Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Implementing Student-Led Conferences

Part of our jobs as teacher is to sit down with parents once or twice a year to discuss their children's progress and to set goals for future success. I always thought it was funny how parents and teachers get together to have these conversations, and to make decisions about a student's learning. For me, the missing link was always the student. As a teacher who has spent (almost) her entire career working with upper grade students, I started to realize that these students really needed to be involved in their own conferences. Why not let students lead the conversation about their progress and goals??

The Benefits of Student-Led Conferences
The first year after implementing student-led conferences with my class, the benefits were immediately obvious to me, my students, and their parents....

  • First, students take ownership and responsibility for their behavior, work habits, and grades. Instead of the teacher "defending" grades or marks for behavior, students must explain to their parents (and teacher) why they earned those marks.
  • Another benefit is that everyone is on the same page!! So much is lost in translation from school to home and home to school. With all parties involved, students, teachers, and parents can come together to discuss a student's needs without blame or excuses.
  • Also, students have more buy-in when setting and working toward goals. When students are able to identify and discuss their own strengths and weaknesses, they have a much easier time setting goals, and doing the work to meet those goals.
  • Most importantly, students feel a sense of pride and maturity when taking part in making decisions about their own education.

Conference Checklist
I always give my students a checklist to work through when they are leading their conferences. It starts with them welcoming their parents, showing them where to sit, and introducing them to me. Then they continue through the checklist, sharing about what they have learned, how they are doing in class, and eventually their goals. It ends with them thanking their parents for coming, and prompting them to ask any questions. Here is a sample of the checklist that I use:

What We're Learning This Year
I like for students to start their conferences by sharing what they are learning in class. Often times, this is the first chance that parents get to learn about what goes on in our classroom each day. It also gives students a chance to highlight some of their favorite activities that happen at school. Students usually spend about a minute or two sharing what they are learning.

Student Evaluation
In the weeks leading up to their conferences, students complete a couple self evaluations. The first asks them to evaluate their behavior and work habits. Then they complete a page about their strengths and weaknesses. This is good jumping off point for setting goals. During the conference, students will briefly share these evaluations.

Goal Setting
This is the final stage of our student-led conferences. You could have students write goals prior to their conference, or have them write them with their parents present. For the sake of time, I usually have students write their goals before their conference, and then modify them as needed during the conference. I also ask students to share with me and their parents what we can do to help them reach their goals. After all, we're a team and students should realize that they are not alone in achieving their goals!

After students have shared their evaluations and goals, and after parents have asked their questions, that is usually when I will step in to share the student's grades and any final thoughts. By the time we reach this point, so many great conversations have already taken place and students are able move forward toward achieving their goals.

The conference forms shared in this post are available as a FREE download in my Teacher Shop!! Click on the pic below to access this resource.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Effective Classroom Strategies to Combat Electronics

Who can compete with Minecraft, Rocket League, Roblox and Madden? We have a one-word answer for you-teachers!

Technology has taken over the lives of our students. Most, if not all, upper elementary students now have cell phones. Most have some type of gaming system at home, and probably a vast majority of them have some type of tablet at home as well (iPad, Kindle…). In an age where attention spans are judged on being fixated at an electronic screen, teachers are scrambling to find ways to engage their students in any way possible.

Ten years ago, the iPhone was released to the general public. Three years later came along the iPad. Since then society has been bombarded with electronic devices. Educators are beginning to see the impacts that these devices are having on child development. Ask any teachers and s/he will say that students’ attention spans aren’t what they used to be, they lack social skills when interacting with peers and adults, and are reliant on instant gratification. These seem like huge challenges for educators who spend 8 hours a day with these students.

What can educators do to at least address the issues we are seeing in schools? We have to be at the forefront of teaching our students social skills, patience, and perseverance.

We have developed 5 effective classroom strategies to combat electronics.

Interactive Read Alouds
Students need to be engaged in learning and listening. What better way to do this than through interactive read alouds. This is where the teacher selects high quality literature to read to the class. Every teacher should take at least 15 minutes a day to do this. Not only does the teacher read aloud, but s/he asks questions, models reading strategies, and even uses voices to portray characters. It is amazing how many students can’t wait for read aloud every day. We make sure that our students do not have anything on our desks when we do them, and sometimes we even have them come to the carpet as 5th graders to listen. When our district provided rigid guidelines for minutes for all subjects, one area we didn’t budge on was read alouds.

If the setting of a particular chapter is at night, turn off the lights and read by flashlight or candlelight. If there is an intense part of the book, add a little background music to make it come to life even more. Please make sure to do read alouds every day!

Drawing in Math
One way that we strive to make math more engaging, is by allowing our students to draw out the problems that we do in class. Not only does this get their minds working, it allows them to create a picture to help them learn. We have found that by allowing students to use images to help solve problems it has increased their attention spans and has helped to keep them focused on learning new concepts in math. Take a look at the example below.

Many students are kinesthetic learners and providing them with tools that they can manipulate in their hands during math can help them focus on the task at hand. 

Simulations in Social Studies
Reading out of a textbook all the time can get boring for any student regardless if they are addicted to electronics or not. Creating simulation activities where students play an active role in learning really helps to get them involved and excited to learn. For example, if you are teaching about the Oregon Trail, have the students do the learning by becoming pioneers who roll dice to determine their destiny. Or if you are learning about slavery, have your students pretend they are part of the Underground Railroad trying to escape to freedom. Along their journey they are learning about facts, famous people and events. If you can directly involve your students in simulations, their level of interest and participation will skyrocket!

Hands on Activities
When it comes to active student involvement, doing hands-on experiments in the classroom can’t be beat. Students love to get their hands into materials and be able to manipulate objects. It doesn't have to be limited to just science experiments.  You can do cooperative activities such as building towers out of spaghetti and marshmallows or the many STEM activities that are now available from many educators across the world.

Focus on Teamwork
We are finding that many students do not have good social or cooperative group skills. The social isolation of an electronic device at home has taken them away from quality human interaction. It is important to establish your room as a classroom community where collaboration and cooperative group work is the norm.

We have developed a slide show that focuses on Teaching Teamwork and Cooperative Learning for your students. The slide show has students memorize a set of numbers by themselves to see how many they can remember. Then it has them work as a team to see how many they can remember. The goal is to show your students that working together toward a common goal can have great results.

Teaching Teamwork and Cooperation Learning Activity

As educators, we need to engage our students at school and help teach them the social and academic skills that they will need to be successful in life. We need to show them that there is much more to life than staring into an electronic device.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

RtI for Math - Getting Started

Just the term RtI (Response to Intervention) can sound overwhelming.  When first starting out, it doesn't have to be a go big, or go home approach.  Start small.  Take baby steps and see what works and doesn't work for you.  You can begin implementing RtI for math right inside the confines of your classroom.  My district has a very successful RtI model for reading that we follow, but as for math, we are responsible for providing our own assessments, interventions, and tracking within our own classrooms.  So, how should you get started?  

1.  Gather Data

Where are you in the school year?  If you are at the beginning of the school year, administer a diagnostic test to see what students know and do not know from the previous year.  This will give you an idea of what skills students need to work on to be successful in the current school year curriculum.

You can also use your benchmark assessments to identify trouble spots.  By using the benchmark assessments you can create groups based on skill deficients and rotate students in and out of RtI according to their current need.

2.  Develop a Plan

Once you have administered the assessment you have chosen, begin to develop a plan.  Look for students' strengths and weaknesses.  Determine the skill(s) that the student needs the most help with.  Focus on no more than two at a time.   Next, create small groups of students based on their needs.  

You can download these FREE RtI Planning Forms HERE.  

3.  Provide Interventions

Interventions should happen in small groups, 4-5 times per week, and for a minimum of 20 minutes.  Instruction during interventions should be explicit and systematic.  This time should be used to provide extra practice and a lot of interaction with students.  

Interventions should be practiced under direct teacher guidance so that they receive on-demand corrective feedback.

During guided practice, the teacher should ask students to communicate the strategies they are using to complete each step of the process and provide reasons for their decisions.  In addition, the teacher should ask students to explain their solutions.  Note that not only interventionists, but also fellow students, can and should communicate how they think through solving problems to the interventionist and the rest of the group.  This can facilitate the development of shared language for talking about mathematical problem solving.  (Gersten et al, 2009, p. 23)

Add manipulatives for students to practice during interventions.  Here is a list of virtual manipulatives:

4.  Evaluate Progress

When evaluating progress, you want to think of it similar to giving a pretest, check points along the way, and a post test.  The "pretest" is the initial data that you collected.  This is the baseline for analyzing a student's progress. The "check points", which we call probes, should be a direct replica (referring to the format and type of problems) of the baseline that you took.  This way the data that is collected is reliable and valid.   

The frequency in which you assess students is up to you.  You may choose to give them weekly, bi-weekly, or when you feel that students are ready.  

If the student passed a probe, you may stop interventions.  I like students to be proficient with at least two probes before stopping interventions.  If the student did not pass the probe, interventions should continue.  The process continues until the student is able to successfully perform the task he or she initially struggled with.

If you are considering starting RtI for math in your classroom or even in your district, start small.  Collect your own data on how the process is going, and make changes along the way.  Just like in a classroom, one size does not fit all.  The tweaks you make along the way is what will help to make it successful.

Additional Resources to Get You Started

I have a series of blog posts that give a lot of additional tips!  You can find the RtI for Math Made Easy blog series HERE.  

Printable Resources

3rd Grade 

4th Grade

5th Grade

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

How to Use Task Cards With Board Games

        Task cards are one of my favorite things in the classroom! I love how they provide concentrated practice for my students, how they can be used for any subject, but most of all, I like how engaging they can be. Students often view them as simply fun, although they are definitely an effective learning tool.

        Another great thing about task cards is how versatile they are. They can be used in so many ways! In fact, I wrote another blog post with 16 Ways to Use Task Cards, if you'd like a few more ideas! Using task cards with board games is one activity that makes task cards even more fun!

        So, how exactly do you add task cards to a board game? 

1. Gather Some Board Games
        If you're a mom or a dad, you may have lots of board games at home that your children have outgrown, or that you can borrow. You may also find them at garage sales or of course you can purchase them at a number of stores. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to find a good variety is to send a note home to your students' parents. Lots of times, they too will have games they no longer use and will donate them to your classroom. 

        You'll want to make sure that the games are simple enough to either teach your students how to play (checkers?) or that the games are ones they may already know. There are oodles of games which work well. 

Some of the games I would recommend include:
Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land, Hi-ho Cherry O, Trouble, Jenga, Connect Four, Guess Who, Pick-Up Sticks, Sorry...

By the may think that your students are too old for such "babyish" games, but surprisingly, most older elementary students tend to see them as nostalgic and will enjoy them again!

2. Make a Game Plan

        Next, you'll want to figure out exactly how you want your students to use the task cards. Here are a few options:

A. Centers (Stations): If you have a small class with 4 - 5 kids per center, one game would usually work well (except Connect Four or Guess Who, which are better played with 2 kids). Larger groups could have two games. This center would last then for at least two weeks, as the kids could rotate the task cards sets and games which are played.

B. Remediation: Task cards are a great way to provide students extra help. If you are lucky enough to either have an aide or a parent volunteer, you can set out the task card set and the board game with a list of students who need more practice.

C. Whole Class: Whether you have Game Day Friday or want students to have a bit of fun test prep, task cards with board games work beautifully. I set the task cards and games in a specific order around the room and assign students to a specific game for the first day. This does take a bit of planning but once it is written down, it's easy to manage. Students play that game for a certain amount of time (depending upon your students' attention span). Then, the next day (or week) we keep the same groups but rotate the order of the games and everyone gets a new game to play. 

3. Set Expectations and Teach Procedures
        Just like everything we do in the classroom, students need to know what our expectations are and what they need to do. If we don't teach these things specifically, they are likely to make up their own rules. So, before I do something new in the classroom, I try to think about every. single. possible. thing. which may need to be addressed BEFORE it happens. Thinking things through carefully, helps me to know what to teach my students. Every class is different and teachers have different likes and dislikes, so your list may look different than mine, which is fine.

Here are a few things to consider:
  • How to Work Cooperatively with Classmates?
  • Which Noise Level is Appropriate?
  • What to Do if There is a Disagreement?
  • How to Be a Good Sport?
  • How to Take Treat the Materials Respectfully?
  • What to Do When The Group is Finished (what if they're done early?)?
  • How to Clean Up the Materials When Time is Up?
        One of the things I like to do the first time, is to model playing a game with a small group in front of the class. That way, they are able to see what a group looks like visually, before they try it themselves. 

4. Using Task Cards With the Board Game
        Besides expectations and procedures, kids will need to know how to combine the task cards with the board game. I tell my students that they will be playing the game exactly as they usually would, except they have an added step. Before being able to make a move (rolling the dice, drawing a card, spinning a spinner, pulling a stick...) the first player will read a task card out loud (which is great fluency practice) and then will need to answer the card. If the answer is correct, the player takes a move, but if he/she is incorrect, the player waits until the next turn. To solve disputes, some cards are self-checking, an answer key could be provided (to be looked at only when there is a dispute if this would work for your class), or a parent volunteer, student helper, or you could resolve the issue. After the first player's turn is over, play continues the same way with the next person.

        The game boards are set up as usual, except that the task cards are shuffled and placed in a pile face down. Once a student answers a card, the cards are placed face up in a discard pile.

        Finally, you'll need to decide if you want students to record answers or not. If you feel that students can be trusted to participate as they should, perhaps no record keeping is needed and the process and learning taking place is what's important. If you'd like students to record answers, you may do it in a few ways. Each person could have a record sheet and record all of the answers or each person could record his/her own answers only. The alternative would be to have one record sheet for the entire group and it is passed around for each student to record his/her answer after taking a turn.

        That's it! Super simple way to make task cards even more fun!

If you're looking for some new task cards, click here.

Here are a few of my task card favorites. They are sold separately or as part of a complete unit:


If you like this post, make sure to share it with a teacher friend! Thanks so much for stopping by!

I'd love to connect with you!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Context Clues: A Free Interactive Lesson

Hi there! It’s Deb Hanson from Crafting Connections, and I’m going to share a free context clues lesson with you today. This lesson is arranged in a similar way to a character traits lesson that I shared with you last year! If you do decide that you want to try this activity with your students, be sure to click on the image below. The cup labels and sentence strips for this lesson are available in the FREE download.
Teach context clues with this anchor chart and FREE whole group activity! Ideal lesson for the upper elementary classroom.
Click HERE to download the freebies!

I almost always start my ELA units with a PowerPoint presentation to introduce the topic. Therefore, on the first day I would show my Context Clues PowerPoint to my students, and this lesson would occur on the second day of the context clues unit. To start this lesson, I would use an anchor chart to review the five main types of context clues.

This context clues anchor chart is referenced often in my classroom throughout the day for all subjects. Being able to use context clues is an essential skill for students! A FREE context clues lesson is also included in this blog post!

After distributing a white board, marker, and eraser to each student, I would present five plastic cups by spreading them across a table or chalkboard tray. As you can see, the cups have been labeled with the five types of context clues, and each cup is assigned a number. I also have the small strips of cardstock printed and cut apart. These strips contain short sentences with underlined words.
Teach context clues with this anchor chart and FREE whole group activity! Ideal lesson for the upper elementary classroom.

Before I begin reading the sentence strips, I will explain the sequence of the activity:
Teach context clues with this anchor chart and FREE whole group activity! Ideal lesson for the upper elementary classroom.
  1. I will place one of the strips beneath a document camera and read the sentence aloud.
  2. Students will attempt to use context clues to determine the meaning of the underlined word. They will jot down a simple definition on their white board. They will also document which type of context clue they used by writing a cup's number on their white board.
  3. Students will discuss their answers with a partner. If students wish to change their answer at this time, they can certainly do that.
  4. As a class, we will discuss the meaning of the word, and the type of context clue provided.**
  5. We will drop the sentence strip into one of the cups.
**It is important to note that context clues can often fit into multiple category types. For example, a context clue could fit as both a definition and a synonym. Furthermore, according to your students' language levels and background knowledge, different students may use different strategies to determine the meaning of an unknown word. For instance, a student who does not know the meaning of the provided antonym may have to infer to the best of his or her ability. In terms of deciding which cup to drop the sentence into, you may want to let the majority determine your class's final answer.

After we work through all fourteen sentence strips, I conclude the lesson by having students add a context clues page to their interactive notebooks. Students glue the title and the magnifying glasses into their notebooks, and then they write their own sentences that show examples of each of the five types of context clues.
Context Clues Interactive Notebook FREEBIE- Students can write their own example sentence to show their understanding of each type of context clue.

If you have time, hop over to my blog, where I explain how I use two published books to further analyze how context clues are used in books.

If you are looking for additional resources for teaching context clues to your upper elementary students, feel free to check out the following resources. I have placed my bundle images here, but all of these items are also available for individual purchase.

A Context Clues Bundle designed especially for students in 
2nd and 3rd grade:
Context Clues Activities (especially designed for 2nd and 3rd grade students!)

A Context Clues Bundle designed especially for students in 
4th, 5th, and 6th grade:
Context Clues Activities (especially designed for 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students!)

Thanks for stopping by today! 

Pin for future reference:
Context Clues Activities! This blog post features a context clues lesson, anchor chart, and interactive notebook entry! The free printables are available for immediate use!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Using Mentor Text and Modeling to Teach Writing

Most writing curriculums encourage teachers to use mentor text and modeling in their writing workshop. Why? Because they are effective instructional strategies that promote student engagement and give students powerful tools to apply in their own writing. Learn about these writing strategies, why you should use them, and tips for teaching them in your classroom that will help even your most reluctant writers!

MENTOR TEXT and MODELING are both effective strategies to use when showing students examples of a writer's craft. That is why I chose to discuss them together.  Prior to using these strategies with a new writing lesson, provide students with an anchor chart explaining the meaning of that particular writing skill or writer's craft. Then use mentor text as well as modeling to show students how to apply the lesson in their own writing. Using both strategies will provide your students with two explicit examples.

First, let's look at the definitions of mentor text and modeling and why we should use them.

What Is Mentor Text?

A mentor text is a published piece of writing used when teaching a specific writing skill or craft to ultimately motivate students to write effectively.

"Mentor Texts is like having a literature expert and master teacher at your side all year long. Enjoy it, mark it up, make it your friend. You and your students will be energized and motivated as you savor richly constructed mentor texts and connect them to amazing writing opportunities." -Linda Hoyt

Mentor text should be used in teaching a writing lesson because the examples of quality writing from a professional writer gives meaning to the lesson. Looking at key skills featured in a published text is a powerful way to impact student writing.

What is Modeling?

Modeling is a way teachers show students how to apply a particular writing skill or craft by actively wrting their own example in front of the students.

Modeled writing should occur to provide another quality example for the students and establish good writing behavior in the classroom. Reluctant writers will learn to trust the writing process by watching their teacher write examples of the lesson and/or apply it to a class story.

"Teachers who repeatedly model and think aloud as they read and write explicitly show their students the mental strategies involved in constructing meaning."- TEA

Next, find tips on how to use these strategies and look at some examples.

How Do You Use Mentor Text?

If we want students writing an exciting story or an effective essay, show them a mentor text.

1.  Choose a mentor text that explicitly shows the particular skill you are teaching.


Click for free download.

2. Read the story out loud. Since you want your students focused on the writer's craft, reading out loud will help struggling readers stay on task.

3.  Ask students questions to comprehend the story. It is important for students to understand the story elements in order to identify and understand the writer's craft.

4.  Ask students to identify the specific skill or writer's craft from the lesson.  Reread what they point out together and ask them to think deeper.

5.  Discuss the example found in the story. How does the skill or craft relate to the story? Why is it a good example? Have questions ready ahead of time that is related to the lesson.

6. Highlight or write the example on chart paper. It will make it easy when you need to refer back to it.

How Do You Model Writing?

1.  Tell students your expectations.  Say something like, "Pay attention to my writing, because you are going to be doing the same thing!  I expect you to also write an example of the lesson."

2.  Only model the lesson from that day.  Don't overwhelm your students. The reason writing should be broken up into mini-lessons is to lessen the stress and writer's block. Take one step at a time!

3.  Be enthusiastic. If students see that you fear writing or aren't excited to write, they may emulate your feelings.  Say something like, "I can't wait to write today!"

4.  Think aloud. While you are writing, talk about it. Refer back to the anchor chart or mentor text. Explain why you are making the choices in your writing.

5.  Accept student input. Especially if you are writing an ongoing story, allow students to brainstorm ideas with you. You can pick and choose which ones will be best for your writing.

6.  Write where all students can see. Depending on the size of your group, model on chart paper or a smart board so all students can see you writing.

7.  It is ok to have it already prepped. Are you just as afraid as some of your reluctant writers? Are you afraid you won't be able to write effectively or brainstorm on the spot? It is completely ok to have your modeling not spontaneous. In all of my Interactive Writing Notebooks, I have the modeling already prepped for this reason!



Last, discover the best approach to using mentor text and modeling!!! 

I want to end by telling you an effective approach to using mentor text and modeling. The best way to teach writing is through Step-by-Step Mini-Lessons that build upon each other and scaffold through the writing process. With a writing prompt, teach mini-lessons in an order that works through the writing process. With each lesson, share an example of a mentor text and model writing by adding that lesson to a class story. Students should also apply it to their own writing prompt. It may take many weeks to write one story, but it will be worth it in the end! Students will learn all the writing techniques and gain confidence in their writing when they see a powerful final copy!

I hope you found these ideas helpful!  There is a grade level list of several mentor texts for each skill as well as modeling for all writing skills scaffolded through the writing process included in my writing program called Interactive Writing Notebooks.  HAPPY WRITING!

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