Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wondering, pondering, and reflecting...

So, it's Christmas Break, right? We have a few days this week when the school is open and I know I should go in and organize and do some work, but can I be honest? I don't really want to. I have been down and out sick for several days and I have to say that I'm not all that thrilled thinking about how this break was supposed to get me on track with planning and teaching for the next several weeks. I'm tired. Just plain tired.

Does anyone else out there wish we could take a sabbatical from teaching and still have a job to come back to? I know that the blog world is generally a very positive one, but I know there are others out there who must be feeling as worn out as I am. I have actually been taking a big break from reading blogs because they can make me feel stressed about all the amazing things I should be pulling off in my classroom.

I was thinking back to when I taught this grade ten years ago in another place. Yeah, I know it was another time too. But I was thinking about how the stress was so different. I was in a much smaller, rural school and the focus was on doing the best we could for our kids. I know times have changed in a decade and I am teaching in a very competitive suburban school, but I can't help but reflect on how the stress I am feeling is just not good stress for me. I know that I was sick the last week of school, but kept pushing until the break and of course I'm really sick now. Fun vacation, right? I think the stress level and my packed four hour mornings have not helped my illness level this year. Yes that's 4 hours before sight of a time without students. That means, as all teachers know, you better have your morning routine down pat if you want to make it through to lunch.

I'm beginning to think the balance is tipping for me. I love education, but lately I'm not feeling all that great about what I'm doing. I love my class this year and I am enjoying my grade level. But the classes get more and more challenging every year. So much so that I don't feel like my job is really to teach anymore. It's to manage and parent and run meetings and administer tests. Oh, apparently I am the attendance police this year too. The teaching part is coming second and I can't help but feel that it's second rate.

The politics is a factor too, due to time and place. I have several wonderful colleagues who I work with. It's just so hard to try fitting into a new building again. The fact that I am from another building makes this a little challenging. It shouldn't, but sadly it does. When did teaching become so competitive and some times just plain mean? I think it may also have something to do with the fact that most people think I am in my mid-twenties and started my career in this district 5 years ago. A few have expressed surprise when age or experience comes up. I'm not a newbie!

So, here I sit thinking of all the things that need to get done, the organizing I need to do, and the curriculum I need to pour through, and how I just don't want to do any of it. I want to be able to come home and not think about the piles of papers to correct and copies to make and management things to change. I keep wondering how other teachers can manage everything and still have a life when the day is over. Because, I sure know that all I think about after school is school. I love teaching, but I want my job to be a job and to not feel like my life is defined by my job. Maybe the teaching of tens years ago just isn't teaching anymore. Maybe thing have "progressed" too much.

I know this was a Debbie Downer post, but I have been doing a great deal of reflecting the past few weeks and wondering where my place is. I feel a bit like I am going through my teenage years 20 years too late - wondering what I want to do with my life and if I'm not a teacher, who am I?

Does anyone else wonder about their place in education?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Tips

I thought I would post a few tips that have made my holiday life easier at school.  It seems that I needed to remind myself of some of these things I used to do this year.

1. Party Supplies – I used to have a copy paper box that I stored in my cupboards with party materials in it.  It saved on those days when a parent forgot to send plates or cups in.  I also buy juice when it is on sale and have a couple containers on hand – pretzels are handy too. I buy a couple table clothes to have on hand for parties.  Usually an orange one works for fall and spring, and a white or red for the other holidays.

2. Party Decorations – I had another copy box with holiday decorations. We don’t do much with holidays any more, but hearts for Valentine’s and snowmen for winter are still nice to display.

3. I usually keep an apple cutter, a knife, and tongs in the room.  They come in handy for cutting and handling food.  I also like to keep a couple trays from the Dollar Store and a couple baskets to put food in.

4. Notecards – last year I bought a set of 100 generic notecards at TJ Max.  They are so handy fir jotting a quick note or a thank you note.  I try to get my thank yous done as soon as a I get the gifts.  I am not fond of writing thank you notes and the extra time it takes on break to write and mail them is something I try to avoid.

5. Anchor Packet – I always have a packet of activities copied and ready to go.  On party days, I always feel like we have odd pockets of time and it is nice to always have a back up – especially if parents are in.  It makes things a little more controlled.

What do you do to prepare for parties?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December Craftiness!

 

We have been hard at work on a few special crafts for my students to take home on Friday.  It is always such a challenge to find easy, quick, and cheap crafts that still turn out really nice. I had resolved to not spend my own money on my classroom for this year and, for the most part, I have done well with that.  I have bought a few things here or there, but have thought carefully about re-purposing and creating things on my own. Here are my two projects:

1. Puzzle Snowflake

I had a few puzzle left over from when I taught first grade.  I used 100 piece puzzles for the 100th Day celebrations.  I think I will ask parents for puzzles they no longer want next year.  Although most puzzle crafts look like...well...puzzles, this one looks really cute and we'll add some glitter. Click for the link.

2. Snowman Plates

These are SOOOO cute and the always turn out adorable!  I did spend $1 a piece at the Dollar Tree, but in the long run, I know I would have spent a lot more if I bought supplies for another project.  Oh, I bought the clear spray too.  The picture below is from the First Grade Parade - the project was totally inspired by Cara's post - click on the photo to check it out!

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I worked really hard to plan projects ahead this year and order as much as I could with my budget.  I always end up deciding on and buying materials for my projects the week before.  In the past, so teacher I have worked with have either requested materials from the families who were willing to donate them or wrote a letter at Christmas time about giving gift certificates for the classroom in lieu of a teacher gift. I also noticed that gift cards can be ordered for Target through Scholastic with bonus points.  Just some thoughts on ways to save our own personal money.

I hope that everyone is having a fun and crafty week! 

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Computers and Clothes!

My computer is having issues! It starts, but says it has to run setup and it will take time. It never stops though. The good thing (I hope) is that it tells me my files will not be changed. I need to take it to my computer guys - or buy my 5th laptop in 10 years...Until then, I am going to try and post from my iPad. That should be interesting!

I finished my last paper for my first doc course, so I am officially done! And strangely bored. Yeah, I could be cleaning or baking or working on plans, but alas, I am cleaning my closet! Crazy, right?

I LOVE clothes and have waaaay too many. I counted sixty, yes sixty skirts. Who in their right mind has sixty skirts? Seriously! To prove my obsession, I have an eight foot closet and the rod has broken twice! I'm trying to weed out. I am vowing to weed out. I'm thinking I may put some things on ebay or take them to consignment shops to make a bit of change for college. My darling hubby has also agreed to work on laying down a new floor and redoing the closet over the break! So, I will be working on putting together a budget friendly closet makeover.

I know there are many teacher fashionistas out there. Anyone interested in doing a linkup once a week, posting our favorite teacher outfit after the holidays? It would be fun to get some ideas!

Have a wonderful Monday and remember that the children we teach are the most important part of what we do!



Saturday, December 15, 2012

Friday

What can you say at a time like this? Thoughts and prayers for those poor children, families, staff, and community members in Connecticut.

I watched the news reports on and off yesterday and finally decided to not hold back the tears. I had taken a personal day, so I watched the news as it unfolded. I could not view yesterday's events with any sense of detachment. 9/11occurred the second week of my teaching career. I realized very quickly that we, as teachers of young children, bear a huge responsibility. When children are in school we are, in a way, their parents. We assume the role of ensuring their well being and putting them before ourselves.

I could not help but think of a lockdown we had exactly a week ago. An issue in the community caused us to lock our doors and not leave our rooms, but we continued our day as usually. I have an outside door in my room and I cannot convey the sense of panic I felt when the door rattled. Fortunately, it was a staff member checking to make sure it was secure.

This event brings new meaning to that lockdown. I listened to the first grade teacher whose classroom was the first after the office at that school and cried with her. Can we not all sense her fear and protectiveness as if it were our own? Have you ever tried to fit your entire class in a bathroom? I know I have because my room for three years was in full view of the doorway window and the outside windows. The blinds were set into the windows and each had to be turned repeatedly to get them to close - not practical in a lockdown situation. So, we would fit in the bathroom.

Now, as I spend my Saturday trying not to think about recent events, I keep finding myself thinking about what I would do. I will be rearranging my room on Monday. I was planning to get rid of some shelving units, but think I will keep them and place them in my room so that I can move them quickly if necessary.

I know that I will return to work with a renewed sense of purpose and of caution. So, while the politicians continue to blame teachers and dump more data collection and evaluations on us, we must remember our true purpose. Hopefully, those not in education, will see it too.

Bless the community in Connecticut, our thoughts are with you during this tragic time.

Friday, December 14, 2012

12 in ‘12 Linky Party

 

I’m linking up with Miss Kindergarten to join in the12 in 12 button[1]

12 favorite things!

12. Favorite movie you watched: The Hunger Games!!! Loved the books!

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11. Favorite TV series: The Big Bang Theory

10. Favorite restaurant:Unfortunately, I haven’t been eating out, but I love little home-style diners

9. Favorite new thing you tried: College – well at the doc level!

8. Favorite gift you got: I honestly can’t remember.  My birthday is in February, so it has been a long year!  I did have a little guy in my class bring in a little gift certificate for Starbucks after parent-teacher conferences were done.  It was such a nice surprise and made me feel like someone appreciated all the time and effort I put into my teaching!

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7. Favorite thing you pinned: One thing?!? Umm – I pin so many that I can’t even begin to choose, but I guess I loved all the images I pinned that inspired my room d├ęcor.  I used the Dots on Turquoise and my room makes me smile every time I walk in.

6. Favorite blog post: I haven’t been blogging too much this year, but I guess it would have to be my post about my teacher story.  It’s a five parter! I know the linky party did not ask for us to tell our story up to this point, but I felt compelled to put my experience into words. I received many positive emails about how the posts gave teachers hope and helped them to realize they were not alone in this tough profession.

5. Best accomplishment: I finished my first doctorate course!!! I hear it is the weed-out course and if you can make it through it, the rest are no where near as crazy hard.

4. Favorite picture: The picture my brother sent me when my niece was just born.  She is such a sweetie!

3. Favorite memory: It’s a tie – my niece being born and holding her for the first time and my in-laws 50th anniversary party that I organized.  Oh, I also had the great opportunity to host a few of my high school friends and their families for a small reunion.  It was so nice to get everyone together after all these years!

2. Goal for 2013: To continue to find balance in my life. (And to start blogging more!)

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1. One Little Word: Family

Monday, November 19, 2012

November Books

 

These are some of my favorite Thanksgiving books!  Can you believe that I have JUST pulled them out?  LOL!  That tells you just how crazy things have been!  I still had pumpkin books out on the shelves!

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I have brought back a couple favorite crafts for the season.  We are going to make dried bean candle holders.  They always look so beautiful!

This image and craft is from:

Family Spice

Click on the images to check out the directions.  I change it up a bit and use tea lights.  I have the kids mix the white glue and beans in a Dixie cup, then press a tea light into the mixture to leave a dent.  After it dries, we tie raffia around the beans and put the tea light back into the holder.  They look great for Thanksgiving!  Plus, it’s a perfect project for a 2 day week!

We also make a table top turkey that is from a really old copy of CopyCat – remember that teacher magazine?!?  I don’t have a picture because we plan to make them tomorrow, but here is a link to a blog with the directions and the recipe that goes along with it:

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Well, November is flying by! Our first report cards went out and we had parent-teacher conferences (I actually have my last after school today).  I have to say, teaching a new grade, while exciting and energizing, can along make you feel stressed out and like you don’t always know what you’re doing.  Fortunately, my parent conferences gave me a great boost and I feel like my students are growing and they are enjoying school.  You can’t ask for more, right?

If I don’t pop in any time soon, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On the Rebound

Well, this week has been so much better! I posted the other day with a Debbie Downer mentality.  I am still feeling a little bit not myself, but have rebounded.  Today is feeling better and I had a few things go well (knock on wood!) We also had a day off yesterday because of the weather on the East Coast!  Talk about a day to gather my wits!

In math, I have adapted my "Fact Clubs" to today's third graders.  Ten year ago, it was not a big deal to give basic fact quizzes and post the progress of the students in the classroom in a "club" format.  Today, that does not seem to be P.C., so I have revamped the idea with a race car focus.  My students are taking basic facts quizzes and tracking their progress in their math folders.  Each time they achieve 30/30 problems on their basic fact test, they move up to the next race, reducing their time by a minutes.  If they do not get 30/30, they "race" again at the same time and they LOVE IT!  I think I might actually post something on Teachers Pay Teachers!

My guided reading groups are on the rebound!  I started out with 5 chapters books and was driving myself crazy!  I used to know the books I used really well and after 10 years, that skill is just not there any more.  I had become so used to reading shorter, focused books with students who were reading aloud or sub-vocalizing, that reading with older students was throwing me for a loop!  I moved into a non-fiction text that was connected to our science unit and shorter texts.  I'm still figuring out what to teach and how to teach it best with third graders!

As an aside to the reading, I have decided to go back to the Beanie Babies for reading.  They were HUGE in first grade, but I was concerned they would be too babyish for third graders. I am planning to put the posters up in my classroom right next to my reading table to support the vast variety of skills my students are working on in the different groups.   The source for the posters took them down a few years ago, but I had saved the files to my computer.  There are many great posters inspired by those originals out there on the web.   I think these will be critical to my groups this year and plan to put them up as well.  A few years ago, I made posters with BBs for vocabulary and fluency. Click on the image to snag your own copies.

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Have a great Halloween!

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Those Weeks

Do you ever have those weeks??? I'm know everyone does, but this has been a tough week for me.  I wouldn't say that I'm normally an overly confident person, so when I have a rough time, it feels even worse. I was reading Farley's post about how much is on our plates as teachers and thinking that I am purely exhausted.  Actually, changing grades has been tough all the way around. I am feeling overwhelmed and like the change is not enerigizing me as much as I had hoped.

I'm not sure I am making a difference and feel like I spend so much of my time with social skills and behaviors - just as much as I did in first grade. On top of it, I am feeling like there is no time to figure things out.  You're just supposed to hit the ground running and know how to manage all the routines and curriculum perfectly - especially in the first testing grade.  It has also been a challenge to see my firsties as second graders and see that there are things I wasn't able to address last year - feeling like I didn't do all that I could even though I nearly ran myself into the ground emotionally and to some extent, physically.  An experience which prompted me to make a move in grades and think about a career beyond the classroom. I have never been in a situation where I have seen the students after they have left my class and it makes me feel a bit defeated and unsuccessful.

I am so tired and my life outside of school barely exists.  I don't even want to think of all the things that need to be done at my house, how many meals I do not cook anymore, and in general how little I see my family. I stressed and snappy. I'm short with my poor husband.  I am enjoying my first doc course, but am just not giving it anywhere near my all.  I just plain feel like nothing is going well. In general, the excitement is there, but the reality is not what I had hoped.

Is it too much to expect to be able to go home and get a load of laundry done or a sink full of dishes done, or heavens, even read a chapter in a book?  I don't even have kids - and I feel like that's not even on the radar with teaching.  I know everyone says you adjust and your teaching changes, but I want to have a life without kids right now and I can't even make that work and not feel absolutely awful when things fall through the cracks. And I have to say I have been sticking to the basics and keeping things pretty streamlined.

I don't want to whine about teacher pay, because I feel like my district and state pays well, I'm just wondering if the pay is worth the quality of things at the moment.  I know I would take a huge pay cut to work at a coffee shop, but would the reduction in stress be worth it?  Sometimes I seriously wonder if we could make ends meet if I worked at Joann Fabrics.  I'm not saying other jobs are lacking in stress, I just don't want the same stress.  If only teachers could take a year off every once and a while and still have a job to return to! In this market though, teachers are lucky to have a position at all.

I think back to my teacher story that I wrote as a series of posts during the summer and some times think that my road has been too rough.  I have worked so hard to make my career work and now I am in my mid-thirties and still stuck in the same cycle.  When is it time to say its enough and I can't do this job anymore?

I just needed to write out my thoughts and hope it will give me a boost or connect with someone who is feeling the same things.  I am hoping this is just a momentary bump and I will hit my stride and think more clearly again. Until then, all I can do is sleep because I am tired no matter how much rest I get.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pet Peeves

I have a whole new list of pet peeves in third grade!  I knew after five years how to head off things in first grade, but things keep popping up in my classroom.  I have spent more time problem-solving than anything else! 

The first has been the pencil situation!  I think we have gone through about 200 pencils in 5 weeks.  I never have sharpeners at student desks because they tend to be distracting, but our grade level sets the list as a whole and I have yet figured out a way to rid the classroom of the sharpeners they love so much!  We started the pencil game this week!  Have you heard of it:?  I read about it on a blog, but can't remember which one.  I would be happy to give credit if anyone knows.  The idea is that the kids have a pencil with their magic number on it.  The last person to have their pencil wins the game and gets a prize.  In my classroom, it is eating lunch in the classroom with a friend.  This encourages them to be responsible for their pencil, make sure it is not left on the floor, and to not sharpen it into a mini-pencil (argh!) So far, my floor has been pencil free and I let the kids know that pencils on the floor or left on there desks will not be returned. 


Now to figure out how to combat the messy desk syndrome!
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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Whew!  It's been a while!  I have been checking in, just not writing on the blog.  I lost a few follwers, then gained a few more!  I'm just glad everyone hasn't jumped ship on me.  The first part of my blog entry is more of a personal journal to just catch people up on my professional life, if they are interested.  If you want to get to the classroom stuff, just skip down to the photos!

The first month of school has flown by and I am one tired teacher!!!  Re-acclimating to third grade has been a roller coaster ride!  It has made me realize how much of a first grade teacher I had really become.  It may not have been as natural to me, but I had the systems and curriculum down - mostly because I wrote most of it.  The other thing that has thrown me for a loop is that third graders as so much more different than they were 8 years ago!  They are so much more savvy and grown up!  On the other had, I find myself talking about a lot of the same things I talked about with kindergartners in terms of social skills and behaviors.

I am also in a new building, so all of the social connections are different.  Just the routines and general movement in the building is soooo different.  I am adjusting to a 4 hour morning!  by 12:45, I am so hungry!  I also have worked really hard to make sure my copies are ready and I have items ready to go to the office and library because they are like a quarter mile walk!  I am also taking a crash course in the curriculum.  It is a bit different at this grade level.  We had worked on creating grade level units in first grade and in third, everyone has the curriculum, but teaches units and topics in the order that works well for them. 

We are departmentalized for math and that makes things a bit tricky.  I don't really know the kids as well and the management, routines, and curriculum have been a bit of a struggle!

In the other part of my life, I have been in grad school for several weeks now.  I have class 1 night a week, but at least a hundred pages of technical reading every week.  The use of technology is a huge change for me - everything is responded to and maintained online.  Learning about research is very interesting, but my brain is just so full of new stuff that I am spinning and not feeling like I am giving my grad class enough attention.  We are currently working on developing a research project with a small group.  The idea is to teach us how to prepare our proposal for our doctoral dissertation.

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On the other hand, we have been learning so much in our classroom! 

I have been implementing Daily 5 in my classroom.  I'm not feeling like I have been too successful at this point, but am trying to give myself some room to figure things out and see what works in my classroom this year. I started out by having choice in daily 5 and found it just wasn't working.  I had kids skipping centers or not really being as accountable as they should be.  I brought back my good old center board for the Promethean and things went SOOOO much better today!  I thought about having recording sheets, but don't want to waste the paper or have more papers to deal with!  Click on the chart to learn more about how I made and use this.



     
                                                        Looks Like / Sounds Like
1. Read to Self:
This is a work in progress.  Right now, my bookshelf is pretty unorganized and my kids are reading so quickly that I don't even know what to do.  Seriously, some of them are reading a chapter book every 2 days and taking books to lunch.  I actually have to tell them they cannot be reading while I am talking or giving directions.  We have book boxes that I bought from Target last year.  They are magazine files.  I don't think they will last more than a year, but they work for now. I had way more pink than boyish colors, so I spray painted a few of the boxes with yellow and blue spray paint that I had a home.  Luckily, the solution was a free one!  I haven't been monitoring their collections at this point.  Hopefully that will come.
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2. Work on Writing
I have been using this time as more of a writing workshop.  The kids are writing up a storm and I am debating about providing them with more specific prompts, both to limit the unmanageable writing projects they are are creating themselves and to provide targeted practice for state testing.  I moved from having copied writing paper they kept in a folder to a spiral notebook.  The papers were driving me bonkers and the spiral notebooks allow them to stay organized, but still pull out pieces to edit and revise.  We also do Collins Writing at our school, so I am still trying to figure out a system that works for centers, writing workshop, and Collins.  Right now, all of our work is in binders.

3. Work on Words
Ahh!  My nemesis!  We are clinging to Words Their Way, even though few teachers actually use the program any more.  We also have a list of 80 words 3rd graders must know, along with mastering any 2nd grade words they have not learned yet.  We are also getting spelling books next month.  Hmmm...any ideas on how this all works?  Right now, I have 2 spelling groups, one with long vowel patterns and one working on rules for suffixes.  They are closely grouped to where they came out on the WTW assessment.  It has been a trick to explain to kids and families that the spelling words are not for the sake of memorizing (they're too easy), but for learning the rule.  Right now, they have 10 words from their sort and 2 of their 3rd grade constants. I finally got that all straightened out and then I find out that we have books coming.  To be continued...

For the center practice of words, I have made pockets that have white boards, Expo marker, fleece eraser, a paper key board and a bookmark with sign language letters on it. They students know they need to read, spell, and then read each of their words 3 times.

That's where I am right now.  I also have a little research center going to round out the centers.  We are learning about the oceans and continents, so for a non-fiction writing piece, we are researching and writing about ocean animals using non-fiction books I have a PebbleGo.  PebbleGo is a bit easy for third graders, but they are getting the facts quickly so our focus is on writing strong paragraphs.

That's a little about what I have been up to.  I will try to update more as I am able and take some more pictures to share.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Read to Self/Classroom Library Question...

Whew! What a first week and a half!!! I have started to post a few times and then just got distracted by all the craziness. I feel like I am on another planer this year! I get the district stuff and third graders, but being in a different building this year is throwing me for a loop! I am scrambling to modify what I thought I was going to be teaching and my brain is tired!

I plan to post more extensively ASAP, but had a question for third grade teachers or even fourth grade teachers. I have been thinking about how to organize my library this year. Right now, the kids are just picking books they like to get us started with Daily 5. I would like to support them with choosing books at their independent, but not completely too easy, level. In first grade, I have a section of my library with leveled books. Kids choose 5 leveled books and two classroom library books. I'm not sure what to do now. I would still like to have a leveled section, but I would also like to organize by genre and series. It's just not as easy when kids are reading chapter books.

Then I think that maybe I should just focus them on making good choices and have 1 chapter book, 2 picture books, and 2 non-fiction books.

Any suggestions on how to comprimise with choosing books for Read to Self in the upper grades?
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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Back to School Books Linky and Strategy Website

 

I am linking up with Blog Hoppin' for their Back to School Books linky party.

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First, I started a blog a couple years ago to keep track of the books I use to teach in my classroom.  They are organized by strategy and it contains both a summary and several mini-lessons.  I hope to really expand it this year.  Check it out if you are looking for great books to teach strategies!%E2%80%9D


 

Here are my favorite books for the beginning of the year!

It is going to be fun re-discovering the books I used to use in the third and fourth grade to begin the year!  I like using the Black Lagoon series to break the ice and talk about the jitters we all have.  Plus, the teacher and I have the same name, so I went through the book and colored her hair brown!  (Shh! Don’t tell!) First Day Jitters is a favorite from first grade!

Miss Nelson is the perfect book for brainstorming rules.  I stop at the point when the kids are wild and have the kids brainstorm rules to help in the class in small groups.  Then we come back and finish the book.  We make a giant list of all the rules and I color code them as we brainstorm. The color code follows my classroom rules: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Kind and Be Safe – all of the kids rules fit somewhere in these four! I plan to make my banners inspired by The Inspired Apple with my class this year.

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These books are great for talking about listening rules.

Great books for beginning a discussion about what we like to read and introducing the classroom library.

Great books for introducing book nooks and reading workshop/Daily 5

I love reading the Library Dragon to talk about how to treat books and behave during reading workshop.

Love this book for talking about being ourselves!

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I discovered these books last year when I read about them on a few blogs.  I like using them to talk about bullying and how we are going to treat each other in class.

And, of course, the Bucket books are great for beginning the year. I am going to add The Seven Habits of Happy Kids this year.