Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Competency Based Instruction and Portfolios

One of the most effective tools I use to motivate and focus students is portfolios.  Many of my students have a difficult time staying on track, keeping up with their materials, meeting deadlines, etc.  When I give my students portfolios, it does several things to help them: 

1) It puts all of their important due dates and assignments in one place that they find easier to keep up with.  

2) It prioritizes assignments and puts them in an official file, communicating the importance of them for the students.  

3) It becomes something that students take pride in and and responsibility for.

4) It represents the culmination of students'  mastery of the Common Core standards and is a strong visible measure of their competency for them to reflect upon.

On the other hand, it is also helpful because it gives me a collection of their work to show parents and administrators how they are progressing.  When someone asks how my students are doing, what they are learning, if they are showing growth, or how I justify my students' grades, I have something solid to show them.

When I set up the portfolios, I do the following....

1) I plan with the end in mind.  I figure out what I want students to be able to do and what standards I want them to demonstrate mastery of.  I design a project that engages the students and incorporates the target skills.  I create a rubric for how I am going to grade their work.  Then I break the portfolio down into a series of assignments that show progression towards a big picture goal.  For example, if they are working on writing a research paper the due dates correspond to steps (research, notes, outline, rough draft and final draft).  If they are working on writing Spanish essays, the assignments get progressively longer and more complex.

2) I create a timeline/assignment sheet that identifies what I want them to do and by when.  I put it in a table format, print it and staple it to the inside cover of a file folder.  The assignment description includes mini checklist rubrics. I also include a space to put their grade and comments.

3) I color code everything.  Their folder is one color, the assignment sheet is another color, and rubrics are a yet another.  It is bright and easy to find and identify.

4) Students use it on a weekly, if not daily basis.  They are expected to keep up with it and organize it.  Student-teacher conferences always include a look at the portfolio.  Grades directly correlate with the portfolio, and because students have a grade sheet in their folder, they always know how they are doing.

Many of you probably already use portfolios of some sort.  If not, give it a try!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fabulous Freebies Online

I am always searching the net for free resources and/or web 2.0 tools.  There are so many out there, but I decided today to share some of my favorite visual ones.

The first one is the newest one to me.  It is a coloring page generator.  I recently used it to create a one of a kind coloring book of memories.  Use it to make a fun yearbook for a class or momento from a fun class trip.

The second one is a site that I've used to have students create fun plot summaries of stories.  They can go online and create their own cartoons with captions, characters, settings, etc.

The third one is a fabulous online archive of pictures from Life magazine.  This is a great way to introduce famous people and events from history.  Create a gallery walk that allows students to see and develop a context for the content before studying it.

The last one is another new discovery for me.  It is a list of really cool virtual tours.  I was able to show my students a spectacular 360 degree view of Machu Picchu.  I found a site with a live feed from a nature preserve in the Sahara.  This page is definitely worth checking out and using with your students.

To see a list of 30 other free online resources, check out my pinterest page of Websites Useful to Teachers.  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Summer Ready Classroom Checklist

This is that time of year when summer break is just around the corner! Here is a checklist to help you see what you have left to do before that break arrives. I always like to enlist the help of my slaves... ahem my students ;) while they are still around to help make the work quicker.

Of course not everyone has to do all of these things and you may have to do things that are not on this list (please share to help others in the comments below!) but these are just some suggestions.
  • Wipe down desks and remove any tape, name tags, stickers, etc...

  • Clear out and clean any cubbies and/or inside of desks

  • Pass back any remaining work.

  • Take down artwork and bulletin boards.

  • Make arrangements or plans for any plants or animals in the classroom.

  • Take down any posters or items you will not need or that will change next year such as schedules.

  • Pack away and store supplies or art materials. Tip - as you are packing things away it's an easy time to note what is running low or what you used up so in the fall you will already have a list of what you need.

  • Pick up things off the floor. Most school I have worked at clean the floors thoroughly over the summer so make sure to not leave anything on it that you will need!

  • Label your things. Sometimes during cleaning desks and chairs can get moved around so if yours are labeled you can make sure to get your things back.

  • Remove any of your things from fridges and if you have a classroom fridge it's time to defrost!

  • List any items that are in need of repair that staff can take care of over the summer such as replace light bulbs or ceiling tiles.

  • Save or back up files on your computer.

  • Unplug your electronics.

  • Take home any valuables or personal items. You never know what could disappear over the summer!

     These are the things I usually do each year. Did I miss something or leave something out? Please let me know below.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Great Resource for Teaching Imagery

One of the 5th grade descriptors under the 3rd Common Core Standard for writing reads as follows, "Use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely."

If you are looking for an engaging way to teach that, check out my lesson on imagery.    For just $3, you can have a lesson with over a dozen amazing pictures for students of all ages to write about as they practice how to incorporate imagery in their writing.  

It's a great bargain, but don't take my word for it.  Here a review from one of my buyers...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fabulous Freebies: Free App Fridays

This week I wanted to share a great website for those of you that use apps in your classroom. Each Friday educational apps are available for free through this site! It's a great way to stock up on free apps to use in your classroom at no cost.

Check out this page every Friday for more free apps to use! This past Friday there were more than ten available including Subtracting Sardines, Sight Words Coach, Farm Adventure for Kids, RT Math and more.

How do you use apps in your classroom? I have worked at some schools that have used them and some that have not so I'm curious how you use them in your classroom.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Alphabet of Encouragement

Brian Tracy, a motivational speaker and author, says, "Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy."  In other words, what we think will happen too often directs our path and becomes a reality, even if it needn't be.  Tied to the development of beliefs is the act of listening.  What we hear, we tend to believe, particularly if it is coming from someone we consider to be a reliable source.  If someone who knows and is supposed to care about us tells us we are going to go to college, we start to believe it.  If that same person says that we are never going to be anything in life, the same is true.  We start to believe that too.

As teachers who spend a significant amount of time with our students throughout the school year, we have the opportunity to speak life into them.  So, I've written an ABC's of compliments.  I'm sure you can think of your own, but this is a good place to start...

Amiable, amazing, adorable, athletic, artistic, awesome
Beautiful, bubbly, blossoming, better, beaming
Cool, charming, confident, collegiate, compassionate, clever, controlled
Diligent, dependable, deep, decisive
Excellent, enchanting, energetic, empathetic, engaging
Fabulous, fun, funny, fashionable, friendly, faithful, fantastic, focused
Generous, giving, good, great, gentle, genial
Honest, honorable
Intelligent, independent, ingenious, insightful
Jolly, jazzy, joyful
Keen, kind
Lovable, loyal, likable, leader
Magnificent, marvelous, modest, memorable
Neat, nice, nifty
Outstanding, outspoken
Perfect, practical, profound, persistent, poised, peaceful, patient
Quality, quick
Resilient, receptive, regal, right
Studious, smart, super, serious, selfless
Terrific, talented, tenacious
Witty, wise, wonderful
Xtra special

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fun & Free Elementary Art Lesson for the End of the Year

If you are looking for some fun elementary art lessons or projects to keep your kiddos busy and have a great time at the end of the year, here is a fun project idea.

For a fun and free art project for the end of the year, check out this FREE Andy Warhol hand print lesson. Andy Warhol was a Pop Artist that is famous for his prints of popular and common objects. This lesson gives some examples of Warhol's work and helps your students create a memory with their hands that they can use to compare from year to year as they grow. I also think that it would be fun to do a hand print project at the beginning and end of each year to compare how their hands grew!

Another idea is to do prints of other objects such as apples or oranges cut in half if you don't want to get their hands quite as messy! You can also alternate in different colors or objects to practice making patterns.

What do you do for the end of the school year? Share it with us below!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Fabulous Freebies: Memorial Day Is Just Around the Corner

Summer is about to start, and there are a few holidays left to squeeze in!  The first is a holiday formerly known as Decoration Day: Memorial Day.  This day is more than just one last day off for those of us who teach until June.  Below is a list of free resources to use to teach your students what the day is all about.

#1TeacherVision is a site with Memorial Day printables for all grades.  It is easy to navigate, and can be a useful site for a number of other themes in the future, as well.

#2-For a reading comprehension activity that shares some quick facts about the day click here.  (Note: this is best for grammar school age readers.)

#3-Memorial Day Crafts is a site with a number of crafts including patriotic wreaths and wall decorations.

#4-Click here for a reading on Memorial Day.  There are also some activities on this site that you can use to supplement your lesson.

#5-Play patriotic bump with this free game.

#6-Memorial Day Packet is a collection of activities that include a word search, a template for a letter to a soldier and an acrostic poem.

#7-Memorial Day Cause and Effect Game.  Students flip over flag cards with causes and effects and try to match them.  It is a great activity to teach students to link events.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Five Fun Activities for the End of School

The end of the school year is a great time to do fun activities and projects with your students. I've also found that I need to come up with particularly interesting activities to keep their attention the closer summer break comes! Here are five fun activities for the end of the school year.

1. Make a Book

You can use books for many different things at the end of the school year. You can have students summarize their knowledge of a particular subject or use it for a final project. Just for fun you could have students make a book to celebrate their year in school or have each student in the class contribute a page as a memory book.

Here are instructions to make a mini book and this is a great article about making books by hand.

2. Write a Letter

Letter writing can be fun depending on the topic! Students can write letters to next year's class. They could also write a letter to themselves setting some goals either for over the summer or next year. Getting a letter like that in the mail is something I would have looked forward to when I was in school!

3. Have Fun Outdoors

Holding a class outdoors changes the mood and atmosphere automatically. Planning a lesson that incorporates the outdoors lets students get a taste for summer while still learning. Team building exercises would also be perfect for an outdoor setting.

4. Make Some Art

Art is a great way to end the school year. Students could make welcome back signs for next year's students or make posters about what they learned. Getting a bulletin board ready either for the end of school or the fall is another idea. Make aerodynamic kites or paper airplanes and test them out outdoors.

5. Play Games

Play games to review knowledge such as Jeopardy, bingo, memory and more. Check out our article with more ideas. You can also play fun games like team building activities or Minute to Win It games. You could even hold a mini carnival and have small groups in charge of a simple game as students rotate to play.

Have fun these last few weeks and hope everyone's summer break comes soon!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Chichen Itza

About five years ago I took a much anticipated vacation to see the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza.  I had seen the Aztec center of Tenochtitlan several years before, and this completed my tour of Mexico's most significant ancient American sites.  Despite the heat, it was awesome.

I translated the pictures I took and information I learned into a powerpoint to share with my Spanish class.  I uploaded my lesson to TeachersPayTeachers as two separate files.  I uploaded the ppt as one and another file with the ppt + worksheet.  They are priced at $4 and $5 respectively.

Check it out today!  Or wait until tomorrow when this and everything else in my store is 20%.  The sale goes from May 6-7 in honor of Teacher Appreciation week.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Teacher Appreciation Sale! May 6-7, 2014

In lieu of Friday freebies, I'm posting about another great deal instead. The TPT Teacher Appreciation Sale! Site wide sales are rare and there will not be another one for quite some time so this is the best time to get a great deal while feeling appreciated! Items are up to 28% off.

I am having all the items in my store on sale at 20% off for these two days and Etc will also be having her store on sale! Save an extra 10% with the TPT promo code TPTXO.

If you are looking for new items I recommend my best seller, my 50 Fast Finisher Art Activities. These drawing pages encourage creative thinking and are perfect for fast finishers or sub days. It has been rated 4/4 stars by more than 100 TPT customers!

Etc's best seller are her Spanish centers perfect for teaching introductory Spanish to middle or high school students.

Thanks for checking out our items and have fun shopping!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Using Exemplars

Exemplars are incredibly important for showing students what you want them to do--what a high quality piece of work looks like.  I have found time and again that they set the bar for my students.  The first time I give an assignment is always the hardest, but after that it gets easier.  I file away the best ones to use as exemplars when I give the assignment again.

If you are giving an assignment for the first time, though, or are not happy with what students submit, you have a few options.  The first option is to take the time to make your own.  The second option is to use it as an opportunity to revise.  Revisiting assignments and revising them to make them better teaches them to learn from their mistakes and always strive to do better.  The third option is to surf the net for online examples.  Here are a few sites with exemplars...

#1-Online high school exemplars  and elementary exemplars across the core content areas.

#2- The Annenberg Media website has examples of what rigorous foreign language classrooms look like. This website may not have many exemplars to share with students, but there are examples of students engaging in learning to give teachers an idea of what students in a foreign language classroom are capable of.

#3-Online exemplars of work in the arts (drama, visual arts, and music).  When you get on the site type the word art in the search.
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