Friday, August 31, 2012


My room is finally ready for the first day of school, and I'm finally getting a chance to share the process!  Here's what the room looked like when I finally got in last week:

Luckily, the wonderful custodians put the furniture back in the room, and most of it was in a logical place, so that's where it stayed.  I moved a few things, but I just didn't have time to be creative this year. Just a little quick shuffling.  (It was really nuts having this little time to set up!)

The large group area and library corner.  Like my new purple and green book boxes? My calendar definitely needs an upgrade, but perhaps later in the year!  

My new sports themed Super Improvers Wall.  This book shelf never got straightened out.  I just didn't have time.  I'll have to straighten as I use the stuff!

The reading table.  I find it so handy to have that bulletin board behind me.  I keep the essential questions, phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension skills we're working on in Reading Street right there.

Don't blink.  My desk won't be this organized again!

The writing shelves.  These shelves contain their writing folders and plenty of paper and supplies.  Writer's Workshop is big in my classroom!

See my new sports themed posters?  That bulletin board will be a word wall soon.  Unfortunately we only have 2 laptops for the kids, but they're quality.  We have a big old dinosaur of a printer.  It only prints in black and white, but I've had it for years, and it's very dependable! 

The view from the reading table.  Yes, I have beanie babies all over the classroom.  I let the kids keep them on their desks when they behave.  Yep, bribery works!  Since I have such a small group this year, I'll only use the front desks as kids' desk.  The back desks will be used for centers and activities that I can leave set up.  (I've never had extra space like this before!)

My desk area.  I think I'm going to like the classroom set up this way.  We are on the south side of the building, which means we get sun all day.  That's great in the winter, but this time of year gets pretty hot, especially since they lowered the ceilings.  (That was the delay in getting into the room to set up.  It will save heat in the winter, but I definitely notice a difference!)  We have a total of 4 windows looking onto the playground.

My teaching area and my library corner.  This chair has been "loved", but it's comfy and it works.  For years, this chair has been nicknamed "the drop chair".  Whoever sits in it ends up dropping stuff.  I always do! I'm not crazy about this easel, since it doesn't fit chart paper, but I love the shelves.  

I love to look at pictures of people's classrooms!  Honestly, I'm so relieved mine is done!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hey, How 'Bout That!

I just found out I won a $10 Gift Card to Amazon!  I actually got the email a couple of days ago, but I didn't actually read it until today!  A few weeks ago I did a guest post for Heidi from Raki's Rad Resources.  Well, Heidi had a contest with all the people who guest posted for her while she was on vacation, to see who could get the most pins... and I guess it was me!  (Spotlight Blogger Pinterest Contest) Whooo hoooo, and I already spent the $10!  I decided to treat myself to a new lanyard for my ID, so I bought this one from Amazon.  It's turquoise and sparkly, I can't wait until it arrives!

I've been crazy busy!  I finally got into my classroom in the last week, and had to get the place ready for last night's Open House.  I did a few 12+ hour days this week, and my body paid for it. By the time I got home last night, I hurt so much I couldn't even stand up all the way.  I was walking all hunched over.  I ended up going to bed ridiculously early.  I was actually going to go to school today and get ready for the first day with kids, but I realized this old body needed to rest. I'll go in tomorrow morning.

A couple of conversations from last night's Open House.

Dad:  (after reading the literature) You don't look old enough to have been teaching that long!  You look like  you're in your thirties.
Me:  Ok, I'll give your daughter all A's!

Former Student:  I've thought about it and I've decided, you're the best second grade teacher I ever had.

New Student:  (privately, almost apologetic)  You have a fly in your classroom.  (He was so darn cute!  He seemed like he was trying not to hurt my feelings, but he felt it was important that I knew!)

I love meeting my new students.  I got to meet almost all of them, too!  I think the best part of the "Before school starts Open House" is getting to see last year's students.  After spending 6 1/2 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 180 days with these little ones, I tend to get attached!  They've all grown and are looking so much like 3rd graders now!  And I'm excited to get to know my new ones, too. I really liked what I saw last night.

Meanwhile, my house is in a state of disarray. My daughter is moving into her new apartment on Saturday.  (Along with thousands of other college kids in the Boston area!)  So my dining room looks like this:

And of course, it looks like this from my second floor balcony:
I'm kind of looking forward to Saturday so I can have my dining room back!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My First Day Promise

I've had a traditional "first day" promise I've given my students for years.

We start with a nice talk about why we have school.  The children have no trouble coming up with "we're here to learn".

They know it's their responsibility to learn.

My "first day" promised is based on that point.  I always say the promise exactly the same way each time I say it, with the same gestures.

Later in the year, if I do these same gestures, they are reminded they are here to learn, and I don't even have to remind them aloud.

Here's the promise, with my gestures:

We are here to learn.   As long as you do your best to learn, (Move right hand across body.)

I'll do my best to make it fun.  (Move left hand across body.)

That's it!  It's simple!

Whenever the little ones get a little silly or unfocused, I remind them about the promise.  They manage to pull themselves together and show their learning behavior.

Of course I manage to keep the "make it fun" part of the promise. I like the fun, too!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Meet the Teacher Night!

I'm starting to get nervous about Wednesday's "Meet the Teacher" night!  Although I still haven't decided what to wear, I've pretty much narrowed down what I'm going to do!  Here are my ideas:

  1. Play fun music so that all who visit will smile and know that my classroom is a fun place!
  2. Play the Open House Power Point I've prepared.  It's an updated version of what I did last year, and tells about myself, what second graders learn, and our schedule.  (I will put it on a timer so it continues to loop while visitors come in and out, that way I'll be available for hellos and questions and it will allow for people who arrive at different times.)
  3. Have the children do a little "Scavenger Hunt" to get to know the classroom.
  4. Give out some papers that say pretty much the same thing the Power Point says. I'll also give out a book order and a questionnaire for parents to return at a later date.
I've attached copies of some of these papers  Click HERE or click the image for copies of my Open House pages.  Although my name is on some of them, feel free to use these ideas for your own Open House and introduction to the students and their families!

Click HERE to see the post with Open House ideas when I wrote a guest post for Really Good Stuff's blog, The Teachers Lounge.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Crazy Busy. But Not Too Busy to Reflect

Wow, I've been so unbelievably busy I'm afraid my readers are thinking I fell off the earth!  Here's what I've been up to:

  1. LETRS training - The last 4 days of 12 incredible sessions!
  2. FINALLY getting into my classroom - I've been rushing to school every day after the training, and staying until they kicked me out!
  3. Moving my daughter into her first apartment - She's been living in a dorm, where she worked for the housing department this summer, along with another job.  We found out she had to be out before the 30th, so we took two carloads of her stuff this weekend and it's now in my dining room, along with all the boxes of "apartment stuff" she's collected over the last year.  She's got one more load in the dorm, after her last day of summer work, she'll move out of the dorm for good this Wednesday:  the same day as "Meet and Greet the Teacher" night!  She'll move into the apartment on Saturday.
So yes, I've been very busy, and very, very stressed!  

Tomorrow is my marathon day setting up my room.  My gentleman friend and his son are coming to help me, thank goodness, since I'm not supposed to be lifting things or using ladders.  As most of my teacher friends know, it's difficult for other people to help set up the room, since the classroom teacher needs to know where everything is, and knows how the classroom works.  (Non-educators don't "get it", do they?)  But I plan to have them wash the kids desks and clean everything that's collected dust all summer.  (I always get comments about teachers having to clean the furniture... "don't they do it?"  They must be thinking we have fairies to do that.  At least teachers don't have to stoke the fire anymore, but we still have to clean the furniture.)

I also plan to have my helpers sharpen pencils, put name tags on things, distribute supplies, and those other little tasks that are time consuming and have to be done, but can be done by someone else.  My big task will be to reassemble my classroom library and label the book tubs.  I also have to put up bulletin boards, run off a few things, and do some more laminating.  (I'm not sure I trust the men on the bulletin boards or books... I have a feeling it would have to be re-done!  Hanging things symmetrically and knowledge of children's literature and book levels aren't skills they're coming with!

So, therefore, I haven't been doing much  blogging.  On those rare occasions I'm home, my head has been jumping from one place to the other so fast, writing hasn't been an option.  (Luckily, my mind has slowed down a bit so I can write this post!)

I've been spending my limited computer time reviewing posts from the past. I spent some time reviewing posts I did at this time last year.  Here are some of my favorites:
In July, I did a guest post for Really Good Stuff's blog, The Teacher's Lounge on preparing for Open House.  Click HERE (or click the image) to see that post, especially if you're getting ready for an Open House!  I also guest posted on 

Interestingly, the same week, I did a guest post at The Filipino Teacher on Brain Fitness.  Click HERE (or click the image) to see that post.  (Yes, I'm still following my passion about how the brain works.  I've read articles and research daily about the brain!  I've been finding many studies that prove the value of music, as well as exercise and nutrition, on learning!)

On August 9th, I did a guest post on Raki's Rad Resources on using playing cards to build math facts.  You can find that post HERE.

Now I'm getting back to work, making sure I'm ready for the big marathon day tomorrow!  I'm excited about my Sports theme, and always looking for more way to get the sports theme into every part of my classroom.  I'm always open for more ideas!  I promise pictures of my classroom will be coming!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

LETRS Training - Building Vocabulary and Oral Language

Today I had a great training!  The LETRS training I've been going through has been fabulous, and I'm somewhat sad to see the last session of 4 days has arrived. The best part?  It was so good, I forgot about the stress of not getting to set up my classroom! 
LETRS stands for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling.  Our instructor, Carol Tolman, has been guiding us through the 6 modules:
  1. The Challenge of Learning to Read
  2. The Speech Sounds of English:  Phonetics, Phonology, and Phonemic Awareness
  3. Spellography for Teachers:  How English Spelling Works
  4. The Might Word:  Building Vocabulary and Oral Language
  5. Getting up to Speed:  Developing Fluency
  6. Digging for Meaning:  Teaching Text Comprehension
Before I'd had this training, I'd never have believed how complex these topics were!  Now I'm starting to realize how little I actually know about them!  (But I'm definitely learning!)

In the past sessions we've worked on Modules 1,2,3, and 5.  Today  we did some review of what we've learned so far (very much appreciated, we hadn't been together since April!)  Then we started work on Module 4.  

Some interesting little tidbits I learned today about Oral Language and Building Vocabulary
  • There are 3 ways to build vocabulary:  direct instruction, indirect instruction, and word consciousness.
  • There are approximately 500,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary.
  • The average second grader knows 5,000 - 6,000 words.
  • Vocabulary accounts for approximately 50 - 60% of the variance in reading comprehension.
  • Teaching vocabulary improves both verbal IQ and reading comprehension.
  • Second graders should be learning 2 new words a day (based on 365 days) to apply this to the 180 day school year, double it.
  • We couldn't possibly do direct instruction for that many words.  Luckily, indirect instruction is very effective for increasing vocabulary.
  • Children who are reading below grade level still need to be read to at a higher level in order for vocabulary and language to develop.
Some ways to expose children to vocabulary (Indirect teaching)
  1. Introduce new words as you discuss a shared experience.
  2. Elaborate on what the child has said.
  3. Confirm and clarify the child's attempts to use new words.
  4. Deliberately use unusual words in conversation.
Suggested Readings:

Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children
is about a study where the language in the home was measured and compared to reading success.  (Click the image to read more at

Delivering on the Promise of the 95% Reading and Math Goals tells how a school district in Kennewick, WA improved test scores by increasing parent knowledge of developing language in the preschool years.

Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us tells us about scientific evidence concerning what really motivates people to high performance.

Here are some other posts about my previous LETRS experiences:
Random Tidbits About Our Language Reading Teachers Should Know
More Random Tidbits About Our Language Reading Teachers Should Know
Assessing Reading Difficulties
You've Given the QPS, Now What?

Monday, August 20, 2012

My Classroom

As many of you know, I haven't been able to get into my classroom, and I'm trying very hard not to stress about it.  The rest of this week is out, because of LETRS training. (This is the last 4 days of 12 training days.  It's been fantastic, and I'm looking forward to these next days.)  Next Monday is my last chance, and I'm planning on working miracles. I'm going to HAVE to work miracles, there's no other choice!

But in the meantime, I want to remember my room when it's set up, so I'm going back to last year's photographs.

Here's my reading table, with my library behind it. I plan to keep the library in this corner, since it's the only corner I've got, and it works! I also like the reading table right in front of the bulletin board, since I keep that bulletin board updated to go along with what we're studying in Reading. I put the weekly spelling patterns, the weekly vocabulary, and our comprehension targets. Since it's right behind me, it's super handy!

Because I use the projector frequently, I need to have the children's desk close to the whiteboard in the front of the room. I do change the formation several times a year, as well as rearrange the combinations of kids. You may see the beanie babies on the kids desks. These are an important part of my classroom, and the kids look forward to earning the privilege of keeping a beanie (or two, or three) on their desk for the day.

My desk is where everything gets thrown, but I never leave school until it's back in order. It's really more of a "teacher reference/ supply area" than a work spot for me. nce or twice a year the kids see me sit at the desk (usually if I'm looking for supplies in the bottom drawer) and they always giggle!

Here's another view of the reading table with the reading bulletin board in the background. To the right another bulletin board where I showcase children's work, and the computer table with 2 laptops and a huge dinosaur printer.  

Here's one of the favorites from last year's kids... my Super Improvers board! They were mighty proud of how much they improved from the beginning of the year to the end! 

And, of course, my favorite poster:

I refer to this poster all the time. After a while, the kids recite it themselves. It lives on the wall right above the bookshelves.

Now, about my sports theme! Here are a couple of my new inspirational posters:  a soccer scene that says "To be a winner, give all you've got". And a hockey scene that says "You miss 100% of the shots you never take".  
Here's a baseball theme that says "Dare to try". I also bought a bunch of sports mini-notes. These are part of my welcome bulletin board outside the classroom. It says "The DeCost Team", and has the children's names on different sports mini-notes.  

Finally, I bought some adorable sports themed nametags as well as some cute decorations for the windows.  

I promise I'll put up more pictures once I'm finally allowed to get into my classroom. Honestly, looking at these pictures and writing about my plans makes me feel a little better, and a tiny bit less stressed! I WILL have a classroom to teach in this year!  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Common Core Curriculum Map Book Study--Second Grade Unit 3: Building Bridges With Unlikely Friends

Some of my teacher/ blogging friends and myself are doing a book study on this book.  (If you click the book, it will take you to Amazon for more information about the book.)

My own district is adopting the Common Core State Standards this year.  As I've been exploring the standards, it makes a lot of sense to teach integrated units, which is just what this book is about.  These units were developed by a team of teachers just like us!

On Tuesday, Yvonne from Sassy in Second did an overview of the book as well as the second grade curriculum maps.  Be sure to view her overview here!

On Wednesday, Jenn from Best Practices 4 Teaching blogged about Grade 2, Unit 1.  The theme for that unit was A Season for Chapters.  Check it out here!

On Thursday, Michelle from Teach123 blogged about Unit 2, The Wild West.  Check it out here!

Today is Friday, and it's my turn!

The book is set up by grade level (K - 5) and has 6 week units for every grade level.  (Yvonne's post explains this!)

I'm in charge of Grade 2 Unit 3 --Building Bridges With Unlikely Friends

When I first looked at this unit, I was doubtful how so many different topics and standards could work all together!  As I read it over, I'm thrilled by the way it all weaves together!

The main focus of this 6 week collection of lessons is exploring figurative language. (The essential question is "Why do authors use figurative language?") We also explore some informational text, enjoy lots of read alouds, and write friendly letters.

The book suggests doing this unit in basically 3 parts:  Start with Bridges so that students can see that bridges can be the structure, or the "figurative language" that connects one idea to another.  Second, reading the fiction suggestions will help the students comprehend the Unlikely Friendships part of the unit.  Thirdly, the book suggests writing a letter to a fictional character to encourage thinking deeply about book characters.

These are some of the suggested books for Unit 3.  (Click the book image for more information!)

Works of fiction:

These are some of the informational texts featured.  They look fantastic!

These two look adorable, and really build on developing the language of friendship!

These are the Common Core State Standards that are highlighted in Unit 3:

2.RL.3:  Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.
2.RL.6:  Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe.
2.RL.7:  Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.
2.L.2:  Demonstrate command of the conventions of Standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
2.L.2b:  Use commas in greetings and closings of letters.
2.L.4:  Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple meaning words and phrases based on Grade Two reading and content, choosing flexibily from an array of strategies.
2.L.4d:  Use knowledge of the meaning of individual words to predict the meaning of compound words.
2.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships and nuances in word meanings.

Building bridges is such a great introduction to figurative language!  I really want to share a cool website I found on Understanding Idioms.  This site has several links to examples of Idioms and Second grade is such a great place to start working on Idioms and other kinds of Figurative Language, because they're just starting to "get" it, but they still see the humor of the literal meanings of sayings like "it's a piece of cake" or  "hold your horses", or even "getting out of the wrong side of bed".

Here's a freebie on figurative language, which is the big focus of Unit 3!

Here's a freebie on friendly letters I posted in July:

Tomorrow is Saturday. and time for Unit 4, A Long Journey to Freedom!  Be sure to go to Mandy's Tips for Teachers to see what she has in store!

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