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Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Long-Overdue Update!

A post on this blog is way overdue! And so was a makeover on my best selling product on TPT, my Ezra Jack Keats author study. I've used this every year since I've started teaching and my kids love it. Bonus - my administrator also loved it. And a super bonus - I love teaching with it! 

However, it definitely needed a complete overhaul. Apparently when I first started creating, I had no sense of cohesive fonts. Plus, everything just looked kind of "blah" to me. As I spend more time developing my creative style, I wanted this product to match my more recent products.

Here are some before and after photos of the author study. The "before" is on the left-hand side, and the "after" is on the right. 

The product also includes new printables, including cumulative writing activities that encourage students to utilize text evidence to discuss the common themes of the stories. I also included an opinion writing activity where students write about their favorite Ezra Jack Keats book, giving details to support their opinions.

Each of the seven stories also has a sequencing cut and paste activity and a flip book highlighting the academic vocabulary terms from the books.

If you are looking for a great way to incorporate quality children's literature into your classroom, look no further. This unit is jam packed with resources to help support young students' reading development!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

December Currently

Welp, here I am again for Currently. I know I say this every month, but I cannot believe it's already December! We've had just a few dustings of snow here and there so it definitely doesn't feel like the holidays are right around the corner.

And again, here I am saying that I wish I was doing a better job keeping up with this blog! We've been up to some really great stuff in first grade lately but I've been too caught up in the moment to take pictures and blog about it. My kids are loving our light and sound unit in science. It is so super hands-on that they are really getting a solid understanding of the concepts and are having fun at the same time! Hopefully I can add some pictures soon :)

Here is this month's link up with Farley:

Listening: Laundry seems to be a constant in this apartment. For those of you who have kids, I know it multiplies even more than I could ever imagine. I don't know how you all do it!

LovingChristmas is hands down my favorite time of year. From the holiday music and the decorations and all my students getting excited about Santa - I love every second. Even if it does mean a couple of weeks of restlessness in the first grade world.

ThinkingTomorrow is our annual ornament exchange and it is definitely one of the highlights of the year! I can't wait to enjoy a fun night with my friends and co-workers. Then, this weekend my man and I are off to St. Louis to celebrate our anniversary. We're going to hop around town, get drinks and sushi for dinner, and then see the Christmas lights at the botanical garden. He totally surprised me with this idea and I can't wait to have a fun and relaxing weekend!

WantingIt seems that as it gets closer and closer, this pops up on my blog more frequently. After fall classes wrap up next week, I've got one more class until my Masters degree is in the books. I can almost taste the freedom.

Needing: Holiday time means buying for others and getting sucked into all of the cute wintery clothing and the fabulous online sales. I should probably get a bit more consistent when it comes to saving.

Christmas Tree: I always, always will choose real over fake! Although we do not have a real one in the apartment, we definitely will when we have the space in our own home. We always had a real tree growing up - nothing beats that pine-y smell!

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

November Currently

It's officially November and that means I need to put "change classroom calendar" at the top of my to-do list for tomorrow morning.  Thanksgiving is like the shining beacon of hope at the end of this month but it seems so, so far away. Especially since we don't get a whole week off this year like we did last year. People complained about it. What's to complain about? But I digress...

Here I am ready for November, ready for a great week in first grade, and more than ready to link up with Farley for Currently. It's one of the few things keeping me on the blogging track these days. If there were only a few more hours in the day...

Listening: Should I be asleep right now? Possibly. But at least the silence is a step in the right direction, right?

Loving: I recently ordered one of those de-stressing coloring books for adults and let me tell you, I am obsessed! I also ordered a pack of crayola pip-squeak markers and some prisma-color pencils to accompany my new hobby. I could do this all day.

Thinking: Well, this week is finally my preconference, with my evaluation being Tuesday-Thursday next week. Yes, I said Tuesday-Thursday. Why? Because this crazy teacher has decided to try something all new for her evaluation and instead of having my principal watch one 45 minute lesson, I am having her observe three different 15 minute lessons. This year, I started teaching with Tara West's close reading packs and wanted to see what my principal thinks. Am I totally going to regret this? We'll see...

Wanting: My favorite holiday is right around the corner and I am brimming with excitement! I've already loaded up my Amazon cart with some goodies and have a bunch of stuff bookmarked for various family members.

Needing: When am I not needing this? Maybe I should get out of bed and work in my coloring book :)

Yummy: Oh sweet heavens. My granny's candied sweet potatoes were the greatest thing on Earth. I don't care if you don't like sweet potatoes - you would have loved these. I give my mom some serious credit for using her recipe every year but we all know that nothing beats the original.

And now I leave you with a picture of my Jingle-cat, clearly loving on Halloween.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

October Currently

Thank goodness this is giving me a reason to blog today! If you're in a bit of a blogging rut like myself or you just love to chat with others, visit Farley's blog and link up for October's Currently!

Listening: I've got the windows open and am listening to nothing but the sound of the wind blowing through the trees outside. Here's to some peace and quiet!
Loving: While everyone is complaining that it's "cold" (and I'll admit I do need to start layering better), I am absolutely loving these fall temperatures. The air conditioning is finally off and the windows are open here at home and the fresh air is amazing!
Thinking: Our first grade team is wanting some new shirts. Naturally, I took it upon myself to design said shirts and the perfectionist in me is making it very difficult. I want to make sure I create things that are versatile enough and cute enough for everyone on the team to love. 
Wanting: All of these pictures of fall football festivities are making me nostalgic for college tailgates. While the Illini are nothing to brag about, I still would love to get up to Champaign to cheer on my alma mater. Oskee Wow Wow!
Needing: So. Many. Assignments. Much of which feels like busywork. Yuck.
Boo-tiful: A much deserved shout-out to my man who always makes me feel beautiful no matter what. He deserves all the credit in the world for sticking by my side through all of my crazy moods. I am so lucky to have him :) 

Okay, end of sappy moment. Happy October!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

5 Reasons to Support the Common Core

It's a tough time to be a teacher. More than ever, we seem to have the weight of the world thrown upon our shoulders. The term "Common Core" seems to be constantly at-large, on the lips of everyone from teachers and administrators to news reporters, Facebook friends, and that one guy/gal down the street who always has an opinion on everything.

It can be challenging to stay positive when it seems like your job and your purpose is being surrounded with negativity. That is why I think it is important to stop and think about the positive things that are happening in our profession. While the Common Core is by no means perfect, there are many things that people tend to overlook when criticizing it. I therefore present to you:

I'm sure I missed some good ones so this is, by all means, not an extensive list :) I just think it's time for us to start having some constructive conversations about the Common Core. Here goes!

As teachers, I believe it is essential that we advocate for ourselves and for our profession. Part of this includes supporting what we are doing within our classroom walls. How do we expect parents and community members to support what is going on in the schools if the teachers within those schools are not supporting it themselves? 

This also includes educating parents on the misconceptions behind the Common Core - it's the first step in shrinking the wide range of misinformation and/or ignorance surrounding the standards.

For the time being, the Common Core is here to stay*.  Why not learn to embrace it?  You don't need to love it in its entirety, but while it's here, why not focus on its positive aspects?

*For those who are quick to jump in at this point and say that other states are pulling out of the Common Core, compare the "new" standards with the CCSS. I'm willing to bet they look suspiciously similar ;) 

This is probably the misconception that drives me the most crazy. The curriculum (albeit "Common Core aligned") and the standards are two completely different things. All of these "crazy" "Common Core" math problems parents are posting on Facebook are nowhere to be seen in the Common Core. These are problems based on the publisher's interpretation of the standards and their implications for learning. Even ten frames (which are seen practically everywhere these days) are not in the standards. 

Thus, the problems most people seem to have with the Common Core are actually problems with the publishing companies and corresponding curricula set in place by a school district. Take a look at the standards by themselves. It's hard to argue that any of those standards are irrelevant or unimportant to teach. Chances are, these are things you were already teaching in your classroom before the CCSS came along. 

Oh, and hey: This includes PARCC (I see you over there, PARCC). The PARCC test is not part of the Common Core. PARCC is a test that was designed by a "he-who-shall-not-be-named" publishing company as one standard way of measuring students' proficiency of the standards. It is not part of the standards themselves. 

Reality check: The Common Core is not taking anything out of education. It is not a curriculum and it is not telling teachers how they should be teaching (if you have a basal/specific program, see reason #2).  Personally, this is the main reason why I do support the standards - it gives me a set of goals that I should be working towards with my students. How I achieve those goals is up to me.

For example, the first standard for both literature and informational text in first grade is asking and answering questions about a text. Any text. A text that I love to read. One of my favorites. Or, perhaps, one of my students' favorites. A text for which I have a cute craft or extension activity. A text I might use as a connection to another subject area or standard. A text that I genuinely enjoy teaching. The opportunities for this one standard are practically endless.  It is all of the possibilities that ignite the creative excitement within the teacher-me.  I can teach in a way that I think is both effective and engaging for my unique group of learners, as long as it meets the standard. A wide-open opportunity to differentiate and teach things the way I think is best? Score.

A huge problem we have right now is the fact that the world is changing but our minds are fighting to stay the same. Many are beginning to question why we are changing our instruction from the way things were "always done".

The simple answer: Because the world is not how it "always was". It's no secret that the United States has some significant competition out there in the world market. If we want to stay in the ring as one of the world's leading nations, our students need to be equipped with higher-level skills. Which brings me to point #5...

"Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you will land among the stars."  As trite as this inspirational quote may be, I think it is applicable to the vision of the Common Core.  Some argue that the standards are unrealistic and unattainable for some students.  I definitely agree.  While it would be perfect if all students in the United States could reach the same end goal within the school year, we all know that is unrealistic.

However, why not aim high?  Why not shoot for the moon?  If the goal is for your student to reach the top of the tree, the tree is most likely the highest they will go.  But what if we set the same high standards for everyone?  What if by appropriately scaffolding material, we made it so that some students reach the top of the tree, while some go even higher?  More often than not, we end up surprised by our students' abilities to rise to the challenge at hand.  Maybe they don't all reach the same end goal, but by providing them with high expectations, they just might have gone further than they would have before.

*Exhales deeply* Just some food for thought. Feel free to share any constructive thoughts in the comments :)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Back to School {Yay or Yikes}

Thank goodness for long weekends! We just finished up the end of week three in first grade and there truly ain't no tired like back-to-school tired.

In the spirit of back to school, I am linking up with the Primary Pack to share my feelings on this time of year! Does back to school make you say "Yay" or "Yikes"? Click here to link up and share your thoughts.
Reminds me of school supply shopping with my mom. I LOVE all things school supply (born to be a teacher right here) and I was always SO excited to go back to school shopping. Where I grew up, we didn't start school until the end of August - for this reason I wasn't even allowed to mention the words "school supplies" until the end of summer. The anticipation always drove me crazy!

Makes me want to fast forward a month or two. First graders in August are basically kindergarteners. They are lost, scared, disoriented, off-task, and anything but the independent first graders who I sent off to second grade last June. I'd be perfectly okay with skipping forward a month or two. Practicing routines is tough and monotonous!

Drives me to seek out caffeine ALL. THE. TIME. I drink my normal 800 cups of coffee in the morning. I go to Starbucks to get more coffee. I drink diet coke throughout the day (which I never do at any other time of year). Caffeine, caffeine, caffeine.

Makes me need a whole lotta sleep! I know you all feel me on that one. When I do sleep, I am knocked out. It makes me have some really bizarre dreams!

Causes me to think about teaching pretty much 24/7. There is so much to do at the beginning of the year. My mind is constantly in plan mode.

Makes me think of all the progress we will make this year in first grade. I know that come May, I will look back at the beginning of the year with a full heart, realizing just how far my first graders came from the first day of school. It's one of the most amazing parts of having this job!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

September Currently

Hi all! While I'm failing miserably at my Teacher Week posts, here's my September currently (only a day usual). Click here to join the fun over at Farley's blog!

Listening: After the craziness of a first grade day, a little bit of silence (with some intermittent cat meows) is all that I need.
Loving: I work at a pretty amazing place :) Shout out to all who make it so special!
Thinking: This weekend I have to go home for a doctor's appointment. I'm so happy that it's a long weekend and that I will get to see my family and my hometown friends. Just what I need after the chaotic back-to-school rush.
Wanting: So. Hungry. We are meeting my man's parents for dinner and I am so ready to chow down. Love me some good Chinese food!
Needing: Holy moly I am exhausted. Last night we had parent orientation and then I had to go to grad class for two and a half hours. It left me really drained this morning. I even took a nap after work today and still feel like I could go to bed soon.

  1. Think positive thoughts. For every negative Debby Downer moment I find myself having, I am trying to find a positive thought to take its place. Because we all need to rant sometimes, but we also need to remember everything that we have!
  2. Strengthen my writing instruction. Writing is definitely the area in which I am least confident. Many of the other first grade teachers feel the same. We're planning on doing some collaboration this year to strengthen our instruction. I'm hoping to really give it my all so that my students can really benefit!
  3. Show love to those around me. I've got a lot to love and a lot to be thankful for. 
Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Teacher Week 2015: Five Fun Facts

Anyone else find themselves having a serious case of the Mondays lately? Sure, Monday was no problem-o for me during the summer because it was just like any other day of the week - but now that I'm back in the land of first graders, I find myself begging for just one more day tacked on to the end of my weekends.

One thing that's bound to brighten up your Monday is that Blog Hoppin' is back with Teacher Week 2015! Today's post is for sharing five fun facts about yourself. So here goes! 

1. I have never had a glass of milk. Ever. My bones are probably crumbling into dust right now as we speak. I was born deathly allergic and over the course of almost 12 years, I slowly outgrew it. But after all that time my taste buds thought milk was the yuckiest thing ever. I'm definitely a water girl.

2. I'm a sorority girl. I spent all four years of college as a member (and executive board member) of the Delta Zeta sorority. It was one of the best decisions of my life and I am proud to say that I "paid" for my friends ;)
Some sisters and I at a DZ leadership conference in Oxford, OH. I'm third from left.
3. I am a big hockey fan. But really, how could you not be if you're from Chicago?! I'd go to every game if I could.
My brother, me, and my dad at a Hawks game in St. Louis this past winter. Hawks win!
4. My mom is my absolute hero and role model. We've had our moments of not seeing eye-to-eye (I inherited my stubbornness from her...) but at the end of the day she is my best friend and the one person who knows me better than I know myself sometimes. Did I mention she is also a teacher?
Before my senior prom - She hates taking pictures and this is unfortunately one of the most recent ones I have!
5. I 110% love to teach. Even on my hardest days, I can't imagine doing anything else. I am constantly thinking about teaching and reading about teaching and planning for teaching. It's kind of an obsession. But it's great because my passion and my profession truly become one.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Peek at Week #2

Our first full-ish week of school starts tomorrow and I am seriously regretting not going into work this weekend. Anxious teacher is very anxious and while I did have a much-needed fun and relaxing weekend, I am wishing I could have set aside a few hours of my time for the classroom so that my Sunday night worries would be more in control.

This next week includes more procedures, especially when it comes to our workshop model. I love teaching in small groups and am chomping at the bit to get going. However, I need to remember that my first graders will need a lot of repetition when it comes to modeling our expectations and routines. 

Here's what I have going on for week two:

Enjoy your week!

Friday, August 21, 2015

2015-2016 Classroom Reveal

Week one is officially in the books! I had almost forgotten how completely exhausting the first week of school is. I don't think I've slept this hard in months! I am glad that I have four days with my new first graders under my belt and am excited for all of the amazing things they will do this year. Read on for a peek at my classroom! This year, I decided to keep the camping/woodland theme and incorporate a more cohesive color scheme, which is why you will see turquoise, coral, navy, and grey/white repeated throughout :)

These were the sheets I had on their desks on the first day. They colored them while I greeted parents and got everything settled. I made my own name tags this year because I am terrible at D'nealian-style handwriting! 

This board is in the front of the room and is where I post our objectives, schoolwide expectations, clip chart, and s'mores board. The s'mores board is a group incentive (when they get 12 for outstanding behavior, we vote on an experience-based reward). My clip chart is positive only - I select a few students each day who were overall positive role models and I move their clip up one spot. When they reach the top, their clip gets a jewel. Five jewels means they move to our "wall of fame" and get to pick out a special experience-based coupon, which can be found free here!

My writing center and math bulletin board. Empty for now but not for long! My math workshop schedule is another freebie, which can be found by clicking here.

Here is what my back chalkboard area looks like. You can see a glimpse of my calendar, number line, and inspirational posters. This is also where I post my reader's workshop schedule and any current reading anchor charts that may be of use to my students.

Here is a bit of the front of my classroom. To the far left, you can see my classroom library. In the middle is our meeting area, which you can see a bit better in the second photo.

My favorite part of the room - my classroom library! Here is a view of the fiction section and the pine tree that caused me to staple through my finger this summer.

This is the area behind my small group table. It's where I store mentor texts, weekly activities, my binders, centers, small group materials, and other teacher-y tools.

What my students see outside of my classroom. I finally got around to adding a border to my outside bulletin board this year and am so relieved - it looks so much better than it did before!

A closer look at my calendar/schedule, birthday board (which has yet to be completed), and phonics sounds. I will be adding more sounds as the year goes on.

Last but not least, the extras. On the left are my early finisher drawers, which holds things such as write and wipe cards and play doh mats. On the left is where I keep our indoor recess activities.

That's it for now!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Peek at My Week: It's Go Time!

Well, the first day jitters are about to be in full swing in first grade! Tomorrow is our teacher inservice and Tuesday is the real deal first day of school. While I am definitely excited to go back, I am already overwhelmed by the huge list of routines and procedures and expectations that I need to make sure to cover in these first few days. Here is a look at what we are doing this week:

Happy back-to-school week!