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How to Participate in a Twitter Chat: For Teachers

Featured, Twitter

Hey, y’all!

If you’ve been following me on social media or this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably realized that I love to try new things with technology in and out of the classroom in order to impact my teaching practice.

Long before I had a blog, I was very active on Twitter. However, I had never participated in a Twitter chat before I became a teacher! Twitter chats have been an amazing way for me to connect with other educators around the world around specific topics, and I seem to always leave each one feeling more energized than before I started. Because of this, I wanted to bring you: How to Participate in a Twitter Chat: For Teachers!

Twitter chats take place every day of the week around a LOT of different topics in education. Grade specific, subject specific, education hot topic specific…you name it, there is probably a Twitter chat for it.  Don’t have a chat to join but want to find one? Check out this longggg list of Twitter chats I found. 

 
1. Get a Twitter Account. (or Sign In if you already have one)

Tip: If you’re just making an account, something that is similar to your name or position will most likely foster more engagement overall, as you will be easier to search.

If you’re at www.twitter.com. in the top right corner you will see the options to Log In to Twitter or Sign Up for an account.

2. Find Your Chat.  
Type the chat’s hashtag into your search box in the top right corner. For the sake of this example, I typed #JCPSchat, which is a chat my district has.

3. Click “Latest”.
Clicking “latest” will have the chats load in the order that people send them so you can just scroll and follow along during the chat. If you check the hashtag when the chat is not happening, you will still see the Tweets appear in order as people use the hashtag.

4. Take note of who is moderating the chat, so you’re aware who will be posting the questions (especially if it is a large chat. Tweets start moving fast!)

5. Questions/Answering
For Twitter chats, questions follow a Q1, Q2, Q3 format. When you answer questions, you then should use an A1, A2, A3 format. This allows participants to see what you’re referencing and will lead to better conversation.

For example, so you can see the format, this was question 2 in a chat I participated in:

The question has “Q2” to identify it as the 2nd question and answers to that question had “A2” at the beginning to indicate the answer corresponded with question 2.

6. Use the chat’s hashtag when tweeting.
Use the chat’s hashtag in every tweet so it shows up in the chat’s thread. Without it, people in the chat won’t see what you’re posting!

7. Start responding + engaging with others! 
It is okay, obviously, for you to be a “lurker” the first couple of times, but you will get a LOT more out of the chat by engaging and connecting with others!

It is THAT easy! If you haven’t participated in a Twitter chat yet, I highly encourage you to do so! It is like a bite-sized, pocket PD that you can access when you have time! Also, find me on Twitter, I would LOVE to connect!

Happy Tweeting,

Dear Teacher, You are Enough.

Featured, State Testing, test prep
State testing can be a hard time for teachers. This letter is to let you know that you are enough.
Dear Teachers,

 

It’s that time again. You know… the time where you have to either take down your entire classroom or cover every resource with butcher paper, even though there is a month of school left. The time where desks go in rows, countdowns begin, art projects are taken down, flexible seating options are put away and you make sure you have a place to double lock materials and store extra snacks. It’s “I can’t help you, just do your best” time. It’s state testing season.

You’ve prepared for this the entire year. Even if you don’t focus much on “the test” in your classroom and in your school, you’ve still been preparing for it. You know the standards that will be tested and the kids know (dread) that this happens each year. However, no matter how great of a year you and your students have had or how awesome your classroom culture is this time of year always seems incredibly stressful.

I know you’ve had the talk with you students about how one test doesn’t measure their worth. One test doesn’t tell them if they’re a good brother, sister, friend. One test doesn’t show anyone that they’re a really good artist, that they stand up to bullies, or are extremely compassionate. One test does not define their future success in life and a label of “Novice” or “Apprentice” may show us that they aren’t there “yet” in terms of learning some standards, but it doesn’t mean they are less than. I know you’ve told them that you’re proud of them always, no matter what.  But regardless of how you and your students view testing, it happens, and we must all put forth our best effort to try to be as successful as possible.

I know students are feeling anxious. No one wants to perform poorly, whether it be for themselves, their parents or you.

And I know that you, too, are feeling anxious. You’re worried about how testing will affect the self-confidence of your students. You’re worried that the pride they’ve felt for knowing they’ve grown academically will go away when they realize the test is still hard compared to their ability and reading level. You’re worried that you didn’t do right by them because you see a poem on the test and you should’ve gone over poetry a little bit more to help them be successful.  You worry that really you should’ve assigned more reading homework or should’ve used even more lunch periods to hold math tutorials.  You worry that you didn’t do something to set them up for success.

My message for you, Teach, is that you’ve been enough. We preach this to our students all year, but you must remember it too. The consistency you’ve provided your students all year, the hugs, the encouragement are all worth much, much more than a score on a test. You’ve held high standards for students despite many of them facing extreme adversity in their lives and have helped them grow from a “Below Basic” reader to damn near “Proficient”. You’ve shown them how to have character and do the right thing even when no one is watching. You’ve modeled for them kindness, empathy, and honesty.

You’ve shown them that they are believed in, loved, trusted, listened to. You’ve shown them that they are important and that their voice matters. And while whatever will be, will be, when it comes to how they perform on their tests, you have done enough and you are enough.

p.s. Want to start a teacher blog like this one? My friend, Suzi, wrote an ebook that can help you get started and grow your blog!

How to Start a Teacher Blog

Blogging, Featured

Hey, y’all!

I cannot believe it has been 1 whole year since I first started this blogging journey. I originally started this blog as a creative outlet, a way to share some tips I’ve learned along the way as a teacher, as well as share some awesome resources I’ve come across. If you asked me a year ago about where I’d think I’d be a year out from starting my blog, my answer would not have been anywhere near what has happened!

Blogging has not only been a creative outlet for me, or a side hobby, but it has connected me to other really passionate educators who are doing awesome things in their classrooms. I’ve been able to gain great ideas, network and learn about opportunities I never would have heard of if it wasn’t for this inspiring community.  Because of all of this, the the purpose for this blog has changed a little bit for me, and has become even more clear in the past few weeks.

Lately, I’ve been lucky enough to start talking to others in my district about starting their own teaching blogs and sharing their voice. As a result of this,  everything I’ve tried (successful and not so successful) with blogging has come flooding back to me. I learned all about how to start my own blog through Googling (a LOT of Googling) and through just getting started and figuring it out as I went. I’ve loved this blogging community so much that now I want to share what I’ve learned!

When I first started, I literally Googled “How to Start a Teacher” blog for nothing to come up. I varied that search some and could only find links here and there where a teacher maybe wrote about something very specific in terms of customizing a blog, but there never was a “one-stop shop” place with advice. Yes, there are TONS of resources online (especially on Pinterest) about how to start a blog and market it, but the majority of the information is geared towards businesses who happen to blog. Let’s face it, teachers and teaching blogs are just different! It has led to me wanting to be very intentional and specific in how I share everything I’ve learned!

Every teacher has a story, a unique point of view, and has something to offer to the larger education community. Whether you have some awesome strategies to share that can help out new (or all!) teachers, you want to market your Teachers Pay Teachers products or are just looking to start a project, you should start YOUR teacher blog!

To start off, I’ve created an overview infographic of “How to Start a Teacher Blog”. If you want to grab it (it’s FREE!) , sign up here and you will receive it to your email as soon as you confirm your email. I’m currently building much more content along these lines to build upon the info in this graphic and to go even more into specifics. Join Our Community!

Screen_shot_2017-04-06_at_4.49.23_pm

Also, my friend, Suzi, created an ebook about starting a blog that has helped me a lot as I’ve grown my blog. My ebook is not finished yet, so you should grab hers here!

Questions? Reach out to me in the comments, or on social media! I’m current loving Instagram. 🙂

The Top 20 Instagram Hashtags to Follow: Teacher Edition

Featured, Instagram, Social Media
You need to be on Instagram for teaching! Here are 20 hashtags you can follow on Instagram to connect with teachers!
 Hey, y’all!

When I started this blog about a year ago, I was looking for an outlet to share teaching ideas that can make teachers’ lives easier. At the time, I felt proficient in terms of social media. I was already obsessed with Twitter, had a personal Instagram, and was on Pinterest daily for inspiration and to find resources. It was only when I started this blog, however, that I came to realize that Instagram (yes, Instagram!) is basically a wonderland of teaching inspiration! I had never searched Instagram for teaching related stuff before, but as I’ve explored more and more, I’ve now become hooked!

As I said, I hadn’t previously viewed Instagram as a go-to place for teaching inspiration, but was oh-so-wrong. I wanted to write a post to share some of the popular hashtags I check out, and inspiring teachers I follow.

Hashtags for Middle School Teachers

#teachersfollowteachers
#teachersofinstagram
#iteachtoo
#teacherproblems
#teachersofIG
#teachersofTPT 
#teachertribe
#iteachmiddleschool
#iteachela
#iteachmath
#iteach678
#decoratewithladybug
#iteach6th 
#iteachsixth
#iteach7th
#iteachseventh
#iteach8th
#iteacheighth
#teacherblogger (also, #teacherbloggers)
#targetteacher

Other Popular Hashtags

#iteachk
#iteachfirst
#iteach1st
#iteachsecond
#iteach2nd
#iteachthird
#iteach3rd
#iteachfourth
#iteach4th
#iteachfifth
#iteach5th

People to Follow 

I chose the people to follow based off who is popular to follow, who posts consistently, and who posts inspiring content. 
 
Middle/High School (6th-12th)

 

Elementary Teachers (K-5th)

Do you have any favorite hashtags you follow? Do you know of any inspiring educators on Instagram? I’d love to hear them–share them in the comments!

How to Invest Students In Your Classroom’s Big Goals

Back to School, Featured, Goal Setting, investment
 Hey, y’all!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted but as we are approaching Christmas Break, I wanted to share something that has been on my mind. While Christmas Break is obviously a time to recharge and enjoy time with family, it is always also a time where I reflect on the past semester in order to figure out what I should adjust in the spring semester. One thing I always reflect on is how close my students are in pursuit of our classroom big goals, and how invested they are in reaching them.

One of the things that I really focused on during my first year teaching was this idea. I was/am a firm believer that while I may be able to get up in front of the class and deliver great lessons, and have the students do the most engaging activities but if the kids weren’t invested in what we were doing and the reason behind it, then I wouldn’t get the best results consistently to really “move” students.

As I mentioned in my first back to school post, a big part of how I view teaching is shaped by my time as a Corps Member with Teach for America. The core values of the organization and their philosophy of “Teaching as Leadership” is the lens in which I view my own teaching practice. One of the tenets of the strategies discussed in Teaching as Leadership is about this very topic. I want to discuss investing students in how I understand it and want to think through this for my own classroom, and from the lens of being a middle school teacher.

I Can + I Want

Investing students in a real way in their own academic success is especially critical in schools that are working to close achievement gaps (most all!). According to Teaching as Leadership, to invest students, they have to believe that they “CAN” achieve, and they have to really “WANT” to achieve. Our job, as educators, is to make sure that we do what is in our power to make sure this is true for all students. Not only do teachers have to be on top of their game instructionally, but we have to make sure our classrooms are places that remove barriers that affect student achievement in order for kids to know they can achieve, and are inspired daily to want to to do so.

Now, before I move on, I want to be clear that I am talking only about what educators can control. We may not be able to change a student’s home life, situation he/she came from, or any outside factors that are affecting a student’s life, but we can control our classroom environment, and the culture of our classrooms. 

Classroom Environment

Most teachers I know at least somewhat enjoy decorating their classrooms (they may not enjoy the toll it takes on their bank accounts, but that’s another post!).  Creating a welcoming environment is definitely a first step in investing students in classroom big goals and their own learning, but it boils down to more than that. Having clear student expectations, procedures, routines and systems in place that hold all students to a high expectation is also especially important. All students, even some of the most challenging, need (and want!) to know how to operate in you classroom. Establishing accountability, and empowering students to be good decision makers and to understand they can contribute positively in a classroom is also essential in investing your students. To break it down…

From Teaching as Leadership:

To Create a Welcoming Environment: 

  • Have clear systems in place
  • Reinforce Expectations
  • Model and practice 
  • Hold Students Accountable When Expectations Aren’t Met

Classroom Culture of Achievement

For students to be invested in your classroom big goals, there has to be a culture of achievement in place to help foster that investment, as well as nurture it when obstacles arise. Students should understand that anything other than their best will not be accepted, but they should also not want to give you anything less than their best (again, remember that really investing your students = I CAN + I WANT). As the teacher, your attitude, consistency, the classroom environment, etc. can foster the I CAN in a student, but building the I WANT in a student can be a little more tricky.
 
To Create a Culture of Achievement: 
  • Communicate that effort leads to growth (or, growth mindset)
  • Convey that students benefit from achievement
  • Consistently reinforce effort in class
  • Invest stakeholders and role models of the student

Academic Content

Finally, to invest students in your big goals you have to ensure that you’re teaching TO your students, and not AT your students. This goes well beyond differentiating (buzz word!) and includes using learning goals and what you know about students to help get them to WANT to achieve. 

To help foster the I CAN + I WANT in students with you academic content:

  • Communicate why it matters (relevance)
  • Teach to fit your students’ needs
  • Give students choice
  • Design real-world assignments/projects
—-
Again, investing students in your classroom big goals is an on-going process. AS teachers, we have to work intentionally every. single. day to build the I CAN and the I WANT in each of our students. While this may come easy to some, for most it will require constant reflection and adjustments in teaching practice. 
 
Investing students in my classroom big goals is important to me because it is why I show up to work every day. I want my students to reach the goals we decided upon at the beginning of the year, so I have to do what I can in order to move them to do so. This blog post is not sponsored by Teaching as Leadership, or Teach for America, but as I said above, this is the lens in which I view my teaching practice and I believe is all extremely relevant and actionable stuff. If you’re interested in learning more about the Teaching as Leadership model and/or want to see where you fall on the rubrics for each category check it out here
 
What do you think? Let me know in the comments, or find me on Instagram @kelseynhayesblog!
 
Want to read more about setting big goals for your students? Check out this post!
 

Back to School: Reviewing Procedures and Routines for Your Middle School Classroom

Back to School, Behavior Management, Expectations, Featured, Procedures
Reviewing Procedures and Routines in Your Middle School Classroom
 Hey, y’all! I’m back today for post #2 of the Back to School series, this time about Reviewing (or setting up, if you’re a new teacher!) Procedures for Your Middle School Classroom!

Teaching my students my procedures and expectations is one of the cornerstones of making my classroom work. The importance of this cannot be overstated. I think sometimes, those of us who teach older kids (I have 8th graders) assume kids should know how to operate in a classroom by now through experience, or at least common sense. Well, about 2 minutes into class, those of us who have ever thought that have immediately regretted it 🙂 All students (whether the best or worst  behaved!) need (and want!) to know how they are supposed to operate in your classroom, and what is expected of them. In this post, I’m going to outline a list of procedures to think through for your own classroom. This is by no means an exhaustive list, especially if you teach a lab class or special class like chorus or art, but is a base list. I’d love to hear others you come up with in the comments!

Whether you’re a brand new teacher, or a seasoned pro, it is definitely worth your time to review your classroom procedures and expectations in the summer (and reflect more on them in the school year, but that’s another post!). Your style changes, your students change, your room or set-up may change. What has always worked in the past may continue to work, or maybe you had a particularly challenging student that made you realize you needed procedures for certain classroom things. Either way outlining exactly what you want clears your head before the school year begins.

One of the most helpful things I saw when I first became a teacher was a teacher’s procedures laid out in an A to Z format in one document. Committing your procedures and expectations to paper makes certain that you have in your mind what you want exactly. In my opinion, it is always best to have more procedures than needed thought through and ready to implement versus trying to get your students to buy in after the fact. Another absolute God send when I first became a new teacher was Harry and Rosemary Wong’s book The First Days Of School: How To Be An Effective Teacher*, so if you are a new teacher or a veteran who feels like you need to brush up on classroom procedures/routines, I HIGHLY recommend this book.

Now, let’s get to the A-Z Procedures list with questions…

Thinking Through Procedures

Attendance

  • What do you want kids to do if they miss a day? (with Attendance Notes, to get Make Up Work, etc.)
  • What do you want kids to do it they’re tardy to your class?
Attention
  • How do you get the attention of students in your classroom?
  • What does “being attentive” look like in your classroom if just being quiet isn’t enough?
Bathroom
  • What do you want kids to do when they need to go to the bathroom? (How to get your attention, getting a pass, signing out, etc.)
Binders (or Folders)
  • If your class has binders, are they left in your classroom or do kids take them with them every day?
  • Do you want them out at all times or under their desks?
  • If they stay in your room how do you want kids to retrieve them and put them away each day?
Computers
  • How do kids check out computers in class if they take them to their seat?
  • How do they need to operate them?
  • How do they need to return them?
  • What procedures do they allow in the beginning of class on the computer so class starts successfully?
  • What if their computer isn’t working, needs to be charged, or they need help troubleshooting something?
Electronics (other than computers)
  • Can students ever have electronics in your room (like a phone or tablet)?
  • If so, how do they know when an appropriate time to use it is?
  • When they can’t be used, what do you want students to do with the device?
  • What is the procedure if they have out a device at an inappropriate time and get caught with it? If your school collects them, where are students supposed to put it?
Entering the Room
  • How should kids enter your classroom each day? (Begin from the hallway and work your way to them being seated)
  • Do they need to get something before sitting down?
  • Can they get up to get something after being seated?
  • Do students need to begin any work immediately? How will they know what that work is?

Exiting the Room

  • How should kids exit your room each day? (Again, think through a few minutes before they leave to walking out).
  • What must be done before they leave?
  • Will you give a “Go” signal and let them do it all or will you lead them through the steps each day?
Grades
  • How can a kid request to see his grade? By note? Raising his hand? Asking before class starts?
  • How can a student submit late work to be graded?
  • How can a student re-do an assignment? Is that allowed and if so, does the newly completed assignment go somewhere different than tuning in regular work?
  • How will you communicate grades to your students, and how often?
Homework
  • How will students know their homework each day?
  • Do you require them to write it down somewhere? Do you need to check it?
  • Where do they turn HW in?
  • Do you spot check it before you go over it?
  • What happens if a student loses a copy or the HW?
  • What happens if a student forgets to do the HW?
  • What does a student do with late work?

Independent Work

  • What does Independent Work look like in your classroom? What do you need to teach so this is implemented successfully in your room?
Intercom (had to include this one b/c it is my pet peeve!)
  • If someone comes over the intercom to your classroom, what do you want kids to do? (It never fails that when the front office says, “Ms. Hayes?” that 5 kids answer “YES!” as if their names suddenly changed 🙂 )

Lockers

  • What needs to stay in student lockers and can’t be in your class?
  • What if a student forgot something in their locker they need for class?
  • How do they ask to go to their locker?
  • Do they need to sign out?

Make Up Work

  • How does a student know what he/she missed?
  • How long do they have to turn it in?
  • Where does it go in your classroom once it is completed (a special place for make up work?)
  • How long do they have to complete the make up work?
  • Do students have the re-do option on exams? What is that process?

Paper Headings

  • How do you want students to head their papers each day? With just a name? Name/Date? Assignment name at the top?

Parent/Guardian Contact

  • Do you have a system for parent/guardian contact?
  • Do you only want parents to call school or email you to connect or can they call your cell phone?
  • If they send notes from home with students, where do the kids put those?

Partner Work

  • What does partner look like and sound like in your room?
  • What do you need to teach so partner work is productive in your classroom?
  • Is there a place students can look to see if it is partner work time and what those expectations are?

Pencils

  • What does a student do if he/she needs a pencil?
  • What if it needs to be sharpened?
  • How do you collect borrowed pencils?

Phone

  • What happens when the phone rings in your classroom? (Do 3 kids run to the phone? 🙂 )
  • Do you have a specific student answer the phone, or can only you answer it?
  • Do students continue working or does everyone get silent?

Receiving Help

  • How do kids ask for help in your room? Are their things you want them to do before they ask you?

Seating

  • How are kids seated in your room?
  • What do you want ids o do if they have a huge problem with their seat for whatever reason?
  • Do you offer flexible seating? If so, when can they move around during class? How are their seats chosen daily?

Small Group

  • How do you want kids to work in small groups? What does success and participation look like?
  • Is there anything you need to teach them so they can work in small groups successfully to meet your expectations?

Supplies

  • What do students do if they need to get supplies other than a pencil?
  • What do students so when they need to clean-up/give supplies back during class?
Tissue
  • What does a student do if they need a tissue?
  • Do you want them to step outside to use the tissue?

Trash

  • What do kids do if they need to throw trash away?
  • Is it okay for them to get up and do it, or are they supposed to wait? Or is their a bin by each table?

Uniforms

  • What do you/ a student do if he/she is not in uniform in your class? Is there a procedure for getting the student in uniform?

Water

  • What if a student wants to go to the water fountain during class? 

Whole Class 

  • What should you teach for whole class instruction to be successful in your classroom? What do the kids look like and sound like?

Visitors

  • What do you do if a visitor comes to your room? Does a particular student answer the door? If someone is coming in for the lesson, do you have a student ambassador to greet them, or see if they’d like a copy of the assignment? Or do you handle all knocks at the door and students are to continue with what they’re doing?

Creating Procedures

Once you have thought through all of the procedures above (and I’m sure you even thought of others!) it is a good idea to commit your procedures to paper. When doing so, make sure your instructions are clear and concise (and maybe even in a numbered list format!) so they are easily understood by you and made so you can simply communicate them to students.

Again, each year I go through this process so I can fully reflect on each part of my classroom and make sure that my actions and my classroom environment are all geared to maximize student learning time and to build a culture of achievement in all students. 

Teaching Procedures

Just like a brilliant written lesson plan, you have to now teach these procedures to your students over and over again! When teaching procedures you will have to go over them often, if not daily with many of them, until students get the hang of it. In the first few days of school, you should be teaching procedures (explaining, modeling, practicing, etc.) as they come up in the classroom. Obviously simply going through the list and explaining to students what you want will not be enough and you and the students will end up frustrated!

I’ve heard teachers say many times “You’re spending how long teaching procedures?”. I always explain that in the long run the time I spend at the beginning of the year helping students get them down will save much valuable instructional time down the road, and keep me from going grey earlier 🙂

What did I miss? Do you have any procedures in your classroom that I didn’t cover here? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

 

_________
If you missed the first post in the back to school series about setting big goals for meaningful achievement in you classroom, check it out here!

 

Back to School: Setting Big Goals for Student Achievement in Your Classroom

Back to School, Featured, Goal Setting

Hey, y’all!

I cannot believe it is July 19th! Seriously, it feels like the month of July has flown by. My first day of school with students is August 10th,  the official opening day for teachers is August 8th, and we also have “retreats” before that with some PDs at school. My summer is winding down quickly and I am in full back to school mode.

Last week, I was at training all week and had significant time to connect with other teachers. I had already made a list for a “Back to School” series I had planned on blogging about, but I was able to connect with a teacher who just finished her 1st year, and a teacher who is about to begin her 1st year which changed my plans a little bit! After talking with them it got me thinking about my first year experience, what I learned that was helpful (and not so helpful!), and what I still do today to “get ready” for my students. In the next few posts, I’m going to incorporate all of that in with my Back to School posts! I’ll be talking goal setting, behavior/investment plans, reflection (teacher and student), procedures, first days of school, etc. and hope that you’ll join in too!




Before I start, I want to explain a bit about my first year of teaching. I did not go to school to be a teacher (gasp!). I was a Political Science major who made my way to teaching through the Teach for America program. I became a teacher officially through Texas’ and my district’s Alternative Certification Program, and unofficially through much trial and error, support, and coaching. Part of how I view education and the practice of teaching is shaped by my time in Teach for America and by the core values and teaching practices that I learned with that organization. Some of what I’m going to talk about and reflect on in my Back to School posts are pillars of the TFA organization, and I want to communicate them as I think through them for my own classroom. If you want to read more about closing achievement gaps, or teacher effectiveness (with real world applications!), then I highly recommend Teaching As Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher’s Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap* (affiliate link*). Now, back to it…

Today, I want to start with talking about How to Set Big Goals In Your Classroom. 
With many things in life, if you don’t know where you’re going then you’re most likely not going to get there. This could not be more true with teaching. The best lessons, the best intentions, and the best classroom environment can only get you so far during a school year,  especially if they are not in pursuit of your overall, end-of-year goals.


What  I mean by “Big Goals”:

“Big Goals” are the academic, and personal goals you want your students to accomplish this year, particularly, by the end of the school year.  You can set individual “big goals” with students, but having whole class big goals is a rallying point that can help focus your class all year. Your goals should be ambitious, but feasible, and able to be measured somehow (more on that in a bit…).

I set my initial big goals in the summer, even before I meet my students. After looking at historical data, I can at least have an idea of where the bar should be set in order to really push my students. This allows me to begin investing my students from day 1, and I can adjust the goals after they take their diagnostic assessment.

Why you need to set “Big Goals”:

Like I mentioned above, you can’t get somewhere, if you don’t know where you’re going.
Period. Yes, teachers can teach content until they’re blue in the face,  or teach to “pass a test” but they have to have outlined in their own minds exactly what it is they want their students to be able to do overall, so they can plan the steps, and properly prioritize how to get each student there.

Also, if you happen to teach students who are academically behind, this is maybe even more important! Their growth goals and academic benchmarks are the same as other students traditionally with this era of state testing, so there is more work to be done in order to close achievement gaps and to catch them up. Using “big goals” in the classroom not only help the teacher, but also the students conceptualize where they’re headed, and can make learning feel more manageable for students who may have not been typically as successful in school. 

How to do it:

  • Set Your Initial Vision and Goals: First, you need to outline your vision for your classroom. What do you want your students to know, and learn, both academically and personally? Why are those specific goals important? Like I mentioned above, you need to set your initial big goals for your classroom based off historical data for your incoming students and what you know about your school community and the general backgrounds of your students. You should outline the goal, why that goal is important and how progress will be measured throughout the year (and why). Again, they should be feasible but ambitious. Don’t be afraid to dream big. This, paired with how you decide to invest kids in your class goals (more on that soon), can be very motivating for students!
  • Give a Diagnostic Assessment: Giving a diagnostic assessment, or “pre-test”, is extremely important in order for you to gauge where your kids are academically. After you analyze the diagnostic results, you can adjust your big goals if necessary. Your diagnostic assessment should be aligned to your end of year assessment(s), is better if it is a recognized test (like a released state exam, or something that has been validated) and should have enough questions/opportunities for students to demonstrate their current understanding of standards (goal is about 5 questions each).
  • Tracking: Once you understand where your kids are after giving the diagnostic assessment, and you know exactly where you want them to be at the end of they year, you need to ensure that you and your students have a meaningful, effective way to track progress throughout the year. The students should understand in a real way where they are in pursuit of the big goal, and you will be better prepared to get all students to the goal if you have a system in place that you can keep up with in tracking data (for yourself, and with the students).
  • Talk About It: Once you have your goals outlined and you understand exactly what student success will look like in your classroom, then it is important that you remember to communicate it with your students! In a later post, I will discuss investing your kids in the class goals, but on a basic level, you need to make sure that early on your class goals are known. In my class, I always put the goals on a big bright poster in the classroom surrounded by the kids’ personal goals that they set on the 1st days of school. I try to reference the goals very often, if not daily. The poster stays up all year round and the students do reflection exercises on where they are in relation to their goals and our class goals (more on that soon!).

What makes good “Big Goals” (Examples):

A good goal is one that can be measured, will require significant work by all students, is ambitious and is rooted in data. You need to decide if success in your classroom will based off growth, overall mastery, or both.
Examples:
  • All students will average 80% on all standards learning goals 
    • This goal can be measured, is ambitious, but feasible and holds all kids to a high standard. This is a mastery goal. 
  • Students will grow by 2 years according to their Lexile level 
    • This goal can be measured, is ambitious, but feasible and holds all kids to a high standard. This is a growth goal.
  • All students will apply to a magnet program for high school 
    • This goal can be measured, is ambitious, but feasible and holds all kids to a high standard. This is also a “personal” goal. 
Setting big goals for your students not only gives you and all of your students a roadmap for success for the entire year, but it shows all kids that you hold them to high academic standards and know/expect that they all can achieve. 
Do you already do this in your classroom? What are some of your big class goals? What is your process? Let me know in the comments, via email, or on Twitter



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This is post 1 in the Back to School Series. To see post two click here

p.s Want to start a teacher blog like this one? My friend, Suzi, wrote an ebook that can help you get started and grow your blog!

Classroom Olympics to Remediate and Prepare for “The Test”

Behavior Management, ela, english language arts, Featured, Middle School, olympics, test prep



Update: I originally wrote this post about how I utilize Olympics in the classroom in the spring, but you could totally adapt and do the same thing to celebrate the actual Olympics as they happen in Rio this summer! 
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So, it’s about that time…state testing time! Whatever your thoughts are on state testing, it happens, and teachers have to make sure their students are prepared. Obviously, teachers prepare their students all year and teach them the standards, but when it comes close to testing time, every teacher I know does some sort of targeted standards remediation work. This is where the most genius and fun of test prep ideas comes in…Olympics!

Disclaimer: I did not come up with test prep Olympics, but I have facilitated it successfully in my classroom and will be doing it again this year. In my opinion, it is a game changer, and a great way to get the most out of your students, in a short period of time, while having some fun!

What It Is

  • Classroom Olympics is an academic based competition that you can set up in order to track and motivate your students towards a common goal. In the instance of standards remediation, it can help you target instruction while investing the kids in their own “data” and outcomes. How they perform can earn them incentives, and their “country” incentives. If you’ve done an awesome job of investing your kids the entire year in their own data, then the competition of the Olympic events is just an added bonus! 
  • Monday-Thursday the students complete 3 stations each day. On Fridays, the kids participate in “Events” for medals for their country.


Groupings

  • I’ve seen teachers group their students in many ways. Each time I have done classroom Olympics I have divided my classes into 6 countries (so 4-5 students in each country). I usually homogeneously group those students (2 high groups, 2 medium groups and 2 “lower” groups). The students have never figured this out, but it helps me be able to differentiate instruction in the stations better.
  • Obviously, any countries can be chosen, but I always use Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, Brazil and Australia 🙂 
  • For each country, you will want to assign a leader, or “President”/”Prime Minister” or whatever you want to call it! –more on this later!


The Stations

  • There are 3 stations in classroom Olympics, usually. Depending on how your class is set up, you can change this, but I’ve always just stuck with the 3. 
    • Coach’s Corner--teacher-led, small group instruction with 2 countries (8-10kids)
    • Personal Training–partner work with 2 countries (I choose the partners but occasionally let them choose)–8-10 kids
    • Workout–silent, independent work (8-19 kids)
  • When I set the classroom up, I turn the desks for each station to face different directions
    • Coach’s Corner faces the front of the room (desks together in a small cluster for small group)
    • Personal Training faces the right wall of the room (desks in pairs)
    • Workout faces the left wall of the room (desks in rows)
View from the front of the room (Coach’s Corner) looking towards the Workout rotation–desks facing left wall
Student view from Workout station (desks in rows, facing expectations posters)



Management
To teach my students the expectations for each station, I take an entire day to introduce the concept and to practice meeting the expectations (rotating, getting materials, coming into the classroom and sitting at the correct station, etc). When I first decided on this, I thought that it was a good idea, but was nervous it would be one of those lessons that are over really quickly–but it wasn’t! Practicing entering the classroom, students checking the board for their stations, sitting in their assigned seats and Presidents getting the correct materials proved invaluable. The next day when the students came in, we could get started immediately and I could remind them as the period went on of expectations if needed.

Personal Training Station Expectations Posters Example
Coach’s Corner Station Expectations Posters Example
Workout Station Expectations Poster
(Sorry for the blurry iPhone pic!–will update :))

Schedule/Step-By-Step

  1. Students walk into classroom and look at the board to see what station their country is starting at for the day. 
  2. All students immediately go to their stations and sit down in their assigned seat. 
  3. The country “President” gets the team supply bag (pencils and a sharpener) and goes to their station’s materials bin and gets the materials for their teammates. 
  4. Once the Presidents hand out all of the materials and are seated, the timer for rotation 1 begins. 
  5. After rotation 1 ends, the students have 1 minute to rotate to the next station, be seated, and get their materials from the President. 
  6. Rotation 2 begins and lasts as long as rotation 1. 
  7. After rotation 2 ends, the students have 1 minute to rotate to the next station, be seated, and get their materials from the President.
  8. Rotation 3 begins and lasts as long as rotation 1 and 2. 
  9. At the end of the class, I sometimes show answers for the students’ to check some of their assignments (depending on what they were doing). 
  10. When ready to clean up, all students hand their folders to their President. The Presidents drop their supply bag at the door and stack their folders by the door as they file out. 

Incentives
As I mentioned above, on Fridays the kids participate in their academic “event”. Based off their scores on the event, they will receive gold or silver medals (not real medals, just the idea of the medal 🙂 ). The medal count will be posted on a medal board for the kids to keep up with and see which country is ahead. Also, the following week after their event, they will receive an incentive (chips, lunch in the classroom with a movie, a jeans pass, etc.–whatever you come up with that motivates them will be great and obviously doesn’t have to cost money!). You can give incentives in a variety of ways: anyone with a gold medal, anyone who got any medal, the countries with the most medals, etc. The possibilities are endless!

At the end of our Olympic Games, we are going to have an awards ceremony for the entire grade to give certificates and overall awards for the Olympics. I’ve never done this part before on a large scale but the kids’ seem really excited about the idea!

Here is our unfinished medal count board. Since the whole 8th grade is competing this year, we have 17 countries across our teams.

Part of our Leaderboard. The top line is number of gold medals and bottom line is number of silver medals. 


Tips to Remember

  • Don’t fall into the “I didn’t get finished” trap. I always give more than students will most likely be able to do at a station (but have a “fast finished assignment ready just in case!), so don’t let kids not being finished let you begin to extend time at the stations. For this version of Olympics to work, each kid needs to get to each station each day!
  • TEACH EVERYTHING! And by everything I mean: how to push in the chair, how to walk to a new station, how to get supplies, how to ask for help if needed, etc. Even the BEST behaved classrooms can become chaotic when you switch it up.  This is definitely the case for (a) middle school classrooms and (b) classrooms that may not be used to working in stations/rotation style frequently. If you don’t teach everything, you will spend your entire time at Coach’s Corner behavior managing kids and fielding questions from confused kids.
Have you and your students ever done an Olympic style competition? What questions do you still have? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, or reach out to me via email! 

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p.s. Want to start a teacher blog just like this one? My friend, Suzi, wrote an ebook that can help you get started!

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How to Streamline Behavior Documentation in a Middle School Classroom

Behavior Management, Documentation, Featured, Middle School, Time Saver
This process has SAVED my team's sanity! How to Streamline Behavior Documentation in a Middle School Classroom
I can’t believe it has been about 2 months since my last post! I came running back to the blog tonight because I have to share something I found on Pinterest (of course) that is streamlining some behavior documentation in my classroom and on my team: Using QR Codes with Google Forms. 
If you’re not tech savvy and the terms “QR Codes” and “Google Forms” scare you…just hear me out! 

What It Is

On the original post I saw (shoutout to PeppyZestyTeacherista.com! Check her out!), the teacher who has a 1:1 iPad classroom uses QR codes to help her document missing homework assignments from students. The students come in, and those who don’t have their homework scan a QR code that is on a poster on her wall, fill out the Google Form and boom! She has everything documented in one spreadsheet! This got my mind rolling. Now, I definitely don’t have a 1:1 iPad classroom (I have 3 desktops and no tablets) but I knew I could somehow use this to make life easier for me and my team. It hit me: team behavior documentation!
Let me backtrack a minute. . . as an 8th grade teacher, my school works in teams. One ELA teacher, one math teacher, one social studies teacher and one science teacher all share the same students. Previously, we were spending a good chunk of time documenting and tracking behaviors that we needed to follow up on like who was tardy to class, who was out of dress code, who needed to take a break in another classroom, who has lunch detentions, etc. Now, this is NO MORE!

What I Did

I made a Google Form to correspond with anything I wanted to track, and then linked that to a QR code. I then printed it on a half sheet of colored paper, laminated, and put it on a key ring to keep it together. Now, if someone is tardy to class (or whatever else happens that I scan for) I can quickly fill in the information I want and done! The best thing about this is that when any of my teammates do this as well, it all goes to a shared spreadsheet I can access in my Google Drive! 
Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.02.31 PM
  How to Set It Up
  1. Download a QR Code reader on your smartphone. I have an iPhone and have “QR Reader for iPhone”.
  2. Go to your Google account and make a new Google Form for whatever you’re wanting to track and be able to scan.
  3. When you’re finished building the Google Form, copy the link that Google gives you that is attached to the form (the link you’d use to share it with someone else).
  4. Google a QR Code generator. I used this one: https://www.the-qrcode-generator.com.
  5. Select URL on the QR Code Generator and copy the link to the Google Form you made into the “Enter URL Here” box. From here, a custom QR Code should be made.
  6. Save the QR code that you just made.
  7. Insert the picture of the QR code you made onto a word document, label what the code is for and print.
  8. Use the QR Code reader on your phone and scan the QR code to test it. The Google Form you filled out should pull up on your phone or device.
  9. Fill out test information in the fields and then visit your Google Form response spreadsheet in your Google Drive to make sure everything shows up. If it does, you’re FINISHED!
So what do you think? Will this make anything easier for you in your classroom? I’d love to hear how you use Google Forms or QR codes in your classroom!

Again, shoutout to Amber at PeppyZestyTeacherista.com for the original post! 

Peppy Zesty Teacherista


*UPDATE: I’ve received many in-depth questions about how to do this, so I created a more in-depth Step-By-Step Guide! Check it out here.

 
Also, check out How to Differentiate Using Google Forms here


 

 

p.s. Want to start a teacher blog just like this one? My friend, Suzi, wrote an ebook that can help you get started!