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Save some time with report cards

If you are like me report cards take forever for write. Time I just don't have. Having two little kids at home I can't just lock myself in a room and write report cards. Trust me I have tried. They both end up in the room colouring on my assessment pages. Last year I returned from maternity leave and quickly had to write report cards. I again did not have the time that I really needed to write these report cards. I needed help. What normally takes me the most time was the learning skills. I typically don't use a comment bank but like to write personalized comments. But after about the 20th report card comment they all sound the same. I came across a program which was Ontario based to help me with this. Plus it was also recommended to me by a friend Sidney from Teaching is a Gift. So I decided to try it. AMAZING!! I was quickly done my learning skills comments not in a week using up all of my evening but in a day and a half. That time is valuable, and I got it back. Another great part was that the comments were actually unique. It gave me phrases that were combined together that fit the kids in a way that I creatively could not come up with that type of variety. Sure I had to generate a comment that fit a couple of times before it really fit and I would have to do some slight editing but that does not take nearly as much time as writing the comments myself.  The creator of Student Evaluator was trying to spread the word of this awesome site and asked if I would share with you how I use this product to save me time.  Since I already tell everyone I know around report card time I thought I would also share this awesome program with you too.  Thanks John for extending my trial so now I am covered with this program to 2017 since I already renewed for this year to make sure I was covered for this round of report cards.

How it works. 
First you sign up. Sure it costs money but your time is more valuable then the cost of this program.  My two little princesses enjoy actually seeing me during report card season.  

Next you watch the video tutorial or read some of the support documents to help you get a feel for how the program works. This takes very little time but is well worth your time at getting to know the program. Even though it is very easy and simple to use. Also set up your profile and information. 

Finally it is time to begin. You add your student. You choose the learning skills you are commenting on for this report and rate them on three areas within that learning skill. Just like filling out a rubric. You add your opening and closing sentences. Once you have completed your rubric/checklist. You click generate. This will generate a comment for you. Read through it if it is a good fit keep it. If not regenerate it. Once you are happy with it you can edit the comment to add some examples for each student to make it more personal. 

Now you may worry that this feels like cheating. That we should write every word ourselves. This program is no different from making your own comment bank the difference is that they have a much larger comment bank of comments and the generate the matching comment based on the ratings that you provide. Trust me it sounds more personal than writing them myself, because I am not that creative after the tenth or twentieth report.

Now it is not perfect. Nothing a computer writes would be. You do need to edit your comments and make sure they fit the kids.  But you can regenerate your comment until you find one that fits sometimes this is not necessary but other times I regenerate a few times before it fits well.  They also have comments for k-3 and 4-8. This is a nuisance for junior teachers because depending on the kids either comment bank might be more appropriate. I know they are working on more comments so hopefully this will be added. However the comments are still very usable even the way they are you may just need to generate the content more times for some kids. 

Overall this saves you time, and stress during this busy season.  Get your time back and use this program.

Check it our here 

Differentiated Instruction- What it means to me

I recently had my student teacher's placement advisor ask me "So about how much of the time is he teaching?" I responded with "Well 100% of the actual teaching time, we use an inquiry model" He looked at me confused prompting me to explain"well with lots of conferencing and a few mini lessons when needed throughout the week to address certain needs this is the direction of education" I was floored when he responded to me:
"Well there is a thing called professional judgement you don't always have to follow the newest thing when they tell you to"

Being the professional that I am I smiled and nodded and glanced at my student teacher knowingly as he was just preparing to demonstrate a textbook teacher's college (read: boring) lesson that unless he was being evaluated he would have planned a more interactive and dynamic lesson.  But we intentionally simplified the lesson to make it fit what was expected from him by the university.

Here are the best things about differentiating instruction...

  • meets the needs of all learners
  • removes stigma
  • supports a culture of high expectations
  • LESS PLANNING because it is student directed
My biggest goal in my classroom is that those that need special education support or alternative programming blend into the mainstream while allowing them to work at their own pace.  There is no expectation in my room that everyone is doing the same task at the same time because people work on different tasks.  Now I will be honest having a split grade helps this tremendously.  Mixed grade groupings within the classroom help this too.  This helps to meet the needs of all learners.

How do you differentiate your instruction?

Are you using Google Classroom...you should

Okay as I sit writing this I am not at work.  I am at home.  It is my daughters birthday and I usually take the day off and spend it with my girls.  She is two and is currently napping.  My students are at school with an occasional substitute teacher and I left some interesting plans for today, but back to that in a bit.  My students have been using google classroom all year to hand in their digital assignments.  In my room, I provide choice.  Choice on how a written assignment is completed.  Some students write in the traditional way with a pencil and paper in a notebook...awesome.  However due to the growing special needs in my classroom many require assistive technology to write me anything.  So in order to allow those students to feel comfortable in using the tech in class without sticking out like a sore thumb I allow all students to use technology if they choose to complete their work digitally.  I fully support BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) in school and allow them in my classroom all the time.  This helps to boost the amount of tech in my classroom to approx a 2:1 or 2:3 ratio at any given time. Including the tech tubs of about 12 iPads that I use regularly too.   As the year goes on more students bring in their own devices.  I insist that all students use Google Docs to write all of their work.  They can make their organizers on other apps that export to google docs such as Poplet and Explain Everything.  I can easily track their usage and I don't have to worry about saving issues like with Word or Pages.  Our school board also has google apps for schools and each student has an account.   However before we did I had a general classroom account that I set up that everyone used.

I have used a digital writing option for a few years with some success and lots of headache. So previous to this year I just had students share the document with me and then I maybe glanced at it as it was generally buried into my inbox and was not easily accessible I have two google accounts one for work and one for madlylearning.  Which makes it hard to sign in to view the document. This worked but was not easy and helpful.  I had students type, print, and glue their writing into their notebooks and this was also problematic as there was a rush to print at the end of the week.  I needed something different and this is when I came across Google Classroom.

Google Classroom is simple...it is a hand in station for students digital work.  It is easy to set up and easy to manage.  There are many tutorial online on how to set it up but like many other google products it is easy even for the digital novice.  Once all my students were added to the classroom via their board supplied email we were set to go.  Every week I create an assignment folder for students to share their digital work in.  Once they submit it to me, google classroom locks them out of the file and they are not able to edit their work.  I then have access to comment, change, edit or otherwise on the students work.  I can place a mark on their work and hand it back to them.  All of this can easily be done on my iPad mini without the pile of notebooks to shlep home.  I find it is also faster to mark this way.

Ok so back to today.  I left an assignment where students had to log into google classroom and watch a video from Learn Zillion about setting (Just found Learn Zillion and it is wonderful too) Students had to watch a video on setting and how it impacts a story.  They then had to comment and answer a question about setting based on the last few stories that we had read in class.  As I made my birthday girl lunch the iPad mini that I have for school was dinging like crazy.  Looking at the clock it was Language time and my students were completing their assignment.  Once she was napping I logged into see what they were writing.  AMAZING!! I could see their responses to the questions.  I could (and did) comment back to them asking them follow up questions or providing feedback on their responses.  They were providing feedback on other students' responses.  It was amazing and authentic learning happening and I wasn't even in my classroom.  I mean I do have many AWESOME students in my class but I was so impressed with what was happening.

So the moral to my story is this.  Embrace technology in your classroom, support BYOD and use Google Classroom as your digital hand in box.  You many not really know how to use it and may be learning along side your students but trust me.  In your class there is a digital expert that is just waiting to show you their knowledge and they can teach you and others.  Students teaching students is a valuable activity.  So take a leap, move forward and jump into the technological deep end with both feet.  

Instagram in the Classroom

I joined Instagram awhile ago but personally, or professionally didn't quite know what to do with it.  I posted a few pictures of my kids but wasn't really sure how to use it.  Fast forward and a few other blogger friends talked me into opening up a Madly Learning Instagram account.  I have found it to be a great way to connect with other bloggers and to see what others are doing in their classrooms.  I also noticed that Instagram was what my 4/5 students were using as their chosen social media platform.  So all of this got me thinking.  How can I leverage student interest in Instagram with my desire to teach 21st century skills, media curriculum expectations, and empower students to share what we are doing in our classroom with the world? This is when I came across Kayla Delzer @topdogteaching.  She has done a TED talk, which speaks to my teacher heart. She so very much captures what I think and feel about technology in education.  Following her on instagram she shares that she has her classroom Instagramming their adventures throughout the day.  Well this inspired me to get my students Instagramming too.

I have made a schedule for students to Instagram.  They each have one day that they will be the class reporter.  They are tasked with taking pictures that show students meeting our learning goals in the classroom.  We are in the midst of our first month still (I had to wait until contract issues were settled) students are taking pictures of what is happening in our classroom and writing a caption about what it is they are doing.  I have a class iPad supplied from the school and this iPad is the reporters for the day.  They also get to use it to complete their assigned tasks too.  They are responsible for taking pictures and making a collage of our activities on PicCollage.  They add some text and write a caption.  Other than making the first calendar I have been pretty hands off.  I approve the final draft before it is posted but this really has not added any more work to my already busy and full schedule.  The students love it and so do the parents (well at least the ones on Instagram).

Back to School Reflection

Well two weeks in and so far so good.  I have a large class this year with 34 students.  In a split 4/5 classroom with many special education needs there is no doubt that I will have some challenges to overcome this year.  Don't get me wrong 34 kids is going to be hard work there is no doubt about that.  I know that I am only one person and that I will do the best I can.  I am envious of those with classes of a more reasonable size but without much choice I will make the best of it.  I just have to trust that my union will continue to negotiate for reduced class sizes.  In the mean time, I am a professional and I will do the best with what I have.

With a class this large I needed to find a way to fit them all into my classroom.  I am fortunate that my classroom is slightly larger than the other rooms in my school but on the whole it is an average size classroom.  In June when I was told the number of kids that would be in my class I went back to my scale drawing of my classroom to determine if I could even fit in 34 student desks in my room. I was not willing to give up my desk, guided reading table or carpet.  However, there wasn't room, they simply wouldn't fit.  Thankfully my administrator was supportive of using tables instead of desks.  So I made the switch.  Let me just say that two weeks in and I love my tables.  There is so much more room available in the classroom.  I think it even feels like more room in there compared to last year. Supply management is more complicated initially but with some simple routines it is manageable and in my opinion a lot easier than desks.

Another thing I realize is that classroom management is very important.  Managing 34 students is not easy especially when you need to get things done and quickly.  Transition times are something to manage and reduce wasted time which is a feat with a large class.  I did some preplanning prior to school starting about how I would manage this.  This year I am continuing to use the whole brain teaching rules (with a modified rule 3) to help my students understand expected behaviour in the classroom.  I have a class point system where the whole class works together to earn point against an evil villain named Count Snaggit.  The kids really like this narrative and I find it is much more conducive to building a positive classroom culture than students against teacher.

Although I do give points to Count Snaggit and remind students about the rules when students forget to follow them, I also believe in the importance of positive reinforcement.  So many students are motivated simply by a genuine "You know what? I noticed that you were working really hard at getting your work done today.  Thank you so much! I'm proud of you!" or after a student has needed multiple reminders about talking out and distracting peers pulling them aside and saying "you know I noticed that I had to give you a few reminders today about talking out.  What can we do to help you be more successful let's think of a strategy that will help you be more successful with this."  These are so easy to do and they make a tremendous difference.  I like to think of the ratio of 2:1.  For every negative interaction I have with a student I try to have two positives.  Even if that means noticing that for 2 minutes they were able to do as you asked.  Along with the whole brain teaching comes the concept of practicing.  My first two weeks were full of practice.  We practiced coming to the carpet, walking in the hallway, moving to our desk, working independently, working with a partner, etc.  I explain what is expected and then I watch to see if they do what I have asked.  If they do not then we do it again....and again....and again.  My philosophy is that if they don't do it the way I want them to then I was not clear enough in my instructions or I did not enforce this behaviour consistently.

Assessment will be my biggest challenge.  There is just so much to mark and assess.  (I say this as I avoid marking 34 creative writing drafts right now) So with my dislike of paper I really want to go paperless but cannot find a grade book that allows me the flexibility that I require other than a spreadsheet on the computer which still isn't as convenient as that dreaded paper.  So I kept my ears out this week on the facebook teacher forums and I heard people talking about two products iDoceo and Sesame HQ.  I have tried iDoceo and I know that some teachers swear by it.  Our Phys.Ed teacher at school uses it and swears by it.  Plus what she can do with it in the gym is amazing.  I myself found it wasn't as user friendly and quick to use as I needed it to be.  So I tried Sesame HQ this week and so far I love it.  I really like how I can access it and set stuff up on my computer but quickly use my idevice to mark student work quickly.  No really it was quick.  I set up a rubric and marked 34 open response paragraphs all during a 40 min prep.  (for me that is unheard of....) So I will let you know how it goes from now on as I keep using it but so far so good.

Finally my last and final thought is to the environment.  With 34 kids in the room I need the room to feel organized, clean, and inviting.  So with the help of my principal finding a way to help me get it done. I painted all of my bulletin boards one colour (thanks to a tip from School Girl Style), ordered more borders from scholastic book order coupons, had the walls and cupboards painted - with the colours I was able to pick out (by the school board) and painted my blackboards so that they matched.  Plus spent the week before school decorating.  This has been a tremendous help at making the room feel like it is mine, and a place I like to be.  No more mismatched, chipped, and peeling surfaces.  It is fresh and clean.  (now if only I could give my house a makeover...lol)

To me class sizes matter and 34 kids is a lot of bodies and provides a challenge that is not envied by many.  However to my 34 wonderful students who are great kids I will make some lemonade and enjoy every minute with them in my classroom.  (and when you see me blogging on a Sunday night you know it is because I am avoiding that mountain of marking that needs to get done)

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