Friday, October 18, 2013

Classroom Structure

This post is all about the structure of my classroom. Parents will be coming soon for conferences, but here is a sneak peak at what it looks like.

From the front
From the back
The side by side seating allows for partner talk. Partner talk is when I share a question or idea, and students turn and tell someone their thoughts. It's a way to give everyone a chance to share without calling on students one by one. It's a safe way for kids to share because if they don't know the answer, or if they're wrong, they aren't embarrassed in front of the whole class. Plus, partner talk is a break from listening to the teacher the whole period!

Another thing you will see in my classroom is the library shelf. Students can visit the school library before and after school, at lunch, and during Academy. My shelf is limited (if you wish to donate used chapter books, I'll gladly accept!) but it offers options. I also have crates with poetry, magazines, and non-fiction picture books.

Next, a photo of my rules. The point of the rules is to create a safe environment where learning is the focus.
Students may leave to use the restroom as long as it is not in the middle of instructions, or a presentation. They must sign out, as you can see on the "Who's Out?" paper.
Next to the door frame is another list. This is for strikes. I hate the term, it sounds negative. But the other sixth grade teacher and I wanted something that was easy to communicate. Everyone understands baseball so, "three strikes you're out," it is! At this point of the year, 95% of strikes have been for forgetting materials needed for class. Usually, one strike is enough to motivate someone to do better next time. One strike means their name goes on the list. If the same student repeats the unwanted behavior, I add a checkmark. The second checkmark is when I take action by calling home and/or assigning 30 minutes of lunch detention.
If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the box below, or send me an email. Until then, I look forward to meeting all the parents during conference week, November 6-8.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Classroom Jobs

Managing a classroom requires a lot of forethought. My semi-Type A personality prefers predictable procedures, plus I want the 50-ish minutes I get with my students to be efficient and meaningful. Therefore, I implement plans to help things flow smoothly.

Most significantly, I employ the help of the sixth graders. They generally like the responsibility, and I believe their involvement contributes to a stronger classroom community. Students rotate jobs every two and  half weeks. After their rotation, they get "paid." Their payment can be 10 points of extra credit in any class I teach (Science and English), or a coupon. The coupons are for things like, "One Free Tardy," or "Use the teacher's chair for a day," or "Drink Pass" where they are allowed to keep a Gatorade or other type of drink on their desk (with a twist on lid!).

One example of a classroom job is "Paper Collector." I have a student helper who collects homework at the start of class. He or she uses a checklist and records who handed in their paper. I keep this checklist and the papers in a plastic sleeve. It's easy to transport home where I score the work, then back to school again to the "Out-box." (Photo below)


I have a "Paper Distributor" as well. He or she passes back papers once they are graded. Students can decide to keep papers in their "Navigation Binders" (a term from an academic guidance program our school has used in the past), or recycle, or take home their papers. The Navigation Binder stays on a shelf at school and is used as a portfolio during parent conferences. (Photo below)

The "In-box" and "Out-box" for each class.
Navigation Binders are stacked above,

Other helpful student jobs are the textbook manager and the notebook manager. The textbook is only used sporadically, therefore aren't checked out to students. The books stay on a shelf in my room and the textbook manager hands them out and collects them as needed. The notebook manager does the same with the Writer's Notebook or Science Notebook, which also stay in the classroom in a tub.

The other job is a materials manager. This students is supposed to be the last one out of the room. They're supposed to manage lost and found items, and help clean up after any "messy" activities (anything with scissors for example!).

All in all, these jobs help things flow smoothly in the classroom. Plus, the kids get a fun reward for helping out.


Sunday, October 6, 2013


Spelling doesn't matter now that we all use spell check and auto correct, right? 
If I rely on spell check, I don't learn to monitor the meaning of what I type. Case in point: The fire trick beard it's siren as it sped done the highway.  (The fire truck blared its siren as it sped down the highway). Furthermore, if we just spelled words the way they sounded, there'd be no "North Star," or constant, for writing and reading. If "science" is always spelled the same, there's no guessing about what the author meant to say.

Just like some people don't "get" math, others aren't naturally good at finding and understanding word patterns. On the other hand, some don't even need to study and they'll ace every spelling test they take!

Image Credit 
I'll admit, I am a "Word Nerd." I actually find it interesting to categorize and dissect words, and uncover word meanings and origins. I probably would have been really happy as an English major (my sister Megan rocked that one while I stuck to child psychology and teaching methods). I know not every student will be enthralled with words. But I hope by learning the concepts, they will be a better writer and reader.

In the curriculum I use, each lesson is based on a spelling rule or key concept. If they "get" the concept, learning their spelling words is much more than memorizing a string of letters. For example, the long vowel "u" like in vacuum and unite. In the case of the long vowel u, we can see some categories: two vowels in a row (uu, in vacuum and ue in issue), vowel-consonant-vowel, (the u-n-i, in unite and u-v-e, in juvenile). So rather than just recite the letters, students can sort the words into categories and match patterns.

A lot of the spelling concepts are based on phonics. That is fun for me to revisit with the students because I taught kindergarten and first grade ten year ago, and I hate to waste all that experience! The value of revisiting the phonics and learning word patterns is because spelling success is closely tied to reading success. It goes hand in hand in the form of knowing how to sound out words, and relating the meaning to other words that have similar parts.

So how do we do spelling at school?
Monday: Spelling Pretest in their Word Work notebook. We correct it together and discuss the patterns, word meaning and spelling rules. Students chart their pretest score in their binder. Start worksheet as homework.
Tuesday: Spelling assignment. This comes from a "menu" I have. One week they might have to write each word in cursive three times each. The next week they might write a synonym for each word. Another week, they might categorize/sort the words.
Wednesday: Correct the spelling worksheet. The curriculum provides a two sided worksheet that is sent home as homework. We correct it as a class and further discuss the words.
Friday: Test. After it's graded, students chart their score and compare it to the pretest score.
What can you do at home?
Ask to see their pretest on Monday night. It's in their spiral bound Word Work notebook that they bring back and forth to class everyday. Ask about the patterns for the week. Make sure they know what each word means. For example, use each word in a sentence.
Many kids choose to do their homework in Academy (Seventh period, like study hall). It's not due till Wednesday, so if you know your child struggles with spelling or reading, go over it at home.
Thursday is the night before the test. Study the words, but not just memorize them. Find the words that have the same patterns. If he can spell alley, he can spell valleys.

All in all, keep in mind that spelling is a direct link to being a better reader. It is something that most parents can really help with, while sometimes math gets to be too much by middle and high school! And if your child says they don't have any homework, well, that's not true! They can study their spelling words!