Madly Learning about All Things Teaching: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Technology


Change is Good...DIY blog design

I like change and feel that this is an important thing for teachers to have.  At this time in teaching things are always changing.  Technology is improving, pedagogy is always evolving and we as teacher need to get on the train and ride.  One thing I love about teaching with such as diverse school board is that I can change my teaching assignment frequently and get a whole new experience.  I feel that about every five years I begin to look for a change.  I have had owls now with the blog and classroom design for three years now and I decided that it was looking tired and needed an overhaul.  It really was inspired by a comment on Facebook in one of the groups that I follow.  Someone asked about themes in the classroom and another person suggested owls.  A third person commented that she didn't understand why owls were so popular right now that they were cute as cartoons but as an animal they were not cute.  I am not sure if I would agree with that but when I started to think about it I questioned the owl as a symbol for my blog and brand.  So I decided to change my theme to birds.

An owl is strong and fierce, but they are also solitary, sneaky, hunters.  This makes them amazing animals however not exactly the traits I associate with myself as a teacher. So I may be going to deep with this but it something I have thought about.  Birds are beautiful communicators, they flock together in teams, and in folklore they are messengers.

It was time for a change, so I have redesigned my blog.

I found this great starter kit on TPT by Lovin Lit.  So helpful and the papers are wonderful.

Using PowerPoint with some inspiration from these blog designers A Bird In Hand Designs and Blogs Fit for a Queen I created my Header.  Opening pictures and cropping them to size on a landscape paper provided me with just the right width for the blog header background.  Next I added some of the frames, Accents from the Lovin Lit Starter kit.  Finally I made my own branch on PowerPoint and found some cute birds from Open Clip Art. Making this a family affair my daughter picked the colours for the birds which can be edited online from the Open Clip Art site.  Finally I grouped all of the parts of the new header in PowerPoint and copied and pasted them into paint.  Once I had re-sized the white page to fit my header I saved it as a picture file ready to upload into my header on the layout tab in blogger.  

Ta Da!!  

This was easy...I know that there are better programs that could have done this but this redeisgn used the programs that I already have my free trial to Adobe Illlustrator has expired :( 

Give it a try yourself...Happy Creating while you Embrace Change!!

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Why I love Long Range Plans (and you can too!!)

Its done!!!  My 4/5 Long range plans are finally completed.  Having such detailed plans this past fall was a life saver.  Being very pregnant with a toddler at home I didn't have lots of time to plan these long range plans were a great tool that sat on my desk as a reference.  It helped to stay focused and on task and make sure that I had taught what I needed to before I left for my leave.  Even my LTO appreciated knowing what I had already covered and what she needed to still teach.  As I watched my colleagues without plans struggle to stay on task I was relieved that I spent the time last summer to have these complete and ready to go.

  As you can see from my Term #1 plans I include details about literacy planning, Read Alouds, big ideas, Writing Forms, and Comprehension Strategies.  As well as the math units for both grades that can easily be taught together.  New I have included more detail for the social studies and science curriculum including Inquiry Questions, Big Ideas, and Culminating Tasks for both of the grades.  However I have removed Physical Education as I will no longer be teaching this subject.  OPHEA is a great resource and made up the bulk of my physical education program.

Want a copy of my Long Range Plans?
All I ask in return for this free resource is please 

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Complete Long Range Plans

Interested in the units listed here?.....Stay Tuned....I will soon be sharing my tried and tested first language unit from my long range plans. It is almost compiled and completed !!!

Don't forget to leave a comment of submit feedback on TPT!!!

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Design a Room for Language Instruction

What can we do with 100 minutes during our language block.  With so much to do and so many expectations to cover how can we fit it all in?  Magic? yes perhaps sometimes.  However I also believe that solid planning is the key to success.  (and perhaps a timer to keep you on track...) 

Planning your language block starts with your room layout

1.Have A Meeting Place: have a place in your room where all of your students can gather together to learn.  I use a carpet.  This is an expectation that all my students regardless of how cool they think they are sit together on the carpet for instruction.  I like having zones in the room.  Desks are for working and a carpet is for instruction.  

2.  Have a Anchor Spot: Find a place in the classroom that can be seen easily.  I am fortunate enough to have a wall covered with bulletin board space. I use this as my language board.  I post my learning goals, success criteria, anchor charts, student goals, bump it up wall, etc.  Students have one place to look for language and we review this frequently.  

3. Classroom Library: Students need books to read and a selection of different types of books too.  I have collected many books over the years and bought some as well to keep the students excited about reading.  I also have recommended books out on display.  I strongly feel that any reading is reading and encourage not only novels, but also support graphic novels, magazines, e reading, fiction and non fiction.  In fact some of the most popular books in my room last year was my collection of classic Tin Tin books.  Keep your books together, well labeled and sorted.  

4. The Stuff
  • Ikea Cardboard book boxes
  • 3 books per student in book box
  • Writing Notebook
  • Readers Notebook
5. Guided Reading / Conference Spot: It is important to have a space to meet with students.  I have a horseshoe table that works great for this purpose.  Although any table that seats 6 people would work.  

How do you set up your room for Langauge?

Leave me a comment below!!


What these Grads taught me.

Well it is that time of year again when the small group of students that I teach set to graduate. My first set of students from this school are set to graduate soon from grade five and go on to their next school. Even though I am on maternity leave I feel that it is important for me to say good bye to these kids. I will miss them for many reasons and of course there are some things I will not miss. 

Here are some of the things I learned from this group of students. 

1.  Consistency is Key- planning routines, setting up routines, practicing them, and reinforcing them is so important. When students know what you want and can predict your responses and actions it makes life easier for you and them. 

2. Homework Sucks - I don't like it any more then they did. My homework was generally self directed learning. It was encouraged and rewarded. However it was not assigned, marked, or corrected. 

3. Projects are awesome -  this group was like a dog with a bone. They loved projects and in response I have begun to explore inquiry and project based qlearning. I only hope to get more effective at this type of teaching. 

5. Technology Rocks - we blogged, connected, explored, and communicated. Having a class website was invaluable as a tool to communicate and share ideas. When used as a one way street to share information with parents it works. Boundaries are VERY important so as not to be connected all the time and teachers should be very careful about the tone and type of content shared. Stay away from opinion, negativity, or directing action. 

6. Making Connections -  get to know the students personally and take an interest in who they are.  It helps to understand what makes them tick. 

7.  Work with the Power- in every group of students there is a power structure and a social dynamic. Know who the leaders are and use them to help. Turn negative leaders into positive allies. Understand who has no power and work to balance the scales. 

8.  Let them save face - try to never address a child for their negative behaviour in front of their peers. Always try to talk one on one and remove the offending child from the group. Yes of course that's hard. However have a space like a time out spot In Your room where they can go. If you can't address the behaviour you want stopped find the nearest well behaving children and reward them. 

9. Boys are different- in a class full of boys you see very quickly how you must Change your teaching practices to meet the needs of boys. Flexibility, differentiation, and allowing them to move is very important. 

10. Have high expectations - want a good class well then expect a good class and don't allow an alternative. If you want  them to raise their hands then never answer a child who calls out and do not talk over them. Command and demand their attention but do t expect what they can't do. A ten year old can't sit for an hour and listen to you lecture so dont do it. If you respect their limitations and expect the best you will be happy with the results. 

Good bye to my first class from this school may I have taught you as much as you taught me. 


Top 10 reasons you should ditch your student desks

So are you as tired as I am with the disgusting state of black holes that you have in your room called student desks. I was so although I wanted tables I went with those desks flipped around zip tied together. Had to take it slow in case I regretted it. Let me tell you I didn't and it was the best decision I have ever made. Here are my top ten reasons why my students don't need desks. 

10. No more disgusting black holes... I don't know about you but many of my students used their desks as a place to shove anything and everything. You name it food, clothing, garbage, multiple pencil cases (not sure why a student needs three pencil cases but I digress), student books, text books, etc etc.  By turning their stuff around they could no longer hide their junk they had to deal with it and actually put it where it belonged. 

9.  No more lost work...I don't know how many times I would hand out a paper and ask them to put it in their notebook only to find that they didn't and lost it. Valuable time lost having half your class trying to find their work during the next lesson. Or realizing three days before the test that the notebook they are to study from is empty. By flipping my desks student work was kept in Group bins organized by subject and table group. Each group worked together to hand out notebooks. Collect notebooks and keep bin organized. Sure occasionally a student lost their work but this new system greatly reduced that and often someone in the group knew where it was or helped to find it much quicker. 

8. Teaches organizational skills.... With the mess unable to be hidden students had not choice but to keep organized no rewards needed for clean desks. No period a week lost on dumping a desk or me needing to give up my lunch to keep students in for making a mess.   Life lessons early for students put it where it belongs so you can have it when you need it. 

7.  Goodbye hoarding...hello community... Students had to learn to deal with their stuff and to pair down on the hoarding tendency of some to have 3 pencil cases full of stuff they rarely used.  This always drove me nuts the amount of money spent on school supplies at the beginning of the year which was lost, gone, or forgotten about by November.  Now I inform parents and students that special supplies can be kept in the child's backpack for art class or other special times. However students were encouraged to donate supplies to the classroom and to share pencils, rulers, erasers etc from a group bin. 

6. A place to call your own...Sure they had an assigned space but student seating was far more flexible in my room. It always has been really. Often colleagues comment on how students are rarely caught sitting at their desks. This is true my thought is work where you are comfortable as long as you are working. This would be even better with tables I am sure as it allows for more flexible groupings.  

5. Oops I forgot to collect that notebook...well with group bins picking up a group of books or returning them for that matter is easy. Walk over to the group bin and grab them. No need to  rummage through each students desk at the end of the day. Saves time and effort. 

4.  More Community building... My students sit in groups from day one to day 194.  The groupings rarely change except for a few students here and there.  Students have classroom jobs and group jobs. The table leader delegates responsibilities to other to ensure the operations of the group are running smoothly and in an organized fashion.  Sometimes a group gets this right and sometimes they struggle however this is a great learning opportunity to celebrate a team that is working well and to use as a model for how other should operate. A great life skill that they can all take into adulthood.  

3. Books last longer... When notebooks are shoved in desks they rip bend tear and disappear. When they spend most of their time living in a box only used when the student needs it they last a lot longer. You replace them less and that saves everyone money. 

2. I hate paper...ok so this may be just my personal vendetta against paper but what I couldn't stand the most was the piles and piles of paper that I could see falling out of student desks or the piles of paper that I had to use to re photo copy daily. Perhaps this only created an out of site out of mind experience because I certainly didn't use less but I didn't see it which helped my teacher induced OCD.  

1. Managing a well oiled machine... I am sure this whole idea of flipping around your desks sounds like a management nightmare.  It does take a lot of rehearsal and structure to train student to this new system. However the work is WELL WORTH IT!!

Here is what you need to get this up and running in your classroom
A) groups of desks in 4-6 
B) zip ties to keep those desks together
C) shelves around your room to store textbooks
D) square plastic file boxes one for each group
E) hanging folders for each subject
F) group bins one for each group
G) donated supplies (pencils, rulers, etc)

H) table leaders - elected monthly. They are in charge of collecting and distributing notebooks and textbooks from the group bin. Delegate other tasks as required. 
I) deputy table leaders- assume the table leader role in the event of an absense. They also act as supply manager to keep group bin organized. 
j) time... Make sure you give students time to hand out and collect notebooks during transition time. 

Have you ditched your desks?  What is your experience?  willing to give it a try? I would love to hear about it. Leave a comment and share your experiences.  
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