Saturday, July 25, 2015

"In God we trust. All others... bring data."

It's about this time of year that I wake up in the middle of the night either in cold sweats or hyperventilating.  Come on everyone.  You know what I'm talking about.  It's the back to school nightmares.  

Every teacher gets anxious for that first day.  You think to yourself, I wonder what they will be like.  Are they as nervous as I am?  Will they like me?  Oh, do I remember how to start those beginning of the year procedures?  How am I going to remember all their names?  How am I going to get to know them? 

This last question covers so many different things.  How will I get to know them as little people?  What do they like?  What don't they like?  What do they worry about?  What are their strengths?  What areas do they need help? 

As teachers, we are naturally observers.  We watch, we take mental notes, we write things down, we assess, we reflect.  So, we start the year.  We do our "getting to know you activities," and we start to observe our students.  Now comes one of the biggest questions each of us eventually asks: "How am I going to keep track of all the things I am noticing about each of my kids?"

In the day-and-age of Response to Intervention, there is a saying I have heard many times, but I don't know who said it first.  "In God we trust.  All others... bring data."  Common Core brings a necessity to understand our students at a deeper level.  We must observe (watch), reflect (think about how you taught the lesson and how the students responded to your teaching), and prescribe (decide what you are going to do next).

How do we keep track of all we observe?  As an interventionist, I found it easy to keep notes.  I only had 3-6 students at a time, and I scheduled a 5-minute break in between each group so I could record all of what I observed, reflect on what I taught, and make plans for the next day.  Then, 15 years later, I went back into the classroom.

I spent most of first quarter just trying to figure out what I was doing.  I had never worked with second graders before, nor had I any knowledge of the second grade curriculum.  Before I  knew it, here came the end of first quarter.  I went to complete my standards-based report cards and realized, I hadn't recorded, analyzed, reflected, or prescribed.  I had to guess.  It was then I realized I had to find some system of keeping notes.

I spent the rest of the year trying and trying and trying to record notes.  But the problem is, when?  How?  On what? There are so many times I need to take notes.  I need to take notes during minilessons (we call that carpet time), during guided reading, conferences, assessments, interventions, etc.  Good God!  How do you take notes during all those times?  It's not like being an interventionist where you get a 5-minute break so you can reflect.  That time in a classroom is full of transitioning, meeting individually with students, and grabbing materials for the next lesson.

It was then that I realized that just one method doesn't work.  I needed to be able to take notes in different ways based on the situation I was in.  So I came up with numerous methods.
The first method I decided to use was to take notes on note cards.  I tape each of these individually onto my clipboard/notepad.  Start at the bottom.  I don't tape all the way to the bottom because I want to give a place for my hand to rest.  I tape one down and then lay another note card on top.  I leave a full line of space so I can write the student's name and/or number on the bottom of the note card.  That way I always know who I am writing about. 

I have seen this used with file folders, but I like something sturdy to write on.  I found this cutie clipboard at target.  
It opens up and had a notepad on the inside.  I simply removed the notepad and used the space like a file folder.  

I suggest using each card for one subject.  If you like this method, have a different file folder/clipboard for each subject.  

Once the card is full, you simply peel off the tape and place a new card down.  But what do you do with the cards?  I created this form to keep the note cards on.  
This form allows you to notate the student and what subject it is for.  All you have to do is tape the note card onto the square.  (The note cards I use are 4X6)

I chose to hole punch the form and put it into a binder.  It makes for easier transportation to and from school for refection, analysis, and prescription.  I have a tab divider for each student.  I know some teachers keep a file folder for each student.  These forms could be put in the folder.

Another method of keeping track of observational data is to use a form like these:

Either of these forms could be used to record data.  Then after you have reflected and analyzed the notes, you can prescribe by setting a goal for the next time you teach or confer.

Again, I choose to keep these forms in a binder that has a tab divider for each student.  Then, I add this to the binder as I fill up the sheets.

Lastly, I use address labels such as these.
This way, I can write about multiple students on the same label sheet.  (I just have to remember to write his/her name on the label.)  I keep label sheets on clipboards and have them hanging througout the room.  At the end of the day or when I have time, I just collect the clipboards, peel the labels, and place the them on this form:
Again, when the sheet is filled up, I just put them in my student data binder (or you can put them into a file folder) and they are ready to go!

I already feel better knowing I have these record sheets ready to go.  All I have to do is get my binder tabs in my binder and print out my sheets and I am ready to go!  Okay.  So I know I won't have a nightmare tonight about this one, but I'm sure it will be something school related :)

If you like this or if you see revisions that need to be made, please leave a comment.  I don't currently have a TPT store, but I am considering starting.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Lions, and Tigers, and Supplies, Oh MY!!!!!!!

It's hard to believe that it's already school supply time!  I went to Target and could hardly believe all the teacher goodies that are out there!  I am sure you all know how Target is.  You go in meaning to buy "just a couple of items" and you leave having cleaned out your bank account.

I really admire the people that can go in and only buy what they need.  Target is like crack, or Pringles.  Once you pop, you can't stop!  I just look around, especially the dollar spot, and the corners of my vision get all blurry, sweet melodies play in my ears, and it's just me and the items.  I really do think they sing to me.  (I know I am a little delusional.  It's okay.)

So I have gone to the dollar spot at Target the past two weeks, really hoping to find these dry erasers I get there every year.  I love these things.  They don't take up space in pencil boxes or desks, and they work great with individual dry erase boards.  But, it seems Target has let me down.  No one seems to be carrying my favorite item this year.   I think I am going to end up paying twice as much on Amazon.  They are not the exact same, but I like that they are magnetic.

But, as I said, I walk into that dollar spot and the siren's song starts.  Those dollar deals call out to me.  "Libby.... Libby... Buy me!  Buy me!" they sing.  My vision goes glassy and I begin to reach.   I pick things up not even knowing what it is.  I load up my basket, because I REFUSE to get a cart, and then continue to walk the isles.  I pick up a few other items I just HAVE to have, pay for my stash, and leave.  It's only when I get home that I think to myself, "What in the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks was I doing?  What did I go in there for?  Crap!  I forgot that ONE thing I went in there for!"  So it just means another trip back.  Bad, Bad news.

So, here are some pictures of my haul this time around.  

 I liked this one because I keep hoping to get up the nerve to Periscope.  Maybe some day, but not today.

 These books were $1.00 each.  I was liking that.  I'm always looking for nonfiction to add to my library.

 Originally I picked up five of these red tubs, but the foggy haze that I go into at the dollar spot wore off as I was picking up toilet paper, and I put four back.  I really only needed one for my guided reading desk.  I have ones with holes in them for the student tables.

 I don't consider myself a "cutsie" teacher.  I don't normally put up "cute" things.  I have a superhero theme in my classroom, and I made sure to use movie versions of superheroes instead of the cutsie cartoon sets.  Don't get me wrong.  Those are adorable, but I come from an upper elementary/middle school background where I would have been taken out back and shot if I had the cute cartoon ones.  I am just now adjusting to the fact that I can be cute instead of dry or sarcastic.

 I saw these and fell in love!  We teach parts of the plant and plant adaptations.  They are teeny clay pots that supposedly have a flower in each.  I figure I will go buy seeds, just in case the seeds are bad in these.  Really, I bought them for the pots.  

Uh... dinosaurs that grow with water?  Seriously?  LOVE!  Yup, I'm learning to be cute.

So, there it is.  My haul from the dollar spot.  After seeing what other teacher bloggers purchased, I am kind of rocking in my chair wishing I could go back and buy more.  Maybe next week.  The weekend is here, the family is going on a mini-trip, and I have put my debit card on lock-down.  **sigh**

Until next time Target...


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hello Teacher Blogger World!

Hello!  So this is my first post here on Blogger.  I guess I will start by sharing a little about myself.  My name is Libby.  I am a wife, mother, and 2nd grade teacher.  I started my career teaching in San Antonio, Texas teaching 5th grade.  I was at an inner city school, with students I adored.  I learned very quickly that collaboration was not encouraged, it was everyone for themselves.  I had no idea what I was doing, and I had no mentor.  So, as you can guess, it was a rough year.  

While in Texas, I started dating my (now) husband.  He lived in my hometown in Illinois.  He was not keen on Moving to S.A., so back to Illinois I went.  I interviewed in a small town near my home and got a job as a reading specialist for grades 3-5.  I knew nothing!  I remember going into my "classroom", which was an office/telephone room, and I met with groups of students there.  My books were kept in the furnace room.  Um.. fire hazard?!?!  I had 45 students on my caseload, with no understanding of reading.  I don't know what my principal saw in me, that's for certain!  I spent the summer reading a lot of professional development books about running records, comprehension, and teaching reading strategies.  I also applied and was accepted into a Master's Degree program.  

So off to teaching I went, having the same feeling I did as year one: My students learned in spite of me, not because of me.  I constantly felt all year I was doing a disservice to the students, the staff, and myself.  But with each Master's class I took, I learned.  Holy Cow!  I learned!  **Side note: I didn't take my undergraduate program all that seriously.  I was quite immature, and was on my own for the first time.  I had uninspiring teachers, and I had no desire to learn.**  I realized I LOVED TO LEARN!!!!!  I got excited for grad class night!  I was excited to be with professors who were genuinely interested in their subject matter AND the students they were instructing.  It took me 4 long years (one class a semester), but I finished.  With each class, I felt like I was starting to become more effective in my classroom.  

After my graduate program was done, I realized I missed learning.  I made the decision to continue.  I talked to my colleagues and chose books to continue my learning.  There was one problem.  In grad school, there was a built-in collaborative group.  Researching and learning on my own, while wonderful, was lacking that community-learning aspect.  I worked with my reading specialist colleagues and participated in professional book clubs.  It was great to read and discuss with others, especially in an environment where I was the only reading specialist in my building.

Fast forward about 10 years and a set of twins later, and we come to the time in Illinois called "budget cuts."  Some of you may know that Illinois is dead last in its ability to fund existing programs, including education.  The state was not paying districts the money they were due, and there were some other complications within my district.  My position went on the chopping block, and I suddenly found that I was no longer going to be a reading specialist.  Oh God!  Thankfully I had tenure, so I was placed in the classroom in second grade.  WHAT?!?!  I haven't had my own classroom for 15 years, and I only taught in a classroom setting for ONE YEAR!  ONE YEAR people!  That was it!  I was a first-year-teacher all over again.  I worked my tail off that summer learning and reading and talking and reading and researching and reading and reading and reading!  I read 10 professional books, I would spend days at the library reading picture books.  I don't even know how many I read!  

That first year was a blur.   I was in an environment where collaboration was encouraged AND EXPECTED!  I have a wonderful principal and assistant principal who puts students first, and they believe that the best way to help students is through collaboration.  Boy did I collaborate.  I had a wonderful mentor who guided me every step of the way, and a team who understood my situation and helped me every chance they got.  

Last year, my mentor became a reading coach, and I became team leader.  I tried very hard to bring that collaborative environment I experienced last year to the team this year.  Sometimes there was success, and other times there was failure.  But... there was always learning.  

This brings me to present day: Here I am, maybe team leader, if the board approves the funding for the position, and definitely classroom teacher.  I am finally at a point where I feel like I can blog and talk about my personal learning, my classroom, reflect, and maybe create!  

Thanks for hanging in and reading this whole post.  Wow.  I didn't realize I had this much to say!