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Thanks to Student Teachers

If you have never had the pleasure of opening up your classroom to a student teacher, I highly recommend that you consider doing so. I just finished my tenth year in the same first grade classroom and I had never had a student teacher until last year. I had considered opening my classroom doors to a college student many times before but I worried that I wasn't good enough, I didn't know if what I had to share would be helpful to someone, if I could give up control of my students, if I could dole out constructive criticism without feeling like a jerk, if I could relax and still be my goofy self with someone in the room? I still wonder if I would have ever made the choice to ask for a student teacher- so lucky for me, I had my first one sort of end up in my doorway without even having to make that decision for myself. 

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Grant Writing For Your Classroom I

With Winter Break almost upon us, I understand the last thing that many teachers want to do is school work. While I find the break an excellent time to rest my mind from the day-to-day pressures of teaching, I also like to reflect and consider my classroom's needs or special projects I might like to involve my students in the next school year.

With the first several of months of school fresh in our minds, it is an excellent time to consider educational items you might want for your classroom to enhance your students learning. How many times have you thought "If I only had a.." or "I wish I could afford to.." Taking some time to organize a grant proposal might allow you to acquire the funds you need to make your idea come to life; making a regular unit or project more exciting and meaningful for your students.

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Do Your Homework! (and read up on the latest ideas)

Even though we are a couple of months into the school year, I wanted to give you some link to some informative articles and ideas about using homework in the classroom. It is never to late to add some new twists in your own homework assignments for your students. These recent articles might just give you some ideas to make the ordinary, extraordinary!

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Classroom Schedule

There are some things that I know about myself very well, and it is true that I am a systematic and organized individual. When considering what I should share next in my blog, I reviewed a list of ideas that I had jotted down over the past few weeks. It is definitely a fun list of topics to choose from, but instead of just selecting one at random, I decided to be a bit more methodical and share my daily schedule with you first. I remember being in my first year of teaching and feeling so overwhelmed with the thought of “How on earth am I going to fill almost 8 hours with my students every day…for months!” I thought that if I shared my schedule and then took the time to blog and show video from all of the things I teach to my students during these different times, we could find some common ground for exchange and hopefully glean some interesting new “field tested” ideas from each other in the process!

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Classroom Management Wrap-Up

Well week three for me is officially over! We survived Hurricane Ike here in Austin without a drop of rain and enjoyed an early release day on Friday! The powers that be wanted to make sure all the children were home safe before the traffic on our city streets became overcrowded and they needed to use some schools as shelters for families coming from Houston and surrounding areas. I managed to work in my classroom for several hours after the early dismissal. My wonderful principal, Valerie Galbraith, came marching down the hallway demanding that I and a few other diehards “Go home!” Ah, if only every Friday would be a half day, we would get so much done!

Our area superintendents are in the process of leveling classes and moving teachers across the district. Unfortunately, my team is one of the grade levels with lower numbers than usual. We have been waiting on pins and needles to hear if they are going to force a teacher to move either to another grade level or even possibly to another school or just leave us alone. Of course if that happens, my small class will suddenly become a class of 20 and I will be back to square one with classroom management. That fact, I can deal with, losing a colleague that I work so well with and have grown so close to, will be devastating. The stress of not knowing has been almost unbearable and the fact that teachers have absolutely no say in this process is regrettable.

So keep your fingers crossed for me that I won’t lose my partner in crime, and thanks for letting me share my worries. Because of the possible sudden changes my class might have to endure, I was taking time this past Friday to consider my classroom management; how it was going, what needed to be emphasized and what I might need to change if I suddenly had several new students come Monday morning.

Joey & Aaron in Workstations

I realized I had a few more quick ideas to offer you as I wrap-up our discussion on classroom management before I move on to sharing all of the fun and exciting learning activities that happen in my little part of the universe.

Whole Class Consequence: Occasionally, your entire class is out of whack and you are not able to give individual sticks. This is when I take out my clipboard that has a paper attached to it showing numbers from one to twenty five. I very calmly hold up the clipboard and begin marking off numbers, beginning at the number one, until the class is silent. And then I begin teaching again in a very soft, controlled voice.

The numbers represent how many minutes we have for recess. Each number I mark with an X is minutes I take from recess time. When this happens, I keep my students in the room at the beginning of recess. I ask them to think about why we have to take this time from recess and what we could do differently to solve the problem. I have them put their heads on their desk and consider solutions. After the time out, we take a few minutes to discuss what the students thought about and to discuss some solutions to our problem. As a class, we agree to a solution and then we head outside to play. I usually only have to pull out that clipboard a few times at the beginning of the year and the students never want to see it again. This week, my students were having difficulty maintaining listening ears during homework folder time at the end of the day. By Thursday, I just had to start to walk over to the clipboard and they all quieted down.

Make The Call: Now that I am coming into week four with my class, I will start to be much more strict about following through on student consequences. One of my consequences is to have the student call the parent to explain to them about their poor behavior choices for that day. I have to credit this idea to a former colleague, Janice Lowry, who told me that she has hardy ever had to use that tactic in all her many years of teaching because it was so effective. She was right. The few times I have had to do it in my own classroom, the students were so stunned that I would just hand them the phone and make them explain to their parent what he or she was doing that was disrupting the entire class, there was never a follow up phone call. And the parents appreciated knowing what was going on and were able to be an immediate help in solving the problem.

Time Out a Recess: I do not just have my students sit in time out at recess. That is unproductive and unhealthy. Luckily, we have a track on our school playground that I can have them walk. When a student does have a 5 or 10 minute, time out, I have them come to me first. We discuss why they received their sad sticks, and I ask them to think, while they walk, about what is causing the problem and what different and better choices they can make next time the problem arises. After their time out, they come back to me and we discuss the solutions they thought of and I praise them for their good ideas, we agree upon a solution together and promise to support them as they try to make better choices.

Questions About Stickers:
Do I give extra stickers to Ss who have gotten a sad stick? Yes. A student can make a poor choice and receive a sad stick, but he or she can show outstanding behavior or complete quality work after that and if you feel a sticker is deserved, then give it. Remember this system is about rewarding the positive and praising the good efforts. Mistakes will be made, but it should not be the main focus of your attention.

What if a student reaches 20 stickers before other students? This will happen all of the time. Remember, it is an individual reward, not a whole class reward. When a student reaches “the end”, as I call it, we give him or her a big “Yeeeehaw!” and I take their incentive chart down and choose a new one to hang up so they can start earning stickers immediately to work their way up to 20 stickers again.

Why do you use 20 stickers? I know not all incentive charts have 20 squares to fill in, I just thought 20 seemed like a reasonable number to achieve in a decent amount of time. Not to short, not to long. Plus, when I don’t use incentive charts, the students can easily practice counting their stickers in rows of five.

“Good Citizen” Bulletin Board: I prefer this title than to “Good Behavior” or something similar to that. After all, one of the things we are teaching our students is how to be a good citizen now and as an adult. It also gives me an excellent lead in to teaching students about American government. Having this connection to their classroom helps them to understand the bigger picture.

Incentive Charts: I have bought incentive charts from an educational catalog or teacher store. I have also used store bought die-cut colored notepads or paper shapes because sometimes I can find those cheaper or they have more pages to use. I have also made my own die-cut shapes using our school die-cut machines. And, I have cut out cool shapes myself from construction paper. I keep a box of these incentive charts by the Good Citizen Board, and I usually ask the students input on what chart they would like next. For example, Joey was the first to fill up his Texas shape this past Monday and the class chose the cowboy boot to be next. We have a western/cowboy/cowgirl theme in our room this year, so the boot was a big hit!

Sad Sticks: A sad stick is just a small craft stick that I have drawn a sad face on. One year, a student asked me if they could get happy sticks instead of stickers. He was very concerned that the sad sticks were so sad and lonely looking. When I explained that the little pocket with his name couldn’t hold 20 happy sticks, we compromised and added a few huge sized, happy-face, craft sticks in the holding container to look over the little sad sticks and cheer them up.

Nice Notes: My students love to get “nice notes” and I love giving them! I have a clipboard with a class list attached and some kind of cute teacher notepad or decorative post-it note pad. At the end of each day, during homework folders, I chose one or two students to receive a nice note. I place a check by there name so I can keep track of who has already received a nice note. I want to be sure that everyone has received a nice note before I start all over again! These notes can be as simple as “Emery has been such a good friend by teaching everyone how to tie their shoe.” Or “Nathan is working so hard on improving his handwriting, I am so proud of his efforts.” They take only a minute to write, and make students and parents feel so happy and proud.

Red Notes: One of my classroom management plan consequences is for students to receive a “red note”. This note lists as many rules as I could think of (talking while the teacher is talking, keeping hands to yourself etc.) so I can just check off the infraction, add a short comment if need be and send the note home for parents to sign. This saves me time in filling out information and lets the parents clearly see what areas their children need to work on and helps parents to support the classroom discipline plan. When the red note is returned, I file it to use at parent conference, IMPACT meetings or to create an individual student behavior plan if need be.

Download red_note_behavior_notice.doc

Treasure Box: For the longest time, my “treasure box” used to be a drawer in my file cabinet! I finally found a nice sized wooden chest that I now use. Wrapping paper and or stickers can brighten up any cardboard box for you to use! Over the years I have filled my treasure box with my son’s unwanted toys (McDonald items, Hot Wheel cars and the like), and then I moved on to my friends children’s unwanted trinkets as they grew up. Garage sales can be a great place to find cheap, small items if that is your thing. If you tell them you are a teacher and it is for your classroom, they practically give it to you! I also add books to the treasure box; my classroom books I don’t use anymore, library discards and more.

Of course there is Oriental Trading Co., and Hobby Lobby has a section of little trinkets (microscopes, musical instruments etc), 6 for $1, in their party section. Target also has a great little $1 section with many of the items having several to a set so you can break them apart. I have also asked my student’s parents to pick stuff up for donations to the treasure box, and I gave them all of the same ideas as I am giving you above. Of course you can make “no cost student incentives”; coupons for lunch with the teacher, no homework pass, drop one assignment pass, extra computer time etc. The students love these, too!

“It is better to build children than to repair adults.”
Quote from the wall of fellow colleague Monica Clark our instructional specialist at Metz.

Eliah & Nathan at Workstations

Documenting Student Behavior

One of the easiest and hardest things to do is to document student behavior. In the moment, you always believe you will remember exactly what the student was doing to disrupt the class or the flow of learning, but I promise you that you will forget. Teachers already have to hold so much information in their head, it is much more efficient to write it down and leave that brain space available for other things.

I do this by keeping a large spiral notebook right next to my Good Citizen bulletin board. Any time a student receives a sad stick I write what happened in this notebook. These are not always detailed explanations, I have come up with my own short hand over the years: TWTWT is “taking while the teacher was talking” and NFD is “not following directions”. The point is to write down, as quickly as possible, the date, the rule broken and if need be, anyone involved with an incident and the follow-up that was given for more serious infractions.

Writing down, even small infractions, is important. This could help you recognize if there are patterns in a student’s behavior: Do they only seem to have trouble the day after they spent the night with mom? Are they always misbehaving with the same student? Is it random rule breaking or always the same rule?

Having this documentation available during Parent Conference’s will also help support a discussion on what can be done, as a team, to help the student stay on course with their behavior. At our school, we have a referral process called IMPACT. This is a group of educators and specialist on our campus who come together to support the student and teacher with academic or behavior issues. Hopefully, you have some similar support system on your campus.

If I have a child who is very disruptive and having continuous problems even after interventions, I have to be able to show when and what misbehavior occurred and how I addressed it. Because I always have this written documentation, it is easy for me to formulate a plan of action with the student and bring the information of what was and what wasn’t successful to the IMPACT team so we can decide which further steps to take in helping this student achieve success.

If you had a student that was always yelling out in class, not respecting others personal space etc., when you sought support of a behavior specialist or the IMPACT team they would ask what negative behavior the child engaging in and what interventions were tried.

It is so much better to be prepared and be able to report: “On 8/25, 9/1 and 9/2, this child grabbed and shook another student by the shoulders. The first time, I spoke with the student we reviewed the rules and role-played how to interact with friends. The second time reviewed expectations again and sent a note home to his parents. The third time I reviewed expectations again and I made a phone call to the parents. We came up with a signal and verbal reminder we would both use if the child was becoming too aggressive and agreed to talk every few days to touch base. The parent also agreed to discuss being gentle with others at home. Unfortunately, the child is still having problems a month later. I have documented an incident with nine different students, so this doesn’t seem to be a problem with only one child. I would really appreciate some more suggestions to try.”

As opposed to saying “This child is very disruptive and often grabs on other children. I have talked to mom, but he is still hurting other students in my class.”

Once you get in the habit of using the notebook for documentation, it will be quick and easy. For behavior that doesn’t need to be addressed immediately, I often continue the lesson, walk over and place a sad stick in a student’s card, write the rule that was broken and go on teaching. By doing this, the student is made aware of what they were doing and you can address it a few minutes later without taking learning time away from the entire class.

My behavior documentation notebook has been a lifesaver in helping me address unwanted behavior in my classroom and is an integral part of my classroom management system. No one has to look at it but me, so I am never worried about neatness or being exact in everything I write. As long as I keep track of important information in a way that I can understand, then this information can be used to promote positive outcomes for all students in my class.

“A teacher's constant task is to take a room full of live wires and see to it that they are grounded.” EC McKenzie

Discipline with Reasonable and Logical Consequences

Another important part of a successful classroom management program is being able to discipline with reasonable and logical consequences. I do not believe that disciplining is synonymous with punishment. Students must have structure so they can learn how to impose limits on their own behavior. Having just finished my first week with my new class of first graders, I have been busy putting my classroom management plan in action.

On day one, we discussed why we have rules (to keep us safe, to understand what behavior is expected of us) and who has to follow rules (students and adults). My students and I wrote our own class rules together.

They are as follows:
1. Be nice.
2. Keep your hands to yourself.
3. Do your best work.
4. No Talking when the teacher is talking.
5. Follow directions the first time.

Inevitably, when I ask students to share with me what rules we should have, they always come up with some extreme answers such as no biting, no spitting, no throwing chairs etc. I fake a horrified expression and tell them that I hope that never happened in their kindergarten classroom and I know it will not happen in mine. And then I go on to explain how those actions would fit under the umbrella of “being nice” to one another, which is rule number one!

Every day this past week, a few times a day, we reviewed our class rules and consequences. I did have to give out several sad sticks for rules that were broken, but I took time to explain why a sad stick was earned and we discussed what could be done differently next time. When we wrote our class rules, students also agreed to our consequences. Slowly but surely, students are beginning to understand that it is they who are choosing the consequence when they chose to break a rule. On the other hand, if they are choosing to follow the class rules that they helped to write, they are rewarded with praise and stickers galore on their incentive chart.

We did do quite a bit of role-playing about how to solve behavior problems this week. There were also many interesting behavior solving situations that came up naturally. I always take the time these first several weeks of school to begin to lay the groundwork of teaching my students how to problem solve on their own. This following course of action can be used between a teacher and student or with two or more students. After a problem arises, I ask the student to use their words to describe the problem, what caused it and how they feel about it. I model active listening and train others to do the same, restating what the upset student has said. I then ask for solutions to the problem and have the student choose one. Finally, it is agreed that the solution will be given a try to see if it worked. If not, we will offer up more solutions and try again.

Remember, if a student misbehaves they are only repeating behavior, that in the past gained them attention, gave them power or masked an inadequate feeling. In my classroom, it is my job to praise the positive and give matter of fact, non-emotional attention to the negative. The consequences have already been laid out and agreed to, there is no worth to getting angry or showing disapproval, a student must learn that they are responsible for their choices and the rewards or consequences that come with those choices. Setting up the rules and reasonable consequences takes away the opportunity for arbitrarily imposed discipline and allows your students to feel they are in a safe, fair learning environment. Teaching your students to choose between acceptable and unacceptable actions is a skill they will use for a lifetime.

"Experience is a great teacher and sometimes a pretty teacher is a great experience." Evan Esar

Rewarding Positive Behavior

In my previous blog, I took time to discuss using effective praise with your students. I want to continue that area of thought and connect it to my discipline plan that I shared in my blog “Classroom Management That Works”. Since we are dealing with young children, I do motivate them with a combination of intrinsic awards (motivating from within and modeling that with effective praise) and extrinsic awards, which I will discuss here.

On my “Good Citizen” bulletin board, each student has two places where their name is placed. I can fit two student names sideways on a library card and once on their own incentive chart. The library pocket houses sad sticks, a craft stick with a sad face drawn on it. A student only receives a sad stick when they chose not to follow a class rule. Otherwise the sad sticks sit in a little container by my “Good Citizen” board.

The incentive chart is where the student receives stickers to reward positive behavior. The incentive chart does not need to be a fancy store bought chart. I have used die-cuts, notepad pages, and construction paper cut into shapes. No matter what I use, the amount of stickers a student has to earn to fill their chart up is 20. Once a student has 20 stickers, they get to pick out of the treasure box.

Each morning, I give every student who did not receive a sad stick a sticker. I make a big deal when someone reaches 20 stickers and I place their incentive chart by the homework folders to remind me to let them pick out of the treasure box that afternoon. I put a new incentive chart up and students get to take the old one home to save. If a student did have a sad stick, I simply remove it and remind everyone that today is a brand new day and everyone gets to start with the ability to earn a stickers by making good choices for their behavior.

The beauty of this system is that I can give as many stickers as I want to whomever I choose. Yes, the student is guaranteed to receive one sticker each morning for following the class rules, but students can earn many more stickers throughout the day to reward positive behavior. This works especially well at the beginning of the year when excellent behavior and classroom routines need to be reinforced. It just takes ten seconds to say, “I just love the way Erryka is helping Catarina tie her shoe. She took the time to help a friend, how nice. I am going to give her a sticker for that!” and to place a sticker on that child’s chart. By doing this you are using effective praise and rewarding positive behavior simultaneously.

I do not keep it a secret that I give extra stickers out to reward positive behavior. I even have a chart on my “Good Citizen” board that is titled “How can you earn extra stars?” I will share that list with you. Download how_can_you_earn_extra_stars.doc Of course there are many things I give stickers for that are not on that list, so feel free to reward any positive behavior that you want to reinforce. The spontaneity of your sticker giving will keep your students on your toes and will give you a reason to use effective praise on a regular basis!

"Build slowly, joyfully, sequentially…always taking care of the human soul." Zoltan Kodoly

Staying Organized - Lists are the key

Some of my colleagues can show up for work on day one and are able to pull everything together in a way that works for them and I admire that very much. I, on the other hand, always have to work on my classroom a week or two before our first day of staff development so I can take the time to unpack my closets, organize my desk and student centers and take stock of what worked for my students and what I want to change. I actually enjoy this quiet contemplative time very much. Thoroughly organizing for the new school year, both in my classroom and in my lesson plans, helps me to be a better teacher and allows me to leave early most days during that first month of school when everything is so intense and you really need to head home and relax as soon a possible!

There are couple things that really help me stay organized and plan for the upcoming year, my laptop and my lists. My laptop carries almost all of the information I need to write quality lesson plans. I can access the Internet for information, I can move entire chunks of a unit from one page to another, I can make notes about student’s progress on the lesson and use that information for formative assessments, I can access my own lesson plans from past years for easy updating, I can create slideshows and power point presentations to share with my students and so much more. My laptop has become the most important tool I own and I highly recommend purchasing your own laptop if you can afford the investment. It allows me to streamline my work so I have more time for my personal life.

Speaking of my personal life, I am quickly approaching my 39th birthday. I have no complaints except that my brain doesn’t seem to be able to hold as much information as it used to! I can either expend much needed energy trying to remember scads of information or I can just write it down! So I have become a master of list making. Not for everyone, I am sure, but for me, it works! Lists help me condense several different ideas or “to do’s” into manageable areas. I have also learned to make excellent notes to myself throughout the school year on lesson plans and in my lists, so I am sure not to lose any creative epiphanies that hit me while I am in the thick of a lesson or attending a professional development class.

I thought that sharing some of my list titles with you might help you on your way to contemplating your new beginnings this year, whether it is your first new beginning or your 25th! Be sure to check out the other Scholastic Teacher Advisors blogs as well. They have wonderful ideas to share about classroom themes, monitoring our classroom language, preparing for a student teacher and setting goals for the school year. If you have any lists that you use to help you organize your classroom, I would love to hear about them!

Professional: This is where I update my professional resume. I also keep track of professional development classes, educational contributions I make outside of my school, instructional programs I am interested in and professional books I would like to read.

Educational Grants: I list grants I would like to apply for in order of their due date, in addition to jotting down ideas I have for writing grants.

Organizing My Computer: I update all of my passwords (and goodness knows we seem to have a lot to remember!) in one word document. I review organizational folders I have set up, create slideshows for units and more.

Cool Websites to Checkout: I list professional websites that have been recommended to me or that I have read about. I also list student websites, educational learning games and interesting educational videos I have heard about but haven’t had the time to watch.

Books: I love to purchase funny or heart-warming picture books to share with students. Sometimes I hear a colleague read a story I have never heard or I scout out books on our monthly Scholastic’s book order or the Scholastic website.

Lesson Plans: When I find an idea that I want to try to incorporate on a daily or weekly basis I record it here. I can also make notes about a teaching method or activity that went exceptionally well or maybe one that didn’t quit go as planned!

Centers: Centers are such an integral of any primary classrooms; I am constantly brainstorming new things to try and ways to modify for maximum learning potential.

Homework: I strive to assign homework that allows for student creativity and supports all learning levels, so this list helps me to organize possible homework assignments.

Don’t Forget! (To Do Before a New School Year, or before Winter Break or for Parent Conference etc.): In the new year, this covers creating take home learning bags to printing name tags for the birthday calendar. The mundane to the very important goes in this inventory. That way I can just read it, complete the task, and mark it off. Year after year, this varied list has been a huge time saving tool.

Apprentice Teacher: I categorize things I want to be sure and share with my apprentice teacher, as well as keep a list of tasks that I need help with over the semester. Everyone’s time is important and I always want to have something productive for my apprentice teacher to do.

Back Burner: These are things I would like to create or try, but aren’t pressing. Sometimes I get around to them, sometimes the ideas get transferred to a new list or sometimes I just remove it because it never happened and it lost its interest to me.

Students: Do I need to IMPACT a student, call a parent, write a nice note, arrange an appointment with a counselor, check back with them about an assignment, create a re-teach group, pair them up with a buddy etc? If so, I file this information here.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Inside Jennifer's 1st Grade Classroom are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.