Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Work Smarter: Tip #2

I can't believe the 2nd week of school is almost over! This week, my own children started school so life has gone from crazy to absolutely nuts! I was never one to sugarcoat anything....teaching full-time and parenting is not for the faint of heart. As things are getting more stressful at work, life at home is no picnic either (get 3 boys out the door on time in the morning, come home, eat-thank God my husband cooks, run to football practice, home, baths/showers, bedtime for kids, about 3 minutes for my husband and me, schoolwork and off to bed). This is usually the time of year I begin to feel overwhelmed. But, this year, I made a promise to myself to be a healthier teacher/person (as discussed in previous posts).

Anyone who knows me knows I absolutely LOVE "The Sisters". They are so REAL, and they have such great, effective (simple) ideas for transforming your literacy block (and your students). Their work involves a lot of goal setting and checking-in with students. This is really a great way to set personal goals too. So, I'm using their style of goal setting/checking-in with my own personal goals. Let's see how I'm doing...

1. Meditate at least 3 times per week: I am doing well with this goal. There are some great mindfulness apps with guided meditations. I am up to about 5 minutes. During the meditations, I still need to refocus my thoughts A LOT, but I do find myself more mindful of my breathing and overall emotional state throughout the day. When I feel that cramped up feeling in my stomach, I remember to stop and go with it (instead of fighting it) then refocus my breathing. This has been very helpful.

2. Exercise 4-5 times per week: I'm doing well with this as well. Even though I'd like to exercise for a solid hour each of those days, I've come to accept that the 25 minute jog or walk I do is better than the 6 mile run I never do.

3. Be a more active listener: I am doing better, but I've caught myself cutting people off a few times since last week. At least I am more aware. I do have a problem though, when people talk way too much, and I just can't get a word in. It's usually when I interrupt.

Goals will remain the same until I've met one (or more) at least 3 times, consecutively (just like "the Sisters" would do with readers).

Work Smarter, Not Harder: Tip #2:
In an effort to be a healthier teacher, it is very important to be an effective teacher without spending SO much time on meaningless tasks. Here is one tip that has been a lifesaver:

Here are my personal reasons why I do not suggest the use of morning worksheets (a.k.a. busywork until all students arrive):
1. Your students who arrive late never get a chance to do it.
2. Most likely, you will be greeting students or helping students with a skill they need practice with, therefore you will not be available to explain the worksheet/give assistance with it.
3. You will have to make sure you have a worksheet EVERY morning (what a copying nightmare)!
4. They will have to be corrected. Who wants to do that on top of everything else you have to do?
5. They waste paper.
6. They are probably not differentiated.

Try these differentiated, no teacher correcting required ideas for morning work:
1. Have your students "shop" for new books (from the class library) for their reading boxes or bags.
2. Students can independently read from their book boxes/bags.
3. Students can read with a buddy.
4. Math games: set out some previously learned math games for students to play.

When I taught 1st grade, I had my students do #s1-3 everyday. It made life so much easier, and it was a great transition to the new school day. It also allowed me to address any student needs, greet students, monitor students' book selections and even hold a reading conference with 1-2 students (lessening the amount I had to do later in the day).

What do you do for morning work? What are your personal goals to become a healthier teacher?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Work Smarter: Tip #1

Well, three days in and already I'm finding myself munching bowls of Doritos, cheddar cheese chunks and pretzels. This happens, not during the day, but as soon as I get home. All day long, I eat pretty healthy. I say "pretty" healthy because there was the occasional chocolate fest. But, that's over for now. I ate the last of the 20 pieces of chocolate I had in my desk drawer for "those" kind of days.

My goals for the week were the following:
-meditate at least 3 times
-exercise at least 4-5 times
-be a more active listener

I'm doing great with the meditation (anyone can do this for 3 minutes....that's what I'm up to). I've been using guided meditations. I still have a million thoughts in my head at any given time, but for the time I meditate, and for about 10 minutes after, I feel very calm. This will be my biggest challenge.

The exercise is going well.

I still have work to do on the active listening. I did find myself biting my tongue several times, so I am becoming more aware of my habit of cutting people off.

I am a work in progress!

O.k., onto Tip #1 for Working Smarter, Not Harder...

Create a Poetry/Song book with your students. This is a great way for your students to practice fluency while reading/singing meaningful, fun, "just-right" texts.

Here is a picture of the way I'm using them this year. It's no-frills (except for the book tape I used to tape the covers on). You may also choose to use a binder (I've included both sizes of covers and parent letters in the TPT file below). Every Friday, students glue/place the new poem/song in the book, they highlight anything they can read or what I tell them to find/highlight. I strongly suggest having your students use a yellow or orange crayon to highlight. Crayons are so much easier than using actual highlighters that young children are obsessed with and use so hard they make holes in the paper....then cry about the holes... totally defeats the purpose of using the dang things.

The poem "Getting Ready" is from the following book: 
It's one of my favorite resources for fun, first grade poems that are filled with sight words. You can find it at

Click on the picture below to get your FREE TPT Poetry/Song Notebook covers, parent letter and a weekly plan for using it. You will LOVE using them!!! Such a timesaver!

Do you use Poetry/Song books with your class? How do you use them?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Calm Down! Your Guide to a Great School Year

Are you a newly hired teacher, or have you been teaching for years? In either case, I'm sure you are feeling that uneasy, churning belly feeling right about now. For me, a teacher who has been teaching for more years than I'd like to admit, that feeling is right here/right now. The first day of school is tomorrow.

This year, I am in a unique situation. I was given late notice (Thursday) that I am charged with helping a long-term first grade substitute get a classroom ready for Monday. I felt like I was in one of those nightmares that all teachers know the go into your classroom to get it ready, thinking you have all this time until school starts. Then, BAM! It's somehow the first day of school, and the pencils aren't even sharpened (let alone, you haven't even found the pencils yet). Yeah, well, I'm living that dream. Thanks to the support of super awesome colleagues, tomorrow will go off without the hitch (I just know it). This leads me to the topic of this post..."Calm Down".

At the beginning of every school year, I get into a positive mindset. I tell myself I'm not going to get sucked into negative thinking or drama. I will only think positive thoughts, blah, blah, blah. And, that works.....until the first day of inservice! Sound about right? Before I know it, I can't sleep at night, I'm constantly thinking about things out of my control, and everything starts to suffer. I get snappy at my friends and family members, as mentioned before I don't get enough sleep, exercise goes to the wayside, and it's just not good. Not this year! I am done with that. I recently turned 40, and I can't be so stressed anymore. So, I invite you on a journey with me this year to have a super, yet more relaxing/healthy year. A school year where we teach "smarter, not harder" (a quote that kept coming up at inservice). We need to quit the teacher shaming (click "mom shaming" if you don't know what this is), help support each other and make time for ourselves. Sound like a dream? Not if there is a set goal and a plan to get there. Sounds like writing lesson plans, doesn't it? This teaching thing is very applicable to our lives, isn't it?

The Goal: Have a Healthy School Year (by healthy I mean less stress, more relaxing, cleaner eating, regular exercise, time for family/friends, time for me, working smarter/not harder).

The Plan: Set mini-goals each week. I will check in once a week (Wednesdays) to report how things are going and to set new mini-goals for the next week. That gives me accountability. You are welcome to join me on this journey too. I'd love to hear how you are doing on this journey. We can support and learn from each other.

Mini-Goals for the week:
1. Meditate 3 times a week. I learned about meditation at a recent spa visit to The Lodge at Woodlock. It is an amazing practice used to calm the mind. At any given time, I have a million thoughts in my head. I have to start small with meditation (3 minutes). It really helps to push out negative thoughts. and create a sense of calm. Meditation has SO many benefits. You can read about some of them here: Benefits of Meditation. This will help me at home as well as at work. Check out this self-guided meditation for beginners. You can find many, many more on youtube. There are also many mindfulness apps for your phone.

2. Think before I speak/listen before I speak: This is something I have to get better at. I've been known to finish other people's sentences for them and to do things as other people are talking to me. I will consciously listen to others, and I will give myself wait time before speaking (just like I give it to my students).

3. I will exercise 4-5 times this week. This isn't so hard to do during the summer, but it gets tricky during the school year. Running around the neighborhood, taking a walk with a friend or with the family or completing a workout at home are some ways to do that. By the way, if you are looking for some great, free at-home workouts, check out

If you are familiar with setting goals with your students, that's how this will work. Of course, you can set your own goals because we know everyone is different. In true Daily CAFE style, once I hit my mini-goals consistently, I will set new ones. The former goals will still be in play, but the focus will change to other goals that will help move me forward. I swear, CAFE can be applied to anything!

In my effort to create regular blog posts and to keep my sanity, I will be posting once a week. Wednesday's posts will contain a brief update on my journey to becoming a healthier teacher (hopefully some of you will join me on this journey). I plan to also have a quick literacy-related teaching tip to help you teach smarter, not harder.

Check back on Wednesday!
Have a great week!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fun with Phonemic Awareness

This week's summer linky topic is "Fun with Phonemic Awareness and Phonics". Since I've found there is a lot of confusion about what phonemic awareness is, I thought I'd write about that.

So, what is phonemic awareness (PA) ?
Phonemic awareness is the umbrella term used to describe the ability to think about, identify and manipulate parts of words (phonemes, syllables, onsets/rimes). Also included is the ability to recognize and produce words that rhyme.
Phoneme and phonemic awareness are interchangeable terms.

Why build children's PA skills?
PA predicts later outcomes in reading and spelling.
The majority of poor readers have some difficulty with PA and other phonological skills.
Instruction in PA is beneficial for beginning readers and spellers.
PA lays the foundation to oral language and vocabulary development.

Is There a Sequence of PA Skills?
Here is a basic progression phonological skills in order from the most basic to the most advanced:
*Word awareness-tracking words in sentences, repeating a sentence, counting/clapping words in a a sentence, knowing first/last word
*Syllable awareness-counting, tapping, blending or segmenting a word into syllables
*Onset and rime manipulation-ability to produce a rhyming word depends on understanding that rhyming words often have the same rime (word part). An example of this is "bat" and "cat" both end with "-at" (that's the rime). Recognizing this is MUCH easier than producing a rhyme. 
*Identify and match the initial sounds in words, then the final and medial sounds.
*Segment and produce the initial sound, then the final and medial sounds.
*Blend sounds into words.
*Segment the phonemes in two-or-three-sound words, moving to four-and five-sound words.
*Manipulate phonemes by deleting, adding or substituting sounds.

What do all these have in common? Children are HEARING sounds/changes. They are not required to write words or see words in print. Once a letter is attached to a sound, it becomes PHONICS instruction.

Too many times (in my early years of teaching, I was guilty as well), teachers skip over phonemic awareness skill building activities, thinking their students already know them. I can tell you, from lots of experience (and data collected from testing), phonemic awareness is an area of weakness for ALL of my Title I students (as well as among "average" students). 

Check out this site: 
It has SO much great information about young readers. The image above is directly linked to one of many informational articles on PA.

Below, you can find FREE fun, super simple and effective ideas to try in your classroom to help build your students' phonemic awareness. Other than printing a copy for yourself, no other major prep work is needed.
Click here for FREE PA task cards: 

Just print and use these cards to help you with on-the-spot PA activities to use with your students. They can be used anytime/anywhere (waiting in line, during morning meeting, etc.). Print on card stock and keep on a ring.
On each card, you will see the average age when students should acquire each skill. These are not hard and fast ages, only approximations. Students who are more advanced can definitely benefit from practice with easier PA skills, but a harder skill WILL frustrate a child who has weak PA skills. Choose carefully. Hope you enjoy! 
Join the linky party below.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer Blog Party Kick Off Hop

Thanks for hopping by. We all know children can slide over the summer. And, I don't mean the fun kind of sliding. As teachers and parents, we want our children to retain (and even improve upon) what they've learned in the past school year. Here, I have a fun tried and true way of boosting your child's reading fluency. I hope you learn a helpful tip today, and don't forget to click on the button at the end of the post to hop on over to the next post (with another tip plus a freebie). 

Fluency Fun!!!

Fluency plays a huge role in becoming an effective reader. It connects decoding to comprehension, and it has several components. According to Timothy Rasinki (a fluency guru), fluency includes automatically and accurately decoding words. This leads to greater comprehension. When children get bogged down with trying to decode words, their rate of reading slows down and they concentrate on decoding rather than comprehending what is read. 
In addition, fluency includes reading in phrasing (or chunks), like we talk. Prosody should be used as well. This means the reader is using appropriate rate as well as expression. 
So, in a nutshell...
Fluency=the ability to read with expression and meaning+accurate/quick decoding+appropriate rate/speed
When a reader reads fluently, comprehension can be greatly increased.
So, how do children become fluent readers? The answer is easy!
They need lots of practice reading easy texts with a high rate of repetition. Sound boring???? Not when you use poems and songs! 

I've used these for years, and my first graders would always beg to read/sing them. Here are a few ways you can use poems/songs in your classroom (or home) to build fluency, following a suggested schedule.

  • Monday:Write a poem/song on large chart paper (or smartboard) and introduce it to your class. Read it to your class during morning meeting. Words can be circled/highlighted. 
  • Tuesday: Display the poem/song again. Read it to your class. Then, use choral reading (everyone reads) to reread it. Find/highlight various sight words.
  • Wednedsay: Read the poem again. Use any of the following ideas (sing it, chant it, exercise to it, make up a slap/clap rhythm while reading, use different voices to read circled/highlighted words, etc.).
  • Thursday: Students receive their own copy of the song/poem to place in their poetry/song folder or book. This collection will grow throughout the year and become a great fluency resource they will use time and time again! 
  • Friday: Fluency Fun-students are partnered up to reread the week's poem/song. They practice it many ways (as the class practiced during the week). They may also choose to reread some favorites after practicing the week's poem/song. Call on a few partners to present the song/poem to the class. Some may exercise to it, chant it, use a monster or opera voice while reading/singing it.
Other ideas include:
  • Make a poetry/song packet. Present a few themed songs/poems to students in stapled packets. Introduce/read one each day. Students keep these in their independent reading boxes or bags.  These, and the other books in students' reading bags/boxes easily replace those morning worksheets. You will thank me a million times over when you do not have to deal with preparing/checking them anymore! 
  • Use the poetry packets or folders in place of morning work. There is nothing to check and the students LOVE this (while building fluency).
  • When students finish early, they get their poems/songs.
I've included a camping-themed song packet for your to use with your child/class. Just click on the link below to get this FREE resource. Enjoy! 

Don't forget to click on Erin's wonderful blog at Mrs. Beer's Language Arts Class below to continue to the next stop on the blog hop. 

Keep on hopping! 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Change is VERY Good!

Change Is Good! Last school year, I accepted a reading specialist position in the same school where I taught first grade for the past 13 years. I wanted this position for quite some time, but I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive about interviewing for it. My inner voice went crazy with "what ifs", but I went for the position anyway. 

I just finished up my first year as a reading specialist, and I am SO glad I made the change. Every day has been (and continues to be a new adventure), but I love it. So, if you are contemplating a change, don't be afraid! 

Other than that major life change, some minor changes happened as well. The blog name changed to "That Literacy Blog". I also joined a literacy group called "The Reading Crew", and I decided to begin blogging again, beginning with a Summer Kick-off Blog Hop that will begin on June 19th and will last until June 21st. So, be sure to follow the link at the end of this post to visit another literacy-centered blog with great tips to prevent summer slide. You will then hop to more literacy blogs, each with great tips to prevent summer slide, a  chance to win a $25 TPT gift certificate and many FREE literacy resources! Be sure to check back and join the hop.