Tuesday, December 29, 2015

5 Common Mistakes Teachers Make when Designing Their Classrooms (And How to Fix Them)

Hi, it's Angela from The Organized Plan Book.  As dedicated teachers, we spend most of our waking hours during the school week inside our classrooms, am I right?

We want our classrooms to just plain ol' ROCK.

Well, sometimes our best intentions don't always make for the most productive learning environment.  Check out some of the most common mistakes we are making when designing our classrooms...and solutions for changing them.

1. Over Decorating the Space:  I love colors and patterns as much as the next teacher, trust me. Yet, that doesn't mean you want to go and throw every color of the rainbow alongside 5 different animal print patterns, ya feel me?

When choosing colors for your classroom, create a cohesive look by using only 3-4 colors.  Make your bulletin boards match by using only one or two solid backgrounds.
My classroom uses teal as the primary color with pops of lime, navy and blue spread throughout.  All of my storage containers remain neutral in either black, white, or clear so that if I ever want to change my color palette, my storage containers can stay put. 

Incorporate the remaining colors in the palette through just 1 or 2 boarders.  Do not go crazy making every bulletin board different.  This creates for a distracting and visually noisy space.

I use double borders on my bulletin boards.  I use a plain white to help break up the teal against the lime polka dots.  All of my bulletin boards match this cohesive look. 

2. Creating Educational Noise: Anchor charts are an excellent way to introduce new skills.  However, please for the sanity of your students with attention deficits, do not wallpaper your walls with anchor charts.

Too many anchor charts become cluttered noise.  Not only are they distracting for students, but they become completely ineffective because students do not know where to turn for help.  It is information overload.

Avoid this problem by creating mini anchor charts using a mini anchor chart stand like this one below.  You can click here to learn how to make your own.

3. Putting Desks in Groups:  Okay, I may get some push back for this one...but just hear me out.

Sometimes, group seating is just not appropriate for certain students.  I teach children with special needs, and 80% of them have attention deficits.  I have tried grouped desks. They just do not work.

I use rows because truth be told, the students are only at their desks when it comes time for independent work anyway.  The rest of our instruction time is done in centers, where the students are working in groups at tables or other spots in the room.

So, rest assured that it is in fact okay to put your students in rows, and may even be beneficial to your kiddos who need that little independent break.

4. Using the Word Wall Incorrectly: I recently took an Orton-Gillingham based training and we talked about the universal word wall in the classroom.  

For those of you who have struggling readers in your class or those teaching ESL students, the English language can be tough to decode.

How many different sounds do those vowels make?  Or what about the letter c?  We teach students that c says /k/...but then we put words like "census" under c...when it makes the /s/ sound.  Confusing for young, struggling learners?  Yes, particularly for the learners mentioned above.

Consider using the classroom word wall only for those words that are phonetically appropriate.  For the rest, create individual word wall folders for each student to keep track of, that way you can differentiate based on abilities.

5. Taking too Much Control:  I love a neat and organized classroom.  I love everything labeled and printed neatly, but this year, I started giving up that control a bit.

I allowed students to start labeling their own folders, write their own class expectations, create bulletin board headers for their work, etc.  It was hard at first, but seeing how excited my students are about taking ownership over their classroom is definitely rewarding.

There ya have it. Five little tips you can take into consideration for your classroom this New Year.  Have some other tips to share?  Leave your comment below, we would love to read them!

Monday, December 14, 2015

December What Are You Reading? Linky

Welcome to the December edition of What Are You Reading? We invite everyone to link up with us  or leave a comment sharing a book for the upper elementary classroom. It can be a book your students love, a professional book you are using, an old favorite or a new must have. So what are you reading?

An InLinkz Link-up

To link up with us, please grab our What Are You Reading? graphic and use it in your post. You will also need to link back to this post. Thanks for joining us!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

'Tis the Season for Giving: Holiday Gift Ideas for the Classroom

 Hi, this is Brandi, from The Research Based Classroom. Welcome to the twelfth day of Christmas here at Focused on Fifth.  Today everyone is blogging about holiday gift ideas for the classroom. Whether you are looking for ideas for presents for your students, for your students to give to their families or for you to give to coworkers or parent helpers, you're sure to find something among all of the post that are linked up.

Gift ideas for the classroom can sometimes be difficult. I remember a year that I only had one parent helper and I went and bought two movies tickets for her and it came to $10. (Dang, I just aged myself pretty badly!) Where I teach now, I have had up to 20 parents who regularly help out in the classroom. It makes small gifts to say thank you add up quickly. By the time I start counting up gifts for neighbors, coworkers, and parent helpers, the list gets pretty big. I've tried all kinds of different things. One year I learned to knit and I made dish rags for everyone. Seriously? What was I thinking? On the good side, my stitches got a lot more consistent in size by dishrag number 40 something. But it turned out to be a little bit of an awkward gift. Some people didn't easily recognize that it was a dishrag and not a pot holder so I had to write a small note on each tag saying it was a dishrag. Plus it took about 2 hours of solid television watching to finish each dishrag. So this year I am going easy and yummy. Especially yummy.

One batch of centers makes about 60 medium large peanut butter cups. I use Peter's milk chocolate caps. Mix up the centers and refrigerate. Melt about 1 1/2 cups of chocolate in the microwave stirring every 30 seconds. You will need to make a second batch, maybe even a small third batch of chocolate, but you don't want to do too much at a time so just do small batches.

Next I pour a small amount of melted chocolate into each paper candy wrapper. The amount of peanut butter center will be determined by the size of your paper candy wrappers, but I make large malted milk ball sized centers and press them into the chocolate. Then I pour more chocolate on top and using the back of a spoon, I smooth it out and make sure that the chocolate flows down the sides.

I put them in clear plastic bags with a raffia bow and a tag and they are ready to be delivered. And did I mention that these are so yummy? Quick, easy and yummy parent helper gifts!

To see a list of all 12 days of this event with links to the posts for each day, please click on our blog button below.
This has been such a fun event, thanks for joining us. We hope you have found lots of great ideas to make this the best December ever in your classroom. Please follow us at Blog Lovin' to see our posts directly in your feed. We have lots of great content planned for 2016. Happy Holidays from Focused on Fifth! To see more great gift ideas, hop on over to these great blogs too.

Friday, December 11, 2015

May Your Classroom Be Merry and Bright: Creating a Positive Classroom Environment

Hi there, it's Angela from The Organized Plan Book.  It is Day 11 of our linky party...just one day left to celebrate the holidays with us here at Focused on Fifth.

If you missed any of the previous days in the link up, you can go back to see the schedule of posts by clicking here. 

Today we are talking about seasonal strategies to create an upbeat, positive classroom environment.  I am using two popular classroom management techniques...with a fun, seasonal twist.

1)  "Little Hope" (the kiddos named him) is our kindness snowman who hides around the room looking for random acts of kindness and good deeds carried out by the students.  Each time he sees one, he makes a special note to fill that student's stocking with a gem.

Little Hope isn't afraid of heights.
2) Have you Filled a Stocking? is a spin-off from the popular book, Have you Filled a Bucket?  I read this story to the students at the beginning of the year, but gave them a little refresher read on December 1st.

We make the connection between bucket fillers and stocking fillers.  When the students leave the classroom for electives, Little Hope and I team together to fill the students' stockings with jolly gems for every act of kindness we witnessed.
The students absolutely love looking around the room to see where Little Hope will hide next...and seeing their stockings collect gems.

I love that we are encouraging kindness through this fun management system.  The kids are really engaged and motivated to want to help their peers.  I am careful not to promise them a special treat for collecting gems because my goal is to encourage my kiddos to be kind...for the simple act of just being kind.  :)

You can also learn about another seasonal management system I am using to help keep my students on track by clicking the picture below.

Finally, check out my post on mood mists to see how I am maintaining a positive classroom environment all year round.

For other positive ideas for your classroom, click through the blogs below!

Have some great tips for instilling a positive classroom environment?  Please leave your comments below...or join in on our link up.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Seasonal Stories: Books Your Students Will Love

Hello! This is Brandi from The Research Based Classroom. Welcome to the tenth day of Christmas here at Focused on Fifth. Today is one of my favorite themes....BOOKS! I am a book devouring kind of a person. I hate the smell of library books and you never know when you will want to read a book again. If you are visualizing overflowing bookshelves, then you have a picture of my house in your mind already. Today everyone linking up will be talking about books your students will love.

Here are some of my very favorite holiday books in no particular order. Beware: Clicking on any of the book covers will take you to Amazon.

1. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg- In my opinion this is a holiday classic. It was a new book when I took a children's literature class in college, I remember the teacher talking about how far children's literature had come in the past decade. But there's not much that can still compare with The Polar Express today. I like to put on the CD of Liam Neeson reading the book. He does a such fabulous job with it. 

2. I See Santa Everywhere by Glenn McCoy - This book is just funny. It's about a boy who visits a therapist because he thinks that he is seeing Santa everywhere- the grocery store, the zoo, even in a tattoo parlor. It takes the lyrics "he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake" a little bit further.

3. Rocking Horse Christmas by Mary Pope Osborne is a beautiful book. The illustrations by Ned Bittinger are AMAZING. It's about a rocking horse that gets put in the attic when his boy grows so big that he no longer plays with him. But one stormy Christmas Eve, this horse gets a new boy.

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss - Can I keep my job if I admit that I don't really care for Dr. Seuss books? I own very few, but this is one that I love. Over the past few years I have noticed that my student know the movie, but not the book. So it's a fun read aloud book for everyone.

5. The Night Before Christmas by Jan Brett - There are a lot of great versions of this poem but Jan Brett's is one of my favorites. There are so many vocabulary discussion opportunities when you read this book and of course, her pictures are amazing. There is a newer version with a DVD that has Jan Brett talking about how she made the book.


6. How Santa Got His Job by Stephen Kerensky - This is a fun book about how Santa tried lots of other jobs before he found something perfect for him. From delivering mail to chimney sweeping, Santa tried a lot of jobs before he became the Santa we love today.


7. How Santa Lost His Job by Stephen Kerensky - In this book, one of Santa's elves has an idea to replace Santa with a faster, more efficient Deliverator. But don't worry because all ends well. No one can replace Santa.


8. Turkey Claus by Wendi Silvano - Turkey tries all kinds of costumes to get inside and see Santa. Warning: After reading this book, you may be eating pizza for Christmas dinner.

What are your favorite holiday books for the classroom? I would love to hear your suggestions too.

To make sure you don't miss a day of this event, follow Focused on Fifth at Blog Lovin' to see all of our new posts in your feed. And if you click on our button below, you can see the schedule for all 12 days of this event.

Happy Holidays from Focused on Fifth! To read more great posts about seasonal books, check out these other blogs:

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Holiday Jingles: Poetry, Songs, and Musical Activities for December

Welcome back for the 9th day of Christmas. This is Brandi, from The Research Based Classroom, and today we are hosting ideas for bringing poetry, songs, and musical activities into the classroom this month.

A few years ago my school started having a whole school holiday carol singing time. We went with a very easy format, but it is so much fun. We do it on the last school day before the holiday break. We gather in the auditorium and sit on the floor. Each grade picks one or two holiday songs and leads the entire school in singing it. We put the words up on the big screen so everyone can sing along. 800 people all singing holiday songs together will totally put you in the holiday spirt. Here are some of the songs we have used:

  • Jingle Bells
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town
  • The 12 Days of Christmas
  • All I Want for Christmas
  • Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • Jolly Old St. Nicholas
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas
  • Up on the Housetop
  • Must Be Santa
  • Deck the Halls
  • Frosty the Snowman
It's an easy, fun school-wide event and it helps all of us make it through that last crazy day before the break.

To make sure that you don't miss a day of this event, follow Focused on Fifth at Blog Lovin' and see all of our new posts in your feed. And if you click on our button below, you can see the schedule for all 12 days of this event.

To unwrap more great holiday poetry, songs, and musical activities, hop on over to these great blogs too. Happy Holidays from Focused on Fifth!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Catching the Holiday Spirit: Management Tips to Keep Students on Track

Hi, it's Angela from The Organized Plan Book. I am back for Day 8 of Unwrapping the Holidays linky party, and I am really excited to share my management system I implemented for the holidays this year.

The system is a spin-off of the traditional advent calendar.  I thought, instead of having a little sweet for each countdown until break, what if I did a fun activity instead?

We are in school for 17 days between December 1st and December 23rd (the day before we leave for break).  So, I knew that my calendar wouldn't have the typical 25 days, but 17 instead.

I got to work making little pockets to hold the activity cards.  I used a library pocket I had purchased from Learning Resources to make my own out of craft paper.

I folded the side flaps in and glued them to the back panel to create these pockets.  

Next, I took an old picture frame I had lying around and spray painted it teal.  I secured four rows of twine on the back of the frame with a staple gun, then secured my little pockets with mini clothespins to the twine.

I inserted my little activities inside each pocket. 

Throughout the day, I am searching for little acts of kindness and good deeds.  Each time I witness a good deed, that student receives a jolly gem in his or her stocking (more on this positive environment system on Day 11).

We set a goal for the number of good deeds we must complete by the end of the day.  If the students meet that number, we are able to select an activity from the board.

Here is a peek at the completed calendar.  Isn't it a festive, beauty? ;)

That's a wrap for me.  To check out what these other great teachers are doing to manage students in their classroom, click through the blogs below. 

Have an idea of your own?  We want to hear about it!  Either leave a comment below, or link up with us!