Involving Families in Your Classroom: Back To School Night "Morning Meeting"

Hi, Teachers,!

Have you done anything special during the past few days? I hope so! I've been busy re-organizing my apartment. I'm super pleased with how everything has turned out! So far, I've completely re-arranged my kitchen, the coat closet, and our living room. We really needed to be more organized, but it is so easy to forget about our homes and what WE need to be productive during the school year. I took advantage of this past week to really de-clutter. Next week I'll be leading a small science summer camp at the public library. And, of course, my puppies have been keeping me very busy with their preposterous level of cuteness. JUST LOOK AT THEM!!!!

Okay... enough blab! I wanted to talk to you about something that can be a challenge regardless of whether you work in an urban, suburban, or rural school district: involving families!! Whether you have working families, families who speak a different language, families from completely different cultures, or some other type of barrier between you and the families of your students, there are so many strategies you can utilize to help build a strong, working relationship with whatever family walks through your door.

I like to start building this relationship right away on Back To School Night! Something I have never done before but I've really wanted to do in the past is run my Back To School Night like I would typically run a Morning Meeting in my classroom. I am BEYOND excited to be doing this! I will post pictures when Back To School Night comes around and even share my powerpoint that I use, but it's going to look very different this year than it has in the past.

First of all, when parents filter in, we are going to start by letting them find a seat in the circle (not their child's seat) and having them read the "morning message" (which in this case will really be the evening message, I suppose). The book Parents & Teachers Working Together by Carol Davis and Alice Yang has a great sample morning message in the back of the book. This is what it looks like:

I will obviously be making some changes, like adjusting the time, my name, etc., but for the most part, I will be leaving it as is. I will leave a post-it note and writing utensils on a table so that parents can write questions/concerns on their post-it and stick it inside of the squiggly space. I like that this puts the ownership on parents to get to know each other RIGHT. AWAY. Last year, we had a really fabulous reader's theater performance/heritage potluck totally run by the kids, and the parents really liked mingling. It was less structured than I might have made a performance in the past. What that ended up doing was creating a relationship among families in my classroom, and I've realized that I do NOT want to wait for the middle or end of the year to get that going this year. I think we have an hour in my school, so I will try to get everyone seated in a circle (I will have to set up chairs ahead of time) by 5 minutes after the official start time. I will probably include a couple of volunteer sign-ups (like class parent sign-ups, field trip chaperone volunteers, etc.) and my class wish-list (things we'd love if parents could donate) at the same table. I'll make reference to this table in the morning message.

Once we start the meeting, that is when things are going to get tricky! Of course I should start off by introducing what Morning Meeting is, how it will be used in my room, etc. I also have to make sure to structure this so that it's not awkward for parents. They are already probably feeling like they are taking a risk coming to this circle, introducing themselves to someone new, etc. Therefore, when I structure my morning meeting, I need to make sure that each portion of the meeting isn't pushing my parents too far outside of their comfort zone. A morning meeting is typically scheduled this way: 

  1. Greeting- classmates (or parents in this case) greet each other, greeting /being greeted by at least two people
  2. Share- we either share 1 thing out in a circle, have a few students share something special with the whole class, or have a partner share
  3. Activity- some sort of song, chant, game, or any other interactive activity that builds the community
  4. Morning Message- reading the message that is on display together as a class

The order of a morning meeting is really important. Everything is organized to keep things fun, engaging, and meaningful with students while allowing for it to flow into the rest of the day. While my meeting will be different because it is for parents, I will follow the structure of the typical Morning Meeting.

For the greeting, I will probably have what I call a "quick greeting." When my students do this, they greet as many people as they can in a minute (or if I'm really pressed for time, 30 seconds). I might let the parents do this so they don't feel like they have to be greeting people in the "spotlight." I will have to feel the group out though. Honestly, at this point I am leaning more towards just having each parent introduce themselves to the group individually by sharing their name, their child's name, and one interest of their child's. We shall see!

For the share, I will probably do a partner share. It's a bit easier to manage, and we can have a few people share out afterwards. I'm thinking I'll have parents share about one hope and dream they have for their child during the year with someone next to them. I'll have to watch to make sure everyone has a partner or two. We might publish the parents' hopes and dreams and connect them to their children's hopes and later on in the evening. 

For the activity, I would like to get the parents up and moving. We are going to do the activity "A Warm Wind Blows" after I teach it do the parents. I will start by turning my chair around (making it inaccessible to people in the circle) and saying one fact about myself. For example, I might say "I have dogs at home." Everyone else who agrees with that fact (everyone who has a dog at home) would then stand up and find another seat, just like musical chairs. The person who cannot find a chair is the new person to share a fact. It's short, fun, and gets people noticing the commonalities they have.

For the message, we will read the morning message I write and talk about the questions they've asked. Many of them will not be addressed right away--I will skip the ones I know I will address in my powerpoint later. I might have the parents reflect on morning meeting before segueing into my usual powerpoint to discuss curriculum and classroom information. I'll talk to them about how they feel after the meeting compared to how they felt first walking into the room (I sure hope they give me a positive answer!!), what social skills this will help their kids to learn, academic skills, etc

Finally, we'll have a super quick break (just enough time to get people settled into their chairs by their child's seat), and jump into all of the policies/curriculum I need to share: homework, birthdays, class expectations, reading, writing, etc. I'll probably have something out on the desks covering the students' name tags to make this fun. Some years I have had the kids draw a picture of themselves, and the parents have to find their kid's drawing. That's always a favorite. If you're interested in more ideas about this, I suggest checking out Responsive Classroom's website. Here's a great article to get you started.

How do you run Back To School Night? Are you interested in trying that idea? Do you have any great student projects that you display? Please comment and share your ideas below!

Math Enrichment

Hi, Teachers!

Do you have students who are really strong in math and seemingly always finish early? Yes, of course you have those students! I find that Reader's and Writer's Workshop both lend themselves naturally to differentiated instruction, but math can be a little trickier, even if you teach by using the workshop model. When students finish writing or reading, they simply write or read some more! What should students do when they finish their math problems?

There are a TON of things I love to do with my students, and many of them involve math games. I love letting my kids play math games when they finish with their work because it is fun, engaging, and lets them review important math skills. It doesn't make sense for students to learn about multiplication only during the multiplication unit and then barely use it again. If we want our teaching to stick, we have to be hitting so many different mathematical concepts so often that it can sometimes feel like a big juggling act.

Us on a typical day of school... except I think she looks way more put together than I usually do! Where are all of the chalk and marker stains?! Why doesn't she have a post-it note stuck to her sweater?!

Here is a short list of three of my favorite enrichment activities/resources. They are student-tested and easy to teach! Once they are set up, you don't really have to reteach them again (unless you have a particular kid who needs it, but it's rare). These activities are really great for addressing the Common Core State Standards too -- particularly the Math Practices! I know plenty of people don't like the Common Core, and that's fine -- but it is  almost  definitely impossible to claim that the math practices aren't great skills we should teach our kids!!! Another thing I love about the items on this list is they deal with many skills or concepts you should be teaching during the year. So maybe during your fractions unit, you'll have some multiplication, division, place value, AND fractions activities available to kids. Just remember: it's OK to have different concepts (as in, other than what you're currently teaching) being reviewed in enrichment activities!! This was an idea that took me a while to get used to, but like I mentioned before, it's actually desirable because it helps your instruction stick. Anyway, here's the juicy stuff...

1. Challenge 24

A Word On Third

Can you tell I grew up in the 90s? Ahhhh, I loved this game as a kid, even though I didn't always answer questions quickly enough to win any cards. There are many versions of this game, and I've linked one version that you can buy on Amazon in the picture above. In short, the kids work competitively in groups (though I let them play alone too) to try to solve the problem on each card. Players must figure out a number sentence using the numbers on the card and any combination of addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division that equals 24. I taught my kids to flip the cards over when everyone is ready and tap the card when they are ready to solve. The first "tapper" can attempt to solve the problem by stating their solution out loud, but if they forget the solution or are incorrect, the card is still in play. For example, using a card with the numbers "4, 3, 6, and 2" a player might say " 4 times 3 is 12. 6 times 2 is 12. 12 + 12 is 24." Then they would get to keep the card. The player with the most cards (or the most points--each card has a value of 1-3 points) wins! You need to teach your kids how to play cooperatively and kindly before introducing this into your classroom, and you'll definitely want to model playing the game with everyone. I recommend doing this during the first weeks of school. In my classroom, kids can play in groups whenever they finish their work. Students can join other students or they can play on their own if competition stresses them out. You could always create a sheet which keeps them accountable, but I find that this game is usually really fun for the kids, so you might not have to do that. I never have so far.

2. "I Have, Who Has?" Extensions

A Word On Third

Okay, I will admit that I made this, but it's a freebie! You should go download it now! This particular "I Have, Who Has?" extension reviews place value skills, but you can use it when you're teaching any other math unit. Just leave it at your early finishers table or area. Similarly, you can create your own extension activity very quickly to review a different math concept. Everyone loves to play “I Have, Who Has?” in their classroom, but it takes MUCH more skill to create an “I Have, Who Has?” game than it does to play one. If your kids are familiar with how the game works, this is the perfect enrichment activity that you can use to keep your early finishers busy. Simply print and cut out the criteria included for your students, supply them with index cards, and let them work independently, in partnerships, or in small groups to create a game. You might even choose to supply your students with one or two “I Have, Who Has?” games to use as a mentor when they create their game, though they should already be very familiar with how the game works when they begin this project. 

Students can both check and play each other’s games as a way to review. If you use your students’ games during whole-class instruction or Morning Meeting, you will really support your sense of community within your classroom. This will be a difficult project for some students—resist the urge to help them as much as you possibly can. They are capable of doing this independently, and they will learn a lot about checking over their own work if they complete this on their own. I recommend asking students, “How could you solve that problem?” or “What adjustments might you make to make the game more fun?” if they are reluctant to solve any game-making errors on their own.

3. Nimble With Numbers

A Word On Third

Okay, I cannot tell you that I love these books enough! I am not working for the people at Nimble With Numbers either, by the way! I purchased a grade 1 book back when I taught first grade, and now I have a grades 2-3 book. There are all sorts of games inside that you can teach and use during your math period when they are relevant. There are addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, place value games, and more! My kids really love a game called Target 50. I laminated some boards so they could re-use them with dry-erase markers. Either way, these games are extremely strategy-based and fun! I've used a lot of these games during my weekly Academic Choice period too!

What are your favorite things to use to get your kids thinking and stretching their noodles when they're finished? Comment below! 

Weekly Shared Reading Lesson Plan Template

Hi, Teachers!

Have you been busy these past few weeks? As many of my friends know, I have been busy getting my Teachers Pay Teachers store up and running. I put my first two products online today. Whoo-hoo! I'm doing a little victory dance here, but you can't see it. Please feel free to go check them out and download them!

Click here to go to my TPT store!

Alright--let's talk shared reading! Some of you messaged me privately after my last blog post and said you would find a lesson plan helpful for shared reading, so I made it, uploaded it to TPT, and even made sure it was CCSS-aligned for you. I created a weekly template for shared reading that can be used every week, all year, year after year! Wahooo! Hooray for lesson plans that don't have to be written and re-written all the time! As I've discussed in this blog post, shared reading is a crucial element of balanced literacy that is sometimes hard to fit into the day—especially in the upper grades. You can use the plan I created to improve your students' fluency and comprehension skills.

Click on the picture above to view the product in my TPT store!

Inside of this product, you'll see that I describe exactly how to use shared reading effectively in your classroom. With very little prep involved, you only need to do two things each week to prepare your five shared reading lessons:

1. Pick a text to use each week. I’ve included several recommendations across the genres to get you started.
2. Pick the strategies you’ll teach to reinforce each skill. I’ve included a list of possible strategies that you can teach your students for each day’s focus skill. Of course, you will want to confer with your students during shared reading to help inform your decisions. Once you’ve picked your strategies, follow the plan with that strategy in mind, and you’re all set.

I created the plans hoping you could lower your stress and simply copy and paste the lesson plans into your formal lesson plan website or template for your administrator. Objectives, Procedures, Assessments, and Standards are included for each day. You can print out the lesson plans in black & white or in color versions to use by your side as you teach too!

If you'd like to use it, there are several ways you can do so! Obviously, you can buy the product. However, if you don't want to buy it, you can get it FOR FREE! What, you say? FOR FREE? Yes, get it for free! It will take you less than 60 seconds. Here's how to do it:

1. Click on the link to my Facebook page in the sidebar or go to it directly by clicking here. (Don't worry -- it will open in a new window!)
2. Like A Word On Third's Facebook page.
3. On your personal page, share the post on A Word On Third's Facebook page that starts with "Enter the A Word On Third Shared Reading Contest!" which was made on Monday. It can also be shared on your teaching page if you have one.
4. Comment on the post that you have shared it. This is really important--if you don't comment to let me know that you've shared it, I won't have a way of knowing you shared it!
5. Proceed to get excited, because NOW YOU ARE ENTERED TO WIN IT FOR FREE. Yup, it was that easy! I'll be picking three winners at the end of the week.

Now go and do a victory dance like I did at the beginning of this post. Life pro-tip: it is always better when you do a victory dance with someone else!

That's all for now. I will be posting very soon to talk about what to do with your early finishers in math class and how to challenge them.

How is your summer reading challenge going? What teaching topic do you want to discuss? How are you feeling about trying shared reading in your classroom right now? Comment below to share your thoughts!

Shared Reading

Hi, Teachers!

Is your summer off to a nice start? I hope so. For some odd reason I feel like my summer is over, but it has barely begun. Weird! Anyway, I am very happy to report that I have finished the first book of my summer reading challenge... on the actual day I planned to finish it! Ahhh! It's practically unheard of for me! I am glad I found a system that works for me. Have you finished any books yet? Have you started any yet? It's not too late to get started! Take a look at my last post and get going. You will thank yourself for it later.

The first book I read is called Text Savvy: Using a Shared Reading Framework to Build Comprehension. In case you didn't see my last post, you can check this book out here:
 Text Savvy: Using a Shared Reading Framework to Build Comprehension

It was a really quick and interesting read. I have to say, while I do do some of the things outlined in this book in my classroom regularly, this really shifted my perspective. It's so easy to get caught up in the rush of things during the year, so I think it was good that I chose to read this now when I could hear it a little better. Do you know what I mean? All summer long, I've been reflecting on my literacy instruction and how hard it can be sometimes to get all parts of balanced literacy into a day/week. I am sure that incorporating this into my daily teaching for 10 to 15 minutes a day (but let's be real--most days it will probably have to be 10 minutes) will make a huge impact in my teaching, and most importantly, my students' understanding of reading.

My big take-away from this book was that we as teachers have a tendency to get stuck in a reading or writing unit and teach ALL about that genre for 3-5 weeks, but then we don't come back to it to evaluate how or if our teaching "sticks." How backwards is that!? Readers must read all genres fluidly as we come in contact with so many texts each day. Shared reading is something that can really fix that problem. You focus on one text for a week with your students, but it isn't necessarily the genre in the unit of study you're working on at that moment. I really like that! It serves as a time for you to assess your students while you get to preview or review important skills. You are the one modeling most of these behaviors for your kids at first, but by the end of the year, they are going to guide your conversations where they need to go. I highly recommend that you GRAB THIS BOOK and READ IT NOW. READ IT YESTERDAY. Seriously. Read it!

I've decided that in my classroom, I'll probably pick two non-fiction pieces, one poem, and one fiction piece over the course of the average month. This will change as my readers need it, of course. If you aren't convinced you have time for this, know that you can use shared reading to double-dip in the content areas. Having trouble fitting in science and reading in one day? Shared reading lets you do BOTH. Maybe due to something extra in the schedule, you have to skip your science lesson on the nervous system one day. No problem! You might pick a shared reading article on the nervous system that week. So, if you have a week full of assemblies and other craziness in your schedule, you may want to mindfully pick texts to help make up for the instruction time you'll miss in a subject area.

We are used to seeing science and social studies concepts being discussed in reading, but another idea this book discussed was how to include math in shared reading. While I of course loathe test prep and standardized testing, you can even select a math problem from a sample test and use that as a shared reading text for the week! The catch is that you want to stress to your kids that you are not solving this problem right away--you are looking at it as a READER first and a mathematician later. When it comes time to solve the problem later, however, you will find that your kids truly comprehend the problem much better and are more confident in their answer since they know what the question is asking them to do. They will solve it much quicker because they've thought about what the question is asking of them, what information is important and what information is not needed, etc. If you have kids who really struggle with word problems, this might be something you choose to do more often. Maybe you might choose to plug it into your math period for a while too, who knows!

Text Savvy broke up the typical 5-day week into a schedule that you repeat each week, regardless of the text/genre. The predictable pattern is good for the kids, and it's good for you! Their overview of a quality shared reading schedule is as follows:
  • Day One:  Previewing the text and setting expectations as a reader
  • Day Two: Locating oneself in the text
  • Day Three: Envisioning
  • Day Four: Inferring
  • Day Five: Synthesizing
Text Savvy recognizes these 5 skills as some of the main, most crucial skills we must develop as readers. I could not agree more. Some of these things we do in a matter of seconds--sometimes less--without even realizing it, but they are such foreign concepts for a young reader. We look at a nonfiction article and know immediately what it is and what we expect to get out of it, but kids really need to think to do that. This is just a tiny example of why I believe we need to really pay attention to ourselves on a personal level when we read and write--it helps us become better teachers for our kids when we realize what WE do. Then we can teach it!

Anyway, I could blab to you about the ideas in this book all day, but it's much better for you to just... read it. As I said, it's a fabulous read. It has a conversational tone (thank GOODNESS--who wants to read a textbook all day? blah blah blah--no thanks, not me!), and it's only about 120 pages. I really found this useful, helpful, and most of all PRACTICAL. I'm not going to be guessing how to do this now--I have a clear vision in my mind of how to make this happen because the authors of the book outlined it beautifully. Teachers of younger children (grades K-2) might want to read a text geared more towards their age group, but I think this one is easily adaptable if you don't find another one that you want to read.

I'm planning to create a basic weekly lesson plan template that I will use each week during shared reading. I will still need to select a text and zero in on the skills I'll teach each day of the week, but it will be a good place to get me started. Do you guys feel like that would be useful for you? If so, I will upload that on one of my next few posts!

What books are you reading? What are you learning from them? How is your personal book club plan going? Comment below to share your thoughts! :)