Thursday, September 18, 2014

New Year, New Things!

I am officially a month into my second full year of teaching! It has been so much fun already.

This year instead of being a self contained 5th grade classroom, we have been departmentalized. I now teach math, science, and social studies to 2 groups of kids each day. I teach math every day, then swap science and social studies units. My partner teacher teaches reading and writing. As much as I love to read (reading chapter books aloud to my class was one of my favorite things to do), I couldn't be happier with the subjects I am teaching.

I also have to say, being a second year teacher is light years better than being a first year teacher! I am loving being able to anticipate misconceptions and confusion when it comes to specific math topics and lessons. It makes my whole day run more smoothly. You also can't beat prepping 2 subjects (plus an interactive read aloud) per day instead of 5-6! Somehow I still find things to keep me busy until dinner time... Oops! But basically, I'm having an amazing year so far.

I kept a lot of things the same in my classroom from last year. However, I did make some adjustments and updates with the new class format.

Last year, I used tickets as a positive behavior reinforcement, and had ticket store on Fridays. That worked great for my class. This year, though, with 50 students to motivate, I didn't think it would work so well.
Enter, my Bravo! Board!

The black magnetic boards are from Dollar General! They are mini wipe-off boards. I just used command strips to attach them to my bulletin board fabric. So far, so good!

I love this thing. I've been waiting to share it until it really got some good use and I could vouch for it's effectiveness, and after a month of daily use and plenty of rewards, I can say that it will definitely be sticking around!
I came up with this idea over the summer (with inspiration from other teachers, of course), and implemented it on the very first day of school.

Here's how it works:

My kids are divided into tables (colors). The morning class are the circles and the afternoon class are squares (I use these shapes other places in the class to identify which class is which).

When a table does something AMAZING like staying on task while working together, being the first group ready to transition, etc., they earn a STAR (I painted about a million little wooden stars gold and hot glued small magnets to the back of each one. Thank you, Michaels!). An individual may also earn a star for their table by doing something AMAZING.

Once the table has reached their goal number of stars (I'm starting with 5 and then I'll work up from there to challenge them), they get to choose a pom pom from my cup. Each pom pom's color matches a prize on the Bravo! Board. I try to give them the reward as soon as possible because I am sure I'd forget if I put it off until a certain day. For example, if they choose candy, I give the table a jolly rancher or pixie stick immediately. No big.

The most popular prize so far has been lunch with Miss Leslie! Several tables have drawn the red pom pom, but a few have drawn "team choice" and chosen to have lunch with me! It's so much fun getting to hang out with them on a small group, no pressure basis. The other day, one of my sweetest friends said that in all his 7 years at our school (including Pre-K!), this was his first time eating lunch with a teacher. It's a small "price" to pay for fun memories for these guys.

Speaking of, a great thing about the Bravo! Board is the price! Many of the prizes are free, and the gum and candy are only chosen some of the time, so that expense is small. Last year, I was constantly buying chips, candy, and mechanical pencils to restock my ticket store. This is so much better!

Something else new in my class this year is Math Workshop!

Last year, I met with small groups on a daily basis, and really loved the close interaction. This year, I decided to just go for it and have real rotations. I have 4 rotations and 4 small groups with about 6 kids in each. I wish I could make them smaller groups, but then each rotation would have to be shorter, and they already fly by!
I'll make a whole post about how I do Math Workshop and what each rotation entails soon. I've got a lot to say about it! (Hint: I LOVE IT.)

My last classroom update is my Gotta Go passes. I borrowed this idea from a teammate from last year (The Teacher Dish), and I'm not looking back! Last year, students had to pay tokens to use the restroom, and could use leftovers at the ticket store at the end of the week. Lots of kids didn't like that because they thought it was unfair. After I had time to think it over, I think I agree with them. So this year, I thought, "I'll just let them use the restroom once during my class and it will be no problem." Well. I was wrong. It was hard for me to keep track of who used their "one time bathroom break" during each class, and sometimes kids do need to go twice.
Enter, the Gotta Go pass.

Everyone gets 6 of these to use in a week (just in my class, not my partner teacher's class). They write their name on their passes and keep them in their pencil pouches. Then, when they need to use the restroom, they just have to come up and show me their pass. I either nod or say "no," and they move on. They drop their pass in a bucket on my desk before they go. On Mondays, I pass back all the passes and they start over. There's no real benefit to hoarding your passes, but if you run out, you don't get to go. I spend so much of my day working in small groups, so having kids come up and ask, "Can I go to the bathroom?" 15 times during math rotations just was NOT working for me. These passes make necessary bathroom breaks much less of a disruption. I also use a different color for my morning and afternoon class to keep them all straight. Works wonders.

Whew! That's all for now! I'm off to wrap this week up and enjoy my weekend.

-Miss Leslie

Thursday, July 31, 2014


So this evening I was laying in bed reading "Wonder" by RJ Palacio. It's a great story with important life lessons, big questions, and both heart warming and gut wrenching moments throughout. Sooo needless to say, I was a teensy bit emotional. At a moment when I felt incredibly proud of a character (gosh, does that happen in books a lot? Feeling proud of a character?), I stopped reading and students from my class last year flashed through my head.

I thought about how lucky I am to have spent every day with them- these kids that might have a lot going on at home, these kids who will grow up to be real adult people, these kids that grew and matured so much just during the year or two I knew them, these kids that are so special and important to me. And I cried! I am definitely a crier in general, but I was not expecting to feel so emotional just thinking about them. Like I said, the word "lucky" just kept floating to my mind. I am so lucky that I get to spend probably more time with some kids than their parents. I am so lucky that I get to be around them and influence them at such a crucial time in their life- a time when they are figuring out who they are and who they want to be. And I am so lucky that I feel so very lucky to be a teacher.

I can't say for sure, because I haven't felt this feeling any other time in my life, but I have a feeling that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I'm meant to do right now- the right school, the right people, doing a job that is so very important to me.

Today I was up at school helping to coordinate an upcoming event, and outside I saw 4 girls that were in 5th grade last year out front. They had visited the 6th grade center on a very cool "Moving Up!" day, and were waiting to be picked up after the bus dropped them off. We all squealed with excitement when we saw each other- then hugged and caught up on summer and 6th grade and just everything. I was so excited and happy to see them! I think seeing those girls and thinking about all those 5th graders becoming 6th graders so soon just put me in this emotional place!

I hope I get to see more kids from last year, just to check in with them and see how they're doing! And I can't wait to get started with another group of kids- to get to know them, to figure them out, and to create those important relationships.
As I get back into my classroom and school starts back up, I don't want to forget the feelings and emotions I feel right now. Because it's easy to get bogged down in the day to day, in the test scores and data and drama and everything. But I know that's not what's important, and that's not what I (or hopefully the students!) will remember once the year is said and done.

Recently, I've talked to a few friends who said they aren't great at communicating through talking- especially when it comes to emotional stuff. They said they are much better at writing it down- a letter, a journal, whatever. Reflecting on myself, I think I'm the opposite! I'm not much of a writer, honestly. I'd rather tell someone, explain it, use my hands, look them in the eye- it just comes easier for me. So thank you for reading this I guess! I don't often feel compelled to write about my feelings, but tonight, it just seemed right.


Sunday, June 22, 2014


Well, here I am, 6 months after my last post. OOPS! 

Spring semester FLEW by- and now my first year of teaching is over! I can't believe it. I had such an amazing year. I learned so much and worked so hard and just loved every minute of it. The last day of school was filled with lots of hugs and tears!

Since I was so terrible at blogging, I'll just share a few pictures and things from the past semester!

We had a Family Reading Night in February with a camping theme! We all made bulletin boards, and this was mine. I had my students decorate a foil star for each week in February that they made their personal reading goal.

 These are the Valentines I made for my students. My mom helped me make them and I think they turned out really cute! I used my Silhouette Cameo's print & cut feature to speed up the process. My kids loved them- some of them had never tried a Twinkie before! Can you believe it?

 My beautiful room all taken apart for state testing :( 
I HATED my desks like this. My room is not very big and separating the desks killed so much space! Plus the tests were stressful and time consuming! Fifth graders here in Oklahoma take 5, yes FIVE, state tests. They were troopers and I'm so proud of all of them for doing their best!

The end of the year came so quickly after testing. We had an awesome graduation ceremony (complete with the entire grade singing Katy Perry's "Roar"- soooo cute), plenty of field trips (even a college tour!), Super Kids Day (an outside field day), and everyone's favorite day- Fifth Grade Fun Day! 
These are our fifth grade shirts. I think they turned out so great!

All in all, it was a wonderful semester. There are going to be lots of changes for the upcoming school year and I am so incredibly excited to organize, meet with others, and plan, plan, PLAN as the new year approaches. 

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer! Teachers in blogland seem even more busy creating resources and projects during the summer- I'm so impressed! I'm enjoying teaching students how to type at summer school right now, and have a few fun things planned for the rest of the summer. 

I'm going to try REALLLY hard to do a better job blogging from now on! No promises though! ;)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

It's Already 2014?!?!

It's already 2014?!? Quite a bit into 2014, actually! Wow. I can't believe my first year of teaching is halfway through! It has seriously FLOWN by. It's been so much fun- and so much work! Before I know it, it will be time for the 5th grade writing test, then all the rest of the tests, and then it'll be May and school will be ending! Two weeks into the semester, and I know it's going to be a whirlwind!

I didn't get a chance to blog during the holidays, so I've got a backlog of pics to share!

Here's a panorama of my classroom with Christmas lights! One of my sweet students brought in all these lights because he wanted our room to be festive. He even stayed after school to help put them up!

We do monthly Currently papers and I display them here. I love doing Currently's with my class. It gives the kids a chance to talk about themselves and what they are interested in inside and outside of school. We share our responses during our morning meeting, and they can decorate the papers as much or as little as they want. 

Here's a view of outside my classroom door. I made a fireplace on my cabinet! It took so long, haha! But I love the way it turned out- it looks cozy and festive! The stockings hanging up have book recommendations on them. I still have the fireplace up (but not the stockings). I think I'll take it down once the weather warms up!

We had SO much fun at our holiday party. We spent a lot of time eating (yum!), but we had some time for a few marshmallow games! I found the ideas through google- one was picking up marshmallows with a straw and putting them in a cup- all without using their hands! They loved it, and I could not stop laughing! They were concentrating so hard! 
 (Pictures with blurred faces look weird to me, but I wanted to share how cute they are!)

After we had played all the games, I had them scatter the marshmallows on their desks and we played "Hungry Hungry Snowman." It was way too funny! I told them they didn't have to do it, but what do you know, not a single person chose to sit this one out! :)

One of my favorite things we did during the holiday season was make these adorable reindeer! We used patterns and directions from a book called "Cut and Create! For all the Seasons" that my teammate let me borrow. I didn't explain how to do it at all- I actually took a reading grade on how well they read and followed the directions. 
We were studying Fantasy Fiction at the time (in both reading and writing), so we took the opportunity to give our reindeer a special, magical power! They named them, and then wrote a few sentences describing the power. 

I love having these laminated black sheets of paper with their names on them to display their work. We do a new craft/activity every so often, usually that reflect the season. It really brightens the room up, and I love seeing their creativity displayed. I feel like it shows our classroom community and gives students a sense of ownership and responsibility. 

We started the year by doing self portraits. I had them write 3 similes about themselves to go with their drawing. We used these awesome crayons from Lakeshore Learning that have 24 different skin colors to complete their portraits.
My classroom is very diverse, and their faces absolutely lit up when I showed them these crayons. They were so excited that they didn't have to choose between peach and brown for their skin color! This was a great opportunity to talk about how everyone is different- hardly anyone chose the same crayon for their self portrait. 

Next, we did a jack-o-lantern graph from Anna Colley. Find it here! I actually don't have pictures of this one, but they were perfectly festive for Halloween!

When we came back from Winter Break, we made Alliteration Snowmen to replace our reindeer. 
I got my inspiration from Michelle at Apples & ABCs, and had my kids write 2 alliterations to go with their snowman. They turned out so well!

I'll leave the snowmen up for a while (it's kind of a pain to change them out all the time haha). The next thing we do will probably be St. Patrick's Day or maybe spring inspired. Any ideas?? 

The last thing I wanted to share was my sticky note bookmarks! I turned the anchor chart I made about stickies into a bookmark, then copied them on bright paper and had them laminated. Now, if students aren't sure what to make a sticky for, they can use this handy guide that's right inside their book! We've been pushing stickies for a while now, and I have been SO impressed with my students' progress! Their books are filled with sticky notes now. We used the symbols as a starting point, and now they can use a symbol (or not) and write a little to explain their thinking. I actually had a Donor's Choose project that was funded (yay!!!) that included lots and lots of SUPER STICKY post it notes! Something as simple as fun colors has really inspired them to use their stickies! 
During my read aloud books (right now we're reading "The Lightning Thief"!), I always use stickies. I pause and walk them through my thoughts as I make a sticky note. I show them what I wrote and leave it in the book. This, more than anything I think, has helped them continue to increase their sticky note volume and thought level. Modeling is super effective in this situation.  

These bookmarks are actually available in my TpT store! Check them out!

Whew! What a long post! If you read the whole thing, bless you. If you didn't and just scrolled to the end, bless you as well, and thank you for even visiting my blog!