I Love Books and I Cannot Lie

It really is no secret that I love books.  I'm pretty sure most teachers do!  As I was doing a bit of book organizing in my library over fall break, I pulled out a few of my all-time favorites so I could share them!  I do this pretty regularly with my students because sometimes they just look at the library and think, "There's so many that I don't even know where to start."  I pull a few out here and there and talk about what I loved about each one.  Almost always those books don't go back in the shelf for a while.  Kids just need a little help sometimes, even the big kids!

The Giver and Wonder are two books that are talked about on nearly every upper elementary teacher blog, so I won't spend much time.  They are great, and you should read them.

Avi has FANTASTIC BOOKS!  However, I must admit that my favorite is The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.  Do your class a favor and get a newer copy of this book (probably within the last 10 years?).  The old copy has a girl in colonial clothing and my boys were just not that into it.  However, they enjoyed the story line, but it took a LOT of chapters to get them convinced that it wasn't a "girl" book.  :)  Almost all of them liked the newer version's cover.  Yes, we all judge books by their covers despite the old adage.

My first year teaching 6th my fellow teacher friend introduced me to this book.  We both read it to our classes at the beginning of the year and the kids LOVED it!  A ton of my students bought the book at the book fair or the book order to read along.  Win-win there my friends!  I read the first book out loud and then had the remaining books in the series in my classroom library.  They rarely are found IN my library.  They're usually on a desk.  Ha!

I have read so many Andrew Clements books it's ridiculous.  However, Frindle is hands DOWN my all-time favorite.  It's such a great discussion for words and how "texting" and "selfies" didn't really used to be words at all!  It's usually a crowd favorite, though I have found that a lot of my students are love-or-hate readers on this book.  Andrew Clements book typically feature a manipulative and clever protagonist that overcomes some sort of school system or educational set back.  Most kids can relate, but every year I have a few haters.  :)

So many great books here.  The Giver is such a great book because it really gets kids thinking.  I often save this one for a read aloud towards the end of the year, but I think it could also be a terrific book for the beginning of a 6th grade year (in Utah we teach government systems in social studies, and I really think this could be eye-opening!).  I love that students begin to value the importance of making wise choices.  My reading groups love this book and The Unwanteds (not pictured because it's checked out!) and comparing the two.  One of my FAVORITE things to do with The Unwanteds is to tie the importance of art and creativity into it as a launch and selling point to get kids to buy in to our increased participation of the arts.  (I have an arts integration endorsement and I am a HUGE advocate of the arts and the kids love, love, LOVE it.)

I am not a scary person.  I hate scary movies and scary stories.  When I was in fourth grade, my teacher had a copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in her room and I read about 4 of them.  Guys, it took me years, YEARS, to go into a bathroom and look in the mirror at night (even with the lights ON).  Wait Til Helen Comes was a book I had to read for a children's lit class in college and it even scared me then.  BUT!  I think her books are fabulous.  Her books are great mentor texts!  Some classes I've had can totally handle this as a read aloud in October, but some have a few more sensitive souls (like me!), so just be aware that some kids are legitimately terrified.  It's a real thing!  

What are some of your books that you swear by in the upper grades?  

Techy Apps that Add to Learning

If you read my last post, you already know I have a little obsession with the app Explain Everything.  No, not because they are giving me all sorts of goodies (they don't even know I've written this post, nor do they even know I exist!  Ha!), but just because I LOVE the app.  It's available on Apple devices as well as the Surface.  Here are a few other uses for the app! 

If you are fortunate enough to have iPads in the classroom, this can be so cool!  I'm thinking about downloading a few planet/space graphics and having students arrange them.  Or telling students to position the moon's orbit and position during a new moon, full moon, waxing gibbous, etc.  How about asking students to position the Earth in relation to the sun when we hit our autumnal equinox?  Or labeling parts of a plant?  Or parts of a bacteria?  Okay.  I'm stopping now.  But seriously, you guys, wouldn't you think a test is about 10 million times more exciting if you could just map it out rather than "A, B, B, D, C, C, true, false?"  Me too.   

This is one of my favorite ways to use this.  I have class blog that I update daily with assignments and links for stuff in class.  I like it because I can't have students say, "Well, I didn't know that was due."  Students like it because they HAVE to use the computer to check their homework.  (Not really, we also write this stuff down in their planners, but they sure like to tell their parents that!)  Parents like it because they can help keep their students caught up.  (I don't accept late work, and that's a blog post for another day.)  I will often post math videos on this blog for my kids as well as their parents.  I cannot tell you how many Parent-Teacher Conferences I heard, "I know my child is struggling in math, but I didn't learn it this way, so I don't know how to help them with their homework."  It was frustrating for everyone, but especially parents, and it often fueled to their reasons we shouldn't have the Common Core.  So, I started posting quick videos on the blog.  This was one of the BEST things I did for parent-teacher relations.  My principal asked me what I was doing to make parents so happy, and if I could teach other teachers how to do it as well.  I also loved that parents could now help out at home!

Where I teach, students are involved in about 20 million after school activities.  They are still in elementary school, but they usually play sports, an instrument, are involved in church activities during the week, have family night scheduled, and a lot of my students are also in charge of babysitting their younger siblings for an hour or so.  Anyway, they rack up a lot of absences, but I expect my students to also be in charge of their own learning.  I do not track them down and say, "You were absent, here's what you missed."  That's their job.  Now, a lot of times they missed something new in math, but trying to coordinate times to get them caught up gets SO messy because I also want 20 minutes of lunch where I can talk to an adult.  Or close/lock my door and just enjoy the peace.  So!  I post videos on our blog so that students can get themselves caught up on what they missed.  If they are still struggling, I am totally willing to give up my lunch (I'm not THAT mean) to make sure they understand it, but these kids are headed to junior high where their new teachers have 200 students coming through their door each day.  They HAVE to learn to be responsible and take charge, and the best time to learn is BEFORE grades count.  If they get it down early, they can more easily keep their grades up when it matters most!

Know When to Walk Away and Know When to RUN!

Teachers are pretty tough cookies.  Kids might try to pull the wool over our eyes, but we know their tricks.  Misbehavior doesn't scare us, but there are two words that scare a teacher more than any:

Nothing makes a deathly ill teacher feel well enough to trek into work like those words, and taking personal leave better be for a REALLY good vacation!  Two years ago, I was invited to be trained in art education.  I was stoked because I am a huge advocate of the arts in our school system.  It was totally paid for by our district and a partnership grant with the local university.  I was going with two other rockstar teachers from my school.  Buuuut there was a catch.  I had to miss 10 days of school over the course of the year for trainings.  10 days of sub plans normally means 10 days of lost instruction.  Holy Hannah.  Talk about scary!
My kids that year could not afford 10 days of lost instruction in math.  I had a great sub (the same one for all 10 days!), but she wasn't trained in common core math.  I remembered reading Ron Clark's book where he shared an idea: make a video of yourself teaching for the kids!  I thought I'd give it a try. Worst case, it totally doesn't work, but I really hadn't lost anything by trying, right?
I had purchased an app called Explain Everything where I could write while I recorded my voice.  I recorded a sample problem, then asked the students to complete a problem with each other and then I walked them through the solution, and then a final problem that they were asked to solve on their own.  The sub was supposed to make sure the students were working and checking in on their work.  I would ask students questions in the video, and the sub was supposed to pause the video while they answered.  The first time they were totally freaked out!  Ha!  But, I asked the sub to write down if the student had been working when their name was called and I gave them participation points. 
While I wouldn't recommend teaching every lesson every day like this, it sure saved me some days.  Students still had "me" there to help them through, and then I could just do a little bit of reteaching instead of a whole day of reteaching when I returned. 
You can check out one of my videos below or follow me on YouTube by clicking the icon on the upper right of my blog!

This post was written purely because I love the app.  I have not received any compensation or promotion or contact from the app's developers or it's affiliates. :)

Spelling Correctly = Job Security plus a Holiday FREEBIE

When I was an intern my first year of teaching, we had monthly meetings with all of the interns in our district and our CFAs & Liaison (basically the people who observed us very regularly and offered more support than I could ever thank them for!!!).  I love these people to this day.  Each month, they'd give us tips & ideas and a little something that we could use in our classroom the next morning without any preparation on our part.  For October, they gave us these!  I laminated mine and put a little magnet on the back so they'd stick on my whiteboard, but you could simply balance them on the marker holder/lip thing.  I am drawing a blank on its "real" name.  Ha! 

They were a class-wide behavior idea to use each day.  As students are on task, clean up their tables quickly, return from recess on time, remember to raise their hands, everyone turns in their homework, etc. (really WHATEVER you want them to do), they can earn a letter!  There were also times that they lost a letter if they couldn't stop chatting or if they earned a poor score from their science/history/art/PE/computer class that day.  If they DID earn all of the letters by the end of the day, they could pick a little prize out of "The Cauldron!"  Thanks Dollar Tree!  The prizes were stupidly cheap: those nasty ring spiders, a bouncy eyeball, vampire teeth, but, I tell ya, those 3rd graders LOVED IT!  (My first year of teaching I had a no-sugar policy, but candy also works great!)  With my younger 3rd graders, I had to set a 5-second decision rule or else there were some kids who would pine over which color of spider ring to get.  It's a big deal folks. 

With my 6th graders, the prize cauldron actually went over really well, though sometimes instead of a prize, I'd have the reward be a homework pass (this was usually if they had been super amazing all week) or pencils.  A few times it would be to get to have an afternoon recess for 10 minutes and that was a prized reward! 

I love mixing things up each month because the same old routine gets too easy for the teacher and my class always got sick of it and the novelty wore off.  I have nothing against easy, but it is so easy for me to get into a rut that is easy for me but not really appealing to my kids anymore.  Plus, October is always a crazy month with too much candy and too many changes in the weather to not have something up my sleeve! 

I have made a little freebie of these behavior cards for you!  However, they don't say "Witch's Brew" and I will tell you why (other than the fact that they're not mine to duplicate).  Sometimes, these letters get mixed up on your board when you have a substitute and the "B" gets put where the "W" should go.  I know, I'm saving you a trip to the principal's office.  That's because we are good friends.  :)  So!  The free ones I have for you say "Spooktacular" and "Pumpkin Patch" if you're not feeling the whole Halloween vibe but you still need a little sanity saver this month. Instead of a cauldron, you can easily use one of those cheapy pumpkin candy holders or a cornucopia!  Whatever floats your boat.  Happy Haunting!