Thursday, January 26, 2017

Communicating with Parents: Teacher Lingo

I hope your week has been fantastic!

In today's blog, I wanted to talk more about communicating reading levels with parents. Last time, I talked about sending a nice little letter home that explained everything and gave hints to parents on what to do at home. This week, I want to talk about teacher lingo.

Have you ever gone to the doctor and leave not knowing what half the things s/he said to you? I know I'm not alone. You are an educated person. You don't want to look dumb by asking them to explain their lingo! Parents feel a similar way.

Make sure to take a second and explain the ins and outs of everything. Yes this takes time, but remember you have been trained to teach kids reading... the parent receiving the info...probably not!

Check out this list from Scholastic about some lingo that you might need to explain some to parents. Your goal is to not intimidate, so you might have a list of words printed so parents can take for some more information. You can break down the words and add definitions in the sentences too. However seems more natural, but make sure you do it! Be very specific. Explain what you need the parent needs to know, don't go into the nuts and bolts unless you really need to.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Welcome to the New Blog Series: Communicating Reading Progress to Parents

I was talking with my sister-in-law, who has a boy in the second grade, and she asked what she could do to help her son in the area of fluency. Apparently on the report card, that's the comment she received, "Work on Fluency." I got to thinking, well.. I mean... there's a lot of things to do. Then my mind started in critical problem solving mode...
Why did the teacher not elaborate?
Did she just put a random, generic report card comment? <--You know you've done it!
Is he struggling with decoding?
Is he struggling with rate?
Is he struggling with meaning, visual, or structure features of words?
Does he know his sight words?
Without really sitting down and read through some stories with him, how can I help her the most?

Then she text me back, "What exactly is fluency?"
Then it hit me. Teacher lingo is at play.

Sometimes as teachers, we get so bogged down with the acronyms, the test names, the strategies, and the lingo that we forget most of our parents are not equipped with the same knowledge we have about the jargon we use.

Don't get me wrong, there is always that parent that knows everything and how to help their kid the best.. but normally... if we get a call back from Johnny's mom we are floored! So take each parent on a case to case basis. 😉

For the next few weeks, I'm going to write a series of blog posts that will help teachers communicate what the kids need in reading to the parents. I want to offer some tips and tricks to give parents so they are not lost and will help them feel more empowered. As teachers, we have to remember that if they can get the support they need at home and school, their level of success will soar. We shouldn't be a one man team!

Parent Notes for Reading Help
So, for tonight, I want to start with just communicating the reading level your child is on to the parent. One thing that I do after our kids move up a reading level is to give kids a slip to take to their parents. I have several versions that I might send home (depends on the kiddo)! Some just explain some broad tips to work on at home based on their level, others might say they need more help in one of the reading strategies we are working on in class. Take a look at the pack by clicking here!

Along with these notes to the parents, I make it a big deal with the kids! We go through the whole process of talking about levels, creating goals for reaching levels, showing them what books are on their level and the next that they might enjoy most. After all, what I'm wanting is for the kids to go home and talk their HEADS off about reading levels and comprehension strategies until their parents go, "Okay, what is my kid talking about!?!"

Once I get the kids to bite, I know I will have the parents too! At Open House and Meet the Teacher Night, I do a similar spill. I show some data too! I explain to them that all I want them to do with their kids at home is to READ AND WRITE with them.

Read every night.
No. Matter. What.

Yes, there is always, always, always that parent that stands up and says, "Suzy is in competitive dance, cheer, softball, piano lessons, and Girl Scouts. We just do not have time for reading every single night on top of the other classes homework."

Count to ten, then ask, "Do you all talk or sing on the way to these extra-curricular events?"

Mom looks at you like you are crazy, "Well, yeah..."

Look back a bit more-so and say, "Well, instead of singing the new Adele song, just have her crack open her book and read out loud to you. You will know if she is struggling. Read the billboards as you go by them. Read the signs on churches or stores. Write the cheers out and then read them back. Read the Girl Scout handbook. Write out a to do list for the week. In the morning have your kid read the cereal box. It doesn't matter what they are reading and writing, as long as they are practicing and you are helping them."

Then Super Mom usually will back off for now.

Being open and communicating is the first step. Break it down to something the parents can do without them feeling like they have to do way too much EXTRA. You know how we all feel about doing EXTRA. 😛

I hope this helps start you off on the right direction with your parents in communicating the needs of the kids. Check back next week for some more tips and tricks, and hopefully a freebie!

Comment below on ways you help communicate with your parents!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The No-Meds Days

We all do it. We have those days where we can tell as soon as we see a child bouldering down the hallway, dodging every child in their path while hollering about what they did on the way home last night. They have pockets full of knick-knacks, fingers moving at the speed of light, and their seems to be no way to calm their minds down, to get them to sit quietly, and for them to leave the other kids alone. 

On our end, we brace ourselves, tell ourselves, "It's going to be one of those days...a No-Meds day." Sigh, and our day turns know what. What can a teacher do? You are defeated before you even start. Especially, if you are in a class like mine, where 5 or 6 students have the same situation. Everything automatically becomes annoying to you. You think, "Did they call each other last night and say, 'Let's go to school without our 'vitamins' and see the teachers freak out!'" You find yourself starting to raise your voice, have no patience, and ultimately feel like giving up.

Trust me... I feel like this to. We have these days fairly often, especially near the refill day. The students I teach are very vocal about ADHD, and that they are on medication, how many pills they have left, and feel like when they are not on it they have an excuse to just do. I stress myself out on some of the days, especially when I already feel behind and overwhelmed. I have started seeing a pattern though. If I become flustered, they become even more flustered and unable to have any control.

What is a tired, frustrated teacher to do?

Remember, first of all, that you are there for the WHOLE child. You have to love and nurture them even more so on the days they are struggling.  Close your eyes for a minute (or two, but NEVER three!!). Take a deep breath. Put first things first.

Ask yourself what do they respond to?

To make these balloon balls, you will need:  2 Balloons per ball  Scissors  Funnel  Pencil or chopstick  FlourTa da! Made with flour these are lots of squishy fun and make good hacky sacks. You can also fill them rice or lentils, etc. for different textures.:
Photo Credit:
Mine, for instance, respond to dim lighting, light instrumental music (we love Two Cellos or Vitamin String Quartet on Pandora). I have just strung clear Christmas Lights that I got at Dollar General and Family Dollar for 75-90% off throughout my room. (I forgot to take a photo, but I'll post it when I remember!) Since we only have one window, and it's really tiny and the light is blocked by our cubbies, this was a task I was willing to take on. I love them so far!

Some kids just need extra structure. They need flexible seating. Some kids I allow to grab a clipboard and stand at my back counter to work all day. I took an old tri-fold board, wrapped it in wrapping paper, and they use it as a work station at their seat, like a cubicle.

Other kids might need some fidget toys. My first year teaching I made these stress balls out of balloons and lentils.
Know your kids.
Normally, we as great teachers know our kids. I have conversations with them. I know that if they stay with dad, they don't have their meds there, and they come to school hungrier than normal. Or that if they stayed at mom's house, the new baby kept them up all night long and they need to take a break in the quiet. I might have to bring a kid back to my room during specials, because they just need the quiet alone time, I mean--don't we all need that sometimes. I love talking to the kids and learning what's going on with them. I learn about their personalities, what they like, what they don't think is cool, and even what they hope and dream about. Sometimes, I get too much information for my own good...

"One day, my dad made love to another woman....and BAM! I had another baby brother at the same time as my baby brother that goes here." O.O I know. I know.

So here's a run down of things I do in my room to help curb the craziness...even when I'm the one making it more crazy:

1. Remember that you are the adult. They are looking to you for a safe, loving environment. Get yourself prepared mentally, and be ready to be on the move ALL DAY LONG.

2. Allow for brain breaks. Guys, seriously. I know that you know GoNoodle is DA BOMB. You can also do simple breaks. A quick game of Heads Up, Seven Up. Maybe they just wiggle freely for a bit. Have them sit on the floor and propel themselves upwards. Whatever it is, allow some time in the day, because everyone will need it.

3. Do quiet breaks. Allow kids to stretch out on the floor for 5-10 minutes and read, free write, create, or maybe close their eyes for a bit.

4. Play calm music in the background. It helps focus in busy minds.

5. If my kids can handle it, during work time, I might have an ocean view on the board.

6. INVEST IN SOME HAWAIIAN BREEZE SPRAY. When paired with 3, 4, and 5, all the teachers that walk by will even want to be in your room. Once, I had a principal stay way too long enjoying the Hawaiian vibe. Sometimes I just go around and say, I'm spraying thinking spray!

7. Time everything. Make the whole day a race. You have 2 minutes to get logged onto the desktop. You have 1 minute to get all of your things out and sit like a scholar. You have 3 minutes to pack up. Set the timer on the board.

8. Deck out a corner and have some things in it that help when kids get over stimulated. Stress balls, fidget toys, bands that go on the legs of chairs (this is my next DIY project for the classroom).

9. Give them extra, extra, loving attention. Let them sit with you. Let them work with you. Give them some kind of extra task to help you out if they complete X.

10. Remind them of strategies and goals you have been working on with them. Don't just say, "YOU KNOW HOW TO SIT UP." Instead, "Hey Johnny, remember that today we are working on being a scholar. What do we have to do to be a scholar?" Yes, you are going to have to tell Johnny that 100x...but it's going to be worth it...

I hope you can find these ten tricks I do in my room helpful. Leave a comment below if you have over ideas that will help out on days like this that I have dubbed the No-Meds Day.

(I named it after J.K. Rowling's "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them."  (I LOVE MY HARRY POTTER!) The witches and wizards of America call people with no magical ability "no-majs," and after my team saying "They aren't on meds today" over and over, I figured it worked!)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Winter Break is Over.

Well my friends, it is time. Whether you are ready or not. THEY ARE COMING! Some will be sleepy-eyed, some will be jolly, some will be pouting, some will still be the indifferent kiddos they left as. The students are coming, and you are going to be one of the first people they see in the New Year that will make an impact on them. Are you ready? 
Image result for winter break is over meme

Is this how you look getting ready to go back? Don't be! Here is an activity we did at our in-service today. While I thought it was pretty cheesy... it stuck with me ALL day long. Ready? Ok...get out some scrap paper and a pencil. Follow these directions:
Ours turned out be around around 90 days left. That's it. Two nine weeks, a spring break, and some snow days to go, but also smiles, laughter, and lots of ah-ha moments.

Are you ready for back to school? Here are some ideas to get you started for the new year.

1. Leave your kiddos a welcome back note. I've seen this done, and have wanted to do it forever. However, I was always worried about what to say. Today, I bit the bullet and just did it. I enjoyed coming up with something for each one of my Stockdalians (What they named themselves.)  I forgot to take a photo of this! Maybe I will remember tomorrow and I'll post it on Instagram!

I added colorful backing to the accountable talk stems from A Rocky Top Teacher
2. Change something up in your room. It doesn't have to be a huge make-over. Clean off a shelf. Move anchor charts around. Maybe add some of the clearance holiday lights you bought too many of for the electricity unit coming up in a few weeks. Whatever! Make it interesting for you and your kiddos.

3. Come up with goals for you and your kids...with your kids! I have the same goal I model nearly every year, but I haven't achieved it yet. It's to have a clean table throughout the day. ;) The kids love when they can ask me, "Mrs. Stockdale, are you working towards your goal today?"

Here is our anchor chart to post our nine week goals for academic and behavior:
The section for successes will be for groups. If a row of kids all meet one goal from their nine week goal, their "team" will have a celebration during recess. When one person from each row meet a goal, then the whole class will celebrate with their choice: GoNoodle Time, Lunch in the Classroom, or Campfire Reading (where we turn the lights out, I bring in a "campfire," and we read using the natural lights.)

4. Do a get to know you activity. Break is a time where we all focus on ourselves. Even our kids focus on their interests. Help rebuild community in your classroom before you dive straight into the rigorous activities you spent your break planning. (Oh come on, you know you worked some!!)
Check out this activity I posted for free!

Take these four tips into your room. Remember to smile. It makes you feel better, the kids are watching, and your smile is contagious!