Summer Sneak Peak

Summer Sneak Peak

This summer I am getting ready to get back into the swing of things and have dedicated more time to sharing my products and tips and tricks with other teachers that like me want to use an inquiry approach in their classroom in both social studies, science and even language.  I have had a great response to my WonderWall video that I posted last summer on how I get started with inquiry and am looking to put out more videos this summer on my inquiry journey and how you to can teach with better inquiry approach to teaching and learning in your classrooms.

It is my hope to get a new video out to you each week which will be cross-posted to both facebook, here on my blog and on my youtube channel for people to watch and learn from.

But before I got started I needed to move my office space out of my spare room upstairs and into my basement to make room for my son who will be born in November.  So I couldn’t just use my old tired stuff.  No I decided that I needed a whole new work space so using some of what I had already and a quick trip to the local IKEA I was able to put together my new office space.  Check it out I am so excited to get to work here each day this summer as I share with all of you.

For a sneak peak on what is happening at Madly Learning over the summer check out my sneak peak video below.


Stay tuned and I hope to see you later this summer for my free inquiry in the classroom series.



Instagram in the Classroom

Instagram in the Classroom

Up your game with classroom technology: learn how you can use Instagram in the classroom! Click through to learn about Student Instagram Reporters.

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.

How I Use Instagram in the Classroom

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).

I have also learned some things too…  My students have a lot to learn about social media and etiquette.  This generation of students will live their lives online and developing a positive digital footprint is essential.  This is the entry point for many of my students at this age.  They are beginning to get online but they have not yet made any serious mistakes about what they are doing online.  This is a perfect teaching opportunity to teach them how to be responsible online.  Teaching students how to post, what to post, what not to post, how to be responsible, how to comment, and how to collaborate online is important.  I also have future lessons on how to take a picture, layout, colour, and creating a digital collage that tells a story. (all of which meets media curriculum) This beginning into student Instagram reporting is a great way to do all of this.

Think a Student Instagram Reporter is something you want to try see my tips below.

  1. Get Permission – now I do not mean that you need to beg parents for permission to do this. I did not send a lead letter home explaining this nor did I make a separate Instagram permission form.  My school board has a general form that covers all photo consents and sharing of information through social media.  This covers what I am doing.  In my first student news letter I  let parents know that I will use various social media to inform them of what is happening in our classroom.  I would look into making sure that you have this permission, or go get it,  before you start any of this.
  2. Hardware – You will need a device that students can use freely throughout the day.  I have an iPad touch that would have worked too.  But we use our class iPad.  All you need is a device with a decent camera, and an internet connection.  Having apps such as Instagram is necessary as well as a photo collage app such as PicCollage or even WordSwag is great.
  3. Have Rules –  establishing rules about how Instagram will be used is important before you begin.
    • Ask permission before you post a picture of someone.
    • Do not post names of students
    • Stay Positive – we try to focus on the postitive aspects of our classroom.
    • Add Value –  we don’t just take a photo to take a photo what we post contributes to our feed.  (we are going to work on this one)
  4. Have a code that allows students to sign their work without stating their names.  I use SR:PF to indicate that the photo was taken by a student reporter:student initials.  I also use #hashtags such as our school board hashtag.  My goal is to use more hashtags in the future such as #inourclassroom and others that I find together with my students.  These will help us share our message further.
  5. Keep Track – Make a calendar for students so that they know when their turn will be.
  6. Students Training Students – I only had to show the first few students how to be the student reporters.  Then they did the rest and previous reporters would help out the new reporter to make sure that they knew what to do.
  7. Instagram Goals – As I started my first round I wanted the students just to do and discover how to Instagram.  We weren’t focused on doing anything really well, just on doing it.  Once I am through my first round I will work with students to come up with a list of best practices about how to Instagram our classroom out to share with others.  Such as….
    • Take a picture that shows evidence of our learning goal.  What did we do today that met our learning goals in _________.
    • Choose your colours carefully.  Use complementary colours between background and text.
    • Pictures are the most important.  This has been an issue with my class they show a lot of background colour with tiny pictures.
    • Focus on what is important
    • Respect Privacy – this has not been an issue but I have a few students that personally don’t want to be photographed at all.
    • Make your comment specific – We are reading books (many times this is what is posted) but we will soon be pushing students to be more specific with We are reading books because…
  8. Be Careful Who you Follow – Screen who you follow and watch who follows you.  You can make your profile private and this helps but I really wanted to be open with what we were doing in our classroom so I have left our profile open.  As a result I often pay attention to who is following us and who we are following.  I had a night club following us at one point, I blocked them quickly as they have no purpose in following 9-11 year olds.  I also have had to stop following many people due to the content in which they post.  Having students post does not seem to be something that is very popular right now.  (or else I just haven’t found them yet) Therefore there are many teachers, however for this Instagram account I want it to be for kids not teachers.  (so if we don’t follow you back….don’t worry we still love that you follow us)
  9. Be Picture Ready – or at least don’t worry about it.  I never know when a student is going to snap a picture of me during the day.  I am often in the middle of writing out a sloppy chart paper when I hear the sound of the iPad camera.  You really just have to be okay with this.  Your picture is and could be taken at any point during your teaching.  This did take some getting used to.  (well at first it was my student teacher that had his practicum documented through our Instagram feed). But on the bright side, sometimes a child yawning early in the morning,in a photo, looks like they are super excited about your new math concept. So there is that.  Now I do require that students check with me prior to posting work and I learned my lesson early on to pay close attention to spelling as spelling errors were a problem at the beginning.  However when pointed out to the student, I think that was a learning moment for him to realize how important it is to use our/are correctly.
  10. Cross Post – if you have your class on other platforms then cross post to those platforms.  Instagram is great to cross post to Twitter and allows for updates on multiple platforms which is great so that parents and other followers don’t need to follow you on every platform but can use the platform that they are comfortable with to connect with you.  I will eventually even get our feed posted to our sidebar on our classroom website and would love if I could find a program that would sum up our Instagram feed and create a blog post for this automatically.
Are you ready to instagram with your class? Why not start by following my very own classroom reporters @45in205 on Instagram or @madlylearning


Spelling and Grammar – How to Teach in Context

Spelling and Grammar – How to Teach in Context

Is there a better way to teach spelling and grammar? Yes, there is! Learn how to teach spelling and grammar in context using mentor texts!

Spelling tests teach kids how to memorize not how to spell.  This is why I don’t use spelling tests in my classroom.  I am sure that you have been told many times in your teaching career that you need to get rid of your spellers, stop doing spelling tests, and teach kids how to spell in context right?? Of course you have.  So you throw out your spellers and promptly never teach kids how to spell a word correctly again (primarily because you don’t know how).  Ok maybe you try but really, you have read their writing…their spelling is horrible and grammar?? Who needs to know what nouns are anyways. But then you feel guilty because they don’t know what a noun is sooooo….ummmm….. you teach a lesson on nouns.  Yes! Eureka! Teacher of the Year for Grammar goes to…..  Ok so perhaps this is me or you share a similar cluelessness about teaching grammar and spelling.  But you know what I am starting to figure this predicament out  I may just have a solution.

It has been my quest to solve the problem of how to teach grammar in context.  If you have read through some of my older blog posts you will know that I love picture books and use them in my classroom weekly.  You may also know that I have a slightly obsessive need for things to match and coordinate within my classroom. (Yes I colour my staples to match my Bulletin boards…but that is a different story) So this desire to have everything match in my language lessons persists.  If I am to teach spelling and grammar in context where is the context in which I am supposed to teach it.  Well I look at a whole picture book and wonder this is so large and there are so many concepts how am I supposed to pick just one to focus on? Which one should I focus on?  Then I came across a book by Jeff Anderson called Mechanically Inclined.  In his book he talks about teaching the concepts of grammar in context of good literature such as a picture book but that you need to strip back the layers of the book and just choose a sentence.  Just one sentence that highlights a concept in grammar or spelling that students are having a hard time with.  I teach junior so getting into the complexities of comma splices (something I admittedly struggle with) and clauses may be a bit beyond my students ability and need.   However they do need to know what a noun and verb is and how they are used in sentences.  How to make complete sentences and where to use a comma.  How to use quotation marks, spelling rules for suffixes, homophones, apostrophes for possession or plurals, etc.

Last year I started this with some of the grade 2 students I teach once a day for Core English.  (This is a prep coverage – no worries I am not leaving my 4/5 anytime soon.)  I started experimenting with simple grammar concepts like nouns and verbs, pronouns etc.  I WAS SO IMPRESSED with how well they were picking up age appropriate grammar concepts.  Sometimes I wondered if they had a better grasp of spelling and grammar than my 4s and 5s.  I only started using mentor sentences with junior students at the end of the year and although I didn’t see the same progress because I didn’t do it as regularly. These mentor sentence lessons did help students make specific corrections to our final reports that they were writing.

How to Teach Spelling and Grammar With Mentor Texts

A) Look at the curriculum

get a general idea of what spelling and grammar ideas you are expected to cover.  Next look at the grades previous to you and determine what they needed prior the grade you are teaching.  Make a List.  Below is my developmental list for my grade four and five students.  Numbers four and five are for my class and the previous parts of the list refer to the grade level expectations prior to my grades.

Spelling and Vocabulary

  1. High Frequency Words Spelled Correctly short vowels and simple long vowel patterns, rhyming patterns,
  2. High Frequency Words. Spell words out loud, segment words, sort words by common sound patterns. Follow rules for adding suffixes
  3. Spell familiar words correctly short and long vowel patterns, visual similarities, rules for changing base word when adding suffix
  4. Spell subject specific words correctly. Silent letters, syllables, Apply knowledge of vowel patterns to new words. Letter patterns and combinations regular and irregular plurals
  5. Subject specific vocabulary. silent p divide words into syllables, irregular plurals,
Grammar and Mechanics
  1. A capital letter and an ending punctuation mark.  Nouns and personal pronouns
  2. use punctuation question marks, periods, exclamation marks, commas, some quotation marks
  3. quotation marks, commas, capital letters and final punctuation. Use the parts of speech appropriately Proper Nouns, possessive pronouns, action bears in present and simple past tense, adjectives and adverbs, and question words
  4. the apostrophe to indicate possession, and quotation marks to indicate direct speech. Common and Proper Nouns, Simple verb tenses.  Subject Verb agreement adjectives and adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions
  5. use of the comma beforehand or but used to join principal clauses.  Quotation marks for direct speech and punctuation marks placed inside quotation marks. Common Proper and Abstract nouns, collective nouns, adjectives, comparative adjectives, helping verbs. adverbs

B) Use a writing sample.

Have the students write you something.  See what they need.  Look at the list above and try to determine if they have the grammar and spelling background knowledge to be able to meet your expectations.  If most do not then I would recommend started with a lower grades expectations are covered enough that you can move on with your curriculum.

C) Choose a story and pick a sentence

Choose a story that fits the other components of your language program.   From the story pick a sentence from the book that highlights that concept for your students need or will be learning about.  Post it for students to see and ask them what they notice about the grammar and mechanics of the sentence.  Only pick one focus a day.  One day you could focus on spelling patterns and the other day you could focus on grammar and mechanics.  Keep is Simple and just pick one spelling and one grammar concept per week/sentence to focus on.  Try to avoid the too much to soon trap.

D) Mini Lessons and Independent Work

Because I am choosing to integrate these into word work centers.  I teach mini lessons (5-10 minutes) to work on the teaching phase of the mentor sentence.  According the Mr. Anderson this means getting students to notice things about the text.  There should but a guided focus on the teachers part to steer the lesson in a direction that is conducive your planned teaching lessons.

In my Classroom

I have structured my language block to be able to accommodate word work centers.  Centers will focus on grammar and spelling (and some printing and writing because that is always a problem) Students will work through these centers during the week to supplement their Readers and Writers Workshop.  They have 40min of a 100min block for reading and writing in a day.  I only expect that these word work activity centers will take about 5 -10 min a day.  They are easily accomplished during a weekly writing cycle.  My centers are
  • Focus on Grammar – Using a Mentor Text Sentence
  • Focus on Spelling – Using a Word Sort
  • Focus on Writing – Imitation sentences that use the spelling or grammar focus in a new sentence modelled after the Mentor Text Sentence.
  • Focus on Printing or Cursive –
 I also will spend 5-10 min each day on a spelling or grammar mini lesson that uses a mentor sentence (both grammar and imitation), word sort, or printing/cursive writing.  If you are interested in seeing my Mentor Text Word Work Centers you can check them out here.


How to Schedule your Language Arts

How to Schedule your Language Arts

language arts | school | curriculum | grade 4 | grade 5 | elementary | organization | schedule

Every day I am given 100 minutes of uninterrupted language arts time in my schedule.  In that time I must plan out how to get everything done.  My goal is to plan all of my lessons so that they flow together and fit, not so that they are a disjointed mess of “LETS CRAM IT ALL IN”  I do this by focusing on Themes, Mentor Texts, and Student Choice.

One of the things that I am asked most by new and old teachers is how do I structure my language block so that it makes sense and is not a planning nightmare.  This is especially important in a split grade because in reality you are dealing with twice the curriculum.  (this doesn’t affect my planning as much as it does my assessment of language skills)

If you haven’t already read how I set up my physical classroom space for literacy instruction check out my previous post here

What does my Literacy Block Include


  • Read Alouds
  • Shared Reading
  • Student Conferences
  • Independent Reading Responses
  • Creative Writing/Writers Workshop
  • Grammar and Work Work
  • Reading Mini Lessons
  • Writing Mini Lessons
  • Guided Instruction

Yes all of these things are included in my language arts time.  However not everything happens in one day.  I take a whole week to make sure that I do these things.

Here is a sample of my schedule

So a brief overview of this schedule. (perhaps some future posts may be needed about these elements in more detail.

1) Independent Reading – I strongly believe that students need to read for enjoyment everyday.  I don’t monitor it, I don’t track it, I don’t value one type or reading over another.  Students read what they want to read during this time for fun.  This also serves as a quiet activity after recess to help them regain focus and prepare for their language arts time.  As a student I loved reading but hated that teachers ruined my reading time by making me write down what I was reading or picked what I should be reading.  So I don’t do it.  I monitor the students, especially my struggling readers, and make sure that they are reading.  I have a larger classroom library that I am slowly weeding out old books (I am a bit of a book hoarder) as students are using more digital books and materials to read. Some of my students favourites last year were TinTin, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Video Game review sites and forums, and Wonder.

2) Read Aloud –  I LOVE PICTURE BOOKS!!! honestly I think this is my favourite teaching material in my classroom.  I use picture books as my read aloud/Mentor Text every week.  I choose books that fit my theme for the month (see my long range plans) and I focus on specific reading strategies such as determining importance, finding the main idea, making connections, making inferences, point of view, synthesizing (putting it all together).  My read aloud is the basis of my entire language program.  I usually take about three days to read a picture book because I only read what I need to that day to help the students focus on the mini lesson that I am using.  I know in my schedule above it has read aloud and mini lesson but really these two components work together.  My time between these two components is flexible.  (see my post on my language unit on questioning and predicting)
Reading independent practice is a time for students to apply previous lesson independently.  I like to think of this as a two week cycle.  I teach them through modelled shared and guided instruction how to do something in week one then they practice this in guided or independent time the following week.  Their independent activity each week is always based on something I taught them prior to the beginning of the week.

3) Word Work – Mentor Text Centers – If you haven’t heard of mentor sentences they are based on a concept by Jeff Anderson. After reading his book I was inspired to integrate some of his ideas in to my word work centers.  It essentially helps students learn about grammar in context of well constructed sentences.  I am sure that you, like me, have been told that teaching spelling and grammar out of context is pointless as students do not internalize these lessons and apply it to their writing.  ME TOO!! My dilemma was that my use of mentor sentences needed to rely less on photocopy handouts and more on interactive centres.  Think Daily 5 meets Mentor Sentences.  Here’s how it works:

  • Look at your students writing samples, or formal writing assessments and determine a grammar or spelling rule that they are struggling with.
  • Go to your read aloud and choose a simple sentence that has a spelling pattern or grammar concept that want to cover.
  • Print out that sentence on chart paper (and with younger students make a copy that they can glue in their book)
  • Read the sentence with students and have them “Examine” the sentence (and when your principal walks in you can even tell them you are doing inquiry learning in language too) Have them look for parts of speech, suffixes, rhyme, or whatever else is appropriate for your grade level.  Use this sentence to form the jump off for your word work centres or activities.  Use word sorts, practice cursive or printing with the sentence, build a word wall, etc. etc.
  • Then students develop their own look alike sentence based on the mentor sentence and using the key learning from the week in their look alike sentence.  So if you focused on adjectives then their look alike sentence would have lots of adjectives.  Or if you focused on suffixes then they would try to integrate words with suffixes into their sentences
  • For example “Whisker’s claws caught on the string, scattering buttons like sunflower seeds” – Memory String by Eve Bunting.  Students would notice the parts and elements in the sentence you might focus on similes or irregular past tense verbs or suffixes, and then finally their look alike sentence could be “Joe’s long jagged toenail tore through the sock, ripping a hole as big as the Grand Canyon “
Writers Workshop – I have really come to enjoy this time with students.  This part of my writing time is also focused on student choice.  (Which I firmly believe increases student engagement)  I have a wheel of writing (found for free in my store) I show students the various options and then they vote and choose the three that they are most interested in. These are what we focus on.  I may do guided writing activities when they are writing or whole class lessons based on the student interest.  I post this wheel in my classroom and students can write any form that is on the wheel but they always have a choice.  When students are ready they move on to another form of writing.  Students also write a different draft of writing each week for me.  This can be intense and sometimes it is almost two weeks for a draft but they are drafting constantly.  This means that not everything goes through the writing process.  Once per term (we have two terms in a school year) students will choose a piece of writing and take it through the writing process.  This way students learn to love writing and not worry so much about the tedious parts of editing and revision.  It also allows them to choose a writing sample that they are very passionate about.
My writing Mini Lessons are a combination of what I need to teach and what the students need to learn.  Much of what I teach during this time is generated by the information that I gather from reading student work.  For example last year my students struggled initially with organizing their ideas, gathering data, and asking questions.  This was a main focus.
Shared Reading – This so far has been the most frustrating part of my language program.  I have many shared reading posters and workbooks but they all seem a little disjointed.  Shared reading for me is reading that the students do with me that is much more focused on a particular reading strategy. My frustration is that these seem very disjointed from the rest of my reading program.  This is a goal of my to remedy this year.  I will let you know how this goes as I am developing as I go 🙂 (who knows perhaps there might be a product in there that I can share with you too)
Well I can already tell that this is something I need to revisit again…if you would like more details on any of the above please leave a comment below and I will address it in future posts.



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

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

Feeling overwhelmed? Check out this 4/5 split long range plan! (Plus you can grab one for your split class, too!) | long range plan ontario | long range plans |

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

Complete Long Range PlansIf you are interested in the units in my long range plans you can see them here
Balanced Literacy 
Social Studies
Don’t forget to leave a comment of submit feedback on TPT!!!

STAR Homework

I was looking for a way to build on the idea that I want my students to self monitor their own learning.  I wanted them to do homework but I didn’t want to have to chase them to return it, or listen to multiple excuses about not having time to complete it.  I also didn’t want it only to be about student’s who didn’t complete class work as I found it was always the same students that would be getting hours and hours of homework.  These students were often students with Special Education needs, where homework created a negative environment of parents and children arguing over getting it all done.  So I asked myself “do I just scrap homework all together?”

My answer to that was no.  I feel that homework is important to practice skills in alternate settings, and it should build the necessary skills and attitudes that homework helps you to practice the concepts taught in class and consolidate learning.  I also feel that it should be students that are self motivated to complete homework not parents forcing this to be completed.

In my travels through the internet I stumbled upon Stephanie’s post from 3rd Grade Thoughts.  I love her blog and use it frequently as a go to resource for many teaching ideas.  She created STAR homework based on Universal Homework Design from Whole Brain Teaching and from Allison at A Whole Brain Teacher.

Check our Stephanie’s wonderful post here and her resources on her TPT store here

I have added additional resources that I found helpful to use with my students.  I wanted there to be choice in what activities they completed.  This would allow for true differentiation for students.  I can tailor what students complete for homework each night based on their individual need.  I can make recommendations for these students.  For other students I can provide fun alternatives to traditional pen and paper activities.
Below is my menu that students glue in their agenda.

After our meet the teacher night I had a few parents express that some of their children were opting out of completing star homework.  Parents were concerned about this a expressed that they didn’t want to fight with their children.

Although earning stars in not required but strongly recommended I had students write out a STAR Homework goal sheet.  Students counted the number of stars that they earned this week and made a goal for next week.  Ideally for most students I want them to complete 8 stars a week.  Students will be rewarded at the end of the week if they meet their STAR goal.


Students determine what their goal will be.  This week (week 3) our class goal is 175.  When students meet this goal  they will earn a reward.  They have picked that they get to sit in any desk for lunch.  Simple reward but very motivating.  At this point to get them to buy in I allow them to earn this once they achieve this goal.  Eventually I will move to stars per week to be achieved.