Monday, July 27, 2015

Problem Solved: Hard to Erase Whiteboards and Chalkboards

Both can get pretty grungy and leave behind faded writing that you just can't get off. It's one of those little things that drives me batty in the classroom.

And at home!

I tried everything I could think of to get the chalk off my little bird chalkboards that I use mostly at home. I had used a chalk marker (I heart chalk markers!!) which boasted that it "Erased Easily."


You can see the unerased "H" above. The rest of the letters ARE erased. Ha! No matter what I tried, those marks were still there.

Same for some of my whiteboards:

About to give up and thinking I'd have to repaint the bird boards with chalkboard black paint, my husband grabbed a Magic Eraser.  

It worked like a charm!!! 

Look at them now! Like new! Just in time for my daughter's Grad Party this past weekend!

(Boro is her High School and "Cuse" is her college: Syracuse!)

If you don't have a Magic Eraser, get thee to the store pronto! I cut them up into smaller pieces so they last a bit longer. Although I have white boards (and individual ones for the kids) I know many classes still have chalkboards. I hope this helps you get them super clean!

UPDATE: Amazon has another brand that are much cheaper and yet clean the same way. Click HERE to see the storefront. I've used and they are the awesome...and cheaper!

In clip art news...John's latest: The Civil War! This pack is bigger than usual since he had a lot to fit in it. Hope you like it!

Have a great day!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Look Who Popped Up At Kohls!

In case you didn't know, look who's featured at Kohls this month:

So cute!  And for $5,you can't beat the price.  I use them all the time in my Daily Five for Read to Self but I modify to Read to a Stuffed Friend. Who doesn't love an audience to read to? 

You can grab a free recording sheet here. I have enough animals for everyone but I still bought the cuties above.  I already have a small mouse but this one is way cuter and much more huggable.  See Clifford and Cleo?  I got them online at Kohls and they were only $2.50!  Not pictured is Ted and Fred from Dr. Seuss.  I got them for $2.50 too.  Can you believe that?  Be sure to look from time to time as you can usually find one or two on there on Clearance.

Kohl's Cares is such a great program that I like to support.  So even if I don't buy the books/animals for me, I always buy some for a nearby shelter for the kids.

Did you get yours yet?  If not, go get them today before they sell out! 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Problem Solved: Tweaking Desktop Supplies Caddy

For as long as I can remember, I've had four desks/students share supplies in these:

But it's time for a change!  Not a huge change but one that makes sense to me.  Over the past two years, I was thinking of changing this up.  Why?  Four kids sharing one caddy was too much.   Kids were quick to blame the other partners if something was missing/broken.  I squashed the bickering but lately, oh, my.  Four kids bickering over the sharpest pencil?  Um, no.  Plus, they took up a little too much room and often covered their desktags. If someone wanted a supply on the far side, they often had to stand to get it.  Not everything was quite as accessible as I had planned.  It was simply bulky, too.  Are these major problems? Nope.  But ones that needed a quick fix for me.

One of my long tables had two extra desks.  (So 10 instead of 8)  I didn't want this big caddy for two kids so I switched to one of these...

LOVE!  This year, only two kids will share supplies.  MUCH easier on all levels.  I love how they fit perfectly BETWEEN their desktags  Added bonus?  It blocks partner's work across from you so if assessing, that does the trick of having to separate desks, use folders or whatever you do.  Fitting to glue sticks, pencils, scissors, etc,, is easy.  Perfect for what I fill them with.  Neater, too.

I was ready to make the change last year BUT I could not find black, red or yellow (my theme for the most part) and I hated the look of the white ones that I always seemed to see in abundance. The ones above were way too expensive from Really Good Stuff and I couldn't buy just one color anyway.  

I scoured every dollar store for the past year with no luck...until LAST NIGHT at The Dollar Tree. They had red!  And dark blue! And turquoise and orange and lime green!  And...drumroll please.....FOUR for $1. Can't beat that!!!! 

I know it's a little change but sometimes (often!) it's the little things that make the biggest impact!  

Another bonus?  When we are working on some projects, these are so small, they can stay put.  We often had to remove the big ones to make room.

I'll update when I get back to school and put them in action.

Do you LOVE LOVE LOVE Dollar Tree as much as me??  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Made Minion Spacers! and FREE Clip Art

I mentioned my renewed commitment to handwriting last week.  This is a small part of my plan! 


Several of my students each year need help with "Traffic Jams"...letters that are too close together. I've been using boring craft sticks this past year. Most kids lost interest in using them yet really needed them. My plan this summer was to make some "Spacemen" UNTIL I saw a commercial for the new Minion movie. I think the kids are going to LOVE these! I used paint and marker. I was thinking of using wiggly eyes...maybe I will. Stay-tuned! :)

On another note...Latest clip art is here. John's a K-5 media specialist so he actually made this for himself. Love it! 

UPDATE 2021: If you want it, email me and I'll send for FREE!

Off to make another twenty minions!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Some Math Freebies

I'm helping out a little friend today who needs a bit of math review.  I have plans for lots of hands on fun and games but his mom asked that I leave some work for him.  Here are a few things I'm giving to the mom today. Feel free to grab!


And John posted another clip art product in his Social Studies series: Eli Whitney!

Have a great day!!!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Looking for a Dynamic Speaker? (Language Arts)

Look no further than Meredith Alvaro, Literacy Consultant.  She's worked directly with Lucy Calkins at Teachers College Columbia University.  NOTE:  I do not know her beyond the three workshops she presented at my school to our staff.  If I ran into her on the streets, she wouldn't remember me. So, as you can see, I'm not benefiting in any way from sharing her info.  Why am I doing it?  Because she was, hands down, the best presenter and the most informative presenter I've ever seen in my 25 years of teaching. I'm sharing her contact info just in case you're able to book her for your teachers. She offers lots of workshops and she's worth every penny and then some.  (Based in NJ/NY area but travels.)

Our district has worked closely with Teachers College over the last decade.  We've been lucky to have various workshops led by mentees of Lucy Calkins.  So while I knew her Writing and Reading Workshops would be good. I just didn't know how good GREAT they'd be thanks to Meredith.

Please realize that this post IS NOT to share the info she shared with us.  I don't think that would be right as it's hers to share. Rather, by giving you some insights as to how the day was structured and sharing feedback, I'm hoping you may be able to get her for your district.  She strengthened our programs.  Raised our game. I can tell you this:  if you pass on her name, you will be elevated to Rock Star status after she visits because she's THAT GOOD.  

When we started, she asked everyone what they hoped to get out of the day.  Any burning questions, an area in writing or reading that needed clarification, etc. At the end of the short intro, she had 8 different topics from us that WE were most interested in.  THOSE topics became the agenda for the day and she was able to fully speak to each topic by days' end.  I loved the fact that WE set the agenda! I had never been to such a personalized workshop before.  She's funny, sincere, oh, so knowledgeable, clever, REAL, and determined to have the attendees understand what's needed to run a successful Language Arts program. Theory turned into practical practice!  She broke down the Common Core Standards in the simplest terms.  (First session was writing while the second was all about Reading.  For this post, I'm speaking generally about both as though it was one workshop.)

She broke down Calkins' Small Moment stories in such a way that we were giddy with our new-found ease of delivery of instruction.  You know the watermelon and the seed analogy?  Way too complicated for her and not easily understood by the kiddos! Seriously, what she shared was genius and our students truly get this "simple" format now.  Her tips/tricks are SIMPLE yet effective,  So many Ah-Ha Moments!

To see her model a K and 1 Reading Workshop was amazing!  I was in awe of her K modeling. Again, so simple and manageable. 

But the best part came in the afternoon, we had 25 minutes left over.  She had finished speaking to our agenda and said she could answer questions or show us what a writing conference looks like. We chose that.  We literally walked next door to a first grade classroom and she took over.  No prep from a teacher (who was with us...a sub was in there) no anything.  They didn't know we were coming. It was kick ass awesome.  Really.  

She proved she could not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.  Although she had never seen the classroom before, met any of the kids, etc., knew the routines, etc.,  it was an absolute incredible conferencing session. Effortless on her part.  I learned more from her about conferencing in that short time than I had learned in all my years of teaching.  In that short time, she met with three young writers (ones who sat closest to us so we could hear everything) and they happened to be high/low/middle writers.)  She met with each one for about seven minutes.   She made each one feel like a rock star with her meaningful, authentic, feedback and did a quick mini-lesson on some aspect of their writing which became their new goal for the day. Calm. Respectful. Meaningful, targeted interaction between teacher/student.

Although we're well-trained in our district, Meredith was a breath of fresh air and was easily able to cut through some of the Calkins "noise" and kept it real. Everyone loved her.  The days we work with her fly by and we all leave eager to implement what we've learned.  It's how ALL workshops should be! 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Freebie Poems for Beginning of Year

I clicked through my "freebie" section on this is it that I don't have this September Poems and Songs on here? If you go back to school in July/August, it's helpful as well.

 I've done poetry binders now for twenty-five years! Parents send in a binder (one that lays FLAT!) and we add a poem almost every day. 

Some people do one a week. 

 Not me. I love, love, love poetry for my kids and use poems all the time. I always read the poem to them first before I pass it out just so they can enjoy it. Once I put it on under the Document Camera, we do a choral reading. So great for fluency practice!!!

Two examples from the packet:

While I do use some of the poems to teach from ("Let's go through and highlight short a words," or "Let's see if we can find our sight words this week," I DO NOT do this with MOST poems. I don't want them to associate poetry with having the sole purpose of dissecting it to learn/reinforce skills. I want them to simply enjoy the poems. Let the words tickle their ears. Maybe that's why I do so many!

We use these for Read to Self and our Fluency Friends, too. And you better believe I use as a Morning Meeting Activity AND they pick partners to share poems one morning a week after arrival.

Each Wednesday, they take home binders and read any five poems to a family member. Most, from what I am told, read the ENTIRE binder!! Sending them home also allows the parents to fix any wayward pages! (BTW, I let the copy machine put the three hole punch in!)

One Tip: I have the kids number the poems as they put them in their binders. This way, when we are reading for fun, a child can say, "Turn to poem 46," and the class can find it much easier than "Turn to A Snowy Day."

BTW, numbering poems WAS NOT MY IDEA! So simple and effective but credit is given to one of my students who did this. I saw her doing it and asked her why. Her answer was that of most seasoned teachers! Impressive! More proof, I told her, that I will always consider myself a student first! The learning never ends! Enjoy!!!!!

Edited to add: If you love them and are thinking of imlementing them, check out my year-long bundle:

Friday, July 3, 2015

Frame Worthy!

Two pins caught my eye from Dr. Justin Tarte
so much so that I had to share.  Enjoy!

Both are powerful, huh?  The second one made me think of my own kids' Back-to-School Nights.  I always knew when my kids got a great teacher because by the time the evening was over, I had already thanked my lucky stars that the teacher would be in my son and daughter's life for the next year and also wished I could have had a teacher like that or join the class at that very moment!

I think I may pretty them up and frame them for my wall next year.  Check back soon!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Refocusing on Handwriting

This year, I didn't do such a great job of supporting a few of my students who struggled with handwriting.  I'm usually pretty good starting handwriting out of the gate and keeping up with instruction.  For some reason, I felt I had "bigger fish to fry" this year and didn't spend nearly enough time as I should have on teaching correct letter formation.  I had about 4 kids who really struggled with their fine motor skills.  

My kids are such phenomenal writers but if no one can read your work and you can't share it because it's difficult for the child to read what he's written, writing workshop becomes...not so much fun. 

This summer, I've been looking for great blog posts and information on launching handwriting in the classroom.  We currently use a Zaner-Bloser program.  Eh. I've heard wonderful feedback from friends who use Handwriting Without Tears.  So, while I'm not looking at program delivery, I'm committed to finding best practices no matter what program is used.

The first post I want to share (thanks to Pinterest!) is Ten Tips All Teachers Need to Know When Teaching Handwriting:  

My takeaway: #6.  I used to sing all those little songs to give my learners auditory support. I need to get back to that.  If I need to make up a little song to fit the needs of the writer, I will.  There are other good tips, too.  Of course you'll know most of them but a reminder can't hurt!

Then there is this pin, Teaching Handwriting in Lower Grades,  that I noticed:

It was a guest post on Rachel Lynette's blog from Amy at Cahill's Creations.  My takeaway? Her hands-on activities (I'm going to create a handwriting bin with activities she lists and USE IT!) and how she immediately highlights the kids at the beginning of the year who need extra support and it!  :)  

Handwriting is hard to fit in but I'm recommitting myself this year.  If you have any tips or advice you'd like to share, please do!!

Have a great day!!