooth I can take the Sharpie off using a whiteboard marker later. (If you haven't tried this yet by the way you need to. You can remove Sharpie by colouring over it with a dry erase marker and then wiping it off.

I had hoped to use them as a write on/wipe off cover for worksheets but I think they are actually a little too thick (as in hold too many papers) to keep one piece of paper in one place for students to work on. What would you use these for? I would love some more ideas.

Saturday 5 September 2015

Teaching Procedures and the First Week of School

The first week of school is done and I am happy to report my students and I survived! I am excited about starting fresh with a new group of students and can't wait to get to know all their little personalities. As with most elementary classrooms we spent most of this week learning procedures, expectations, and our classroom management plan. I have to admit this is probably my least favourite part of starting a new year. I love the excitement of the first few days and getting to know my new students but the constant reminders and practice of procedures is not why I do what I do. That being said this year I promised myself I would take the time to teach every procedure I could think of before really getting started with curriculum.

This summer I took some time to create a list of procedures for our classroom. I wrote them down and added a little bit of information to remind myself what I want students to be able to do independently of me - at least that's the goal. So far students seem to be getting the morning and end of day routines down pat but we still have a lot of work to do on our transitions and some of our active listening skills, and some of the smaller procedures too.

Heading into the second week of classes I plan to continue emphasizing our classroom expectations to get everything running ship shape but I am also excited to begin our first units and really get into some learning. I can't wait to get the students excited about the content and activities that await us this year. Hopefully everyone else had a successful first week back. Here's to another wonderful school year ahead!

Saturday 15 August 2015

Welcome Back to Mrs. V's Grade Threes

Wow! I can't believe how time has flown. Two years ago I started a blog and had hoped to stay on top of everything. If you go back through old posts I am sure you will notice that is not really the case. 

Heading into the next school year I am hoping to jump back into blogging and am setting a goal of posting on a semi-regular basis. When I first started this blog I wasn't really sure if anything would come of it or if anyone would get anything out of it and then today I found a Pin on Pinterest that links back to one of my blog posts! If my ramblings about classroom life, projects, and teaching in general can help inspire even one other teacher out there then I feel like it is worth it. 

So all that being said here is a little update about last year:

I taught a grade 3/4 split with 29 students. I learned a lot about my management style and also that I can actually handle a class of that size. Before this my largest class was 23 students. I am very fortunate that my principal understands how difficult it can be to teach a split so he hired a part time teacher for the grade 4's Math, Science, and Social Studies so I only had the full class a little more than half of the time. While I welcomed the support for the core subjects I also learned how much I have come to depend on having some flexibility in my schedule so having to stick to a specific time frame every day in order to accommodate the split schedule took some time to get used to. 

I had the opportunity to attend some PD on Project Based Learning last year as well. As with most things my first unit didn't work out exactly how I wanted but I am eager to try it again this year with a little bit a lot of tweaking. Stay tuned for an update on that later this year. I did absolutely love the fact that the unit was basically all hands on learning and the students seemed really excited about their final projects. I think the hardest part is each group created one final project and then had to decide who got to bring it home. I'll have to see what we can do about that this year. 

Outside of my regular classroom teaching I also continued coaching volleyball, basketball, badminton, and track and field. My husband and I have put a lot of time and effort into growing the current sports program at our small school and it is so exciting to see it taking off. As the school continues to grow so do the teams and they have done well competing against the much larger schools in our district. 

Since I don't want to bore anyone with a long rambling post... which let's face it may have already happened, that is a basic overview of my 2014 - 2015 school year. As usual I have been using a bunch of my summer to prep for the upcoming school year and I am excited to share more ideas and insights with you as the year goes on. Welcome back to another year of Mrs. V's Grade Threes!!

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Summer Work Out Time

Well hello again! It has been forever since I have posted anything. Isn't it amazing how easy it is to put things aside when you get focused on school? I know for me it can be hard to focus on anything else sometimes. Which is one of the many reasons I like adore summer. It is time for me to catch up on all those things I have been putting off... like working out. I am usually the first to find a reason to avoid working out and during the school year it is all too easy to come up with excuses.

Funny Pictures Of The Day – 85 Pics

In the summer all my excuses are null and void since I really don't have anything super important stopping me. I definitely can't say I don't have the time.

So with that being said I have whipped out my running shoes and my workout gear and have started to hit the pavement. I haven't been totally consistent but at least it's a start. I've set some goals for the end of summer but ultimately I just want to make sure I increase my current level of fitness and stay healthy. With how hard it can be to balance everything during the school year I am going to embrace the chance to be out in the sunshine. On your mark... get set... GO!!

Monday 17 March 2014

Organizing Marks for Outcome Based Report Cards

If there is one thing I have learned from my short time as a teacher it is that you can never get too comfortable with what you are doing because someone is bound to come along and change it!

As I head into report card time again I find myself scrambling trying to figure out where I put my assessments and what marks to give my students. I am usually a very organized person and in my first year of teaching I spent a lot of time creating a marks book that worked for me. Then last year my district made the shift to outcomes based reporting which has resulted in a year and a half of me trying to find a new way to organize my marks book. Hence the scramble... it took a while to find one.

If you are not familiar with outcomes based reporting it is a method of reporting where teachers mark and report on specific outcomes which come from the Program of Studies or States Standards document. I think it's great to be able to show parents exactly what has been learned, what topics/skills students understood well, and what topics/skills require more practice. The challenge comes in finding a way to organize my marks in a way that makes sense and ensures I have enough assessment for each of the report card outcomes.

After months of searching I think I have finally found a method that will work for me! It is so simple I cannot believe it took me this long to find it but now that I have I feel way more relaxed and organized.

Here is my breakthrough!
(Sorry about the horrible picture.. hopefully you can see enough of it that it makes sense.)

 I cannot take credit for this idea as I heard about it at our Teacher's Convention but still thought I would share it with you.
This is the marks book page I am using for our current unit on Measurement. It fills half a page and I print one for each student. In the left hand column are the outcomes that I will teach in the unit. Along the top of the page are the assessments I will use to determine students' marks. Of course I also leave room at the bottom to add any comments or observations I feel are necessary.

Sure it takes a little planning before hand to decide what I am going to take in for marks and what I am going to use to guide future teaching but the pay off, for me anyway, is totally worth it. The grey spaces show that the assessment in the top row does not connect to that specific outcome. I try to make sure each outcome has at least 2 assessments that I can use to report on student learning so that if a student has a bad day it doesn't effect their overall mark.

At the end of the unit I take any assessment pages I can (in this case it would be everything except their math journal pages) and attach it to the marks book sheet. That way I have everything together if a parent wants to see how I came up with the mark given on the report card.

It is definitely not rocket science and doesn't use any fancy technology but I find it helps keep me accountable with my marking - I tend to put it off a little too long - and keeps my student assessments organized and handy.

If you would like a copy of the template feel free to email me or leave a comment below and I will gladly share it with you!

Sunday 9 February 2014

Welcome to the Balancing Act

Wow! I am just starting to realize how long it has been since I posted anything to my blog. Thank you to those who have still been stopping by to check it out even with no new posts showing up. In true teaching fashion life has become completely crazy these past weeks. My husband and I are the athletic coordinators at our school and have been coaching all our 5/6 sports teams for the past few years. This year we had a number of our junior high students ask if we could have a 7/8 team as well. We tried to find some parents to help out with coaching but had no luck. So without really considering what we were getting ourselves into we agreed to coach 4 teams between the two of us. Needless to say it has been a crazy start to 2014!

All this has served to remind me how important it is to maintain a work/life balance. I love the opportunity to coach because it means I get to interact with more students from the school. Extracurricular activities mean so much to students which makes it worthwhile for me to volunteer a little extra time each year. However as I am learning this year there comes a point when you have to say no and pull back a little for the sake of your own energy and passion.

For any of you who are new to teaching I would like to give you the following advice - Find something you are passionate about, whether it is sports, art, music, board games, or something else, and introduce it to your students. Don't be afraid to volunteer some time for extracurricular because I can promise you the benefits will outweigh the time costs. My husband and I love coaching sports and have been able to set up a wonderful athletics program at our school. The joy we see in the students' faces makes the volunteer time completely worth every minute.

In the same breath, don't be afraid to say no if you are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work and time being asked of you. If you are being stretched too thin you may find your passion dwindling and the time you spend with the students begins to feel like more work.

As teachers we have so many opportunities to work with students and help them find activities they are passionate about. For me that opportunity is coaching and I love every minute of it! How about you?

Monday 9 December 2013

Words Their Way

Have you ever found yourself looking at a resource you have been using and wondering if there is something better out there? This year I found myself asking that question when it came to the spelling program I was using. Don't get me wrong, the program I had been using might work great for someone else but I found it didn't quite work for my teaching style. I had heard a lot about the Words Their Way program and knew a couple of other teachers in my school had been using it so I decided to give it a whirl. Like anything else it is still a work in progress to get the hang of everything involved but I am slowly getting the hang of it.

If you haven't heard of the program before take a look at it here. What I love most about it is that it works with kids at their level. It starts off with a diagnostic spelling test that identifies students strengths and needs. Using this information students are placed in groups based on where they are at and then off they go. The other great thing is that students practice their spelling words independently with only a little guidance from the teacher which means I can help out the students that need a little extra guidance. One thing I have learned about this program is that it requires a level of organization in order to make it flow smoothly so I figured I would show you how I organize it in my classroom.

 First of all to keep the word lists organized I colour code my groups and then copy their weekly lists onto corresponding coloured paper. This way I can simply grab the next week's spelling packet and know exactly what list goes where. In my district we send our printing to a central printing office and it takes a few days to get there and back so I always make sure to have more than one week at a time. When I get my lists back I take a few minutes to organize them into weeks and then store them in my handy green drawers (I love Ikea!).


Now for the teaching portion:

On Monday I hand out the sorts to the students and they get busy cutting it out. I give each student two copies of the sort - one for at school, and one to bring home for practice. For the classroom activities each child has a plastic envelope to keep their supplies organized. These envelopes have their name and a coloured square in the corner so I know whose envelope it is and what group they belong in. In each plastic envelope are the following materials:
- an envelope to hold the cut apart sort
- a journal for students to write down their sorts and record their word work activities
- a dry erase bingo sheet (more about this in a later post)
- a laminated keyboard

As the groups are cutting out their words I begin calling groups over one at a time to the learning carpet. Here we quickly go over the sort for the week, read through the words, and go over any teaching points needed for students to understand the patterns.

 Once students have finished with me they take their words and complete the sort on their own. They then begin working on two other "must-do" activities: a written sort where they record their sort in their journals, and three sentences which each use at least one of the spelling words. We only work on spelling for about 15-20 minutes a day so completing the "must-do" activities usually takes our Monday/Tuesday.

As students complete the required activities they bring me their journals so I can check their work. If their written sort and sentences are done correctly they can begin working on earning a spelling bingo by completing different word work activities with their words for the week.

When students complete a bingo activity they show me and I sign off on their bingo sheet. For every bingo they earn the students earn a ticket in a weekly draw for a prize.  If they complete the entire bingo sheet they can earn five draw tickets. We usually keep the bingo sheets for a month or so before erasing them and starting over again. Check out my Word Work and Spelling Bingo post for more info on the activities and draw prizes. 

Finally at the end of the week students are given a spelling test of randomly selected words from the week's sort. I give the students an independent writing or reading task based on lessons from the week to complete while I am giving the spelling tests to each group. Most of the time students are able to work quietly and independently without help and I can quickly call each group over to the learning carpet and give them the spelling test. 

The first couple of weeks were a little chaotic and required some teaching and reteaching and reminding of the expectations during our spelling times. By now the students have gotten the hang of it and it is working like a well-oiled machine. As always there may be some squeaks and kinks to work out with certain students but as long as you are consistent they will eventually get the hang of it. 

Wow! Another long post - I seem to have a hard time keeping things short but hopefully this will give you some insight into how to potentially run Words Their Way in your own classroom.