My Sanity Saver

So it's the third full week of school, and I'm sick. Really, I've been sick for two days, but who's counting. Right?

Regardless, I've found a sanity saver this school year. In previous years, I've known myself to completely waste multiple prep periods per week. I ended up planning, grading, and everything else on the weekend. Yuck. Here's my fix: I've assigned each of my daily prep periods a specific set of tasks. It sounds crazy, but let me explain.

I borrowed this idea from a tpt teacher blogger (If you know who it was, please let me know so that I can give her credit. I looked everywhere to find the blog post I was thinking of and am coming up blank.)I modeled my planning page after hers, but I think she does hers a little differently. Regardless, the main idea is the same. You assign each day a specific set of tasks. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by my list of things to do or wasting time trying to do a million different things (none of which get done efficiently or completely), I focus one on set of tasks. If I finish that day's tasks early, I move on to other things on my list that I want to work on.

On Mondays, I complete administrative tasks. This can be anything from writing recommendation letters for students, filling out and turning in paper work, putting my original copies where they belong, straightening up a specific area of my room, to checking in books from my classroom library. It's pretty broad. It's the things that don't fit in somewhere else.

Tuesdays are for grading and filing. It's pretty straightforward; I grade, record, and file as much as humanly possible during my prep period.

Wednesday is for communication. It's great that this comes after my grading day. This way, if I notice that a student is struggling, I can discuss it with their parents. Obviously, if there is an issue that needs be addressed immediately, I call on the day that it happens. I also work on my newsletters (preparing, printing, and mailing) and positive postcards on this day.

Lesson planning happens on Thursday. That means that I write out everything that I need to cover the following week: bell ringers, grammar, vocab, main lesson, and etc. I locate all of my files that I'll need for the following week. If I don't already have a hard copy, I print one. I clip all of those originals together and place them in my "to copy" drawer. (That's another story for another day.) This is the layout of my lesson planner, so I just write my daily plans here. I'm a pen/pencil and paper kind of girl. As much as I love technology, I'm attached to my physical planner.

Friday is the perfect day for copying! I'm just saying. No one wants to copy on Fridays. This means that the copier is usually free. I copy sets of each handout that I need, I clip them together with labeled binder clips, and I place them in the appropriate drawers to use for the next week. This keeps me from waiting in the copy line, from coming in super early, and from making running like crazy to make copies in the middle of the week. I made my own binder labels just because I'm a little obsessive about things matching, but I found this really cute, free, set over at The Classroom Creative if you're interested in trying the binder clip method out.

Obviously everyone's schedule looks different. This has definitely helped me to be more efficient, however. My type A brain loves to have specific tasks to complete each day. I have found that it's easier to stay "on task" when all of my to do items are related for the day. No more wasted prep periods. No more planning on the weekends. No more running to the copier in the middle of the day or super early in the morning. Welcome back efficiency and sanity; I've missed you. Want an editable copy of a weekly agenda above? Click HERE to download it.

Do you have a method to the madness? What do you do to make the most of your planning period?

Newsletters in Middle & High School

Ok, so it's time for back to you-know-what (I know you don't want me to say the words, so this will suffice.) During professional development this summer, a colleague of mine was talking to me about parental involvement and family/community engagement and communication because it was part of her professional growth plan. Woooooo, a big topic.

Parental involvement always seems to be so hit or miss at the upper levels. I know that parents are busy, kids are busy, and teachers and administrators are busy. We still have to keep the communication flowing. As I was thinking about this, I realized that this is a rarely used form of communication in the upper grades in my district. I'm not sure about other districts, but I just don't see our 7-12 teachers sending newsletters home. I think the reason for that is that we're just not quite sure how to really make use of them.

Last year, I worked on formatting a newsletter that I could use for my upper level students. No, I'm not talking about the weekly, get this signed, we learned about the letter "A" this week: no offense primary and elementary teachers. It's not likely that my parents would read that. I'm talking about something a little more age appropriate for 7-12. I created a set of modular newsletter templates with some tips for how I use them.

Ok, so one of the newsletters I mailed out last year. The templates I'm going to share with you are actually more streamlined than this, which we're going to talk about in a minute. I included contact info, dates to remember, and an outline of what was going on in class. In the same envelope that I sent this out in, I included a copy of the assignment sheet for our independent novel project. I wanted parents to know what was going on in class: the requirements and expectations were included on the assignment sheet. We're a rural district, so not all parents have email to go online and check the website. This was a quick way for me to give them an overview without them having to take time out of their hectic lives to come to the school.

Let's talk tips!

These tips are by no means all inclusive. This is just what I've figured out that works for me.

-Important dates: If there is a deadline coming up for a big project or scholarship, include it. Picture day: yep. Banquets: absolutely. You get the drill. This probably isn't the place to include nightly homework (if you assign it). Remember...this is the big picture.

-Pertinent information: Your name, what class you teach, and a date (broad -spring semester- or specific -october-)

-Graphics: Break up the information. We all get tired of reading long pieces of text. This modular format definitely helps with that. It helps me make sure that I'm not cramming every last inch full of stuff. However, you don't want Charlie Chimpmunk or Katie Cartoon on your newsletter. If your newsletter is filled with graphics that aren't appropriate for teenagers, parents may wonder what grade you're teaching, they may not take you seriously, or they may not bother to read it at all. I was reading a forum the other day that put out a really good point. Secondary teachers need to set their materials: curriculum, newsletters, handouts, etc apart by using age appropriate graphics.

Streamline: Make sure you're providing important information and not just trying to fill space. You can always include pictures of recent projects or units that your students have completed. Changed up your classroom? Include a picture. Think about why people love infographics so much. Pertinent information in a streamlined manner.

Ok, this is an example of how a streamlined newsletter might be formatted. In the powerpoint presentation I've included tips about how to format things and how to spice up your newsletter.

 Ok, so these are some basic modular templates that are included in the resource. These are in brights because that was the theme I was working with. If you don't like brights, change the shape outline color. If you're going to print on colored paper, which I talk about in the tips in the powerpoint, change the outlines to black. Do what you need to to make your heart happy.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for using a newsletter in the upper grades? Let me know in the comments!

Reading Response in Middle and High School

Whew, it's been a whirlwind couple of weeks for me. I had AP training at the end of June, and then I attended the ILA (International Literacy Association) conference in St. Louis this past weekend. Summer is winding down; school is coming up. I'm pooped! I'm also pretty excited about all the stuff that I learned at the ILA conference. I attended sessions on close reading, text-dependent questions, engagement, and more. One of my favorite sessions was on reading responses.

Let's be honest, I'm not a huge fan of drill and answer questions. I don't like a one size fits all approach. It gets soooo boring. I am realistic though. In my class, if there's not some type of grade or requirement attached to reading, it probably ain't gonna happen. Now some of my students love reading. Others, not so much. This session, presented by Marilyn Pryle from Abington Heights High School, mixed it up for me though. It gave me a way to have students respond with thoughtful cited reading responses without things getting monotonous.

The first standard in the CCSS for my grade level is, "CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain." This session gave me a great way of addressing this standard and still keeping it interesting.

First off, each reading response had three requirements.
1. "Make your entry at least four complete sentences" (You can modify this to fit your students' needs.)
2. "Give the page number, paragraph, or line number of the part (of the text) that you are responding to" (What a great way to sneak in citation practice!)
3. Mention which type of reading response entry you are using. (More on that in a minute.)

Clear expectations set kids up to succeed!

Then the session went on to give a list of 15 Reading Response entries that the students could use as scaffolding to build their inferences about the text. Each type comes with a title (so that students can label their response) and a few statements or questions to help them gather and mold their thoughts.

A few of the listed options
-Significant passage.
-Theme recognition.
-Mark the motivation.
-Cite the claim.

You can see a page with some of the RR options on it here. As you can see, if you check out the link, each of these RR options had a brief statement or question to guide student thinking.  My students often say, "I don't know what to write," or "I don't have anything to say." This gives them ideas about where to start without too much scaffolding.It also keeps me from reading the same reading response from every student in the room. Praise the Lord.

The session also offered a "level up" group of 10 RR options geared toward challenging our students.

A few of the options for those are listed.
-Archetype alert
-Feminist criticism.
-Cultural Connection

This is straightforward, but pretty life-changing for me. No more passing out task cards and having students write the question they chose, so I can know what they're responding to. I don't have to read the same response 60 times. It allows my students a way to begin to shape and direct their thinking about the text. It ties in textual evidence and inferences: what more could I want. Let's just say it was a fabulous.

Marily Pryle was an amazing presenter! The workshop was hands on, informative, and fun! She wrote a book titled 50 Common Core Reading Response Activities that includes all of the RR options for the on-level and level up options, as well as other great ideas. I just order mine and will be sure to post a review when I get finished reading!

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday Made It: Flip Book for Big Kids

I'm linking up with Tara over at 4th Grade Folics for Monday Made It...kind of on accident. I didn't plan to participate, but after I created this and had a couple of questions about it, I figured it wouldn't hurt. :)

Ok, so here's the honest truth, I love everything about the lower grades. I love the bright colors; I love the fun clipart; I love their willingness to learn, but hey, someone has to teach the "big kids". I absolutely love teaching high school. I do. No, really. I'm not just making this stuff up. I love their personalities, their sense of humor, their future aspirations. I enjoy this so much.

So, I had to find a way to have the best of both worlds. I have to be careful about clipart, but my students LOVE LOVE LOVE color, coloring, cutting, gluing, taping, etc. They're just 3rd graders in a bigger, less mature, body. :)

Enter my newest idea. I love me some foldables. What I wasn't loving lately was my syllabus. Don't get me wrong, it's fab, but the perfectionist in me squirmed a little with all the random shapes. I really loved it when I created it, I love the idea of it. I MAY even use it again when I "clean" it up. For right now though, this is my new syallbus!

Woo hoo! Isn't she gorgeous! Ok, so I know that what you really want is to read my syllabus. Don't laugh. I'm not your typical high school teacher. This is more of an idea of what's going to be going on in my class than specifics.

Tab 1: A welcome of sorts. This tab just pretty much sets them up for my personality. I'm pretty intense. They need to be prepared for this. This tab just says that I'm pumped that they're in my class and that we're going to have a lot of fun! Don't overestimate this...big kids like to have fun too!

Tab 2: The "rules". I found this on pinterest somewhere and loved it. I changed it up a bit and am using it for my rules. Prompt, Polite, Prepared, Productive, and Patient. Search for it on pinterest, or find it on my Management not Discipline board.

Tab 3: Contact Information. This includes my school email, my conference period, and my Remind information with a screenshot of the steps to sign up. Pretty simple. Important, but simple. :)

Tab 4: Necessities and Notebooks (which is totally what this is getting renamed). This includes the supplies that they need for my class: a composition notebook, something to write with, a set of fine tipped markers, and a roll of tape. It also goes over the fact that we use an interactive notebook for A LOT *read: most of* the work we do in my class: notes, responses, foldables, quizzes, bell work, etc.

Tab 5: Independent Reading. I don't know about you, but my department and I decided that independent reading is a must in High School. They're not likely to read for the fun of it, but it is oh so important that they read. These specifics are something new, but the idea is something we've been using since I was hired here. They have a certain number of pages to read and "respond" to. It's worth a certain number of points. If they don't get it done in class, then it's home work.

Tab 6: Content. This tab pretty much says that I'm going to teach all kinds of mediums. What it doesn't say: specifics of what I'm going to teach. I'm realistic: every set of kids is different. While one group may be able to handle The Great Gatsby, others may not. Plus, sometimes I get a wild hair and change everything right before a new unit. I reserve the right to completely go crazy with my curriculum and change it as many times as I want to. This allows me to do that.

What I don't include in my "syllabus":

-Testing policies, homework policies, makeup policies, etc.: They're in the handbook. The kids know this and don't need it shoved down their throats again.
-Consequences for violations of rules: Also in the handbook
-Specifics about texts: Discussed in tab 6 (I like to change things up)
-Grading policy: In general it's points possible. The only thing we weight is the semester final.
-Specific dates: These are likely to change based on testing schedules, weather, unexpected emergencies etc.

If you have any questions about my syllabus, please leave me a comment below and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. For this and other templates with examples included, you can check out my creative syllabus templates set over at my TPT store. Enjoy and thanks for stopping by!