Brightening Back To School: Summer Filled Flash Freebies

Does it make me a bit sick that I am writing a Back to School post before we are even out of school this year? Let me explain my madness.

I love my class this year. Well, I obviously love all my classes each year, but this group was a bit different- can't figure out why. We accomplished a lot, had fun... I'm going to miss them. We only have 4 more school days together. But as we pack up our room, I can't help but begin to think towards next year.

Some big changes are coming to my room as I use my knowledge over the last 3 years to make meaningful changes to help support my learners. I'm using my summer to not only relax and rejuvenate by the pool (not to mention becoming a first-time auntie to my twin nephews coming soon) but also to prep for next year. I want to do some refocusing of my practices in RC especially, but I also want to make changes to our classroom environment. That means- I'll be doing some creating over the summer and I thought I'd let you in on it!

Graphics for all images courtesy of the amazing Krista at Creative Clips
As I create some files and resources for my students and my classroom for next year, I am posting them as flash freebies! You won't know until the freebie is posted how long it will stay free, so you'll want to follow me on Twitter and Instragram to get the latest notifications when one is posted.

If you see this image...
Then grab the flash freebie in my TpT store! I will try to explain a bit how I plan to use it and such as well here on the blog so you know what you are getting.

If you miss one- don't fret! Look at the bottom of the posts for...

Head to my TpT store and still snag it at a discount until July 31st. After that, all of my new products will be normal price (unless my store is on sale).

What kinds of freebies will I be sharing? Well, some are already in the works! I got some classroom decor coming up, organizing and management, reading/writing/speaking supports, centers and games, and more!

So join me in some fun this summer as we brighten up going back to school and look forward to it!



End of the Year Engagement with Book Clubs

With testing going for soooo long and soooo late in the year, it was hard for me and for my students to remember that we still have a month or so left of school. I had to think of a way to keep them engaged during our reading block while I also do more end of year assessments (As if state tests weren't enough, I still had to BAS each student to find their end of year level and complete district common assessments to judge our curriculum). We are supposed to end the year with book clubs on social justice topics. We don't have the resources for this however, so we tweaked it a bit and focused just on book clubs in general (although I as able to find some books that covered social justice issues for some of my groups). 

I found that book clubs, especially at the end of the year, are a new favorite of mine for the following reasons:
1) It promotes engagement and excitement through sharing about literature with others who've experienced it. Not to mention, accountability to get through books due to meeting with others.
2) It allows students to practice social and communication skills in real life situations.
3) It provides independence and problem solving skills.

For this round of book clubs, our main focus wasn't necessarily the content of our stories, but about how to effectively manage a book club with others and taking the level of talk to a higher level. Here's how I rolled it out.

First, I prepped for the clubs. Lower left: I gave this partner survey to get a sense of what my students want in their book clubs. It helped me organized fiction and non-fiction groups especially. Based on the survey, I put them into 5 groups. Upper right: I pulled books to fit my 5 groups based on type of book and level. Upper left: I gave each group their book, bookmark, and post-its. I color coded them and called them based on their colored group. Their bookmark is duel purpose- they keep track of their upcoming reading assignments on it as it goes. Lower right: I prepared for them to discuss their norms for their group. They met and discussed what they were looking for in their members and what they need to do before, during, and after meeting as well. 

Then, I had to prepare them for their book clubs. Upper left: I took their norms and put them all together in one central location so that I could easily remind them or what they expect from each other. Again, the colored post-its correspond with a particular group. Lower: I gave each group a file folder to old their book club materials. I gave them some times to decorate it using their color. This makes it easy to pass out each time for both them and me. Then, we talked about what feedback is, and that we will be using feedback to hold each other accountable, set goals, make plans, and create stronger book clubs. The dreaded slope happened while I was making this chart and it took every ounce within to not redo it. #realanchorchart That's what happens when you make them in the heat of the moment with the kids I guess!

Now it was time for them to meet and begin their independence. We added components to the folders as we go. Some groups have different things in them due to what their group needs, but they also all have some of the same components to help them be successful.

All groups have blue post-its with accountable talk prompts to help them add on to each other's ideas. That is one big struggle they all have... how do we have a conversation and not just share our ideas one after another. A baggie is included also where they keep all of their feedback post-its to one another (more on that in a moment). Also, groups have a sheet that they use to keep track of their goals. It's changed each time, as we learn more about goal setting and feedback. They started by just writing down a goal they had. Then they gave each other feedback in the form of 2 cheers (what are we doing well) and a 1 wish (what should we try to improve on). They then discussed all their cheers and wishes and used the wishes to set goals. They also write each time if they are going to keep a previous goal or if they achieved it. 

This group noticed a pattern in taking group time serious and staying on track in their group's wishes, so that is their main focus. It is appropriate also, as this group has some of my highest readers, so comprehension of the text isn't always an issue for them.
We then began to also make a plan to help us reach these goals we have. 
I met with each group to help facilitate this part. We talked about specific verbs that I can see them do to show they are working towards this goal so that everyone is contributing. 

Some groups still needed more structure for their group meeting times, so I whipped up some "talking tents" for them to set up and use during their group meetings. Also, some groups I did little strategy groups for and we added additional resources to their folder. This group is working on bringing questions to group, so we wrote question words on post-its and put them in their folder as well. We also drew which question starters  typically ask deeper, treasure questions than others so that they could pick ones that push their groups discussion. 

I've managed to get through all of my individual assessments, while having students engaged even during our wonky schedules with all of the fun end of year events and activities. They are getting through books, working together and communicating, and enjoying literature with one another!



Take a page out of our social skills book- Integrity

I'm nuts over social skills. Funny- because I'm definitely not the best at my own set of social skills, but maybe that's why I like teaching about them so much... it helps remind myself I'm a work in progress and there's always room to grow and become a better person than I was yesterday. I really try to integrate social skills into our academics and our classroom climate multiple times a day. Along with social skills, I try to emphasize certain character traits that I think are important. One of the major character traits I teach my students is integrity. We talk about it at the beginning of the year, but that's about it. I bring it up when I notice students are or aren't showing integrity in situations at school. Now that testing is winding down and we are down into the teens on days left in school, I was finding myself having to give a lot of reminders on doing what is right, because we KNOW it's the right thing to do.

My lil' talks weren't working.

I'm pretty sure as soon as I stepped on my soap box, kids thought, "Oh here she goes again..."

I had to change something.

So I went to what I know best (but sometimes forget about): scenario cards and letting the students do the talking. I whipped up some scenario cards and with some extra time in our schedule now, we made some time to review what it means to show integrity, why we choose to be a person of integrity, and all the times in the day when we have the opportunity to have integrity.

Thanks to A Sketchy Guy's awesome clip art to help protect my kiddo's identities :) And to Educlips for the speech bubbles!

I just quickly gave them a brief description of the activity and we did one together. We talked about our 3 questions before making a choice: Is it the right choice? Will it make me proud? Does it show honesty and responsibility? If we can say yes to these, we are on the path to integrity (saying it in a loud, superhero like voice of course). If we say no to any of them, then WRONG WAY! We picked a card and wrote down choices we could make. If we could answer yes to that choice, we put it on one side; if we could answer no, we put it on the other side. It showed us that we know the choices we could make in a situation... ok, now off you go kiddies!

We took out our white boards and spaced them around the room. We walked around and read the card at each set of boards. We brainstormed choices and put them on the board that was either the 'wrong way' or the 'path to integrity.' I let them walk around with a partner to bounce ideas off. They were very serious and focused during the 10 minutes while they explored the different scenarios. 

They stopped and read other classmates ideas (well... most of them) before adding their own.

I laid out extra mini-posters with the 3 questions and to help remind them what board is what.

Now it was time to reflect and take a look at all the choices we could make in one situation. Here are some of their responses.

Scenario: The teacher is working with a small group during reading time and you're doing independent reading at your desk.

Scenario: A substitute teachers is in your classroom.

Scenario: A friend is calling someone mean names at recess on the playground.

Scenario: A friend wants to copy your work and answers.

Scenario: Your family asks if you have homework tonight... and you do.
We had a lot of other scenarios too that applied to things outside of school, as well as inside of school such as finding money that doesn't belong to us or being in the classroom when the teacher is talking to someone out in the hallway. A lot of these things can be considered other traits as well such as honesty and responsibility, but we defined integrity as doing the right thing even if no one is watching... it's more about knowing the choices and choosing what is right.

Now that they had a lot of ideas in their head, we were going to have a discussion. 

"Can we do a grand conversation with talking chips?" one little one asked.

"Why- I think that's a great idea!"

They gathered in the circle, got their talking chips and we talked about these questions:

  • What does it mean to have integrity?
  • Why should we choose to show integrity?
  • What are the effects of showing or not showing integrity?

They held their own discussion while I took some notes at my desk about what they talked about, how they shared their ideas, and who was sharing. What I loved about this whole thing- I gave some structures and they created their own learning. I love times like that. Makes my job easy and makes their learning stick.

Throughout the week, I tried to give them more extreme opportunities to show they've learned something. I purposely will go into the classroom next door when we transition from the hall to the learning time and watch what they choose to do through our curtain (some kids have caught onto my little trick though and see me right away). Other times, I stay in the back of the line and just watch how they choose to conduct themselves when I'm at the other end of the line. We stop often at transitions where they have more independence and reflect on their choices.

Hopefully this will save my sanity with these last couple of weeks, while also teaching them a valuable life lesson.


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