Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How To Drastically Reduce Your Planning Time

Teachers: use your prep periods more effectively with this super simple and effective tip by A Word On Third!

It's our second Happy Teacher Tip Tuesday! To link up, check out this link for details, write your genius, happiness-inducing, tip-filled post, and link up below!

This classroom tip has drastically reduced the amount of work I do during my free-time. I still put in some work each day after school, but for the most part, I have my weekends 100% to myself, I get home at a reasonable hour (think 4:30-5:30 instead of 7), and I am five times more productive. This makes me a MUCH better teacher since I'm not burnt out anymore. An old colleague of mine taught me this strategy, and I have never looked back.

Every year before school starts, I plan out my prep periods when I get my class schedule. I also post it somewhere in my room where I will see it when I'm working without kids in the room. Here's an example of my prep schedule from last year:

Basically, I make sure every 40 minute period goes to something that will help me for the following week. I also leave my classroom so that it is 100% ready for the next day. If something happens and I come in late, I don't have to rush or feel flustered because my room is all set for the kids. I have prep periods devoted to planning and prepping each subject I teach, reviewing student work, etc. At the end of the day, I stay for at least one hour to finish anything I didn't get done that day. Usually I stay for two hours, but after that point, if I have more to do, I leave it for the next day. Some weeks I stay until 6 on a Friday, but some weeks I finish early and get to leave at 4 on a Friday!! WHOO HOO!

Think about it... have you ever attempted to clean your home, get distracted by something that belongs in another room, walk to the other room put it back, only to start cleaning something else in that second room? Next thing you know, you have 4 cleaning projects going at once, I find that that kind of unfocused effort in getting things done can easily happen during our prep periods and derail them if we aren't careful. If there's something I really want to get done that isn't on my planning schedule, I just write it down on a post-it for myself.

Do you guys do something similar? If not, I really recommend trying this. It's so simple, but so effective! I've gotten loads more free time with this. Any time you can make a system for yourself, you will save time. Of course, things will pop up, and you won't follow it perfectly all of the time. But even if you follow it half of the time, you'll have made a small investment for a huge pay-out.

Share your tips with everyone to add a little more happy into our days! Link up your blog post below by clicking "Add your link." I can't wait to read your posts!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

How To Be A Happier Teacher Immediately

It's our first Happy Teacher Tip Tuesday! To link up, check out this link for details, write your genius, happiness-inducing, tip-filled post, and link up below! I had to post about a wellness tip first, especially since it's summer.

This is our chance to make healthy habits stick by the time the start of school rolls around!

In one of my last posts, I wrote about the book Sleep Smarter, which was a game changer for me!! Now I wake up in the mornings ready to go, full of energy. That was monumental for me, because I've NEVER been a morning person. It's NOT about sleep quantity here--it's about sleep quality! And contrary to popular belief, you can't repay a sleep debt. When I got my sleep in check, I quickly started feeling like Super Teacher! Better sleep = better productivity. I get much more done each day, and I get it done well. Here are my 4 Happy Teacher Tips to make you sleep happy and teach happy!

1. Go screen-less! 
The blue light from our tvs, phones, iPads, etc. can trick our bodies into thinking it is daytime. We produce more of the cortisol hormone which isn't good for bedtime. Get off the screens 90 minutes before bed, and use blue-light blocking glasses when you can't. You can also download software to take the blue light out of your screens after a certain time like f.lux. I think this change made the biggest difference for me. My phone lives downstairs at bedtime now.

2. Get sunlight in the morning.
You can mix this with exercise by walking first thing, but even eating your breakfast in the sun is great. Even on a cloudy day, this will stimulate an increase in cortisol. You actually want that first thing in the morning! Cortisol isn't bad, but it IS bad at the WRONG TIME. So go walk your dogs before work. They'll thank you for it.

3. Make it dark.
Black-out curtains are fabulous, and really improve sleep quality. However, you want to limit the light from electronics in your bedroom too. Alarm clocks can make your environment very bright! Many alarm clocks also have screen dimmers--use them.

4. Be consistent with your schedule.
Having the same sleeping and waking times each day (even on weekends), will allow you to wake up ready to go every morning. No more groggy Mondays! Having a bedtime routine will help you with this. Even leaving work at the same time will too. If you HAVE TO leave by 5, are you really going to scroll through your Instagram feed for 20 minutes after your students leave, or are you going to make your copies?

If you're interested in learning more about sleep, I recommend starting with this article and snagging a copy of the book I mentioned above! I can't tell you how much happier I am each day.

Share your tips with everyone to add a little more happy in our days! Link up your blog post below by clicking "Add your link."

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Don't Miss This New Link-Up To Help You Get Happy!

A Word On Third's Happy Teacher Tip Tuesday Link Up

Starting on Tuesday, I'm hosting the Happy Teacher Tip Tuesday link up party so you can snag some awesome teacher tips from other happy teachers. We all know how hard it can be to survive the juggling act that is teaching, so my hope is that you can use these tips to become a happier teacher yourself!

If you're a non-blogging reader... 

Expect to read wellness tips, time-saving tips, sanity-saving tips, and organizational tips! Every other week, I'll share my favorite tip for you, and you can read other linked-up blog posts to read other teachers' tips too. From classroom furniture design to making the most of your prep time or what lunches can be easily packed, the one thing all of these tips will have in common is that they can make you happier.  If you don't blog, please feel free to participate by commenting your favorite tips at the bottom of my posts.

If you're a blogger...

All you need to do is write a short blog post with your teacher tip(s), include the above graphic linking back to the current H.T.T.T. post on my blog, and link up! Share your post so everyone can benefit from your awesome-sauce tip, and then read other tips to get some more happy in your life! It's definitely polite to comment on at least one other blogger's post, so I'm going to ask that you do that too.

I've added a new navigation tab on the top of my my blog called Happy Teacher Tip Tuesdays with all the graphics you'll need. Check it out!

I can't wait to learn all of your tips on Tuesdays! This Tuesday, my tip is going to be about improving your sleep. I'm so much happier because of it!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

4 Helpful Books You Need To Read This Summer

A Word On Third shares her 4 most recommended books to help you stay at the top of your teacher-game!

Summer is finally here, which means TEACHERS CAN READ AGAIN!! Last year I challenged teachers to a summer reading challenge, and my friends who participated enjoyed it. How can you not? You develop yourself personally or professionally (or you just flat out escape and let your imagination run wild).

I've found that the key to completing a summer reading challenge is:

  • Picking books you love. Duh.
  • Committing to a reasonable amount of reading per day. No more and no less. This will be different for everyone. Last year I read one chapter a day. This summer I'll probably do 2 or 3 because I'm reading more now.
  • Keeping your list short.
  • Changing up the genres. Maybe pick one health, one personal development, a few teacher books? It's important that you focus on all aspects of you as a person, not just your teacherness!

I've gathered a list of a few books that I think you should read. They will make you a happier person and a better teacher. Click the picture of each book to be taken to its Amazon page.

This book is AMAZING! I had no idea how terrible my sleep hygiene was before I started reading this book. I'm a much happier person now because of it. I love how easy to read Shawn Stevenson's writing style is; he tells you the science in an understandable way, then gives you PRACTICAL and EASY TO IMPLEMENT steps for your life that you can use immediately. Teachers--if we don't have more time to sleep, we had better sleep well!

 This is a really nice book for helping you reach goals. It talks about six key self-development practices: meditation, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading, and writing. I really love doing my Miracle Mornings. They definitely keep my focused on what is important to me. The idea is that you get up and do those 6 things first thing in the morning. It might mean waking up earlier during the year, but I actually found it extremely pleasant. I am NOT a morning person either, so that's saying a lot. They even have a 6-minute version for those of us who just CAN'T wake up an extra 30-60 minutes earlier. This was a fast read for me.

I recommended this book last year, but I will continue to do so. I think this book transformed my teaching practices more than any other book I've read. It's a quick read again (WHO WANTS TO READ SOMETHING THAT SOUNDS LIKE A TEXT BOOK!?), and it's practical and easy-to-implement. (Noticing a pattern in my recommendations?) You'll learn tons of strategies to improve parent communication, which will allow you to know your students on a deeper level.

This book will teach you everything you need to know about Morning Meeting to start it in your classroom. I bet it's even better than the book I have too, because it's the third edition! I have the first... womp womp! You'll learn the components of a Morning Meeting, why each component is so important, and examples of each component. I especially love the little problem-solving parts at the end of each chapter that help you with any problems you might run into. This is my favorite part of the school day. Even though I've run Morning Meetings every single year I've been teaching, I'm always reading about how to vary them, make them better, etc.

So, those are the books I recommend you read this summer! I promise you won't be disappointed. I haven't decided everything I'm going to read yet, but here are two books I am definitely going to read this summer:


Let's hope they're good! They both come highly recommended to me. What are you reading? Comment below!!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

4 Posts To Save Your Sanity At The End of the Year

4 Posts To Save Your Sanity At The End of the Year

Whether you finish the school year in May or June, right now it's the final stretch. Our kids are getting antsy... WE are getting antsy. It's a tough time of year. Use these posts to save yourself some sanity and time.

1. My 3 Best Secrets For Finishing Report Cards Quickly

BEAST those report cards, Ladies & Gents. You really don't need to spend more than a few hours on them if you are consistently assessing and you know your students. Mine are ALWAYS done in one night. If you know your students, I promise yours will be too.

2. How To Introduce Supplies and Routines Easily And Effectively

This isn't just for the beginning of the year: use it when you return from having a substitute, when you have a day off, or when you notice your kids are antsy. HMMM... SOUND FAMILIAR AT THIS TIME OF YEAR!? This shouldn't take more than a few minutes (five at the most), but it can drastically curb problematic behaviors because you're setting kids up for success.

3. Teachers: Are You Exploiting This Powerful Language Skill?

This will help your students stay motivated! Frankly, it also keeps things positive for YOU when you feel like your head is going to explode. Reinforcing language = gift from the teacher universe.

4. How To Take Care Of Yourself When You're Teacher-Tired

So many people worry about burn-out at the beginning of the year. I usually use these tips in August/September when school starts up, but you'd better believe I'm thinking about this stuff when May/June hits too! If I don't, I walk around looking like I put my hand in an electrical socket!! And I have gigantic bags under my eyes. And I usually get really crabby.

Because I love you, if you scroll to the bottom of the last linked post, you'll see a little sequel to the Teacher-Tired post. These two posts are some of my most popular posts, and it's because we NEED to remember to take care of ourselves! We can't teach well if we aren't well ourselves. Don't miss out on the goodies. There's lots of free self-care stuff on there for you.

So how are you hanging onto your sanity? What are your tips to... well... not look like you put your hand in an electrical socket once the school count-down is under way!? Ha! Comment below!!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Teachers: Are You Exploiting This Powerful Language Skill?

Teachers: Are You Exploiting This Powerful Language Skill? : A Word on Third teaches you how to use Reinforcing Language

There's a powerful tool that builds dynamic learners that we can use about 80 or 90% of our day when we are not directly teaching our mini-lessons, and it's called reinforcing language. This tool has the power to build our community, build our students' confidence and willingness to take risks, and build their knowledge base too. When teachers don't use it, it's usually only because they don't know how to. After all, we probably weren't taught with a ton of the most effective reinforcing language, and there are rarely classroom management classes in our college course catalogue.

All effective language shares these qualities:

  • It's clear and brief. Nobody wants to hear you ramble on forever! Kids lose interest.
  • It's genuine. We know it when you spit out a compliment that you don't mean.
  • Avoids judgement of the child. If a child makes a mistake, make your comment about the behavior or choice, not the child as a person. "You were so mean," is not the same as, "When you took his crayon, it hurt his feelings."
  • Shows faith in the child. Are you begging or threatening your students to behave? We've all been there at one point or another in our careers, but that just doesn't set them up for success. Show your students that you believe in them. If they make a mistake, address it when it happens.
  • It's respectful. It's respectful in word choice, tone, and body language. Most of what we say is interpreted by how we say it. Even if our words are perfect, if our facial expression is snarky, we've conveyed a different meaning than what we intended.

Reinforcing language is simply positive reinforcement that also serves as constructive feedback. There are a few things that bump it up from the typical positive reinforcement we've learned about or tried in our own classrooms. Now... I'm NOT telling you that positive reinforcement is BAD. It's not! It's simply not as effective as it can be at helping your students to grow. 

Here's what makes reinforcing language special:

  • It's specific. Seriously now, what does, "Good job," even mean? What exactly did I do a good job on? Oh, my writing? What in my writing was good?
    • Instead of saying: "Nice job writing!"
      Try saying: "Nice job using your checklist to help you elaborate," or, "Nice job adding commas in your lists!" Now your student can repeat the behavior.
  • It compliments progress, not just the product. Students don't go from no understanding to mastery right away. We need to praise growth, even if it's not the final product we hope for. If we can praise the good behaviors in the middle, it makes it easier to tackle the next behavior.
    • Instead of saying: "Great, now you have to remember to put your backpack away when you unpack."
      Try saying: "I noticed that when you practiced unpacking yesterday, you did not remember to put your backpack away. Today, you did remember! You are moving on the right track. Did you notice all of that extra growth too?"
  • It focuses on intrinsic motivation. We can't rely on motivating students with personal approval. What happens when they have a teacher they don't connect with well? What happens if there aren't exciting prizes in the next classroom? Instead of focusing on our approval, we need to focus on students doing the right thing because it's the right thing.
    • Instead of saying: "I like how you lined up quietly and showed self-control."
      Try saying: "You lined up quietly and showed self-control."
    • If you are someone who relies on saying "I like/love how you..." when reinforcing your students, my favorite way to break that habit is to say the same thing you would normally say without that little beginning part. This was exceptionally hard for me at first, but not having to re-work everything I said helped break this habit quickly.
  • It applies to all students. This is important to remember. Sometimes our most challenging students need the most reinforcement!

Monday, May 1, 2017

1 Activity That Will Revive Your Morning Meetings

1 Activity That Will Revive Your Morning Meetings by A Word On Third

If your Morning Meetings are feeling a little stale, it's time to try something new. This activity might be just what you need! It's called Rare Bird, and it can help you to strengthen your community. It can be used during the sharing component of Morning Meeting as well, though I prefer to use it as an activity. And of course, while it's definitely best to do all four components of Morning Meeting every day, it’s convenient to have an activity that acts as both sharing and an activity for those days where you’re really pressed for time.

1 Activity That Will Revive Your Morning Meetings by A Word On Third

Have the kids brainstorm what is special and unique about them, or what makes them a “rare bird.” You'll probably need to discuss this before you do this the first time (or first few times depending on the age of your class). This should also be something others can't easily guess based on what they know already about their classmates. For example, I've known students who had certain obsessions that everyone in class knew about--this is not the time to talk about those obsessions!

1 Activity That Will Revive Your Morning Meetings by A Word On Third

Students write their rare bird statement neatly on a post-it note or index card, and then you collect them all. Next read each card aloud and let the class take a few guesses as to who that “rare bird” might be. If nobody guesses correctly, the rare bird stands up.

Here are some variations to make this work in your classroom:

  • Have kids share new the things they learned about each other afterwards by playing "Who Remembers?"
  • Have kids share connections they made to each other after playing. 
  • Pass out each rare bird index card or post-it note to a different student. Have that child read the card out loud and see if they can guess who wrote the card he/she read. 
  • Provide support by brainstorming categories to prompt students’ thinking for rare bird statements (surprising fact, special skill or interest, etc.) 
  • Type up a sentence starter to make this faster for students. You may or may not include names.
  • Break this up over the course of a week. Read a few during transition times or down time in your classroom. (I recommend adding names to rare bird papers if you choose to do this. Students might forget what they wrote or they might be out.)
  • Use this as a closing circle activity instead of during Morning Meeting.
What makes YOU a rare bird as a teacher or in other areas of your life??

Monday, April 17, 2017

Help Your Students With Main Ideas With This Quick, Easy Hack

Help your students with main ideas with this quick, easy Morning Meeting hack! by A Word On Third

I've been trying to address the speaking and listening standards in my classroom during Morning Meeting since my class is working on building effective communication skills. I've been checking around for different strategies to help with this, and I found a great way to help kids organize their thoughts and differentiate between the main idea and supporting details while they share. Whether you are building on this concept during literacy instruction, or you are trying to support your students to be more organized, this post is for you!

So, there are 3 main types of sharing in a traditional Morning Meeting:
  • Dialogue sharing: one student shares something with the whole class.
  • Partner sharing: students share with each other in partnerships.
  • Circle sharing: each student shares one short thing with the class.
No matter which type of sharing you do, you can choose to have your kids share about a particular topic or have more of a free-form share.

I call this type of share a main idea and details share. Personally, I find this is best when used during dialogue sharing, when one student shares with the entire class, but if you have enough materials (and patience!) you could use this for partner sharing too. You will need one container and three to five small items to put into the container. I like to use math manipulatives and a cup for this since I always have them ready for use in my classroom.

Model the share for your students.

We know how important it is to model. This is an academic skill, and if you want this to transfer over to reading and writing, I recommend following an interactive modeling format. First, share the main idea of what you are going to be sharing about and put the container in front of you. If you're
end." That's your main idea. Put the empty container in front of you to symbolize your main idea.

Next, add each of the smaller items into the container one by one as you share a relevant detail for each item. The rest of your share about the carnival might sound like this: “I rode on the merry-go-round 3 times with my brother.” (put first item in container) “Next I got my face painted like a tiger.” (put next item in container) “Then we ate ice cream before we went home.” (put last item in container).

You can ask kids what they noticed after you model if you want to bump it up and get really academic with this. Guide them to notice transition words, how each detail supports the main idea, etc. Afterwards, students can say that they are ready for questions.

We've started working on this in Morning Meeting, and I do see that it has helped some of my students who are struggling to grasp main idea. The more academic content we can squeeze into Morning Meeting, the better!!

How do you get your kids to build main idea skills? How do you share in Morning Meeting? Let me know below!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How To Get Your Class Excited About Reflecting On Learning

How To Get Your Class Excited About Reflecting On Learning by A Word On Third -- starting a news station to help your students reflect

We all know reflection is a key part of learning. We ask our students to self-assess, often times modeling how to do so, and eventually our students can get really good at it. Some of our students buy into it right away, but for others it's a struggle. How could I get those students interested in reflecting? How could I get them excited to think about what they learned, how they grew, and the strategies they used to grow? I was wondering all of these things to myself in the morning while I was getting ready, as I'm sure so many of us do, when the coolest idea I've had in a while hit me. WE COULD TURN REFLECTING INTO WRITING, FILMING, AND PRODUCING A NEWS SEGMENT EACH WEEK!!

Okay, if you couldn't tell by the capital letters, I was SO pumped about this!! I'm going to walk you through how I do this step by step.

First of all, I connected the reflection piece to the parent communication piece, which I think is important. My class writes a weekly newsletter, which I've discussed in this post:

In short, instead of writing and revising (and revising and revising!) several pages of classroom updates all by myself that only get read by half of my students' families, we write a ONE PAGE newsletter each week TOGETHER as a class. I've walked you how to do it in the above post. It's really easy, but I've also offered you a super cheap template to download so you can start doing it without any extra effort. The whole process takes me 10 minutes maximum each week, and that's being super liberal. Some weeks it takes me less than 5 minutes, and it offers so much to my parents! The section of the newsletter that we brainstorm and write together is the "Ask Me About" section. In this section, students list things their parents should ask them about, and then when parents do, meaningful conversations about school can take place! Students might add something that looks like this:

Ask Me About...
  • The new reading strategy I learned to help me envision.
  • How mathematicians measure for the area of a space by multiplying a space's length times its width.
  • What we noticed and discovered during our water cycle science experiment.
  • The new greeting we learned called Baggage Claim.

Okay, you get the idea! So once the kids have generated their newsletter, we have brainstormed the most important things we did in each subject area. Here's what happens next. During our lunch time, the kids get together and write a short news segment! From start to finish, in 30 minutes this past Friday, my kids wrote and filmed the news. This allowed them to reflect on what they did all week and discuss strategies that helped them to learn. It also let them share this directly with their parents, all while giving them practice with public speaking. I can't believe I didn't think of this sooner, but I love it!!

First, delegate roles.

The way it worked for us was I took 5 students at lunch time, and each student chose a subject to report on and write about. We shared about reading, writing, math, science/social studies, and general classroom updates (which might include spelling, Morning Meeting, special area classes like art and gym, etc.). This let us cover all of the basic things that might happen in a class. I explained that the kids would be responsible for writing all of the things that we needed to reflect upon and share with parents, so they would need to be thorough. That helped them to pick the best subject. 

Don't make this crazier than it has to be, Teachers! I know your tendency to make things perfect, but this doesn't have to be!! You have to make this work for you. If it's a chore, it won't be fun.

Next, get brainstorming and writing!

Now, as I mentioned before, most of your brainstorming should be done if you've reflected with your students when writing the newsletter. You could skip that step, but I like writing the newsletter during Morning Meetings on Fridays, and like I said, it takes us only a few minutes. If you do skip that step, brainstorming will take longer.

Each child should find at least 3 or 4 things they can share about. Once they have figured out what they want to cover in the news, I let them write their script. All I do is give them blank writing paper, and I have them leave a space empty at the top and at the bottom.

Now put it all together.

So once the kids are done with each of their pieces (in third grade this really only took us about 10 to 15 minutes while eating, but it might take longer in different grade levels), we figure out what order we should say things in. 

We started with an opening sequence that each student said one sentence in. I wrote the opening piece on a big cue card/poster board, and each sentence was in a different color. The color-coding made it easier for students to read while being recorded. Our opening sequence was something like: 
"Hello, and welcome to (insert the name of your news program here)! We are going to be sharing all about our class this week. Tune in to hear the latest things we've learned about in each subject. This special news segment is all about the week of (Monday's date) to (Friday's date). Let's hear from (insert first student reporter here) with (subject area student is reporting on)."
All of my students read our news station's name at the same time, but the rest of the time, they took turns. Then, we had students close out each segment and get ready for the next one by saying things at the end of their segment like, "And now let's hear from Bob about what happened in writing this week." I let my students decide exactly what they would say.

We closed out of our news segment pretty quickly. The last student reporter just tacked on "Tune in next week for (insert news program name here)!" Again, all of the students said the name of the news segment at the same time.

Record it!

You could just record it without bells and whistles on my favorite app called Seesaw. I've given super easy, step-by-step directions for how to use that here:

If you record on Seesaw, just know that while you can pause during recording, your recording cannot exceed five minutes. My first news segment was about 4 minutes without worrying about time, so that is definitely do-able. I only had my kids share a paragraph about each subject! 

If you feel like getting a little creative, I recommend trying out iMovie. I am  NOT an iMovie expert by any means whatsoever, but I tried using it for the first time and really enjoyed the impact the few effects I used had on the overall production. There's even a news theme on iMovie that you can use and apply to your video. That's what I did! Here are some free tutorials on how to use iMovie. I did not use them, but they are supposed to be good!

I recommend posting your video of your news segment to Seesaw for parents either way, even if you make an iMovie. What makes me uncomfortable about uploading to Google Docs or Youtube is the lack of privacy. 

After all is said and done, share your video and let your students enjoy the fruits of their labor! I also noticed that when students returned from lunch and recess on Friday, they got to the meeting area super quickly since they wanted so badly to watch our news segment. I even had a student who was absent on Friday who was glued to Seesaw while she was home sick, waiting for the news segment!

How To Get Your Class Excited About Reflecting On Learning by A Word On Third -- starting a news station to help your students reflect
AHHHH! Aren't they cute with their news notes?! I love them!!! I really wish I could share the video with you. They did a phenomenal job.

Additional ideas to make your news segment pop:

  • Add words from your "sponsors" by advertising books or math games. Advertising a book not only recommends great books, but it also can help students to think about story mountains or main ideas when they describe their books!
  • Have students edit with iMovie to make this even more student-created.
  • Try using a green screen app and having special reports about current events in special places. All you need is blue or green butcher paper for this to work.
  • Bring some props on air (books being read, new projects that the students are proud of completing, etc.)
  • Allow students to interview staff and maybe even students during news segments

Let this help you build your classroom community.

I recommend that you introduce this idea to the class as a whole. My class was buzzing around the room all week looking for things to add to the news. Isn't that what we want our writers to do anyway? Explain to your students that engaged learners make the best news reporters because their excitement and knowledge translates through the screen for their viewers.

Let the kids name your news program, decide upon a logo, and generate ideas for the news as well! In the first day of trying this, my students must have come up with 50 amazing ideas, and they were annoyed when we had to stop the conversation and move on. Every single student really bought into this because it's FUN! As a teacher, I happen to feel super lucky that is is also highly educationally valuable. 

Make sure that every student is involved in the news, even if they don't want to be on camera. Students who aren't comfortable being on screen yet can record, write, and do other behind-the-scenes things (like editing!) to help produce the final product. Making this a "have to do" thing rather than a "get to do" thing isn't going to make learning fun for everyone. While this will appeal to most of your learners, you can appreciate what it's like to have stage fright! Perhaps after seeing that this is about learning and having fun and not perfection, students who were a little hesitant will be more ready to take a risk by being on camera.

I also recommend that you TALK THIS UP with families and ask them to watch the news together! Kids get so much more excited for this when their parents are on board too!!

So, have you ever filmed news with your students? How do you get your kids excited about learning? Are you going to try this!? Let me know your thoughts below!!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

My Favorite Way To Sneak Fun Into The Day

My Favorite Way To Sneak Fun Into The Day by A Word On Third

Finding time to collaborate with other teachers and build a school community that reaches outside of the walls of your classroom is not easy--especially with the demands teachers have on their plates these days! So often, teachers tell me things like, "I used to do (insert fun thing here), but I don't have time for that anymore." I sometimes noticed myself falling into that pattern too, and I would feel so disappointed each time.

I've vowed not to let the fun stuff go, and I wanted to share how one colleague and I fit in the fun without causing chaos in our routine. Hopefully it can help you too! Here is my favorite suggestion for fitting in some fun stuff without making life in the classroom too crazy...

Have your students meet with a buddy class!!

In our school, third grade classes are paired with a first grade class. Those classes are called "buddy classes." The third graders act as mentors (or "buddies") to the first graders. Do you have a buddy class? If so, great! If not, I recommend getting one. It injects TONS of fun into the day. Here are some easy ways to fit buddy time into your schedule each week or two:

  • Hold a Morning Meeting with both classes. Have students sit in a giant circle next to their buddy for your greeting, sharing, activity, and message. You can have buddies partner share, or each class might elect a class spokesperson to read a few sentences about what is going on in their classroom. Plan it quickly the day before--that can be a great reflection, and you can fit in a short shared writing or interactive writing session with that too if you feel pressed for time! 
  • Have buddies read. Older students can practice coaching and modeling fluent reading, and younger students can practice reading fluently. Everyone gets a chance to grow their conversational skills!
  • Work on a math lab together. Believe it or not, my third graders could benefit from working with the first graders. They definitely all understand first grade content, but change your lens--do your third graders use tools the way they should? Do they need to practice their accountable math talk skills? If so, giving them a chance to practice that with easier content can help them to transfer it to harder content later.
  • Do a science experiment that's for fun, but include a more general objective in your lesson plans (like, "Students will be able to record observations by creating detailed drawings and using descriptive language."). 

Sometimes you just need to give yourself a good kick in the butt to go do that fun stuff. The Common Core has a TON of standards--surely you can find one and write an objective that fits with something in there! The standards about speaking and listening are GREAT for that! So whether you teach the little guys or the big guys, go get yourself a buddy class!

Here are some awesome resources I've used with my buddy teacher (or found but hope to use one day) that you can try with your buddy class:

We have used some idea's on this blogger's list -- we made our own buddy books! We didn't buy hers because we wanted the kids to have more space to write in our books, but her books are adorable.

We made these snowmen with our buddies this winter!! It's a great activity to get kids thinking about comparing and contrasting. Use this and carry it over into literature. Our early finishers actually started comparing books they read together. 

This activity took a little while to prep, but it was easier with two teachers! My buddy teacher printed all of the pictures, and I prepped the snowmen. Our snowmen only had a head and a body--no bottom! Hey, it was still cute, and it was easier to get it done. I cut out some black and brown squares of paper and let my third graders help their first grade buddies with cutting out arms and hats.

I know I've shared about my love for this resource before. If you want to do stuff like this AND you want to have a buddy class, but you feel like you have to choose... why?? DO THIS WITH YOUR BUDDY CLASS! Two birds, one stone. Depending on the age of each child and the amount of support you have in the room (between teachers, instructional assistants, and strong mentor students), maybe you can try this with first grade.

STEM challenges like this are popping up all over Pinterest. Do a STEM challenge with your buddies! Just like I mentioned with the growth mindset resource above... two birds, one stone.

Do you have a buddy class? What do you like to do with your buddy class? If not, what grade do you teach? Could you snag a buddy class for yourself? Comment below!!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Do You Know How To Inform Parents Quickly and Easily?

Do You Know How To Inform Parents Quickly and Easily? by A Word On Third

When families know what is happening in your classroom and understand your class culture, a lot of great things happen. Student achievement increases, but you are better able to support kids as a parent-teacher team too. Communicating effectively and often shows parents how much you care. But what exactly do parents want to know? According to Edutopia, parents want to know:

  • Updates on their child's progress or insight on how they improve.
  • Timely notice when performance is slipping. 
  • Information on what their child is expected to learn during this year. 
  • Homework and grading policies.
  • Information on their child's behavior (including how their child gets along with others).
  • Curriculum descriptions, information on instructional programs, and updates about changes in these areas.
  • A calendar of events and meetings.
  • Information on student safety.

That's a LOT of stuff!!! Edutopia has also published a great article called Parent Communication Toolbox, which lists many tools to help teachers communicate effectively. Now, social media can be used to accomplish a majority of the items on the bulleted list above. So many teachers are using social media to share about students now. What a change from when I was a kid; teacher webpages were only starting to become a thing!!

Social media can be great because it helps students to become good digital citizens... but it worries me too. Once something is on the internet, it's on there forever! What if a child doesn't want to be found on the internet (or their parent is against this)? What if you want to use a class Instagram account, but your school district prohibits it because it's not private?


I LOVE THIS TOOL! This amazing app let's me have the best of both worlds--it's an educational social media platform that teaches students about leaving a digital footprint... but in a safe, private way. So, head on over to www.seesaw.me and check out what all the fuss is about! First, you'll need to register. Tell SeeSaw that you are a teacher.

And then you'll want to create an account! Use your school email address and get started. It'll only take you 30 seconds to create your actual account. When you open up your first account, you'll see a very short tutorial made of 3 pictures. The tutorial just explains that SeeSaw is a teacher-controlled, online, student portfolio. Once you click through all 3 pictures, you'll see a button at the bottom that says "Get Started." Click it, and your next screen will look like this:

Type in your information and grade level. Click on the green check in the corner of the screen when you are done. If you have more than one class, that's OK! You can start by creating one class and make some more later. 

Now it'll be time to think about how your kids sign in. SeeSaw allows for easy sign-in by using QR codes. You just print the QR code out and post it on the wall. Students will use it when they want to post onto SeeSaw. You could also have them log-in if they have student email addresses, but I definitely think the QR code is faster.

Now, type your students' names in. I prefer typing in only first names (and adding last initials only if needed). I got a little goofy while writing this post and decided to add all 4 of the Beatles and my 2 dogs into my sample class. If you forget a student or get one mid-year, it's really easy to edit your class from your settings panel. I'll show you that later. I recommend adding one fake student to show your students how to use SeeSaw. I named my fake student "Puddleton" after our class mascot. I made our first SeeSaw posts under Puddleton's name when I taught the kids how to use the app. You're going to need to spend a little of time teaching kids how to use SeeSaw! More on that later, but trust me that it's useful to have a fake student account in your class! Don't forget to click the green check mark when you are done! It will be gray if you aren't ready to click ahead yet, but once you add one student, you will be able to click ahead.

Now you're set up! WHAAAAT!? Yep, it's that easy. Here's what your home screen will look like (plus some extra doodles!). Play around and see what you find. It's pretty easy to follow.

Whoo-hoo! Now you're ready to go. The last thing you'll really want to get familiar with is your little Dashboard. I don't know if that's what it is officially called, but that's what I'm calling it. Click on the little round button in the top left corner that has your initials on it. Then you'll see a new menu pop up on the left. There are a lot of features and options on there for your to explore. Here's my quick version for you!

If you want a free month of SeeSaw Plus (which has extra premium features), click on my affiliate link here! We'll both get a free month!!! Pretty cool, right??

Now... what kind of stuff do I post?

Each day, I post at least one video or photo. I also have the kids post them too. I post to share the kinds of things we are learning in class. Doing this helps families to see the language I use when teaching, student expectations and the language they use, and, of course, it shows our learning objectives. Here are some times I find myself posting:
  • Students turning and talking or any active engagement portion of a lesson during Reader's or Writer's Workshop.
  • The share or closure piece of a lesson when students restate what they learned as a class or in partnerships.
  • Any time my whole class or part of the class is debating (like during a book club or a read aloud).
Basically, I post whenever the class is working together during partner, small group, or whole group time. Sometimes I'm sure the parents can hear me coaching or prompting in the background, but that's OK. That's how our class is! Usually I try to step back and let the kids be independent. Luckily for me, this is a great chance to re-watch what my kids are doing later--I've actually used information from the SeeSaw posts to plan for small groups.

This is the screen that pops up when you click on the green plus sign to add a new item. As you can see, it is SUPER user-friendly. It has to be, because the students need to be able to work this app too!

Try to make the students responsible for posting! 

In my class, each child can post whenever they are particularly proud of something they accomplished. I sometimes have to provide additional structure for a few kids so they don't become off task due to SeeSaw, but most of my kids do not have a problem with this. If a few do, you may want to try telling them they can only post once or twice per day, or only post during the last 3 minutes of a class period. I also have times in which I encourage SeeSaw posting. During arrival when students have unpacked or during the end of the day during dismissal are both great times for posting if the kids have been thinking about what work they want to show off during the day.

Each week I also have a student assigned as class photographer. This is usually one of my most popular class jobs! This student is responsible for video-taping and/or photographing the exciting things in class. If there's a cool or unusual thing happening, students can either post directly to SeeSaw, or if they might lose out on learning time, they can take a quick picture or video and upload it to SeeSaw later. Class photographers are responsible for explaining what is happening in the video or photo with a grammatically correct caption.

SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!? This is the coolest tool ever for showing parents what kind of learning is going on in your classroom!!! Click below to try SeeSaw out, and get yourself a free month of SeeSaw Plus too.

Once you're ready for more, check out this awesome post I found about some more specific ways to use SeeSaw in your classroom from Mrs. Beattie's Classroom! I am going to try using SeeSaw to help my students practice their fluency starting tomorrow! Click the picture below to see some other ways to enhance engagement with SeeSaw!

Monday, February 13, 2017

6 Secrets You Need To Know To Conquer Hard Parent Conferences

Navigate a tricky parent-teacher conference with these awesome tips from A Word On Third!

It's tough to survive parent-teacher conferences.

Especially the ones which require you to deliver hard news. 

You want the families of your students to know that you are on the same team. Sometimes it doesn't matter how great your intentions are - sometimes, parents DO NOT want to hear what you have to say! Who can blame them? It's hard to hear someone say something negative about your child. This is what makes many teachers fear those hard parent-teacher conferences. I certainly used to. I remember those feelings of dread and anxiety that would linger in the pit of my stomach all day until the conference, sometimes remaining even after the conference.

My hope is that this post will give you the confidence and structure you need so that you can conquer any fears you might have when it comes to holding those hard parent-teacher conferences. I also hope these tips will help you to disarm parents (and maybe yourself too!). These secrets of mine will help you to run tricky conferences smoothly, but they are also just good practices for any conference. They will help you to communicate effectively with parents.

Throughout this post, I'll be referring to an example of some hard news I might need to share with a family so you can see these secrets in action. For the sake of this post, let's imagine that I need to tell David's mom about a serious, repeated behavior, which is that David is not treating his classmates well. He uses unkind words and excludes them. I'm also going to assume that you have about 20 minutes for a scheduled conference. If you have more time--that will only make this easier for you!

The first thing you'll want to do is head over to my store and download my FREE parent-teacher conference template. This will help you to plan your conference effectively.

If you downloaded this before, I've updated this product in my store! You might want to go back to re-download it.

If you already have a template that you prefer using, great. Get it out! When you are about to have a tough conference, it's important to prepare. You want to do this because it helps you stay on track, manage time effectively during the conference, and conveys to families that you know and care about their child. It's so important that parents see that--especially if you're about to have a difficult conference.

If a parent requests a conference, I recommend responding with, "I'd love to meet. What specifically do you want to discuss? I want to make sure to be prepared." There's nothing wrong with that, and it allows you to be prepared and feel confident that no surprises will come your way!

1. Connect with the student's family members as individuals before diving in.

Everyone attending the conference deserves a warm greeting and to be asked how they are. Maybe it sounds like common sense, but sometimes we can be "all business" and forget about these things! If you know something going on in the family that you can comment on (like a vacation or new pet), ask about it to break the ice.

I suggest that you sit in a circle when discussing things with families. The same way we meticulously arrange furniture and desks to have an inclusive feeling in our classrooms, we must make sure parents feel included and equal in conferences. When parents and teachers sit across from each other at a table, it sets a subtle tone of the teacher being the authority figure. No bueno! If you can't sit together at a round table, sit at the corner of a table so that you are next to each other rather than across from each other.

2. State the purpose and format of the conference.

Maybe it sounds silly, but it provides structure for your conference and allows you to stay on schedule. Here's what I might say.
Today I'd like to talk about what I'm noticing David doing in the classroom. I'll start by sharing a few academic observations, and then I'll spend the majority of the time talking about David's social development. During the conference, I will share David's strengths and the goals we are working towards also. I'm hoping you'll stop me to ask any questions you may have along the way. Does that sound good to you?
I like asking family members if that is OK with them so that they feel involved and empowered. It also allows you to re-adjust your plan and devote some time to specific parent concerns if needed.

3. Share strengths and goals.

This is so darn important! No matter how good at a particular subject a student is, he/she is still working on SOMETHING. Similarly, if a child is really struggling in a particular area, he/she is still great at something! It's important to share these. I find parents really appreciate a little reassurance when discussing goals, especially if their child typically performs above grade-level. If you are used to hearing how amazing your child is, and you never hear any feedback about what your child should be working on next, wouldn't that make you a little worried? That's why I like to prepare families for this ahead of time.

Ok, so so far, all of the 3 tips I shared for you should be present in ANY parent-teacher conference, challenging or not. The following 3 tips are extremely important in the more challenging conferences, and I find they can make or break the success of the conference.

4. Share delicate information tactfully!

Think about why you are sharing the tough news. No matter how many reasons you have, one of them should be to help your student improve. If you are angry, you need to reframe your perspective until you can find a productive reason to share this news. I like to share tough news this way:

  1. Start with a specific compliment. ("He does so well," is not the same as, "He does so well during class conversations because he participates often. The class benefits from hearing his ideas.")
  2. Objectively state the behavior you are concerned about. (Bonus points if you have reached out about this issue before--you can refer to prior contact, and what parent wants to be blind-sided by bad news?) Share any consequences you have already observed happening as a result of the behavior.
  3. State why this information concerns you.
  4. Give a different specific compliment. (Compliment sandwich much? Remember, these compliments must be genuine.)
  5. Ask the parent if he/she sees this at home and request any helpful input he/she might have.
This approach really prevents parents from becoming aggressive or defensive as much as possible. It shows parents that you are not attacking their child and that you still see positive things in their child. It conveys your concerns respectfully, sensitively, and the objectivity you used gives you credibility. Similarly, by remaining objective, you are also showing concern over a child's chosen behavior rather than discrediting their personality. Let me show you what this might sound like in action now...
David has been showing off his amazing work ethic each day. He always makes sure to complete his classwork. I can tell how much he cares about doing well in school because he puts so much effort into each and every assignment he completes and he checks it over before handing it in, especially in science class. His written observations during science experiments are extremely detailed. There is something I have noticed (insert time frame here) that is concerning me. David demonstrates difficulty with treating his classmates respectfully. He sometimes chooses to use unkind words with peers and excludes them from recess games. For example, I know we previously discussed another incident in which David called another student names in class. Also, yesterday David told two classmates that they were not allowed to play a recess game with the group he was playing with. When David and his two classmates came back from recess, I helped them to settle their dispute, but David said he was still upset afterwards. As a result, he was distracted during science class. He only wrote one observation, though I regularly see him writing at least 4 or 5 observations during most experiments. I also noticed that those same two classmates he excluded from the recess game told him that they did not want to work with him during a group project and avoided working near him for the rest of the day. When David chooses to use unkind words with classmates, I worry that it is impacting his ability to maintain friendships. I know fitting in is important to David, and I don't want him to find himself struggling in social situations due to this behavior. I also know that David will show more growth academically when he is not worried about these social issues. (Notice how I objectively brought up how a social issue could impact academics? I recommend doing that too!) I really enjoy working with David, and I don't want to see these things happening to him. It is clear that it upsets him. He is a capable worker, and I know he cares about his school performance. Have you seen anything like this at home before?

5. Listen to and validate family members' feedback.

Now it's time to listen. No matter what judgements you have made about a family member, you can learn a lot about a student by listening to the family members' feedback. You can learn about how family members address this behavior, what the family members value, etc.

I also recommend asking the student's family member what strategies he/she uses to deal with the behavior that seem to work best for your student. Remember, you only know this child better than the family member does in the school setting. Your student's family member knows your student better in every other setting! Sometimes children act very differently in both settings. It's hard to believe, but it's very true. Sometimes you will see more positive choices and sometimes you will see more negative choices than the family members do.

Now, just to cover our bases... if your conference gets too tense or aggressive despite your best efforts to be sensitive and respectful, it is okay to end it. As a matter of fact, you should. You can always finish the conference at another time with an administrator, case manager, guidance counselor, etc. present. You could also invite the administrator ahead of time if you know the conference will be tricky (but make sure to inform family members ahead of time so they don't feel ambushed or ganged up on). However, if you are following these tips and you are working hard to communicate with families throughout the year, it's going to be very, very rare that you find yourself in an aggressive conference. 

6. Make an action plan.

Assuming the family member is on board and you have successfully delivered your hard news, now it's time to think about what you've heard. Do you need to make a behavior plan? Do you need to communicate more regularly? Do you need to schedule a follow-up conference? Make a plan with the family member and stick to it! How are you going to help this child solve this problem? You might not know right away, so you might decide to reach out to each other in another week to see what ideas you have generated.


If you're looking to improve relationships with families, I recommend checking out the above posts on fostering a connection with family members. It's always easier to be proactive than reactive. When you have an existing relationship built on trust, parents see you as an advocate for their child instead of an adversary. Just click on each picture to be taken to another blog post.

What are your tricks of the trade when it comes to running a tricky conference? Share your best idea that has saved you grief below!!