Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tips for Teachers Changing Grade Levels

Are you changing grade levels? Do you need ideas for classroom decor or setting up your classroom? This blog post has 5 Tips for Teachers Changing Grade Levels and 3 FREE resources for all teachers!

I'm Jodi from The Clutter-Free Classroom.

Fun fact about me: I changed grade levels annually for the first nine years of my teaching career.  The actual series went like this 2nd, 3rd, 2nd, 4th, 1st, 2nd, Kindergarten (I still wake in a cold sweat with flashbacks to that experience), 2nd, and back to 3rd. All but one of those involved packing up and moving classrooms, two involved moving districts and one had me moving up the East Coast. Needless to say, I was quite happy to finally settle in third grade and grow some roots.

My experience has made me very away of the challenges that come with a grade level change. This is particularly the case when moving between a primary and an intermediate grade. You come to appreciate the challenges and the benefits of each.

Perhaps you requested the move, or maybe it was an involuntary transfer. Either way, you get to experience something new and change can be exciting! 

Below are some tips to help make a move easier for you.

#1 Focus on your Mindset:
Teaching is a hard job. Teaching a new grade makes that hard job even more difficult. Do not let this get you down and instead set your mind up for success. Make a list of the things that excite you about your new grade level. Reach out to friends and colleagues who have experience teaching it and ask them to name the three best things about the grade level. Focus on those positives.

#2 Be Organized When Packing

Often a change in grade levels also means a change in classrooms. Last year I wrote a blog post detailing the three boxes every teacher should pack at the end of the school year. You’ll be glad you have those boxes when the new year rolls around. 





#3 Research Teaching Methods and Developmental Best Practices
This is especially important if you are moving down the grade level spectrum. If you’ve been teaching long division to 5th graders, then basic addition with sums less than ten sound like a walk in the park. The computation may be simplified, but there are developmentally appropriate ways to teach the conceptual math.


#4 Plan out How You Will Manage Your New Classroom


Many classroom management systems and strategies can be adapted to other grade levels, but some may need a wee bit of modification. Plan out the procedures and routines you intend to implement in the fall and prepare the materials during the summer, so you are ready to jump in strong.

Please feel free to read the blog post I wrote here last year with classroom management tips.


#5 Consider How Your Classroom Set Up Will Differ from Past Years
What was ample space for reading aloud to younger learners may be too cramped for older students. Bookshelves that worked perfectly for your 4th graders might be hard for a 1st grader to reach safely. Tables are great for all grade levels, but chair height and elbow room should be taken into consideration. 

If the thought of starting from scratch decorating your classroom feels like one more thing to think about, then I welcome you to check out the all-inclusive classroom decor bundles I have created. I currently have over 40 themes to pick from, and there are options perfect for all grade levels.

You can view all of the Clutter-Free Classroom Themes here.

You can also access and download these two FREE eBooks to help you design and set-up your classroom:

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

5 Lessons Learned: My First Year of Teaching

My first year of teaching feels like it was eons ago! Looking back now it is all a blur.  All I can remember is this overwhelming feeling of terror, confusion, and eagerness all rolled into one. Despite my feelings, my first year of teaching was a roller coaster ride of ups and downs that I will never forget.  There are so many lessons I learned during my first year of teaching that helped shape the teacher I eventually became. With this in mind, I thought I would share my top 5 lessons learned during that first year with all of the "soon to be" teachers out there.  Here it goes...

Here are the lessons I learned during my first year of teaching! New teachers are going to want to read this!

1. Don't Compare Yourself to Others! 

This is something that we all do. However, as a first-year teacher, this can be tragic!  You are brand new and have a lot to learn.  Comparing yourself to a teacher that has been around and has his or her classroom running like a well-oiled machine is only going to have a negative impact on you as a professional. This is especially true with Social Media.  You can't go on Instagram without seeing a classroom that looks like it belongs in a catalog.  Don't compare yourself to that, just don't! My advice? Go into your first year of teaching with the intention of learning from everyone around you. Learn what to do and what not to do. Don't worry about if you are "Keeping up with Ms. Jones".  Just do the best YOU can do! That is enough.
Here are the lessons I learned during my first year of teaching! New teachers are going to want to read this!

2. It's Okay to Make Mistakes (because you will...)

Yep! You are not perfect. You are going to make lots of mistakes.  You might accidentally leave a student in the lunch room, forget to take attendance, send students to the library at the wrong time, or lose a stack of papers you were meaning to grade (Oops!).  Just know that you are going to make lots of mistakes, but you will recover and learn from all of them.

3. Just Say NO!

I am a people pleaser. I love to say "yes" and help whenever I can. During my first year of teaching, I learned the hard way that it is critical to say NO sometimes.  By the third month of school, I was head of the math committee, helping with after school programs, teaching a morning class for struggling writers, and helping in the cafeteria. Ummm...No! Well, that's what I should have said when asked to do all of these things. After my first year, I quickly learned the importance of limiting what I do for others and not spreading myself too thin. Being a first-year teacher is hard.  Be the hero later. 
Here are the lessons I learned during my first year of teaching! New teachers are going to want to read this!

4. GO HOME

I clearly remember one evening when I was preparing my classroom for the next day. I was arranging materials for a science experiment when I suddenly looked out the window and noticed it was dark. WHAT!?  That was the moment I realized I had to set limits for myself.  Yes, I could have spent my entire day (and night) in my classroom. However, I quickly knew this wasn't healthy and wasn't making me a better teacher.  Don't burn yourself out your first year of teaching. Pace yourself. You'll thank me later.

5. Simplify What You Can

Yes! This! Simplify!  It is so easy to overcomplicate things during your first year. Don't! As you come up with new systems for your classroom, whether it be taking attendance, bathroom policies, homework systems, etc., be sure to keep things simple.  

One system I quickly learned to simplify was my homework system. At first, I was assigning random workbook pages, textbook problems, and worksheets I had printed from the internet. My students would forget what I had assigned and it was a headache to keep up with. Finally, I started using a homework system that was more consistent and was easy for EVERYONE to keep track of.  If you want to learn more about my simple homework system, click here.

Here are the lessons I learned during my first year of teaching! New teachers are going to want to read this!


These were definitely some important lessons I learned during my first year of teaching. However, over the years, I learned a ton of valuable lessons. If you want to read more, check out my post "Handy Tips for Teachers: Lessons I Learned While Teaching".

Here are the lessons I learned during my first year of teaching! New teachers are going to want to read this!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Easy Prep Activities for the End of the School Year and a Freebie!

Containing student excitement (and, truthfully, my own) during the last few days of the school year can be difficult. We (the students and teachers) have worked hard all year, and now with summer vacation on the horizon, staying focused is a challenge. My battery is truthfully on low this time of year, and student excitement is understandably at an all time high. Even with the pressure to continue instruction, I know my students deserve a little fun at the end of the year with activities that will provide cherished memories of this school year.  Here are a few easy prep suggestions for some fun activities to make your end of the school year one to remember.




1. Hold an old fashioned classroom spelling bee.

Why not take a day to review spelling words from the year by holding a fun classroom spelling bee. In many classrooms spelling bees may seem a little old-fashioned, but your students will have fun participating in one. Give prizes or brag tags to winners. Try a fun twist on a traditional spelling bee by trying this version of a team spelling bee found here. Added bonuses: This is a great time filler and takes very little time to prep!

2. Use Partner Plays

Continue fluency building up until the last day of school with fun partner plays. Students love reading plays, so keep them working on fluency and reading by partnering up your class to read some fun plays. Deb Hanson's plays are a perfect choice, and if you are looking for some freebies, here are some excellent choices from her store.

3. Classroom Rotation Day

If your last few days seem endlessly long, then work with your colleagues to create a classroom rotation day. Each teacher plans something special for each class in your grade as they rotate through. For example, one teacher may plan an art activity to do with each class, another teacher may plan a fun technology activity, and another teacher may plan some fun review games to review material learned throughout this year. Spend thirty to forty-five minutes in each rotation. Build this day up as a special treat for your class, and your students will love this. You will love how the day flies by.

4. Read to a Lower Grade Level

Work with a kindergarten or first grade teacher to create reading buddies. Plan a time for your students to visit the lower grade to read one-to-one with a younger buddy. The lower grade students will love having the older kids read to them, and your students will love this as well.  Even your students who may struggle with fluency will love reading to their younger reading buddy. If time allows, the lower grade may also enjoy reading a book to your older students as well to show how much they have learned this year.

5. Move on Up Day

Work with the teachers in the next grade to set up a day for your students to visit the next grade up. This will give your kiddos an opportunity to learn a little about the teachers and classrooms in the next grade. This is always a special day that my students look forward to each year.

6. Create a Memory Mural

Give your students some chalk and head outside to the nearest sidewalk. Instruct students to draw some of their favorite things they did and learned this year. Invite the teachers of the grade below to visit so that the students who will be moving up next year will get a preview of what takes place in your room.

7. Write thank you notes

Write thank you notes to the people who have helped keep the school running this year: classroom volunteers, administration, bus drivers, custodians, school nurses, cafeteria workers, etc. Let students deliver these notes along with a hug or a handshake. 

8. Wrapping It Up: End of the School Year Activities

Let your students create fun keepsakes that will help them remember the fun that they have had this year. During the last few weeks of school use my Wrapping It Up: End of the School Year Activities to create adorable flipbooks, craftivities, and print and go activities for your students to keep and cherish as well as a fun craftivity for your students to complete that will be given to your students on the first day of school next year. My students absolutely loved creating these, and I know yours will too! These can be found here in my store.


9. Free Summer Poem Craftivity

Are you looking for an easy activity that is also free? Let your students write a poem about their summer plans with this easy and cute craftivity.  Grab it for free HERE!


10. Make last day chores fun.

The final day often involves cleaning, packing, and many chores. Enlist the help of your students and make it fun at the same time. List all of the chores that you need to complete on paper. For example: erasing and cleaning the board, packing away supplies, taking down bulletin boards, filing papers, counting and labeling textbooks, etc. Cut each chore into strips and place in a bowl. Let each student draw a chore to complete. 


I hope your end of the school year is blessed with wonderful times and memories, and hopefully you were able to find a few easy ideas to use in your classroom!

I'd love to connect with you!

Monday, May 22, 2017

5 Reasons to Teach Cursive in the Digital Age

Cursive?  What's cursive?  How many of you still teach it or have students that come to you knowing how to write in cursive?  Learning how to write ones name is one of the first things that children learn.  They need to know how to write their own name with paper pencil.  Right?  Well, we haven't changed it.  With technology being so readily available, once students learn how to write in print, cursive has been place on the back burner.  The Common Core Standards took it out completely.  So, you may be wondering why is it necessary to teach cursive in the digital age.  I have five reason that may persuade you to keep it in the curriculum.  

1.  Signatures

Needing to write your signature is just as important today as it was 200 years ago.  Signatures are needed on legal documents.  When you are told to sign your name, do you sign your name in print or cursive?  If you have your own signature, it's your own style, and much harder to duplicate.  Without knowing the basics of cursive, creating your own signature is a little more difficult.  

2.  Develops Motor Skills

Have you ever watched students learn cursive for the first time?  It's definitely not as easy as one would think.  When writing in cursive students use hand muscles in different ways, a different part of their brain is activated, which in turn can be beneficial in furthering motor skill development.  





3.  Patience

Like mentioned in number three, learning cursive is not easy.  There is a lot of eye/hand coordination that goes into creating those curvy letters.  It takes a lot of concentration for a long period of time to get it right.  All the concentration contributes to patience and diligence.  


4.  What Happens if There's No Technology?

Technology, what would we do without it?  Some of us couldn't imagine a world without it, but who is to say that it will always be there.  Writing in cursive is faster.  So, if you are without a keyboard, and taking notes is a necessity, you have cursive as your backup.

5.  We Need to Be Able to Read Cursive

There is a lot of research out there about teaching cursive.  One argument is that students need to be able to read historical documents.  It's not that I don't agree with that, but I don't know that I have ever had to read the Constitution in its original form.  While it may be important to read historical documents, it's not the only reason students need to be able to read cursive.  Children still have adults in their life that write in some form of cursive.   Not everything we encounter is digital.  I have had many students see something written in cursive and tell me that they can't read it because they can't read cursive.  So, if we teach students to write in cursive, they will be able to read cursive.  

The days of teaching cursive to perfect it may be a thing of the past, but teaching students to write in cursive should still be an important part of the curriculum.

Where should you start?  I have the solution HERE.   Everything you need to get started and continue teaching cursive at your fingertips.







Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Connecting with Your Class: Steps to Increase Student Engagement


If there is one thing that will help you be a more effective teacher, it is making connections with your students. Below we have outlined our top 10 ways that we can connect with our class. They are easy to implement and will result in your students performing better for you in all subject areas.

1. Listen!
Probably the most important thing you can do every day is just listen to your students. They have so much to share and just taking a few seconds to listen to their stories will make all the difference. With the hustle and bustle that we all face on a daily basis, this can seem like it is hard to accomplish. But we must, as educators, connect with our students. Listening is the first step in establishing a trusting relationship with your class.

2. Greet Every Day
When the students arrive in the hallways in the morning it is important to be visual outside your classroom door. You set the tone for your class every day. By smiling and greeting each child by name, you are recognizing that they are important and that you are glad that they are at school. It can also be a red flag as to why a child is having a rough start. You can find that out early on, and be able to address it before it balloons into a bigger issue during the school day. Plus, the kids love it and will often stop to talk to you about something that happened. Remember to listen!

3. Class Chant
Every morning after we say the Pledge of Allegiance, we do our class chant. This is a time to bond together as a class and to say statements that you believe in. Here is our class chant.
I am somebody.
I am capable and loveable.
I am teachable.
Therefore, I can learn.
I can do anything when I try.
I will not let others stand in my way of learning.
I am somebody.
I am somebody.
I am somebody!
Students love to do this and remind me if I ever forget. We even have students come back to us from previous years and can recite it back to us. It is a great way to connect with your class and show them that they are somebody!

4. Culturally Responsive Techniques
As educators we know that students learn through various methods. That is why it is so important to not always teach in the same way. Over the past few years, we have realized the importance of incorporating culturally relevant teaching techniques in our classroom. We want ALL of our students to feel included in the learning process. You can find 25 engaging culturally responsive teaching techniques for purchase by clicking here.

5. Interest Inventory
A great way to get to know your students is to hand out an interest inventory.The questions on the inventory are geared at helping you get to know your students better. It is a quick, stress-free handout that you can give to your students and have them complete in under 15 minutes. Click here to download this free resource!

6. Student-Selected Music
Asking students what music they like to listen to is another great way to connect with them. We have students take out a piece of loose leaf paper and write down their favorite musicians and songs. Then, we go through the process of screening them (looking up lyrics on the internet) and compile a class list. There are a few ways to do this. One is to find them on youtube and then just save them to a folder on your account. Another way is to find a Pandora Or Amazon Unlimited Music channel that has clean versions of songs available. We also like to play classical music too. Surprising kids with their songs during work time will sure to be a hit with your class!

7. Class Library
If you want to build reading fluency with your class, have high interest books in your class library. Each year we find out not only the genres of books that students like, but also topics that they would love to read more about. Over the past 10 years we have included books about Minecraft, WWE wrestling, monster trucks, horses, graphic novels, and so much more. The books are easy to find in our library as we have them labeled by interest as well as genre. If we don't have a topic that a student is interested in, we make it a point to either order a few books through Scholastic Book Club or go to our local book store and buy a few.

8. Real-Life Connections
If there is any way you can connect the curriculum to the students' lives it will make it more engaging for them. By doing this, it will also more than likely increase their achievement in the subject as well. Doing project-based learning is a great way to foster interest and self-motivation. Writing is a great area to implement real-life connections. If you are doing an argumentative, or persuasive, essay, have the students write about topics that matter to them. Then make sure that these essays are shared with the appropriate channels (local newspapers, principal, magazines). You would be surprised to see the responses you will get and we have had students' essays published in the local newspaper as well!

9. Star of the Week
Each child deserves to be spotlighted for one week. We have the child create a "Star of the Week" poster (we provide the poster board). On the poster they can include things such as family photos, favorites (food, drink, book, TV shows/movies,...) and any other things that are important to them. They bring the poster to school at the beginning of the week and we have a special place to display it so all kids can see it throughout the week. Then at the end of the week, the student shares his/her spotlight with the class. It is amazing to see the pride they have in doing this. We also take a picture of the child with the spotlight and then email it to the parents as well.

10. Time to Talk
If there was one thing we wish we could do, it would be to give each child 5 minutes of our time each day. It would be great just to meet with them and listen to what they have to say, really dive in and get to know them. But we know the harsh reality of today's rigid teaching environment doesn't allow it. But that doesn't mean that you can't find ways to sneak in a few minutes a day with kids. That morning time when students are arriving at school is key. They want to tell you so much, try and listen. That work time where students are working quietly, kneel down by them and ask how they are doing. That guided reading time when you are meeting with small groups, connect the book to their lives and find out more about each of them. The end of the day wrap up, take time to sit in a circle and share about their days. Just by taking time to allow them to talk about non-school related things will show them that you truly care.

We hope that you can take the time to implement at least a few of the above ideas into your classroom. Connecting with your class truly will increase student engagement!

Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter for more great ideas! 




Sunday, May 14, 2017

Rethinking the Rough Draft: A Simple Strategy that Leads to Better Revising

Of all the stages of the writing process, doesn't it feel like revising often gets the short end of the stick? One of the obstacles that always seems to be in the way is the simple logistics of where to do it.

When students make this small change to how they write their rough draft, it allows them a lot more freedom when it comes to revising. Such a simple yet powerful idea!

Students write their rough drafts in their composition notebooks, filling the lines, front and back, eventually "finishing," and we move them into the revising stage.

Okay, make it better, we say. And students caret in a few adjectives. Maybe they even cross out a sentence or arrow one into a better place. They notice a capital letter to fix and a word they repeated accidentally, and ultimately, the revising stage begins to look very similar to the editing stage: a little fix here and a little fix there.

The piece as a whole looks basically the same as it did prior to revising. And that's a bummer because the potential of that piece is a lot higher than where it stands, and the revising stage is meant to be a time to close that gap.


But where in their rough draft do we expect students to make those bold changes, those big changes, those important changes? There's just not enough space to do it. The manner in which the draft has been written is not conducive to making serious revisions.

Sure we can pick and poke and find ways around. Skip lines, we say. Use arrows, we say. Tape a flap of paper over the top, we say. Not bad. But how about we rethink the rough draft altogether? Let's revise how the rough draft is written. Let's write the rough draft in a way that completely removes the obstacle of not having space to make revisions.

Enter, the one-column rough draft.

When we fold our notebook page in half length-wise, it creates two columns: one for drafting, and one saved for revising.

And the obstacle is obliterated.


It's a simple, easy adjustment, but let's look at the difference it allows when it comes to revision:

When I introduced the one-column rough draft idea to students, I first had everyone turn to a fresh page in their writer's notebook and fold the page over to the pink line, creating two columns. Then I gave the class a story starter, just to get everyone rolling with an idea, and asked them to begin writing their draft on the left side of the fold only. Even if they went on to another page, they were to leave the column on the right side blank during this drafting phase.

After a few minutes of writing, I stopped the class and brought one student's notebook to the document camera to model some revisions.  Before I started, I made clear what we were about to do: "Boys and girls, let's do some revising to Audrey's draft. Do you see the blank column here? Let's see if this allows us to do the revisions we want, whether big or small."


I proceeded to read Audrey's draft aloud, and then chose a few spots to make revisions. What was super nice was the ability to write the revision right next to the spot in the story where it occurred. Whether we were revising a phrase, a sentence, or an entire section, we had the space to do it.

I then asked the class to take some time to try revising the draft they'd written thus far, getting a feel for using this new space.


The one-column rough draft can really open a door to meaningful revising.

You might say that even if students had all the space in the world, they still wouldn't make dramatic revisions, that students tend to think whatever first flows out of the pencil is their best work, or that serious revising is just too much of a hassle.

Those are issues. And we can work on them. (Actually, you can read about removing lots of these other obstacles in my blog post, Revising HARD! Changing Our Classroom Writing Culture.) But let's make sure to at least clear out the one big obstacle of space.


Come visit me at my blog, The Thinker Builder, and while you're there be sure to sign up for my free email newsletter!
www.thethinkerbuilder.com

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

UES Loves Teachers!

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!


To celebrate the amazing job that teachers do every day, we're giving away $375 in Teachers Pay Teachers gift certificates! Fifteen lucky winners will each win a $25 TPT gift certificate!

Clip art by My Clip Art Store.

How to enter
Visit and follow each one of our stores via the Rafflecopter below to earn all 18 entries and see some great upper grade teaching resources! Enter by midnight on Thursday, May 11th, 2017.

Bonus Entries
Get 1 bonus entry for commenting on the Facebook post! Use the "Leave us a Comment" option at the end of the Rafflecopter. 

Share, share, share!
Share the giveaway with your teacher friends! You can send them the link to this blog post or tag them on the post on our Facebook page.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Why Teachers Should Retire Reading Logs

Teachers have been using reading logs as reading homework for a very log time now.  I was told as a first-year teacher that I had to use them, and I believed they were the best way to track a students' reading.  It took me a few years of teaching AND becoming a parent of a school-aged child to realize that reading logs didn't provide the value I believed they did.  Here is some info about why reading logs don't work and what we can do instead.
Are reading logs not working? Learn why you should retire reading logs and find out what works best for reading homework.

Reading Logs: The Teacher's Perspective

Does this sound familiar?
You give a student a reading log on Monday. Each night they have to read for "whatever" minutes and write their start and end time on their log, as well as some other information about the text they read. In addition, parents have to sign it.  The next morning you walk around and check to make sure reading logs are filled in and signed. If they aren't signed or filled in, it is assumed the student didn't read.  
So, if a reading log is signed, does that mean your student actually read? If it isn't signed, does that mean your student didn't read? If they did read, what was the quality of the text? Did they really understand it? When it all comes down to it, a reading log is just a piece of paper that gives us no real information about how a student is doing as a reader.   I think it is safe to say that reading logs do not provide a teacher with any real information about their students.

To learn how to make reading homework more meaningful, click here.

Reading Logs: The Home Perspective

Even the best and most motivated readers don't want to read every day.  My daughter is a highly motivated reader that will sit all day with a book if she has the opportunity. However, there are days when she wants to paint a picture, play with friends, ride her bike, or just relax and watch a movie. On these days, if I asked her to stop what she was doing and go read for thirty minutes, she would do it, but would not be happy about it. Simply by making it a requirement, I've sucked the joy out of her reading time. As a parent, this is not how I want my child to feel about reading a book.

Don't take the love out of reading! Are reading logs not working? Learn why you should retire reading logs and find out what works best for reading homework.

The Potential Damage

So, even though reading logs aren't helping the teacher, why can't we continue to use them, just in case? Simple. There are some potentially serious issues reading logs can cause for students.  
  • Reading Logs turn reading a book into a task. I don't know about you, but when I am forced to read something, I HATE it!  I like to read when I want to, and that is it. Why shouldn't we expect the same of our students? If we force students to read every night for a set amount of time, we are taking the fun out of reading.  We are making reading a book a chore instead of a choice. (stay with me, I have a solution for this)
  • Reading has a time-frame with a reading log.  Now that reading is a task, it also has a time frame. Students aren't just picking up books and reading until they are ready to stop.  More than likely, if a reading log is involved, students are setting a timer or watching the clock.  If you ask them to read for thirty minutes (assuming they are actually reading), that is how long they will read. Not a second longer. 
To learn more about how parents can motivate their child to read without using reading logs, click here. You can also grab a FREE list (PDF) to give to parents in my other post.

What's the REAL Goal?

We want our students to read regularly and enjoy reading. We want them to read quality texts and understand what they have read. We want students to gain habits that allow them to grow into life-long readers.

The Solution

How can we accomplish these goals?  There are two possible options.
  1. Teachers can help educate parents on how to promote good reading habits at home. Yes, it is up to the parent to encourage their child to read. All you can do is guide them.  Kind of the same way a dentist can encourage us to brush our teeth twice a day, but can't actually come to our house and force us to do so. 
  2. Teachers can use a better tool for reading homework to help ensure a small amount of quality reading is being accomplished every night.  Here are some free samples of highly effective reading homework. 
Are reading logs not working? Learn why you should retire reading logs and find out what works best for reading homework.

You can find a post about Making Reading Homework Meaningful, right HERE!

You can also find a post about Getting Students to Read Without Using Reading Logs, right HERE!

Please note...For some students, reading logs may be a good option. If there is little to no parental support at home, students may need a daily reminder (a reading log) to help them form good reading habits.  You may want to consider using reading logs for specific students as a way of encouraging them to read daily.  This may not be necessary for every child. 
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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Best Way to Spiral for Better Learning

Think back to when you first thought about becoming a teacher...Besides making a difference, most likely, one of your goals was to help students learn. And when I say learn, I'm not talking about the kind of learning that sticks around just for the test and then is gone the next week. As teachers, we want students to truly understand, to master, and to internalize the concepts we teach them and one of the best ways to do that is to spiral concepts throughout the year. 

What is Spiraling?
If you are new to this idea, to spiral concepts, teachers introduce a concept, and then reinforce the concept by revisiting it, either that same year, or across grade levels.  If you spiral in the same year, most likely you are simply practicing the same concept on a regular basis, so kids master it...And if you spiral across grade levels, the topic is not only reviewed, but increases in complexity, as students become older.

What are the Benefits of Spiraling? 
Spiraling increases prior knowledge, boosts retention, and is effective with all learners. It spreads learning out over time, which leads to long term mastery of skills and concepts. Scientific research also supports its benefits! Lisa Son and Dominic Simon wrote, “On the whole, both in the laboratory and the classroom, both in adults and in children, and in the cognitive and motor learning domains, spacing leads to better performance than massing” (2012).

What are Some Ways to Spiral in the Classroom?

1. Task Cards
Ever since I was introduced to task cards, they have become one of my go-to teaching tools. These cards still feel "fun" to kids, and so they see them as games, as opposed to a traditional worksheet. One of the great things about spiraling concepts with task cards, is that you can spiral in so many different ways. If you'd like some task card inspiration, I wrote a post describing 16 ways to use them, click here.

Click here to see this Main Idea Games Set!
2. Games
Kids never get tired of playing games! I love that when I tell the kids that we're playing a game, their ears perk up and their faces look excited! Games give you instant buy in. It's easy to take a concept and play a simple review game together like Jeopardy or Stump the Expert. If you'd like more game ideas, I wrote a post with six different (easy and free) review games, click here.

3. Reader's Theaters
You may be wondering how reader's theaters can be used to spiral, but they are actually great for a number of things. I have specific reader's theater's for several of the science topics we cover, and they're a perfect (and fun) way to reinforce science materials (click here to see my reader's theaters) They also work well for reviewing concepts like main idea, theme, text evidence, point of view, and more! Think of a reading concept, and bingo! You can find it in a reader's theater most likely. Again, the fun factor of a reader's theater will give you lots of student engagement.

4. Brain Pop
One way I like to spiral is by using videos to review subjects. Brain Pop is an awesome set of online videos that come in a variety of subjects, from nouns and verbs, to the solar system, and everything in between. Some of the videos are free, but most of them require a subscription (our teachers were funded by our PTO for a year's subscription...yay!). These videos are short, just a few minutes long and they come with a pre-made review quiz at the end. I love to put my class into two teams to take turns answering quiz questions!

5. Daily Work
Rather than doing a whole list of activities and using an entire file folder of worksheets to teach an idea, I like to make sure that I save some of them to sprinkle throughout the year. So, if we're working on themes, I'll "hold back" a few worksheets or activities. Then a few weeks later during independent working time, kids can complete a worksheet or we do an activity together to revisit the concept. This constant review helps kids keep the learning current or fresh in their minds.

6. Morning Work
My very favorite way to spiral learning is to include it in Morning Work. For years, I pieced together worksheets and tried to make sure I was hitting the standards and that the kids were getting the spiraling that they needed and then finally, I made what I had been wanting all along...I made a Morning Work packet for 36 weeks that had every standard for reading, math, language, and science (NGSS), plus social studies. Now I have taken all of the guesswork out of the equation and just print and go. I love these sets because the kids find them engaging and it is a no-brainer...and sometimes we all need a no-brainer! Besides being great for Morning Work, it could also be used as Homework if you like!

If these sound helpful to you too, please check them out by trying a free week here:
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Ready to give it a try?

When we purposefully spiral the concepts we want our kids to master, we will see an increase in student retention, and an increase in student confidence as students truly understand what we want them to learn. If you haven't yet used spiraling in your classroom, I would encourage you to give it a try. I have seen huge gains in my classroom using this method and would never go back to traditional methods of "massing", where we teach to completion and then move on, without reinforcing to practice what we've learned.

Thanks so much for stopping by and please let me know how these ideas have worked for you.

Happy teaching!


I'd love to connect with you!