Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Test Prep: On the January "TO DO" list!

How do you prepare for the upcoming state tests? With January historically being the month where teachers in upper elementary begin to panic seriously start prepping and preparing, I knew that I wanted to have something in place ready to go as soon as my students and I returned after break. With the switch to the new PARCC tests this year, I realized that my strategies to prepare my class would need a makeover, too. After studying many of the websites and articles geared towards the new assessments, I decided to take the plunge and make my own practice activities to mirror the PARCC as closely as I could. My first goal was to try and provide my students with a variety of different types of literature. I wanted them to be exposed to not only good narrative prose, but also to poems, myths, and traditional/ cultural pieces. My next step was to give my students additional practice with really using text-based evidence to support their reasoning. My last step was to try and include as many of the literature Common Core standards as I could throughout the stories to ensure that my students had exposure to all skills that might be asked of them. I'm getting excited to begin trying them out with my class in another week! If you are finding that you are in the same boat with needing a test prep make-over, check out this freebie below!
Please continue to hop through our blogs for some more amazing ideas & activities to jumpstart YOUR January! Don't forget to enter our raffle for a $50 gift card AND links to some special $1 deals on TPT for a limited time! Happy Teaching!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Party in a Bag!

"The classroom holiday party." Do those words make you smile in festive anticipation or make you grab your aspirin bottle and just pray the end of the day comes quickly? When I first started teaching, I admit, I was one that loved party days. I enjoyed the break from the routine and seeing the kids get so excited really helped get me in the holiday spirit. But, as the years rolled by, I began to look at these days with less and less enthusiasm. The kids came in wound up at 8 AM and it only increased throughout the day. The shift in the daily routine threw everyone into another orbit. Even though I would post the schedule on the board and go over it, I swear every kid wanted to personally know when the party was. I would watch the multitude of junk food pile up on the table and it would make my teeth hurt just to look at it all! And then, without a doubt, someone would come in carrying those evil cupcakes with bright red and green frosting...just waiting to be smeared on 26 faces, desks, chairs, carpet, etc. Okay, so I know I probably sound like the grinch about now. However, I'm writing this because I wanted to share such a fun activity that I did with my class yesterday. I have to admit, it was not my own brainstorm. I stole borrowed the idea from my own 4th grade daughter's wonderful teachers and added a game I found by searching on-line. With a few added tweaks, I watched in amazement as it quickly became my new favorite holiday school tradition. Here goes..... 1. I sent a letter home with directions for bringing a Christmas Party in a Bag. It consisted of a white bag to decorate AT HOME (stapled to directions), a list of items to include in the bag, and a date when they were due. Having them due a day ahead of time allowed me to quickly make up several bags for the students who did not bring back anything and time to create a special bag for any peanut allergic children.
2. During our scheduled Christmas party time, I had the students take their own bag and stand in a big circle around the room. We talked about how they had brought in a special bag to share with someone else to brighten their day (I had a few who mentioned they just wanted their own bag!) Anyways, this was a perfect time to talk about feelings and appreciation. I explained the directions for the game we were going to play to distribute the bags. I had found a Twas the Night Before Christmas left/right pass game that was perfect! The kids loved playing it and it worked very well at mixing up the bags nicely!
3. My favorite part was after the excitement died down and the kids were looking at their goodies. I decided spontaneously to have each student stand up and tell whose bag they received. Well, I just happened to pick the perfect child to begin. He stood up and gave a little talk about how he really loved each item in the bag and wanted to thank the girl who had given it to him. He then preceded to wish her a very Merry Christmas. I couldn't have scripted a better model for those kids and, I have to admit, I was so touched by his sweet sincerity that my eyes got a little watery. Every child took a turn and, following his lead, gave very heartwarming and sincere thank yous. Such a change from the usual craziness that arises once kids are given sugar!
It just worked so well that I wanted to share it with other teachers. Here is the link to find this in my TPT store! It brought back that Christmas spirit to my room and I'm already looking forward to doing it again in the coming years. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

'Tis the Season for Holiday Writing

I admit it.....I enjoy writing with my students! I see it as a chance to have a closer glimpse into their unique personalities. I love to see how they respond to specific prompts...and I love how they listen and critique their peers with their writing as well. Recently, I've tweaked my prompts to reflect the types of writing being asked of students with the revised standards. Incorporating persuasive, expository, and narrative writing with engaging topics makes my writing station flourish! I've recently finished a set of 12 prompts that reflect key holidays and events in December, January, & February. In addition, I developed a simple rubric to assess students' writing and reflect on needed areas of growth. Please enjoy this sample of my winter journals. I hope it brightens and fills your classroom with merry writing! :) Jen
Please visit my TeachersPayTeachers store for the complete set!

I'm excited to introduce a fun, holiday contest coming up this week!  Take part in the festivities and try your chance at winning a $65 Amazon gift card!  See you soon with more details!

Monday, December 8, 2014

A night at the movies.  That’s where the idea to start this blog first began.  Sitting down with my popcorn, I had turned to talk with my husband when I was suddenly approached by a young girl in her twenties.  She introduced herself as a student of mine that had been in my classroom almost 15 years ago.  As she began talking, the years melted away and I once again recognized that familiar twinkle in her eyes.  After catching up with her latest adventures, she told me something that I’ll always remember.  “Mrs. Blevins, I just wanted to say hi to you.  You were always one of my favorite teachers because you made learning fun!  I still remember that stuff you brought in for us to taste when we were studying explorers (hard tack) and the timeline that we made that reached the whole way down the hall!  That was so much fun!” After we chatted a little longer, I thanked her for her kind words and reflected on what she had said.  I thought about her words and it made me a little sad.  I realized then and there how much I had let the system rob me of the ability to “make learning fun” on a daily basis like I used to do all the time!  It didn’t happen instantly; it was a gradual progression.  How many times did a thought about a fun activity cross my mind only to be chased away by the pressure of getting another test prep lesson done or one more standard covered?  From this chance encounter in a dark theater, I realized, quite suddenly, the need to have a place where I could share and collaborate with others to bring that creativity back to life!  That is, quite simply, my intention for this blog.  So, if you are a teacher who may need that extra boost to rekindle that little spark inside all good teachers, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome!  Let’s inspire each other together and make it a goal to “make learning fun” once again!