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Blog Swap and Hop

Hello readers of Elementary Matters!  Welcome to the Top Teachers' Blog Swap and Hop!  Today I'll be guest blogging at Conversations in Literacy, while Michelle from No Monkey Business...Just Bunches of Learning blog is guest posting here!  Here's Michelle's post...

Hi "Not So Elementary" friends!  I am so happy to be guest blogging for Sally today!  My name is Michelle and you can find me over at No Monkey Business...Just Bunches of Learning blog.  I'm a 22 year teaching veteran that's taught K-3rd.  I'm currently in a 3rd grade position and love it!  I'm originally a Kentucky girl, but moved to TN about 8 years ago.  I'm a die hard Kentucky Wildcat fan in a Tennessee Volunteer nation. (It's not pretty on Fridays when everyone sports their orange and I'm obnoxiously in my royal blue!)  :-)

If you keep up with the current trends in Education by state, you know that my current home state of Tennessee has been in the "hot seat" lately with rigorous teacher evaluations and improving classroom practices.  TN just implemented the TEAM model, where monetary bonuses are given to teachers that score high on their evaluations (which also include test score data and professionalism ratings). This past year I was selected as the Lead Teacher in my building, meaning I had to assist with these new evaluations.  Of course, I have to receive them myself, so I can't get away from the 100+ indicator rubric no matter how hard I try.  :-)

As teachers have worked on improving practices, closing a lesson effectively has been in many discussions (and on the teacher evaluation rubric).  What drives this discussion (and the rubric) is making sure that students master what we teach them.  Sounds simple enough, huh?  However, often times teachers (myself included...guilty as charged) teach their hearts out with an impressive 'hook' to lure the students in, present the concept in a meaningful and engaging way, then assign something that they may not even be able to look at for a day or two.  In the meantime,  keep moving with the material because the curriculum says you have to. (Sound familiar?)  The big picture here is if we don't take time to quickly assess their understanding right then and there, we lose valuable insight to what our students are learning from us.  Two days down the road when I am able to grade "Johnny's" work and see that he didn't understand something, he's possibly 2 days behind if the concept continued to build and he didn't get it from Day 1.  As a result, our teachers are working really hard to gather instant feedback through strong closures in their lessons.

I thought I'd share a FREEBIE with you that demonstrates some of my favorite ways to close a lesson as strongly as you began it, and get quick feedback on where your students are after you've taught a concept.  I don't think any of this is NEW NEWS, but what I did was take some good closing strategies and create something I knew I could use with my kiddos in the classroom.  One of my favorites is the 'Parking Lot."  What teacher hasn't been to workshop where the presenter asked you to park any questions you had on a post it note and put it in the "parking lot" (a poster or chart that said PARKING LOT on it), so he/she could look at them and answer your questions before you left for the day.  They wanted to make sure you 'got' the material, right?  I took that idea and brought it back to my classroom with mini "parking lots."  All you need are some 5x7 clear plastic picture frames (one per table) and a copy of the clipart parking lot I created, some post it notes, and you're ready to go!  My students LOVE a good excuse to use post it notes.  You can use this idea for questions, comments, explanations, examples, illustrations, or whatever you want them to show you at the end of the lesson.  It's very similar to the "Exit ticket" system where students place their exit tickets on a poster before moving on.  I like this version because I can do a quick walk around the room to see who has "parked" a correct answer or example and/or who's still driving around lost.  ;-)
Another favorite (and yes, it involves post it notes too!) is the "Give Me a . and a ?" at the end of a lesson.  Students have to write a quick statement about what they've learned and question they could ask a 'buddy' about their learning.  Some great peer tutoring/discussion takes place if a student can't answer another student's question.   The great thing about these is that they both can be geared up or down depending on what grade you teach.  It may look more like pictures and examples for the youngers, but involve more writing for the olders.  

These are just a couple of quick, fun examples that help close a lesson with the teacher gathering immediate evidence of student understanding.  I've got these and a few more for ya' in a FREEBIE  "Let's RECAP" packet that you are welcome to grab from my TpT store.  :-)
In the future, I hope you'll "swing" on over to my blog sometime!  Feel free to come grab more freebies and/or just stop in to say HI!   
A huge THANK YOU to Sally for letting me share and hang out with you all today!  We'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, and/or additional ideas on what works for you when you close a lesson!  

Bananas for freebies and friends that let you 'guest post!'  

Now that you've seen Michelle's wonderful guest post, check out the blogs of all these other wonderful teachers!  Be sure to check out Conversations in Literacy, where I'll be guest blogging today!

Music in the Classroom

I play a lot of music for a lot of reasons. Sometimes I play "fun music", just to lift the spirits of my students. I find I need to do this a lot in the morning, since they come into the classroom sleepy. Fun music usually brings smiles to their faces, and that's a great way to start the day, isn't it? (Click any image for a link to Amazon.)

I have loads of collections of Party Music just for this purpose. I don't yet have these yet, but I'm looking to add them to my collection!

I also like to play quieter music, for those other times when they really need to concentrate on their work. I bought Music for Concentration years ago, and I play it often. Sometimes I even play it when the kids are gone, during my planning time. It really helps. This company has several others along the same lines, including Music for Productivity (Which I have, and love!). Music for Learning (which I want!), and Music for Thinking (which I also want!) 

 I also like to play music connected to what's going on in the world, or connected to what we're learning. 

Around every patriotic holiday, I play patriotic music. I have loads of great music for those days! 

When I was celebrating the Olympics, this CD came in handy. The children loved listening to the National Anthems of other countries. Of course, when our own national anthem played, we always stood up, no matter what we were doing! 

I play this around St. Patrick's Day. 

I play this around Cinco de Mayo. 

Music helps make a real connection to whatever children are learning.
What music do you play in your classroom?

For the 35th Time, Ending on a Monday

I just finished my 35th year of teaching, and I am proud to say I enjoyed another year.  I not only survived, but I'm happy about how it went!

I'm kind of glad our last day turned out to be on a Monday. I know it seems silly to come back to school for just a Monday (especially since it's a half day) but I really liked the way it turned out.

The week before school got out was crazy.  My report cards were due for inspection at the beginning of the week, so I worked all the previous weekend on those.  (The report cards we use are quite complicated, and really do take that long!)  Then I spent my afternoons planning my End of Year Academic Olympics activities, and tried to find some time to get ahead on end of the year packing. At home, in the evenings, I was typing up this year's Memory book.

I was determined to stay Friday evening until the custodians kicked me out at 11:00.  I had dreams of having the whole room completely packed up except for the few things I'd need on Monday.  My "gentleman friend" (I'm far too old to have a "boyfriend") came to help at about 4:45, and I was pretty wiped out by then.  Most of the school supplies were in boxes, and I had set aside the few things I'd need for the last day, but the place was a mess, with a lot to be done.  He was amazing, piling boxes, carrying stuff to my car, and keeping my spirits up.  We finally called it quits at 6:15, when I was pretty much a vegetable.  But my room was in good shape.

Our last story for the year!
I had no school work to do all weekend... that was a very strange feeling!  My report cards were done, printed, folded and packed.  My cumulative folders were stuffed and marked.  I was all planned for Monday, and my only paper work - the Memory books - were run off and waiting.

By the time Monday came, I was rested! I wasn't stressed about finishing the packing, since I really got a lot done on Friday.  So I got to enjoy the last day with my students!!!!  I honestly don't remember a "last day" where I wasn't overtired and stressed about finishing.

It's a quick day, so I didn't want to waste any time with the children.  As they came in, I had them work with partners on individual whiteboards.  Some played hangman, some played Tic-tac-toe.  As long as they were thinking, I was fine!

We had our morning meeting, and I read them one last story, then showed them their Memory books.  After choosing a gel pen color of their choice (I bought a selection of 24 colors) I gave them 15 minutes of Independent Reading time. I insisted they spend some time alone reading the memory book before the conversations/ autographing began. They were fun to watch when it came to autographing each Memory book.  I also got to autograph most of them, which I was glad to do.

What's in the memory books? A couple of weeks ago, I asked the children to write a comment about each of their classmates.  I also asked them for their favorite things about second grade, favorite things about the school, and ideas for things to do during summer vacation.  Since not all children were allowed to be photographed, I took the photo for the cover of their hands (idea from Pinterest!) And I took a picture of each child holding their favorite book... in front of their face.  I wasn't about to have all the children's pictures except one!  Here's my picture from the Memory book, with their comments for me beside it.

This is my "picture", and what the children had to say about me.

At 10:00, our PTA has a tradition for the last day of school:  ice cream sundaes!  We lined up for the last day of school tradition (Thank you PTA!) and enjoyed our last recess together.  I gave the children some time for centers when we got back.  I had a few books still out so they could have partner reading time.  I kept out the math cards so they could play math games, and the white boards were still out for playing Hangman.  No brilliant skills were discovered on this last day, but they were involved in activities to practice the skills they've learned, and I got to enjoy them for one last day.  At 11:45, we all lined up for our 5th graders' final walk, then they went off on their buses for the last time this school year.

It was completely a fabulous day.  I eventually finished packing my room, and checked out for the school year.  I've done a lot of sleeping since, and I'm starting to catch up on the housework I haven't done in months.  But it was a very good day.

I thought you'd like a little freebie from my kids.  Here's a copy of their "Things to do during summer vacation so the TV won't suck out your brain" list!  Enjoy!

Let the Games Begin!

We had the first day of our Academic Olympics today, and we all had a great time!
Let the games begin! This post tells about a great way to maintain academics at the end of the school year and have some fun by adding an Olympics theme. (It also works well in summer school.) Plus, there's a freebie!

We started with our Opening Ceremony first thing in the morning. The children were dressed in their country's color, and carried their banners and flags. I also had my teacher assistant carry the Olympic Torch and an Olympic flag. The countries lined up in alphabetical order, just like they will in July in London. I carried the American flag at the end of our parade, after all, that's where the "host nation" always goes. We marched up and down all the hallways. Many of the other students and teachers peeked out of their classrooms to wish us well.

When we got back to the room, we made a big circle with all the countries. Each academic athlete touched the Olympic flag while they recited the Olympic Oath and the Olympic Creed. (I copied these almost word for word from what they use at the Olympics, with a few slight changes. I added the word "academic" in front of sports, and I left out the part about performance enhancing drugs.)

After the Oath and the Creed, I had all academic athletes shake hands with each other and say the words: Let the games begin!

We held several contests today! The team events we had:
  • brainstorming
  • math puzzle 
  • banner design
  • reading endurance (they earned points for the team if they were focused on reading when I checked)
  • Group phonics scoot
Then we also had a couple of individual events:
  • reading with expression (Judged in 4 categories... volume, expression, clarity, and presentation)
  • math facts (both addition and subtraction)

Then we had medal ceremonies! I let the first place winners stand on chairs, and as that country's national anthem played, I placed medals around their necks. I still get all goose bumpy when I think of their faces as I placed the ribbons around their necks... they even did that little "head dip" to allow me to get the ribbon around them, and they picked it up and looked at it proudly, just as I've seen Olympic athletes do! (I'm a sucker for ritual, and the kids really loved it!)

Well, it was a VERY busy day, and we still have more tomorrow! I wanted to share a couple of papers I made up for my Olympics, just in case you get any inspiration for end of the year activities, or summer fun! Click the image or click HERE for your Academic Olympic Freebie!

Let the games begin! This post tells about a great way to maintain academics at the end of the school year and have some fun by adding an Olympics theme. (It also works well in summer school.) Plus, there's a freebie!
For a more complete resource, click HERE

Let the games begin! This post tells about a great way to maintain academics at the end of the school year and have some fun by adding an Olympics theme. (It also works well in summer school.) Plus, there's a freebie!

Let the games begin! This post tells about a great way to maintain academics at the end of the school year and have some fun by adding an Olympics theme. (It also works well in summer school.) Plus, there's a freebie!

A Proper Farewell

We have a lovely tradition on our last day of school.

Since our school is K - 5, we get ready to say goodbye to our fifth graders. Just before it's time to leave, all K - 4 students and teachers line the hallways.  We do collect quite a few parents as well.  When everyone is in place, the fifth grade teachers walk their students down the hall for the very last time.  We give them plenty of applause.  After all, they worked hard for their 6 years at our school, they deserve the applause.  Many are emotional.  They know this is a place where they were loved.  Who knows what will happen when they get to middle school?

After the fifth graders have made their final walk, all the other classes walk down the hallway for the final time of the year.  Everyone goes out to wave goodbye.  None of the buses leave until everyone is ready.  The children hang out the window waving, many are crying.  They are chanting all the naughty chants they know they shouldn't do, but can get away with on the last day.  Finally, the buses start to drive away, with the bus drivers beeping, the kids chanting, the teachers waving.  It's a little crazy, but it's definitely a happy/ sad/ sentimental time for us all!

I've been teaching in this school for 27 years now, and we've had our "Grade Five Send Off" for close to 20 of those years.  I can honestly say I haven't had one "Grade Five Send Off" where I wasn't in tears.

One nice thing about being a teacher in the lower grades is that you get to watch the kids grow up, even when they are no longer in your class. By the time they make that final walk down the hall, most of them are taller than I am, and have grown in many ways!  It's hard to say goodbye.

I also find it's hard to say goodbye to their families as well.  After all, by the end of 5th grade, I've known them for 4 years! If I've had siblings, I've known them longer than that!

I'm lucky to work where I work!

What's your last day of school like?

My Favorite Things

Being a fan of musical theatre, my head breaks into song when I hear that phrase... my favorite things.  Well, I rather like brown paper packages and whiskers on kittens, but I'm not crazy about doorbells and sleigh bells.

But here are a few of my favorite things:

Brain Based Learning!  I'm fascinated by how the brain works, and can't get enough information on how to use the latest research on how the brain learns best!  It's such powerful information as a teacher, and they're always finding new stuff!

Another favorite? 

My daughter's homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies!  She was just home for a day and a half, and found time to bake some cookies for me before she went back to Boston!

Another favorite?

Kids with Patriotism!
These are some of the decorations we made for Memorial Day.  We figured they can stay up through Flag Day!

And yet another favorite thing:

I've always loved musical theatre!  I love being in shows as well as watching them!  Two of the favorites I've done are:

I was Connie ("Four foot ten...")

I was Sister Amnesia. (The one who had a duet with a puppet, that lost her memory because a crucifix fell on her head.)

Two of my favorite shows I've seen are:  
I can't listen to the music without sobbing!

I know every word to every song, and always sing along!  Come to think of it, I know the words to almost every song of almost every musical, except the ones that came out in the last couple of years!  It's something that has continued to give me joy, throughout all the different "chapters" of my life!

There was a time when I was heavily involved in theatre!  I used to leave school about 4:00, lean over a Lean Cuisine, go to an aerobics class, then go to a rehearsal for a few hours.  Then I'd often go out for a drink with cast members after rehearsal!

This all slowed down about 19 years ago.  (Did I mention my daughter was 19?)  After my divorce, I got back into doing shows, and by the time she was 8, my daughter was doing shows with me!

After my stroke (2 years ago) I just don't have the stamina to live that life, so I go to shows my daughter is in, and that keeps me happy.  (She's incredible!)

So these are a few of my favorite things... what are yours?
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