The Evolution of My Reading Workshop Practices: Classroom Library and Seating

This is the third and final post in a series on the evolution of my reading practices. The last two posts focused on the mini-lesson and reading logs. Today's post will focus on the classroom library and book access for students. If you missed the other two, head on over and check them out by clicking the links.

This series is all about taking a trip down memory lane and at times grimacing at some of the choices I made. However, I am a firm believer that when you know better, you do better. So I know that I will probably look back in another 5-6 years and be a better educator than I am today as I write this. Through this reflection, I hope to show other options that you may have to help push yourself into different practices that might change your students' experiences in your classroom, as I've witnessed in my room. 

But first. Take a look at how my classroom library physically has changed over the last 6 years.
I was so proud of this first one.

The book selection grew a decent amount.

Not a whole lot changed this year...

My love for books began to get a bit out of control.

This is the year when a huge shift in WHAT goes into my library occurred

More books than I have room for and more diverse selection than ever
Because it's hard to see what' on the shelves from then to now, here's a more detailed description:

I'm embarrassed to say when I first started, it was very hard for me to let students take books home. In my mind, I spent a lot of money on them and I didn't want them to get ruined or lost. I thought that if I preserved them, more students would get to use them. Now, I know that losing a book is a much better outcome than losing a reader (not sure who said that originally but it really spoke to me). So now, students have a gallon sized zip loc back and can take books home. I used to put a limit, but I don't care as much anymore. And because I've purchased high interest books, students have kept tabs on who is reading the book they want and the pressure to return it for the next reader is on. They love trading off and saying, "You're going to love this book." That wouldn't happen if I didn't let students take books home. 

Another big shift is how I organized my books. Reading levels. Yes. I did that. It was expected and encouraged by not only our school, but by the curriculum we used (and still use- see earlier posts to know what we use). 

It was so restrictive. I think it was in year 3 or 4 where I no longer organized by levels. Books that were in my library had a reading level on them. I didn't take them off mainly because it would take forever. But new books I add to my library don't get a reading level. I'm considering it my student's job to know if a book is within their reach and my job to secretly know and help guide them. 
Each chapter book gets at least 1 label. The label has the genre and who it belongs to (I removed my school name and my name from the labels, but if the book belongs to me I highlight my name. If it belongs to my school, I highlight the school name. That way, if I should ever leave the school, I know which books I'm taking with and which ones I need to leave behind. Some chapter books get another label. These are color coded labels that have a letter on them. These are not reading levels, but rather author last name labels. 

They are from the amazing Molly at Lessons with Laughter.

Now I organized books in a variety of ways. I have bins of picture books. Some chapter books are in genre bins. Especially if it's a series. I put the first book of a series in a genre bin so if a student reads the first book and wants more, they can then look for the author and maybe even find other series or books by that author. I have some super popular series in bins. I have nonfiction separated in categories that reflect the Dewey Decimal system. 

Speaking of nonfiction, that is the area that needs the most work. It should represent 50% of my classroom library and it's more like 25-30%. I changed how I stored and organized them this year so I could see what topics I can expand on.

I put my books into categories based off of the Dewey Decimal system. Some I don't have any, so I don't have bins or spines yet for those categories (space is already limited and I need to find a way to continue to expand, but for now, I needed to organize what I had). I used bins from The Container Store because they are deep and long so many of those big books will actually fit in them. The problem was that I bought the small ones and they don't hold a ton of books. For future purchases, I'll get at least the medium size so that I can fit more books in a specific category. To help them stay organized, each bin has a number on it. I used Molly's labels to put a matching number on the corresponding color (you can see it on the floating shelves how two of the books have a number 9 to suggest they go in the #9 bin if they aren't on the shelf being displayed). This way, my student librarians know which bin to place the books if they are unsure on the category.

These are some other practices I've changed over the years as well.
 *I'm considering a change in book shopping and thinking about allowing students to get books throughout the day. I've included "social transition times" into our day that allow about 5 minutes for us to wrap up one of our content areas and move to the next. They get to talk, hang out, and relax before we jump into the next. I'm also thinking of doing a soft start and letting students decide their morning work that will best get them ready to learn for the day. For some, that may include browsing books in the morning. Although it's always been an option, when I've had morning work, many students didn't get to book shop. I didn't really follow book shopping days either. If a kid came up to me during reading and needed a book, I would let them. So I think it's time to abandon that and try something else. 

Lastly, I started to let students recommend books and displaying them on the floating shelves. I hope to continue that this year and find more space for them to showcase their good reads. 

This got to be really long. So sorry! You realize when you start to put a post together like this all the things you could and want to share. Thanks for checking in to how my reading practices have evolved over the last 5-6 years. Feel free to share your evolution as well and not be ashamed of it. As I said earlier, when we know better, we do better. I still have a lot to learn and will continue on the journey. You are more than welcome to join in with me and share.  


My Growing Readers Binder

With each new year comes new hope for better organization.  Next year, one of my big charges is growing passionate, life long readers. I'm taking some things that has worked the past year and combining it with hopefully a better, more flexible system to keep track of the growth of my students this year. So although I love the beautiful spiral binding that I used last year, it's back to the binder for me.

I got a 1 1/2 inch binder, as I figured that as I gather more info throughout the year, I'll need space.

My binder will have 6 sections this year. I had then in one order, but then changed it after I already taped the tabs down so it looks a little out of whack but it'll do. To make the tabs and dividers, I just used the beautiful artwork of Kate Hadfield. I designed the dividers, printed them (8.5 x 11 borderless), laminated and trimmed off the extra and then 3-hole punched it. Lastly, I made matching tabs, laminated them too, and used double sided tape to attach the tab to the back of the divider. And boom- custom lil' dividers are made! My 6 sections to test drive include: standards, rubrics and progressions, resource index, past plans, exit slips, and student conferences. I'll show a few things that are included in each section, although some are empty because... well... I don't have my new crew yet!

Standards and Rubrics & Progressions

I was going to put these two together, but it got a little big so I split them into two. First, I've got the standards. I just printed them off so I could see the progression from 3rd to 4th to 5th grade and tucked them into this first section. At times, my teammates and I will have discussions about what truly should be expected of our students so having them in a spot that I can pick up and bring to planning is helpful, as I'm still learning how to navigate 4th grade standards.

But what do these standards actually look like? How do I actually team them? Well, that's where the rubrics and progressions come in. We use Teachers College Reading Workshop and they have these great (but very wordy) progressions for narrative and informational text. I printed them out as again, they are great, but I can't really show them to students as they are loaded. So I took the standards and broke them down into mini rubric progressions. I started this work last year and found great success with them. I planned them out ahead of time, but then created them with students either during mini-lesson or in small groups to reference. Here's a peek at what my planning page looks like:

The first row is an "I can" statement. If you've been around the blog for a bit, you'll know I love rubrics and love to use the whole "seed" to "tree" scale. I used the standards to determine what was a seed, (3rd grade expectations what was as seedling (part of 4th grade expectations), what was a tree (4th grade expectations), and what was an apple tree (5th grade expectations). So if I have a particular standard that is causing trouble for my kiddos, I can reference this and plan out a progression chart with them. The 2nd row is more for me. It gives me suggestions on prompts, sentence frames, or graphic organizers to try with students to communicate that level of proficiency. 

Resource Index

In the next section, I have a resource index. It's blank right now, as next steps include going through all my task cards and supports and put them in this index by standard. I do a lot of strategy groups and sometimes, our common text (aka read aloud) isn't the best for the skill we are working on. So I've found task cards to be great mini common texts to practice with before students try in their own books. I'll fill in these tables with all my resources I've acquired so that when I know I need something for a particular focus, I can easily look at my options and find them quickly.

Past Plans

This next section is blank right now. Last year, I finally found a small group planning page that really worked for me. The problem: I couldn't put it in my spiral bound book because I discovered it after the fact. So I kept my current and past planning sheets in a clipboard. This year, I'll be able to add them to this section so that I can go back and see what strategies I've covered with which students. Ideally, I will copy individual student notes on post-its and place them on their conferring tab (you'll see them later), but I'm fully aware that might not happen, so as long as I have a spot to collect my plans to reference later, that'll be an improvement from last year. I'll still keep my current, daily plans in my clipboard, which gives me a good excuse to go buy a cute clipboard. :)

Exit Slips

I need to do better about gathering information on my students over time. So this year, I'm adding a space in my binder just for reading exit slips. I have one page per trimester and can record the skill at the top and use my icons from my progression rubrics to track progress on a skill throughout the trimesters. The lovely Kristin from Ladybug Teacher Files has this amazing resource full of checklists. I just printed off blank ones and will fill them in as the year goes. I've found I'm a bit old school when it comes to keeping track of grades and I like to do it by hand.

Student Conferences

One area I vowed myself I would improve in is having reading conferences with my students. I still remember year one, when my then principal encouraged small groups only as they gave you "more bang for your buck." To be honest, it was hard to argue with her when we were expected to meet with students at least every other day. But this last year, I started doing more conferring and man- do you get a lot of information about your students as readers and it is so much DEEPER than what you could get out of a small group. Don't get me wrong, I'm still doing small group work too next year, but I need to weave in time to do conferences too.
I use student numbers to save time and resources year to year so each of my students has a classroom number. As of now, I have 29 4th graders coming for me next year. But that number will likely rise so I'm prepared. I used these awesome paper clip tab things from Staples and card stock that never gets used due to its colors and made more dividers where I can put student conference sheets behind. I can also add post-it notes about the student from small group on their divider page. I'm envisioning printing off some post-its with some basic information from initial reading conferences and assessments too.
I used a conferring sheet last year that was inspired from Donalyn Miller (author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild) and will use it again this year.

So, there it is. I'm hopeful that this will be a tool I'm constantly utilizing to not only keep track of my students and their progress but also to give me inspiration and guidance to help them grow as readers. How do you keep track of student progress? I'd love to hear it!


After a few requests, I have made this available for you too! Click on the image below to check out what is included!



The Evolution of My Reading Workshop Practices: Reading Logs vs. Calendars

In part one of my reading evolution post, I shared about how my mini-lesson changed over the years and how I managed to embrace Lucy (from TCRWP). Before you read this one (or after because honestly, they aren't in chronological order in terms of content) you may want to click here to read up. Or don't. I ain't pushy. I also have the last post in the series all about the classroom library that can be found here.Today's topic is about the ever popular, totally debatable topic: reading logs.

3. Reading Logs... Oh Reading Logs

Oh reading logs. Let me go on record to say I have never really been a fan of giving them personally. I get the possible logic behind it: Kids track their reading each night to help hold them "accountable." We use their real "data" to draw conclusions on their reading patterns. Teachers get lots of "data" to determine if kids are reading at home. To be honest, I've found most of this to not be true. (In my previous post, I mentioned that I am NOT perfect reading teacher. So if you've found success in implementing reading logs and your students love 'em too- all the more power to you. I'll celebrate that success with you!!)

We've also heard the arguments against logs. They kill the love of reading for kids at home. It becomes a chore. It becomes homework, when really we are trying to form habits of life long readers. Kids make up information because, "Oh sh*t my teacher is going to expect it. So let's just add that I read 20 minutes exactly each night this week and that I read perfect amounts of 20 pages each time... she'll never know!" In our school, it's been expected to give out reading logs. I've changed them each year. They started out intense! Level of book, title, author, start time, end time, total minutes, start page, end page... whoa! I also made students get signatures- not worth it in my opinion- parents and students didn't really care and it just put strain on the two R's: reading and relationships- both super important if we are talking about building life long readers.

So this year- mid year mind you, I made yet another change. I moved to a calendar in January and used it for the remainder of the year.

My goal was for students to keep track of their books to see what they can accomplish in a month's time. Students had a lot of "whoa" moments!

Like "Whoa.. I noticed I only finished 1 book this month. I felt like I was reading constantly."

Or "Whoa...I actually finished 5 books- I don't remember the last time I got through books that fast!"

Or "Whoa...I actually read most nights this month... I hated reading at home last year."

For me, it was easier to see what kind of reading life my students were creating at home (and at school) or lack thereof. I honestly didn't care if you sat and read for 15 minutes, 20 minutes or 60 minutes. I preached the importance of reading at home to students and families, but I did not have control over if they did it or not. Influence, yes. Control, no.

Some never turned it in the calendars. These were the same students who weren't turning them in weekly or were missing signatures. The outcome was the same no matter what. Some never filled out the week-to-week one or the one I used where they tried to fill up two sheets worth before turning it in and now, they were eager beavers to show me what they've accomplished. Changing the focus from times and start pages increased my influence on their reading lives at home. It still isn't perfect. But as a whole, I was definitely seeing more kids interested and actually using the calendars for the reason that logs were to be implemented in the first place... we just were gathering different data- still meaningful, but different.

I changed them yet again for next year and am sharing them in case you want to give them a try. I myself started using one to keep track of the amazing books I read during the school year and noticed that I wasn't reading nearly enough. It's helped me to set goals and be motivated, because that is the kind of reader I am. There's no punishment or reward for filling out your calendar. I don't give a grade for it. I don't give stickers for completion. It's a tool and I'm trying to treat it that way. When I took the rewards and punishment away and we spent time at the end of the month analyzing our calendars, that was motivation enough for students to hold onto it, not loose it, and record. When students were hearing their classmates having amazing book recommendation talks and proud moments, they wanted them too. So as the months went on while I used them, the amount of students who willingly wanted to use them increased too. One other change I'm making with logs is to give options. I'll also offer a digital one in case some prefer that. I'll explain more about those in the next section. I started a digital one for me. Here's a screenshot of it. Can you tell when I was still in school?

Tips on how to use the calendars

If you are going to require students (or even encourage them) to use a log or calendar, use one yourself.

I did this to start the year but never maintained it. I'm sure my students felt the same way. This summer, I'm using the digital option in this resource to keep track of my books I've finished. I also plan on using it in the fall with my new students to show them that their teacher is also a reader, examine ways they could fill it out, and draw conclusions about me as a reader. I've found I like using the digital option because I can easily color code it, use emoji symbols and format the size so it fits neatly. 

Teach students how to use short hand notes and keys; it needs to be valuable to them!

One of the first reactions for students when we started the calendars in January was, "But the box is so small!" Yes, yes it is. I get that. However, we found some solutions to this problem. We only wrote the full title on the first day of starting that book. From there, we used some sort of abbreviation or just page numbers if it was the only book we were reading at that time. We used letters to shorten our information (home, school, finished, abandoned) and used a key to help us remember. Next year,  the key will be blank so students can record information that is important to them. If they want to keep track of how many minutes they read at once- have at it! Want to just record chapter books- perfect! I want the info to be valuable to them, so I will leave the key box blank and let them decide, but we'll definitely brain storm ideas together. However, if you want more control, you could easily give them a set of symbols for the key to use (which I included in this pack).

Build in time to set goals and reflect.

Do it at morning meeting at the beginning and end of the month, or in conferences with students, or small groups. You can fit it in 5 minutes, yet it is super valuable I found for motivation and true reflection. I was shocked at how many kids brought it back and forth in their book bags from home to school and never lost it- because it mattered to them. Again, when I took away rewards and punishments, it became a tool and not just a hoop. That reminds me- it helped that we had a common location for it; we always kept it in our ziploc book bag that housed our most current read that we take back and forth to school. We folded it in half and there it lived. Safe and sound.

Want to give the reading calendars a try this upcoming school year? I've added them to my store. You'll have calendars ready from this June until NEXT August (2018) and I'll update for the following school year over the summer. Click on the image below to take you there.

Where you do you fall in terms of using a reading log? What success have you had with them? Share below in the comments.

Also, my last post in this series will be on the evolution of my classroom library and independent reading time. It may not go live for a while, but I'll update my Facebook page when it's ready!



The Evolution of My Reading Workshop Practices: Mini-Lessons and Lucy

This past year wrapped up my 5th year as an elementary teacher. One area that I have begun to see me stretch and grow in is how I teach literacy. I'm going to preface this with the fact that I am well aware I'm not a perfect reading teacher. I've done practices that are probably not the best (which I will get into later). I've fallen victim to wanting my test scores to reflect the hard work being done in class. There was a time when I didn't let students take home books from my classroom because I was scared I wouldn't get them back. So know that in this post, you won't see me getting up on my soap box and telling you to, "Do it differently, NOW!" Because I didn't always.

I'm not necessarily proud of those moments, but I know where they came from and can say that since then, I've grown in my practices. I also know that this will continue as I learn more myself. I'm grateful to the blogging community as they have been helping to guide me towards professional learning books to challenge my thinking and my practices and help me voice these in my classroom and school.  I'm becoming more passionate about it and have realized that there's quite a few things in our schools that I don't agree with, yet have very little control over. For today's post, I'm sharing 2 of the 5 things I have had control over that have helped me evolve in my literacy block. Check back later for part 2 (reading logs) and 3 (classroom libraries) of this post.

1. Making My Mini-Lessons More Mini Made a Huge Difference

A few of my favorite reads and resources                   
When I shortened my mini-lesson to truly be mini, I had more time for other important components of our reading block. How did I make it shorter? Well I stopped expecting mastery! I used to think that I had to introduce a new skill or strategy in a mini-lesson, model, practice, and expect students to master it and move on. Yes, naive I know. Now, it's a more focused time, still some modeling and/or partner practice, but then we use our small group time to do a bit more practice with it over time. Mastery builds and students get more time to read. I used to do mostly guided reading, but have learned (thanks Jennifer Serravallo) the power of strategy groups and have been implementing 2-3 targeted groups a day. See my post on this a bit more here. Lastly, I was a teacher who leveled my whole library and color coded groups of levels to help guide my students. I told them their levels and hoped that they would use that pick just right books. This was (and still is) expected at my school. I've moved away from that practice as it has steered my students away from reading. I still have books from the past that have levels on them, but now, when I get new books, I don't add the level. I try not to tell students their level, although they ask because it's common practice at my school for some to share these with students. Now, they select books that are interesting and relevant. I need to trust they will pick texts that are within-reach. I need to guide them, but not restrict. In the future, I hope to have students not only self select but also push themselves to try other genres and titles they may not think of trying at first.

2. I Found a Way to Make Lucy Calkins Fit Me

To use Lucy's words, I was a bit of a curmudgeon when I started using the units of study. I blame part of this on being a new teacher given a curriculum that is pretty loose in guidance and that the general feeling around the building was that it wasn't concrete enough for our diverse learners. Little did I know that that is one of the things I would admire after working with it for a while. I hear about those who are required to use a basal or other reading curriculum that is so scripted that it gives no freedom to teachers or students and it makes me very appreciative to get to use the TCRWP. However, when we adopted it, we were given a binder of the narratives. It was very laborious to pull out teaching points and my team and I often wondered if we were doing it right. I also couldn't stand some of the language she used. It was not how I talked to students, so when I would try, it felt so unnatural.
Making charts interactive in some way is important to me. Typically I start with a header and add student responses as we go or add post-its. They reference them more and actually "anchor" the learning (hence the name). If I don't have time during the mini-lesson, I record them while students share and then add them later and we go over the final product during our share.
Luckily, my school has stuck with it as TCRWP has heard the teachers' pleas to improve and last year, we got the latest units of study and I love the new additions and layout. There's a ton of resources on-line that I'm forcing myself to explore and use. She's still a little too fluffy for me in how she describes things so I make up my own analogies that are more fitting for me and my students. My next steps include trying to make it accessible to all my students, as last year, I didn't have an EL cluster and this year I will. I know that I'll need to be incredibly mindful and provide proper scaffolding so that all students can access what TC is demanding. I'll also need to continue to advocate. We have to do a historical fiction unit, which I am very worried about as the only HF book club books we have are all very high reading levels that many of our students will not be able to use. If we are going to do the units as planned, we will need the appropriate materials. Lastly, I'll need to be enthusiastic about the units and encourage others who are full of doubts as I once was to give it a fair chance.

As I was writing this post it kept growing and growing so I thought I'd stop here. In part 2, I'll share about the evolution of the use of a reading log... oh reading logs. In part 3, I'll share about my classroom library and seating (which may be released closer to the start of the school year... we'll see though).

Have you noticed any shifts in your reading block and practices? I'd love to hear them!


Flexible Seating: What I've Learned part 2

Well I wrapped my first year in 4th grade and my first year implementing a "form" of flexible seating. The final verdict... I LOVED it all! Part of my love for 4th may be that I got to work with some of my students for 2 years and seeing the growth and the relationships flourish was amazing and inspiring! Also, I can proudly say that flexible seating worked pretty well for the first year... enough that I'll continue to do the work next year too!

In the fall, I did a post on how flexible seating was going at the beginning of the year. I'm here to share a bit more insight now that the year ended to help those who may be considering it too, as some of my colleagues in my building have started to ask how I started the transition. But first, I feel the need to do a little defining and clarifying.

I am NOT an expert like some people here in blogging land on flexible seating. I've also heard the term alternative seating thrown in there too. So I'm not sure if what I did even constitutes what some would say is flexible seating. And that's the first thing I've learned and wish to share about.

What would you consider to be flexible seating? What does that even mean? I've seen some teachers do a sign up for a specific chair or location in the room. Students come in in the morning, move their name or number to a certain chair and then they use that chair for the day. In other classrooms, I've seen them completely eliminate desks and traditional chairs for lowered or raised tables, cushions, and wobble stools. I'm here to say that this is not the definition in our classroom (but if it is in yours, you do you, boo! No judgment here).

My definition of flexible seating may be different from others.

For me, having a flexible seating classroom means having a variety of options for students and being flexible in allowing students to move, advocate for themselves, and allow freedom of choice during independent work times. That means, some of my students would prefer to sit in a traditional chair in a traditional desk. Some would prefer to sit on the floor for reading, but at a table with peers during writing. That means giving some students an assigned space in the classroom to call "theirs" because the choice creates too much anxiety for them. So what did it look like exactly?

We still had a seating chart... kinda.

Well students had a "home" spot. That's the table spot they would come in to each morning. This changed a few times a month. I simply would pull everyone together, pull sticks to see who could pick their spots first, and they would pick their new home spot for the time being. They knew if they weren't following our flexible seating expectations, that I could move them. I only had to do this a few times the whole year. A few students wanted a permanent spot. I let them come to that determination on their own, but I selected the spot. They could still change out the actual chair. So they all had a spot to call theirs as they came into the room each morning. They could however, come in and swap out seats with one another. They made sure to ask before just swiping someone's chair choice and they also knew to share with others who were interested. When it was independent work time, students either went back to these home spots or moved to a different spot. When we do whole group instruction, we are all together up on the carpet and sometimes I let students bring a chair, while other times we all just sat on the floor.

More things I thought would be a problem but actually weren't.

After my initial worry about fighting over chairs proved to not be an issue, these were some of the things I thought would create my biggest problems: subs, damaged tools, and having some desks still instead of all tables. Here's why I worried and why it turned out that these weren't an issue at all really:

Subs: I was worried that since our "seating" chart changed constantly, it would be hard for subs. Students didn't have name tags that stuck to their desks, but rather moved with them. Not to mention I let my students move spaces depending on the task and part of the day.

However, I never really had an issue. I simply put a little blurb about how it works in our classroom at the beginning of my sub plans for the day and give the sub the freedom to move students or have them change out their chairs if they struggle with control. I had a few kiddos get extra chatty in their self-chosen spots with subs, so when the sub mentioned this in their notes, we had a conference and laid out expectations again as well as consequences.

Damaged Tools: Some of our new seat options were not cheap. I got some wobble stools and foldable on-the-go chairs through a  Donors Choose project. I also got some Ikea chairs that were a little spendy too. Only one of my on-the-go chairs got a bit damaged this year (the zipper ripped on it and foam is a bit exposed). The chairs are little scuffed up, but nothing got busted. The wobble stools are holding up great. We didn't pop a single yoga ball. No Ikea stools busted (although two stools had their screws come a bit loose). We modeled how to use them properly and if someone wasn't, we lost that chair for a day or two before we reintroduced it. I would love to add some taller wobble stools and some standing option space, while also buying a few more yoga balls, but I think we have a good balance, as I also have a lot of students who do like the traditional chair.

Still having some desks: I wanted all tables. So I was bummed when my school didn't have any more for me other than the few they scrounged up for me at the beginning of the year. However, the desks proved to work great. Students didn't put their stuff in the desks still, but I could use the desks to store more materials. We kept science team materials in certain desks; I kept mentor texts in them as well; I also kept partner books that I didn't want on the book shelves in there too. So it actually worked out better for some of our storage needs. It also allowed me to break up groups. I was able to make a longer groups of 6 or a smaller partnership table of 2s. I liked having the freedom to change out our layout based on our tasks and the students liked being able to either be sitting in a group or having some quieter spaces. Not giving up all my desks actually turned out to work in my advantage.

More things that are still a problem and need to be reworked.

There's still a few things that I need to work out for next year. One being my class size is going to grow. I was lucky with only 21 students this year. I'll be up to 30 next year. That means I need to find seating options for at least 34 students as I like to have space for kids to move to. Because of this, I've been decluttering some of my larger furniture that I'm not really uses best and getting creative with desks and table placement.

Material storage is still an issue. I wish the Ikea book boxes were their older size, as folders don't fit in their new size. I had to bring back my book bags which are great, but since students don't have all traditional chairs, we can't hang them on the back of chairs. They started to be hung on our curtain, but it became a bit messy. I'll be investing in some clear bins from The Container Store this summer and will have students keep their folders, planners, and notebooks in there. I'll still use my drawer system for their reading books as the home bases worked really well (but I'll need to buy at least 1 if not 2 more for my class size increase).

I'd love more options for my students, but it can be spendy. I would love some of those taller Hokki stools for some of my taller tables. But I don't have the funds. I could do another Donors Choose project, but I feel bad as the same people always donate to them (thanks Mom and Mom-in Law). As much as I appreciate them for doing that, I don't want them to feel obligated to help. I may look for some other options for funding some of these tools or just need to settle on some less expensive options like more yoga balls. However, I noticed that a lot of kids liked the Ikea stools, but they want to rock on them.

If you are considering giving flexible seating/alternative seating/a-mixture-of-both, I'd highly suggest giving it a try. Check out my previous post listed earlier to help with some other possible worries you may have if you are on the fence. I'll for sure write another post closer to the start of next school year with my newest additions!



Being Responsive with Anecdotal Note Taking

Another Throwback from the iTeach3rd blog that you may find helpful this time of year!

Anecdotal notes are a huge part of my formative assessments all year round. What are they exactly? It's a super fancy word for writing down your observations. Observations can tell you A LOT about your students for both academics and behavior. Don't believe me? Here are few reasons why I use anecdotal note-taking in my classroom:

  • They help me track things in a variety of subjects including behaviors
  • They help me be responsive to my students' needs
  • They help me to notice patterns for a particular student or groups of students
  • They provide explicit examples for discussions with my team, service members, and families
  • They help teachers stay on top of each student and not just those who are struggling for the feedback that all students (and families) crave.

What's even more awesome about this formative assessment technique is how versatile it is! You can truly test out many different ways and use what works best for you. I for one have tried many different strategies to house my notes: binders, notebooks, post-its, labels... you name it. After 4 years, I finally found my "go-to" ways of collecting these notes. Here's a few different ways I collect this important data:

Paper & Pencil Strategy
Note-Taking Boxes

I give each of my students a number. That is one reason why I like this strategy and anecdotal note taking in general. Instead of trying to write down a student's name, I can just quickly jot their number down. It saves precious time.

How it works:
I write my focus at the top (an example template is in the cover photo). It might be an engagement inventory during reading, problems they got wrong on a math assessment, or participation during a group discussion. Then, I create a little "code" at the bottom. Usually it consists of symbols that are easy for me to jot quick and that might be repeated for more than one student. As I interact with students or scan the room, I jot down a quick note or symbol inside the student's box. This allows me to see who I have missed and lets me see everyone at a glance all at once. If I'm not writing a ton of information, this is definitely one of my favorite routes to go. I simply keep a clipboard with a bunch of these blank note taking boxes on hand so I can grab it at  moments notice and grab some information. And since I keep it all in one place on the clip board, I know where to find them for when I need them!

Apps and Technology Strategy
   Google Docs

What's cool about the note-taking boxes is I can take it digital too! I also have a blank Google Doc with the note-taking boxes and use my iPad to gather some data. I use the emoji keyboard for my symbols and since it saves my most used one, they are easy to find and tap and use for my students. I go digital with my note-taking boxes if I need to access them from multiples and don't want to bring my clip board or if I want to share them with my team, co-teacher, or service provides because it's easy to do so without loosing my original copy or having to make a paper copy. I still label them at the top (2) and just make a copy to start a new one. I add my key (2) at the bottom as a reference.


Another app I found last year that I liked for anecdotal notes is the app Evernote. Here I can take notes based on subject. So I have my reading "notebook," writing "notebook," etc. This way, all my notes are organized by whatever I want to name it (1) in one spot that is easy to find and just like Google Docs, I can share my notes with others (2). I especially like using Evernote if I want to take pictures of student work to keep and show at our PLC or with my co-teacher. I don't love the limited formatting of the app, but I'm finding ways around it (plus I haven't fully dove in and explored it, so I'm sure I'm missing things). Both the app and computer version are helpful to take quick looks (3) of notes before opening them.

I've got my notes, now what?

Once I have my notes I do one of the following:
1. Plan strategy groups

  • Is there a group of students who would benefit from some reteaching or the teaching of another strategy? My notes allow me to look for similarities in confusion on topics we are learning about or opportunities for students to have an extension of our learning.

2. Reach out to others for support

  • "Hmmm I notice __(insert student name)__ is repeating the same work avoiding behaviors at this specific time. I wonder if my team has any suggestions on how I can help him/her be successful at this time."

3. Reflect on your teaching practices

  • "Wow- we really struggle with carrying on a conversation. I'm going to need to help scaffold this work a bit more."

How do you keep track of student performance across the school year or unit? Leave a comment below!



Time SAVER: Math Talk Matrix

In hopes of blogging more, I'm going to try a series of posts called

All the ideas featured take very little time to implement on your end, but can have great results for your students.

Each post will include 1 tool or idea to try to help students in some way, in some subject. Pretty open ended, I know. The goal is for the posts to be short and to the point so that you can implement it right away!

The first time SAVER I'm sharing about is a math talk matrix. I learned of this concept from my EL coteacher a couple years ago. We noticed students (both ELs and native speakers) wouldn't always use the correct operation language when discussing math. Some examples included...

"I plussed 6 and 8 and got 14."

"I used times to solve it."

She used a matrix to help them and it worked! Instead of correcting students constantly, offer prompts and options so they can start pausing, reflecting, selecting and using the correct form of the word you want them to in the right situation.

When working with word problems, students need to find out what operation to use. Start by asking, "Which operation should you use?" You are asking for a noun (-tion turns words into nouns). Have students circle the noun and then speak or write the sentence to answer the question. Then they write the equation. Ask them, "What is the equation?" You are having them join numbers, so you want them to use the conjunctions plus, minus, times, divided by. Again, have them write or speak it out. I like to have them add the word to match the symbol. Finally, you can ask them, "How did you solve the problem?" You are asking for a past-tense verb here. Have them circle the word that matches their past action.

Gives this a try to help correct that math talk! Click the image below to download!


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