January 20, 2020

The "Wonder"ful Gift of Reading

This past Friday was one of my favorite days EVER. We launched "The Wonderful Gift of Reading"(think "One School, One Book") at one of the schools where I coach, and I couldn't have asked for a better response from both staff and students. I'm so excited to share with you what we did!

A few months ago, our school's reading specialist approached me about helping with "One School, One Book." The school has participated in the program the past few years, but I hadn't been involved with it. Real talk: I love the idea behind "One School, One Book," but I have never been a huge fan of the book selection the program offers. I may have even remarked at one point that if I had to read one more book about a hamster or a mouse, I'd lose my mind. When my colleague asked me to help with the program this year, I immediately started researching books that didn't feature animals as main characters and that had a universal theme to which both children and adults could connect. When I stumbled on Wonder, I had an epic "OF COURSE!!!" moment. 

Wonder was an ideal choice for several reasons:

1.) The book's message is amazing. Plain and simple. It teaches us about the importance of kindness and acceptance. It reminds us to never judge others by appearances. And it encourages us to be brave and to stand up for ourselves because bullying is never acceptable.

2.) Finding a book that can be read by students in grades PreK-5 is nearly impossible. Thankfully, R.J. Palacio has not only written an incredible novel, but she has also written and illustrated a beautiful picture book that conveys the same message of acceptance. 

For obvious reasons, we couldn't call our school-wide reading program "One School, One Book." So, once we decided on Wonder, we came up with the name "The 'Wonder'ful Gift of Reading." 

Our goal was to purchase a book for each family in our school in order to create a shared reading experience for the entire school community. 

Once we had agreed on Wonder, we had to figure out how we were going to be able to afford to buy a book for each family in our school. Thankfully, my administrator had set some money aside for the "One School, One Book" program, so we were able to use that money to purchase books. I scoured websites and catalogs to find the least expensive prices for each book, but unfortunately, Wonder is only available in hardcover. I was, however, able to find the picture book in paperback, and we were able to purchase both books from Amazon. 

I created a parent letter to send home to parents several weeks before sending the books home with students.

Click on the link above to grab a {FREE} editable version of the letter.

While on Winter Break, I created seven clues for students to unwrap once we returned. The clues were simply well known quotes from the book that I printed, laminated, and wrapped with blue and black snow-themed wrapping paper (I had a serious color scheme happening...everything had to be in shades of aqua blue, white, and black). 

Our reading specialist and I appeared together on the morning announcements the Friday we returned from break to explain what the program was, why we were doing it, and what students could expect in the coming days. After that, one clue was unwrapped each day on the morning announcements until the day of the big reveal (more details on that in a minute), and as each clue was unwrapped, I added it to a hallway display. Students were encouraged to guess what the book might be, based on the clues.

This is the hallway display after the launch {notice the books at the bottom and the pictures of the characters from the book}. 

The goal was to build up as much excitement and anticipation as we could, prior to revealing the book. So again, over Winter Break, I worked on creating an iMovie that I intended to play at a school-wide assembly. I interviewed teachers and other people in the building who had already read the book, and I also gave the students a few more clues. You can check it out below!

At the final hour, I realized that the iMovie wouldn't be nearly enough (even though I felt like I had spent half of my life working on it!), so I created a PowerPoint in which to embed the video. 

On the morning of the reveal, the person who was supposed to help me get our video and audio set up wasn't able to be there, so after a brief panic (I had the entire school coming to the auditorium in an hour, so the pressure was on!), I was able to track down a few techies who could help me, thankfully.

When the students arrived in the auditorium, they saw the slide below:

My colleague and I took the stage and explained the program again.

Then, the moment to reveal the book arrived! Before the assembly, we had taped two small laminated paper gifts to the underside of two seats. Toward the end of the assembly and after playing the video, we asked students to check their seats for a laminated gift. The two students who found the gifts came onstage to unwrap the books.

When they held up the books, everyone cheered. Life. Made.

The big reveal!

Once the assembly was over, our reading specialist and I went room to room, delivering books. I felt like Santa Claus! Inside each book, I tucked a brochure for parents.

So, now that the book has been revealed, what happens next? Directly after the reveal, I put the Educator's Guide for both Wonder and We're All Wonders in teachers' mailboxes, and I encouraged teachers to take pictures of any activities that they did with their students. I also asked teachers to invite me in to co-teach a lesson with them, using the book. 

Students will be reading the book both in school and at home until mid-March. Our PTO will then be sponsoring a Family Movie Night, during which families are invited to watch the movie "Wonder" (they've even decided to turn it into a small fundraising effort by selling snacks that evening!).

Honestly, I could not have asked for a better response to the program, and I'm so glad that we decided to do it. Walking into my colleague's classroom after the launch and seeing her reading We're All Wonders to her PreK kiddos was simply the best.

Quality read aloud opportunities = happy literacy coach.

I'd love to hear what you think about this program! Let me know in the comments!

August 3, 2019

How I Organize My Classroom Library

Long time, no blog! I've been (kind of) active over on the old 'Gram (my preteen kids give me the hardest time when I abbreviate words like that, which is why I try to do it as much as possible), but I haven't given much attention to the blog. I thought I'd drop by to talk about how I like to organize classroom libraries.

Obviously, now that I am a literacy coach, I don't get to set up my own classroom library anymore. But, as a coach, I've had the opportunity to help several teachers organize and maintain their classroom libraries. It typically takes a day or so to get everything sorted, labeled, and stored, but once it's finished, students are able to search for and borrow books that are of interest to them. And really, isn't that the whole goal?

Disclaimer: There are tons of different ways to organize your classroom library. There's no wrong or right way. It's really up the individual teacher. Some teachers arrange theirs by Accelerated Reading reading level, some by Fountas and Pinnell reading level, and others by genre or theme.

I am, however, a huge believer in allowing students to choose books that are of interest to them. According to Mindi Wench, when we allow students to select their own books:

1. They will take risks.
2. They will read more.
3. They become better writers.
4. They enjoy reading.
5. They become empowered.

For the reasons listed above, I have always organized my classroom library by theme/series/popular authors.

Step 1:

The first thing I do when I organize a classroom library is to take alllllll of the teacher's books out of whatever storage they are currently in. Yes, this gives me hives. There are books absolutely everywhere, spread out all over the floor. Slowly but surely, I start putting them into piles by theme. This can be a little tricky, obviously, because some books can fit into several piles. I just try to make an executive decision and put the books where I think that they best belong. 

Step 2:

Once I have all of the books sorted and organized by theme, I make a (really hasty and usually sloppy) list of all of the different categories that the books are divided into. Then, I use this list to create typed dividers and labels for my library.

Step 3:

I really keep it simple when it comes to dividers, labels, and storage bins for classroom library books.

Dividers: I create dividers with laminated Astrobrights card stock, and I use my trusty paper cutter to cut them into thirds.

Labels: I use Avery 8167 labels to label all the books. I just put the label in the top left corner of each book.

Baskets: I am admittedly really cheap when it comes to purchasing baskets for my own classroom library. Usually, I bought the $1.00 white Sterilite dishpans from Walmart. Several teachers I worked with this year, however, bought colored baskets from Dollar Tree. Use whatever works best for you and your budget.

Step 4:

Now comes the fun part: putting all of the labels books into the baskets. I put the divider first, followed by the books that fit in that section.

Step 5:

The last thing that I do is create shelf markers for the students to use to select books from the classroom library. Again, I use laminated Astrobrights card stock, labeled with the students' names or numbers. 

This picture is from my own classroom library. The dividers were lime green, and the shelf markers were bright yellow.
Click on the picture below to download the dividers that I use (it is PowerPoint, so it is fully editable).

I just use the Tools > Labels feature in Microsoft Word to create book labels. As I mentioned above, I like to use Avery 8167 labels.

That's it! Hope this helps as you get ready to organize your own classroom library for the 2019-2020 school year!

February 10, 2019

Wild Ride!

If you have been following me on Instagram these past few months, you already know that I have been on one wild ride lately! I thought I'd hop on the old blog and fill you in on what has been going on!

In early June, I learned that I had been granted a voluntary transfer to a different school in my district. While I was sad to be leaving the school family that I had been a part of for eight years, I was thrilled to be reunited with one of the best (and most down-to-earth) administrators that I've ever worked with. Plus, I was looking forward to teaching second grade for the first time in my teaching career! So, I packed up all of the STUFF that I had accumulated in my eight years and stored it in the corner of my old classroom.
You don't realize how much you have bought/inherited until you see it all in one huge pile.
I was in no rush to move it to my new school, you see, because right before the school year ended, eight brand spankin' new literacy coaching positions were posted: one early childhood, three elementary, three secondary, and one digital. At first, I had no intention of applying; after all, I was all set to move to a new school and a new grade. But after some gentle prodding from friends and my supportive husband, I decided to throw my hat into the ring, and I applied for the digital and the early childhood positions. I was beyond thrilled (and surprised!) when I was offered one of the three elementary coach positions. 

My husband, however, probably wasn't quite so thrilled when I asked him to help me move all of my teaching STUFF into our attic.
Sixteen years of classroom teaching in one very cramped attic.
Since I had no way of knowing what my new position would entail and couldn't really prepare, I spent the remainder of the summer, soaking up the sun, warmth, and time with my kiddos. While the classroom teacher in me desperately wanted to get ready for the upcoming school year during the summer months, it just wasn't possible. Ultimately, it was an enormous blessing because I could focus on being present for my own little ones.

The school year started with a lot of professional development.  Not only did the new team of coaches come together for training, but I also helped to provide technology PD for all of the new teachers in our county. Needless to say, August was a busy month!
First, a little bit about my new role. I serve two campuses in our county, and they are located about 14 miles away from one another. So, there is a little bit of travel required, which I happen to love! I spend the time that I'm in my car, traveling between the two schools, listening to Cult of Pedagogy's amazing podcasts, as well as Kayse's.  Nothing like managing to sneak in some PD while I'm on the road! 
I work strictly with teachers, not with students, which is another big change for me. While I've provided professional development to teachers in the past, I've never worked only with adults. Turns out, I really enjoy working with teachers, particularly those teachers who are innovative, creative, and eager to learn and to try new things. 
For the first time in my career, I have time during my work day to do professional reading and research. What an amazing thing!! I have already learned so much in my new role, and it's so exciting to share what I've learned with the teachers in my two schools.
I was excited to learn that I would be "housed" at one of the schools in our county that had been recently renovated (it's a beautiful building...bright, airy, and inviting) and that I would be reunited with a friend with whom I had worked at my previous school. My husband and I made the decision to transfer our children to my new "home" school, and they are thriving. 
Speaking of my "home" school, I am really lucky to have my very own office there. I mean, I even have cabinets, a big desk, two bulletin boards, a dry erase board, and a sink! As soon as I was able to get into my office, I got right to work, making it feel like "me." Besides the bulletin boards you see below, I tried to make my office feel even more like home by adding a long table, the Ikea stools that had been in my classroom, and a small coffee/snack area.
This color scheme should look familiar. You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can't take the classroom (decor) out of the teacher!
I created the bulletin board above behind my desk for teachers to see when they enter my office. It's easy to forget why we do what we do every day sometimes; I wanted to create a visual reminder. 
I created this one because I wanted to an interactive way to show my teachers that they are already incorporating tons of Universal Design for Learning strategies into their teaching every day. So, I created this UDL Bingo board (with tons of inspiration from my fellow coaches).
Stay tuned for a look into my day as an instructional coach! New blog post is already in the works!

November 27, 2017

Create Your Own Listening Center

I know, I know. I've been seriously MIA over here on the ol' blog. But I've been posting up a storm on Instagram and Facebook! I swear!

I decided to pay a visit to the blog today because I wanted to share with you how simple it is to create your own listening center!

I originally got the idea to do this after Jen from Teaching in the Tongass reposted a picture of Casey's from Fair Winds Teaching Instagram. (Come to find out that it's a super small world: Casey is from Frederick, right here in Maryland!)

It's so easy! Here's all you have to do:

1. Go to www.vocaroo.com. It's a FREE online voice recording service, and you don't need any fancy equipment or a subscription to use it!

2. Choose the book that you'd like to record. I chose some of my favorite winter-themed books, but the possibilities are endless.

3. I wasn't sure at first how I was going to signal my students to turn the page. Then, I remembered the buzzers that my children just had to buy with the Amazon gift cards they received for Christmas last year. Thankfully, they let me borrow them without putting up too much of a fight.

Click on the picture above to grab your own (they're less than $17 for 4). Trust me, you'll find a million uses for them in your classroom!

4. Record yourself reading (the site uses your computer's microphone...easy, right?).
5. When you're happy with your recording, click on "Click here to save."

6. Click on the plus sign. There, you will find an option to create a QR code.

7. Right click on the QR code and save it to your desktop. I saved the QR codes under the same name as the title of the book that I recorded. 

8. Just drag the QR code into a PowerPoint file, add the title of the book at the top, and laminate!

9. I added the laminated QR code and book to a freezer Ziploc bag, and voila! I have my very own listening center! 

All my students have to do is grab a bag with the book and QR code, their iPad, and their headphones, and they're ready to read!

I can't wait to show my kiddos tomorrow!

August 1, 2017

Maryland Teacher Meet Up and 5 BTS Tips for Teacher Moms

What a fun and busy week it has been so far! I've been to a Maryland Teacher Meet Up, started my own YouTube channel, and organized an Instagram hop and giveaway! Phew!

The Maryland Teacher Meet Up in Baltimore this past Saturday was a blast! It was organized and hosted by the fabulous Positively Learning, and she did a fantastic job! There was good food, great conversation, and lots of positive energy.

It was so good to see old friends and to make some new ones, too.

The highlight for me was spending time with Ashley from The Sassy Schoolteacher. She is probably regretting allowing me to drive her {rain + city driving = lots of honking horns and a touch of road rage}, but we had a great time, catching up! I can't wait to see pics of her sweet little guy when he arrives shortly!

Michelle from Pocketful of Primary gave us some amazing tips for starting our own YouTube channels. This is something that I've been mulling over for a long time, but I didn't think I had the tools or the know-how to do it successfully. After picking Michelle's brain {and with some encouragement from my husband}, I figured that it was time to give it a go!

I started small. I decided to create a video about something that I have some experience with, and that's how to get prepared for the Back to School season when you have are both a mom and a teacher. 

Most of these tips are no-brainers, and as I mentioned in my video, I sure as heck don't have all of the answers. But after weathering the Back to School season for the past 6 years, I've learned a few tricks!

Being a mom and a teacher, especially during the Back to school rush, ain't easy. By the end of a long day at school, it's hard to muster up the motivation to come up with something to cook for dinner that is quick, healthy, and enjoyed by everyone in the family.

So, I try to make a meal plan a week in advance. I use Google Keep to keep track of the meals that I want to prepare for the following week, and I use that list to make my grocery list. I'm lucky enough to live near a Harris Teeter that provides grocery pickup {game changer!!!}, and I place my grocery order online each Friday morning, so I can pick up my groceries on the way home from work. No more grocery shopping with the entire family for an hour and a half every Saturday morning!

My favorite recipe sites are Iowa Girl Eats, Skinnytaste, and Delish. The recipes on all three sites are healthy, fast, and family-approved!

My kiddos usually go to bed between 7:30 and 8:00 during the school year {early, I know}. They also are up and at it by 5:30 each morning, so an early bedtime is a necessity! During the summer, however, we let them stay up until between 8:30 and 9:00 {no, they don't sleep in the next morning, no matter how late we keep them up the night before!}. Once the school year starts to approach, we try to get them back into their normal bedtime routine, so that they're not grouchy or rushed once they have to be out the door by 7:30. Believe me, it helps!

Now that my husband and I have a BRAND NEW OFFICE {sorry, I'm still excited about it}, I found myself with a leftover three-drawer container from Target:
So, I decided to turn it into my family emergency kit, and I labeled each drawer {of course!} accordingly. The first drawer is for toiletries for the kiddos and for me. I included deodorant, toothbrushes for all three of us, toothpaste, pain relievers, cough drops, a lint roller, and the all-important Tide stick.

The second drawer is for a change of clothes for each of us. I can clearly recall a time when Princess A accidentally wore black tights instead of black leggings to school, and her dad had to bring pants to her. It will be nice to have a change of clothes readily available!

The third drawer relates to my fourth tip!

The third drawer is for snacks. How many times have you planned to leave immediately at the end of the school day, but you end up in an unexpected meeting or on a phone call with a parent? It's happened to my kids more time than I can count, and by 4:00, they are hangry! I plan to include granola bars, pretzels, almonds, and maybe some Crystal Light packets. I am going to make sure to keep a case of water bottles handy, too. {I may or may not keep a secret stash of K-cups and chocolate in that drawer.}

By the time my kiddos were in Kindergarten, they were being assigned nightly homework {I could get up on my soapbox on that topic, but I'll save it for another time}. I found that it was easier for them to complete their homework at the back table in my classroom before we left for the day while they were still "in the zone." By the time they get home, they want to throw their backpacks on the floor, kick off their shoes, and go outside to play.

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