Healthy Habits You Can Start Doing Today

imagesWe often find ourselves stuck doing things we would consider “bad habits.” These habits are typically labeled in a negative connotation because they are not moving us in the right direction. Sometimes these habits are making us take a step back. If you have a hard time being productive at work then you may often find that you are taking your work home. Or you may find that you don’t plan your meals out for the week and you are snacking on items from the vending machine throughout the day or ordering take out for lunch. Either way, these bad habits that you have created are running your life in the wrong direction.

Instead, you want to create healthy habits. Habits that will move you into a positive direction in life. They will contribute to your goals and successes, not tarnish them. Healthy habits have to be developed over time. They do not happen over night. I will be the first to admit that it takes time, energy and a positive mindset to create habits that stick. When creating healthy habits, you must make sure they align with your goals and intentions for the day.

Plan ahead

One of the best habits you can begin creating in your life is to plan ahead. Planning can benefit you in several ways. Having a plan in place for everything you do will make the purpose of your task more meaningful. We often communicate the purpose of our lessons to our students so that they understand the why. We have to do the same thing for ourselves. Take a moment each week or even day to plan out the following day. The planning doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be quite simple.

  • The 3 “To Do’s”:  Write down a list of three things you want to accomplish for the day. I like to break my three “to do’s” into three categories; work, home and family. Each day I accomplish something in each category. If you have different responsibilities you can tailor the categories to fit your needs. For example, you may plan to accomplish one major task at work such as lesson planning for the week. Therefore, your focus for that particular day will be on creating your plans. Your next “to do” for the day may involve making a phone call you’ve been putting off for days. Last, you may have to finish working on that project with your kids. The fact that you checked off a task for the day in each of your categories will make you feel accomplished. Once you begin doing this on a weekly or even daily basis you will find that you have developed a healthy habit that you can’t resist.
  • Meal prep: Write down a list of meals you want to make for the week. Planning out your meals and preparing them ahead of time will keep you from making unhealthy choices throughout the day. Pick one day out of the week where you will write down all of your breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the week. Then take the next step and make your lunches, prep your breakfast and dinners. This task alone will save you so much time during the busy work week. You will have more time to enjoy the process of eating and feeding your loved ones instead of feeling the pressures of cooking. Once you’ve created this habit you will find that you can’t live without it!

Self Care

I am a huge advocate in taking care of ourselves and promoting self-care. Taking the time to do something for yourself each day will decrease stress levels and increase your happiness. Make it a habit to do one thing for yourself each night before you go to bed. Here are some things you can do:

  • Read a book: Take some time to read a chapter or a few pages of that book you’ve been putting off. Once you begin reading a little at a time each night you will find that you look forward to picking up that book again.
  • Hot Shower/Bath: Take a moment to be present with a hot shower or bath a few times during the week. In the mornings you may find yourself rushing to shower and get dressed. Therefore, use the night-time as a way to stop  cleansed physically and mentally.
  • Draw/Writing: If you love to write or even draw and can never find the time to do it, then just start doing it. Find some time each night to do what you enjoy even if it’s for ten minutes. Sit down and get lost in the joy of drawing or writing down your thoughts. You will find that you are able to let things go and be slow to react to less than great situations because you have taken the time to care for yourself.
  • Watch your favorite show: You might not have time to watch that movie you’ve been putting off but watching a 30 to 45 minute show may work. Find time to watch something that you look forward to watching each week. When you do sit down to watch your favorite show make sure that is the only thing you are doing. Eating while watching TV, doing work or scrolling through social media is not self care. Instead, this is multi tasking and your mind is scattered. The purpose of doing something for yourself is to focus on that one task. Do just that, focus on the TV and what you are watching and you will find that you enjoy it more.

These habits are very simple and can change your life if you start today. Pick one thing to start planning ahead on and one self-care item. Developing a few simple habits can change the way you think and feel. Write down how you are feeling while you are doing these things. Check back in with yourself a few weeks later and notice the difference in how you are feeling. You may find that you are less stressed at work or that you are smiling more often. The key is to start small because once you have created these habits then you can start to add more habits. Start doing these two things on a daily or weekly basis and see how your life starts to shift.

What healthy habits have you created in your life? What habit resonates with you the most on this list? Comment below and share your thoughts. We would love to hear from you.

Zsnel

 

 

6 Simple Habits of Highly Effective Teachers

There are thousands of teachers in the world; many who have it all together and many who are still learning. The teachers that appear to have it all together typically create established habits that keep them on track. These habits have been highly effective in making their career a success. Habits are important because they become routine, which is key when running a classroom full of little people. After conducting extensive research along with my own expertise, I have compiled a list of 6 habits that highly effective teachers all have in common:

imagesBackward mapping

The meat of our job as teachers is to instruct our students. To lead them down a path that will make them successful. This success comes from how we teach them to do the things we want them to learn. Instruction begins with lesson planning. Highly effective teachers begin their lesson plans with the end in mind. This is called backwards mapping. Once the standard that is going to be taught is established, the teacher will begin with the assessment. The final assessment will consist of all the skills needed to master the standards. Once the end result is clear the teacher is able to design the lessons. Knowing what you want your students to ultimately learn, in the end, will make it easier to move them into the right direction.

Model

Modeling is a form of imitation. When we want our students to learn something we must “show” them rather than “tell” them. Highly effective teachers begin their lessons by showing their students what they should be doing. The teacher will imitate the process they want students to take in order to master the skill. Teaching a lesson on finding the main idea of a paragraph will require the teacher to read, annotate the passage, look for details and think out loud. Students will watch and listen while the teacher imitates the steps they must take in order to find the main idea. Once the teacher has modeled this a few times then the task is turned over to the students. They are able to collaborate and imitate the same steps that were taken by the teacher.

imagesProductivity

The average school day for a teacher is about 7 hours long. With a 20 minute to half hour lunch and possibly a 40 to 60 minute plan, there isn’t much time to do all the things that must be done. Aside from teaching the majority of the day, teachers need time to plan what they are going to teach and how they are going to teach. These tasks can involve copying, grading, lesson planning and creating. With an endless list of things that need to be done it can become overwhelming. Highly effective teachers know that productivity is the key to getting it all done. Effective teachers put themselves on a schedule, make “to do” lists, set timers and plan ahead. Most importantly, highly effective teachers know that a teacher’s job is never done. Sometimes you have to leave a task for the next day.

Self-care

Highly effective teachers know when to let something go and leave it for the next day. This is key to taking care of yourself. As a teacher, you have to know your limits because it is easy to become stressed and overwhelmed. These feelings don’t typically come directly from the students. They come from all the work that must be done, the meetings that must take place and the assessments that must be given. Effective teachers take time for themselves everyday. They know this is necessary if they want to be at their best. Taking time each morning or night to do something that makes you happy will help decrease your stress levels. It will even motivate you to get things done in other areas of your life. Self-care is so important, we have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of our students.

imagesShare/Giving

Teachers give their energy away on a daily basis; to their students, co-workers, parents and administration. We must give our students the tools they need to be successful. We must give our time and energy to creating and lesson planning. Highly effective teachers understand that this is part of the job. They are able to do these things with a smile on their face. These teachers do not keep their ideas to themselves, they share them with their peers or team members. Sometimes they may spread their ideas to the world through social media, workshops or literature. Effective teachers learn that sharing and giving is the bigger picture in all of this. They know that there is no greater reward than to put a smile on someone else’s face.

Lifelong learners

The love of learning must be at a teacher’s heart in order to be successful. We are models to our students and must show a love for learning. Highly effective teachers are lifelong learners. They do not stop their education once they receive their teaching certificates. Effective teachers continue to expand their knowledge through multiple sources. They may read books related to their educational interest, continue to take courses in their area of expertise, attend professional development regularly and attend yearly conferences. The field of education is ever changing as technology advances facilitate the way we teach. Effective teachers understand that they must make changes in their instruction and their mindset. Learning happens in the classroom for our students but it must take place beyond the classroom for the teachers. If you want to master your craft, then you must become a lifelong learner.

What do you do in your classroom to be effective? Does anything on this list resonate with you? Comment below to share your thoughts. We would love to hear from you!

Zsnel

Invite more play into the classroom

imagesEarly on as children we learn about play and invite it into every facet of our lives. Then something happens along the way and that fun begins to diminish more and more. We get older and our parents tell us to “stop being silly.” We go to school and teachers teach us how to sit properly, stand properly and speak properly. There is no time to play around because there is so much reading and math instruction that needs to be taught. Let’s be real, there is less and less time for fun the older we get. Adults carry a limiting belief that does not mix business with play.

Our children are growing up in a society that puts pressure on goals, career and creating a sustainable future. There is nothing wrong with it, but there is one piece missing from the puzzle. A piece that was once there but has now been lost. That is fun.

This simple truth has made me question many times the type of classroom I want to have. Yes, I want to build structure, autonomy and high expectations in my classroom. Who’s to say that I wouldn’t have any of those things if I invited more fun into the day? No one but me. I believed for so long that it wouldn’t; that there would be more chaos and off task behavior. This is far from the truth. With clear expectations it is possible to have a classroom full of fun. Here are some things you can do to invite more play into your classroom:

Movement

Children love to move. It’s the main thing we want them to not do in the classroom. We find that it is easy for some kids to sit still and listen, while others are wigglers and constantly moving in their seat. Instead of getting frustrated with those type of students it would be beneficial to put some type of movement in your lessons. Or to create activities that allow the students to get up and move around the room.

Whole brain teaching techniques in the classroom allow students to chant along with the teacher while using their hands. This increases student engagement and keeps them on their toes. There are also several programs that exist that get students up and moving between lessons such as Go Noodle. Teachers are able to play quick videos that get their students dancing, singing and moving. With free sites like Go Noodle, students are not only engaged but they are learning as well. They offer several videos that are related to science, math and literacy. Your students can move in the classroom while learning.

imagesInteractive Games

There are several ways to invite more play into the classroom using game boards and props to make learning more engaging. Using an old Jenga set to play a math game or reading game can be effective. Students can answer questions and then pull their block from the tower. Or the blocks can be filled in with different colors and students pull the block from the tower and then answer questions based on the color they pulled.

Websites such as Teachers Pay Teachers offer several interactive products such as game boards and playing cards. One of my favorite games to use in my small group instruction is called “Dice and Roll.” Students get an oversized dice to roll and based on the number it lands on they will answer the question related to that number. The questions are typically focused around the text we are discussion. It is an easy and quick way to introduce play into the classroom while students are enhancing their comprehension.

Music

Playing music in the classroom is a great way to invite more fun into the classroom. Music can change the mood in your classroom while relieving stress and anxiety. A variety of music can be played in the classroom while students are working or doing an activity. With my middle schoolers I typically play relaxing and calm music while they are working. When students are working in groups or having discussions I will play something more upbeat. I like to play the instrumentals to their favorite songs. On Fridays, my best classes get to have “Jammin Fridays” where the students are able to create their own playlist and listen to songs of their choice.

downloadGamification

Technology has become an important resource in the modern-day classroom. Students have access to IPADS, chromebooks, smartboards and smart TV’s. Online systems are used to help students store and complete classroom assignments online. The use of electronics in the classroom alone has increased student engagement. Using online games to help students learn has been taking over the internet with websites such as Quia, Knowre, Minecraft Edu and Kahoot. These are only a few examples of websites that can be used to invite more play into your lessons. It takes time to research and learn how to use these sites but it is well worth it in the end.

Classroom transformations

A new wave of engagement and learning has come from a concept called classroom transformation. This involves the teacher creating a theme for their classroom and transforming it to fit that theme for the day or even a week! The transformation involves props, games and even food related to the theme. They are typically done throughout the year under the teachers discretion. Some of the popular themes that have been created are game day, where the teacher may turn their classroom into a football field or basketball court. The teacher may also turn their classroom into a museum, restaurant or even a fairy tale world from a popular novel.

These types of transformation can involve spending more money on your classroom. This will involve putting in the time and effort to create a world that is transformed from your everyday classroom. The teacher typically creates their lessons for the day or week around the theme. Classroom transformations can be very rewarding for the teacher. It can also impact the students by giving them a classroom experience that they will never forget.

In conclusion, you may be thinking “does she do these things all the time?” No, there is no way I would or even could. So in truth, there are several things about me that still make me an adult. I still hold on to some of those beliefs because it is the only way I tell myself that I can stay sane. The joys of teaching!

How do you bring more engagement and fun into your classroom? Comment below and share your ideas. We would love to hear from you.

Zsnel

How to Establish Book Club into Your Classroom

Book club can be structured in several ways in the classroom. It is teacher’s discretion on how you want to structure it. I like to do my book club fourth quarter because it is the end of the school year and students have more choice. By this time in the year my students have learned the skills that they need to be successful during this time. Book club allows students to collaborate with their peers on a consistent basis while completing independent tasks outside of the group. They need the autonomy to be able to do both of these skills daily.

downloadChoosing a book

At the beginning of the book club unit, I explain the expectations and procedures of what it will look like, sound like and feel like in the classroom. I pick anywhere between 6 to 8 novels to present to my students. I set up a “coffee talk,” which is a time where students will enjoy some hot chocolate with their friends and chat about each book. During this time, which serves as a book preview they will fill out an evaluation form for three books of their liking. The form has several questions related to previewing the book. Students will answer the questions and share their thoughts with their peers.

Once students have filled out the forms they will number each from their top choice to their least choice. Students will then sign-up for each book on a sign up sheet in the order that they choose. The sign up sheet serves as a ranking system in order to give each student a chance to read something that interests them. The following day students will be assigned to their book of choice. They will then choose up to four group members to work in a group with.

Group roles

The next step in the process is to assign students to a role in the group. Each group member will have a role that they need to fulfill on a weekly basis. The roles consist of; summarizer, vocabulary detective, inferencer, and connector. Once students have chosen their role of choice, they will keep that role until it is time to switch.

Groups meet a couple of times a week to discuss the book and to go over their completed roles. During this time they discuss the reading for the week and set up a plan for the next meeting. They may choose to read the next two chapters or a specific amount of page numbers. It is up to the group to decide what their goal is going to be. I walk around and observe group meetings during this time and manage off task behavior.

imagesIndependent work

Students are expected to read the book independently each day while working on their reading logs, journal prompts and group roles.

  • Reading log: Each week they will be given a reading log that will have a question that needs to be answered each day. This question is related to the plot structure of the book and can focus on characterization, theme or conflict.
  • Journal prompt: Students will also complete the journal prompt for the week. The prompt will typically be written in essay form and will require students to answer several questions in one response. Students will have to go back into the text and look for evidence that will support each part of their response.
  • Group roles: The role sheets will be prepared by students before they meet in their book club groups. They must complete the role based on the designated pages assigned by the group. When students meet in their groups they will share and discuss their roles.

Meeting with groups

At the beginning of book club, I meet with groups to model how to complete each of the role sheets. Students will conduct their first book club meeting with the teacher so that I can teach them how to run their meetings. Once students have become comfortable with the roles and discussion, they are able to meet on their own. The teacher will serve as a facilitator at this point; making sure students are on task and having meaningful discussion.

Small group instruction will then consist of the teacher reviewing individual journal prompts with students, reading logs and checking for understanding of the book. The teacher can also teach a skill by diving into a particular chapter or section of the book and asking questions. Meeting with the teacher is an important component to book club because the teacher is able to check in with each group’s progress and comprehension. Book club is a time to build autonomy among your students but it is also a time to make sure they are understanding the plot structure unfolding throughout the book.

Overall, book club is a fun way to introduce students to a variety of text and to promote healthy discussion. Students are able to read and collaborate with their peers while sharing common interest. Book club can be structured in multiple ways and this is just one way to run it in your classroom.

How do you introduce book club in your classroom? What components do you use to promote collaboration and common interest? Comment below and share your ideas. We would love to hear from you.

Zsnel

A Healthy Morning Routine

I absolutely love the morning time! It is my favorite part of each day and something I wake up looking forward to. The mornings are so important to your mental state of mind because you have just awakened. One of the main reasons I am eager to get up each morning is because of the way I craft my mornings to meet my needs. I know most people hate the mornings; they struggle with waking up and getting out of the bed.

I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be like that. The mornings can be an exciting time of the day. The key is to develop a self-care routine in the morning by doing the things that feel good to you. You have to take care of yourself. If you don’t do it first thing in the morning then how will you take care of your students during the day?

downloadWaking up early

I wake up at 5:00 am every day, Monday thru Friday. I set my alarm to go off at 4:45 am; this gives me the opportunity to start my morning off mindful. I lay in bed for a minute counting my blessings, setting my intentions for the day and taking the time to care for my state of mind. This is beneficial because I’m not jumping out of bed like a zombie with no direction, instead I’m intentional about starting my day.

Next, I head to the bathroom and change into my exercise clothes. If I do this first thing in the morning, then I have already made my mind up that I am going to move my body.

Hydrate

downloadNext, I head to the kitchen to chug down a glass of water and make myself a cup of hot tea with lemon or honey. Drinking water first thing in the morning is important because you are dehydrated from sleeping during the night. After drinking a full glass of water, I typically feel awake and refreshed. I grab my tea and sip on it for the next half hour.

Create

Then, I go to my office and work on my craft for the next 45 minutes. This is typically some form of writing. I love to write. Whether I am writing a blog post, novel, paper for school or for work, I enjoy this part of my day. I am at my highest vibrations in the morning and find that my fingers just flow through the keyboard keys at best in the morning time. Aside from writing I might do some edits for my novel, research or work on my website. Either way, this is the time for me to do something that is going to move me forward with my dreams/desires. This is my time to put action towards what I am trying to create. Afterwards, I find myself finished with my tea, fully awake and feeling accomplished. All because I took a step towards one of my goals.

Exercise

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Now, it’s time to move my body. I get another glass of water, get out my yoga mat to do a 25-30 minute routine. I like to watch these YouTube channels with amazing yoga instructors; Adrienne yoga, Sara Beth Yoga and Brett Larkin. They each have great videos that are easy to follow for all levels of yoga. If I don’t do yoga then I do another form of exercise such as running or biking. The workout doesn’t matter; the only thing that matters is that I am moving my body.

Calm

After my workout I do my meditation for the day. Ending my routine with a 10-15 minute meditation has been beneficial to my overall state of mind throughout my day. I find that stopping, taking a moment to breathe and clearing my thoughts have taken me to a whole other level. My thought process has been on point; having new ideas pop into my head all the time.  I have made a habit to set my timer throughout the day to remind me to stop what I’m doing and do a quick meditation.

downloadLast, I like to end my routine with journaling. I do not free write in the mornings (I leave my evenings open for this). Writing down what I’m grateful for, daily affirmations and to do list have changed my life.

Once I have done these things then I find myself ready to get dressed for work. In the past I used to take over an hour getting ready for work each day. After I have completed my morning routine there are about 30 minutes allocated towards getting ready for work. And guess what? It’s enough time to take a shower, put on a cute fashionable outfit, do my hair, 5 minute makeup routine and walk out the door.

What are some things you like to do in the morning? Did you find anything in this routine similar to your own or something that you would like to start incorporating? Please share your thoughts below. We would love to hear from you.

Zsnel

Teacher Self-Care: Creating a Morning Routine

Do you dread hearing the alarm clock go off and it takes you four more snoozes before you finally get up? Were you trying to make it into your classroom early but know it is impossible because you can’t get out the bed? Well, I don’t believe your mornings have to be like that at all. It would feel better to look forward to hearing your alarm, to look forward to taking that first step out of the bed and get your day started. Unfortunately, that is not the case for the majority of our society because people typically HATE waking up in the morning. Instead, explore new things and ask yourself, “What else is possible?” I invite you to try something new; something I think will help make getting out of bed easier and not a drag!

Create a morning routine

Make your mornings fun, meaningful and something to look forward to each day. Maybe you have a goal to get into your classroom an hour early to get a jump-start on your day. Maybe you just want to have some time to yourself before you have to get ready for work. There is so much power in waking up in the morning and being aware of your surroundings, how you’re feeling and taking charge of your morning. I find that waking up early in the morning and doing my routine has made it much easier to wake up each day. Here are some things you can do to get started on creating your perfect morning routine:

Change the sound on your alarm

downloadYou want to feel good about waking up in the morning, therefore, the first thing you hear when you wake up is very important. Try finding sounds that are suitable for you, remember this is the first thing you will hear when you wake up. It’s better to wake up to music that is inviting you into the new day. I like to use my favorite soundtrack scores, music from the app Calm or on my Spotify playlist.

Do the things that you love to do in the morning

 The beauty of waking up in the morning is that you can create the type of morning you want. Begin by making a list of the things you love to do, but you find it difficult to fit into your day. Review the list and circle at least two to three things that you can start doing each morning. I make sure I wake up at least an hour and a half early each morning. This allows me to do the things that make me feel good, make me happy and start my day on a positive note. I have tailored my mornings to fit my needs.

The things that I do in the morning are what get me out of bed, because I want to do them and I get excited to do them. For example, if you look forward to drinking your morning coffee then make that the first thing you do when you get up. Or you may love to write in your journal or read a few pages of a good book that you can’t seem to find time to read during the day. Maybe you want to start working out but can never fit in the time or the motivation to do it once your day gets started; use the morning to get it done! The point is that you can create a morning routine that will fit your needs and make you want to get out of bed.

Be consistent 

imagesOnce you have created your morning routine it is imperative that you STICK TO IT! There is no point in taking the time to create something and you don’t follow through on it. Try the routine out for a few days and monitor how you feel each day. Do you feel differently? Are you feeling more productive? Do you feel good about doing things that make you happy first thing in the morning? Check in with yourself and determine what is working for you and what isn’t working. You may need to wake up 20 minutes earlier than you intended in order to fit everything in.

The freedom in creating a morning routine is that there are no rules. You can tailor it to fit your needs and change it whenever you feel necessary. The goal is to do it everyday in order to make it stick. As long as you’re productive during the work week, you can use your weekends to rest. You just have to be consistent in order to make your routine a habit.

Do you already have a morning routine? Do you want to start one this year? Comment below and let me know some of the things that you already do to get your day started. We would love to hear from you!

Zsnel

Reading Workshop

The reading workshop model has been used for years in the classroom. This model functions to assist teachers in teaching students how to read text closely and independently. I have been using this model to teach reading skills for the past two years. Previously I experimented with daily 5, whole group instruction and centers. My model consists of a mixture of several different teaching methods. I have found that this way of teaching has worked best in my classroom.  It has given me the opportunity to teach small group instruction while the rest of the class works independently. Below I have outlined some of the main components to the system I use.

Modeling

Showing students “how to” do something is the meat of classroom instruction. Students do not learn from telling but showing. This strategy can be executed in various ways depending on the type of lesson you are teaching. If you were introducing a next concept in math, then the teacher would show students how to solve the problem step by step. In reading, the same concept can be applied when conducting a “think out loud.” The teacher would take time before diving into reading workshop to teach the skill to students, so they are able to apply it independently.

Partner activities

imagesOnce the skill has been introduced and taught then students must practice. Students are able to work in pairs with their peers; applying the new skill to a piece of text selected by the teacher. At this time the teacher is walking students through each step by giving clear instructions on the task. For example, students may be asked to read a paragraph with their partner then discuss and underline the central idea. Once students have completed this task in pairs, they will share their findings with the class. This discussion activity will give the teacher insight on student comprehension. The teacher can determine proficiency with the new skill and who needs further instruction.

Weekly learning targets

Now that modeling has taken place and students have practiced the skill in pairs, they are ready to receive their learning targets. The learning targets are the skills necessary to keep students moving forward. Differentiate these targets to fit the needs of each student. They consist of independent activities that will help each student apply the skills to a piece of literature. The amount of targets will vary depending on the student. Students who are struggling with the new concept will typically have less targets focused on the new skill, instead, the teacher focuses on previous skills taught. While students who are ready to apply the new concept will practice it independently.

The activities I use in my classroom vary depending on the skill that students are practicing. I like to use literature focused websites such as common lit, readworks, read theory and ereader to enhance student knowledge. Other activities may include gaming, task cards or classroom interactive games.

Working with the teacher

imagesThe most important part of the reading workshop model is working with the teacher. Now that the students have been set up to practice spiraled skills and the current skills on their own, the teacher has more time to dive into instruction. Small group instruction is where the teacher can fully assess student understanding. It’s important to keep these groups small, 3- 5 students at a time. The teacher will need to make a schedule so that they are able to meet with each group consistently during reading workshop. Some groups may need to be seen more than twice depending on their struggles. Due to the limited amount of time in my middle school classroom, I am able to meet with two groups for fifteen minutes a day, 4-5 days at a time. An elementary classroom with longer reading blocks may be able to accommodate meeting with 3-4 groups a day.

During this time students receive instruction on an unfamiliar text. Using something new will force students to read it closely as they are more likely to apply the new skill.  The groups that the teacher meets with are heterogeneous groups, students that learn at the same reading level. This small setting allows the teacher more individualized instruction time to get the students to where they need to be and moving forward.

Assess

The final piece to this workshop model in my classroom is the assessment. The final assessment will come once I am confident the majority of my students are ready to move on. Make this decision once 70% of your students have mastered the skill being taught. This data can come from exit slips, small group instruction or their independent practice work. The final assessment must focus on the skill that had been modeled and is differentiated to meet all student’s needs.

The reading workshop model is one way I instruct and measure student success in my classroom. It consists of various models and strategies to move my students forward. This has worked for me during my time in middle school. What has worked for you? How do you conduct small group instruction? Share your ideas below. We would love to hear from you!

Zsnel

Groups in Middle School?

One of the main differences between middle school teachers and elementary school teachers is their mindset around forming groups. Groups are essential when it comes to our students learning how to collaborate with others. As the teacher, it is our job to teach them how to do this in a healthy way. Therefore, we need to create opportunities that will allow our students to actively discuss, justify and debate.

Group activity in the classroom does not have to be an elementary thing, but rather a teaching thing. Groups must be used in all grade levels across all content areas. Teachers typically shy away from groups for various reasons; the most common being behavior and structure. Activities that involve movement, talking and possible off task behaviors can be intimidating, especially for a new teacher. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be and the more you do it, not only will your students get better at it, so will you.

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Make it work

Group activities, centers or discussion can be effective in any classroom setting. The teacher has to make it work for their classroom, so finding what works best for your class and classroom might take some trial and error. The first thing you need to get past is your mindset around forming groups and running groups in your classroom. When I started teaching middle school I heard several teachers complain that groups don’t work at that level because there is not enough time. I think that is an excuse and students shouldn’t suffer because of our lack of effort to make something work. Groups can work in any setting, in any time frame and content area. We have to make it work for us and our students. Which means we must put in some time to make it happen.

Assigning groups

One way to assign groups in the classroom is to look at the data, which I talked about extensively in a previous post. Another way to form groups is based on ability. You might create a group based on skills that students need to work on or groups based on multi-level ability. This means the group is made up of students at all learning levels. Or you can do random groups by having students choose popsicle sticks when they come into the room or colorful bracelets. Whatever method you choose to do, it is a good idea to keep it simple and ever-changing. You don’t want students to get complacent in working with one particular group all year. You want to give them the opportunity to expand and move into different groups throughout the year.

Group expectations/roles

Once students have been assigned their groups it is imperative that they understand the expectations. Have a system in place that will reinforce the responsibilities they have when working with their peers. I like to use a group poster in my classroom that breaks down the expectations. Repeating these rules and expectations consistently will remind students while they are working. Although it may become redundant, it will cut down on behavior issues and off task behavior.

Timer

Use a timer to keep students on track during group activities. Middle school students will be able to keep track of their own time while working. Assigning a specific time keeper to each group will be beneficial and engaging.

Rotations

One of the main complaints I hear at the middle school level is the amount of time students spend in the classroom. Teachers believe there isn’t any time to do rotations/centers in their classrooms. This is false. Rotations/centers can look different in every classroom because there are several ways to incorporate them. One way to run your rotations would be to have one rotation assigned to each group a day. For 15-20 minutes students will work in their groups and complete the activity for the day. This will give the teacher time to prepare students for rotations and reinforce the expectations before they begin. Another strategy could be to have students switch centers and they will have a specific amount of time to work at each station. This strategy will force students to stay focused as they complete their task in a shorter amount of time.

You may find that some of these tips work for your classroom ans some may not. Either way, group work/activities are possible in the middle school classroom. It will get your students moving and enhance their engagement in the classroom.

Do you have your middle school students work in centers? What has worked in your classroom? Share your ideas below. We could love to hear from you!

Zsnel

Taking care of YOU during testing Season

Now that Spring break is approaching  for some and already here for others, daily classroom structure is changing. Although the majority of the school year is over, we are entering the most stressful time of the year…Testing season. I didn’t say flu season, I said testing season!

Yes, testing is a season because that’s how long it feels like it lasts. During this time of year teachers are expected to review test prep materials, samples and previous data collected from students. We are asked to teach to the test in order to assure that our students have been exposed to specific skills. It is vital in hopes that the school’s scores increase from the previous year and that our jobs are secured for the next year.

If we don’t take proper care of ourselves then we could end up stressed out and ready to quit our jobs! We don’t want to do that; instead, do something about it and manage the way you are feeling. Below are some tips for the teachers out there that want to beat the testing blues:

Get plenty of sleep

imagesSleep is essential for the body to function properly- especially when you are stressed and overloaded with work. Develop a new sleeping schedule by going to bed a little earlier each night. Begin by getting in the bed 10 to 15 minutes earlier than usual and wake up at the same time. Set an alarm 30 minutes before bedtime each night to remind yourself that it is time to wind down.

Observe the way you feel the next day with the extra sleep. If you don’t see a difference yet, do it for a week and write down your mood each day. You’ll begin to discover that the little amount of sleep is making a difference in the way you are feeling. At this point you might want to increase it 30 minutes to an hour earlier. Do what is feasible for you and your needs. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, but some type of change in the sleep schedule can benefit you during this time of year.

Take breaks throughout the day

downloadIn the classroom you might find yourself on overload and running all day long. A teacher never has time to sit down when the students are in the room and when they leave we keep moving like they are still there. This is not healthy to the body or mind. It’s imperative that you take breaks throughout the day to refocus your thoughts. If you have trouble remembering to do this then set yourself reminders throughout the day. You will begin to notice the difference in your mood. Pausing to take a breath and be still is the best way to stay grounded.

Create a routine

imagesHaving a routine in the classroom is a given when it comes to structure and building autonomy within our students. All day long our students are following classroom routines and procedures. They are given these tools at the beginning of the year, so they can set themselves up for success throughout the year. So, why don’t we do that for ourselves? Too often teachers leave the classroom and go home to an unstructured night or morning. Creating a routine for yourself can set you up for success. I’m not suggesting you block off all the minutes and hours in the day. What I’m saying is you must build a routine that is focused on the things that will de-stress you and make you happy.

Do one small thing

imagesOur days are filled with doing for others all day long. We often forget to do for ourselves. Much of our energy during testing season is used to supporting students who are struggling, creating lessons that will take our classes to the next level and meeting with administration. With all the demands happening you could potentially find your energy zapped by the end of the day. We must remember to take care of ourselves first. You may not have time to do a full self-care day every night. Instead, you can do one small thing that will make you happy, i.e., one small thing you look forward to each night when you come home from the classroom. For example, if you love to read then find time each day to do that for 15 minutes. If you like long hot baths, create space to invite that time into your life. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just one small thing that can make a difference.

Try some of these tips to beat the blues, you will find that the way you are feeling will begin to change. Remember, we cannot be at our best unless we take care of ourselves first.

What are some things you like to give extra attention to during testing season? Let us know if you tried any of the tips on this list. We would love to hear from you!

Zsnel

Preparing Students for Standardized Testing or preparing students for life?

Testing season can feel like it will last forever if we let it. The problem with this time of year is that the type of work teachers are asked to do appears to be extra work. In reality, the things that teachers need to do to prepare for testing should have been done all school year. If you are doing these things consistently, then it won’t feel like overload during testing season. The teacher’s goal for the school year shouldn’t be to prepare students for standardized testing but to prepare them for life. Below is a list of things that teachers must do during the school year to set themselves and their students up for success.

Analyze the Data

imagesStudent data comes from multiple avenues in the classroom. It should be the driving force to mapping out and planning instruction. Assess students on a weekly basis to determine whether or not they have mastered the skills being taught. Once completed, the teacher can analyze the data by looking at the percentage of students who mastered the skills compared to the percentage of students who did not. Depending on the percentage of non-mastery the teacher can plan to re-teach the skill to a small group or the whole class. Use the data to help you determine where you need to go next.

Reviewing the standards

Every school, district and state has mandated specific standards that need to be taught at each grade level. The standards function as a map for the teachers. They tell the teacher exactly what their students need to master for that grade level. I have worked with teachers that do not look at the standards or they are unaware of the standards. The standards are what the teacher looks at when determining what skill to teach their students. We can’t just go by what is outlined in the teacher manual anymore, we have to take the upper hand and give our students what they need. At the end of the day they are our responsibility for that school year and we are responsible for their success. By using the standards consistently to map out your instruction is setting them and yourself for success.

Closed reading

downloadTeachers must use closed reading passages in their classrooms to push students to the next level. Closed reading is the thoughtful or critical analysis of a text. This concept helps students develop deep thinking as they dive into the text they are reading. Using these types of text often will increase your students level of thinking. The teacher can also develop the skill of questioning and creating questions that will enhance learning. Closed reading can be executed in several different ways, such as whole group, small group or through one on one instruction. Using this concept in the classroom will benefit all students no matter what level of text is being used.

Prose Constructed Response

Prose constructed response is a fancy term for responding to text. This buzz word may come up repeatedly during testing season, but it is something the teacher must be doing in the classroom consistently. The worst thing you can do is teach your students this hard concept a few weeks before standardized testing happens. Set yourself up for success by diving into this lesson early in the school year. Start small by introducing your students to responding to text using the RACE concept. When your students have mastered this then you can get into answering multi-tier questions, similar to what they will see on tests. If you are doing this all year, then the task of completing a prose constructed response question on a test such as the PARCC won’t be so daunting.

Gradual Release

imagesGradual release must be done on a weekly basis when the teacher is introducing a new skill or concept. This is something that benefits ALL students, not just elementary or challenged students. Modeling what you want your students to do at the beginning of the week will benefit students when they are asked to do it on their own. I always begin my lessons with modeling by using a shorter text, anchor charts and graphic organizers. Once students have seen it than I ask them to practice with a partner or in small groups. After this has been done a couple of times, I then collect data to see who can move on or needs more practice.

The students that can move on are given enrichment work, while the students that need practice are pulled into a small group setting. The last step is to release the responsibility to the individual student through additional practice. Assess students once this step is completed. This process gradually releases the responsibility and practice of the skill to the student. The best way to teach our students is to show them, not tell them. That is exactly what this process does. We don’t want to put emphasis on teaching to the test. The goal is to teach your students the skills they need for testing all year. This will ensure that they are not only prepared for the test, but for life beyond the test.

What do you do to set your students up for success? How do you teach the skills they need that will prepare them for life? Share your thoughts below. We would love to hear from you.

Zsnel