Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Best Year of Our Lives!!

Hey Friends!

First of all, can you believe that tomorrow I start WEEK SIX of our school year?


I'm so exited to stop by and share something I collaborated on with a fellow teacher (Whom I've actually never met - LOVE the power of the internet and social media!)

I've always been one to sing songs/jingles with my kiddos.  I grew up loving music and I know how much it can have an impact on their learning.  A few years ago, I started giving writing my own songs a shot when I couldn't find anything that I was looking for.  Most of them help kids with content, while others are just to set the tone for the year & have fun - our theme song!  Some of my songs are good, others need a face lift - but one things for sure.. my kids LOVE them!

So when I read Hope Kings post on Set the Stage to Engage: Week 4, I thought - Well, what the heck is stopping me from sharing mine??  Right?? (BTW Hope's got a ton of great resources to help you with your own song writing on her post! &  I love her plot song)

So here you go.  I wrote this to the tune of "Best Day of our Lives" by American Authors.  It's a song that I really love to sing with my kids so I decided to write our theme song for the year!

Please excuse my not-so-wonderful, squeaky off-key mouse singing voice :) 

BestYearLyrics from Ashley Gravelle on Vimeo.

Hope you enjoyed! Feel free to steal and sing with your kids as you start the year!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The thing about gender...

There have been so many articles/ posts / letters and what-have-yous out there lately about gender..

Caitlyn Jenner, yes Caitlyn, NOT Bruce (GASP- how horrible that she did something that effects me in no way whatsoever and in doing something that effected me on a scale of, also helped thousands of people struggling with the same issue. HELP people? That's totally overrated.)

Target taking away gender specific signs (BC Oh my word, if I have to buy my daughters barbie dolls and they're in the same aisle as the monster trucks- she's all of a sudden going to go all "bruce jenner" and want to be a boy- oh and Goodness forbid she ever asks me for a Monster truck just for the fun of playing with it. She's a girl - that's not allowed!)  

Just to name a few...

Side note: OK Seriously, have you seen the comments people have made about this? "I'll be sure not to use your parking lot since you decided to take down the signs that say 'boy toys' and 'girl toys'"? By all means, friend - you take the long way just to avoid our PARKING LOT.  Goodness gracious. Get a grip, people.


I'm feeling so compelled to write this post because as a teacher I've had kids in my classroom and in my school that are a "boy" that dress like "girls", or enjoy playing with "girl" toys, and others that are a "girl" that dress like a "boy" or enjoy playing with "boy" toys. **Notice the quotations.** 

As educators, this something we will come across at one point and we will have to teach our children how to handle these situations that they are unfamiliar with, because of course, they are not the norm.  We need to teach them to be respectful, sensitive, and supportive.  Most of all, we need to teach our students to be accepting of everyone no matter their situation and open their hearts and maybe one day, this world will be filled with a little less hate because of all of the wonderful teachers, parents, etc out that that engrain love and kindness into our children's hearts, rather than hate, disgust, and judgement.  

So I'm here to give a little lesson...

There are 4 types of gender identity: (I can't think of the exact names but I'll give you the basic ideas for each of them)

1. Assigned Sex at Birth

This is an obvious one.  When the doctor sees the babies reproductive organs, that determines whether that child is a boy or girl. 

2. Outward Identity

This is what others identify you as based on your behavior and the way you dress.  For example, someone assigned a male sex at birth that talks "like a girl" might be stereotyped as gay. Or someone assigned female at birth that dresses in long basketball shorts, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap might be mistaken for a boy, or called a "tom-boy".  

3. Inner Identity

This is what the person FEELS like on the inside.  By outward appearance, a person might look like and act like a stereotypical boy, but very much feel like a female inside.  Sometimes people don't always let anyone know - and for many people, you maybe never know that a friend or family member felt anything other than what you saw on the outside.

4. Sexual Preference

Simply put, this is what gender the person is attracted to.  Male or Female? A male that is attracted to other males and a female attracted to other females are homosexual because they prefer the same sex.  Males who prefer females and females who prefer males are heterosexual.  And men and women who prefer neither are Asexual.  

Typically, these 4 types of identity are all aligned and match up to our stereotypical "boys" and "girls" but in other instances they do not.  In these cases, I believe it's important that we show understanding and respect.  Those kids that express that they "don't feel like a boy" or "don't feel like a girl" need us to help them become who they are meant to be, regardless of societies stereotypes - and with an open heart and mind, we can build a world that's a little more open to accepting people for who they are not what they are "supposed" to be.

So the thing about gender is it's not as easy to understand as everyone thinks and I hope I've educated you a bit on gender identities and that you can use this knowledge to help you as you continue to educate the future of our world!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Goals and Daily Highlights

As a follow-up to my post yesterday about homework, today I want to share with you my goal sheet.  It looks like this...

I just print this front to back for my kiddos each week.  I have a spot for their reading goals, a spot for any work that's unfinished, and an "other" spot.  I should start by saying that my kids don't bring home unfinished work every night.  This is strictly for work that's unfinished due to poor choices.  At any point if a student has been talked to multiple times about getting to work, that's when they know they're going to have to bring their work home if they don't get it done: Basically it's a choice - do it here, or do it at home.  It's a pretty good motivator for them actually because if they bring it home, their parents know they had a rough day and can talk to them about it. The "other" is for anything special that we are doing or something they would like to do - it might also be for a day when they need to write a summary from the days book club or when they have something coming up that they need to prepare for like a play, concert, etc.  

On the right, I have a spot that says "Today's Highlights".  This is a place for students to JOT down the highlights from the day that they can talk to their family about at home.  This is my attempt to combat the "What did you do at school today?" "Nothing!"  craziness that I know happens.  The parents can then say, "Well, lets go look at your daily highlights sheet!" SCORE!

This is a new goal sheet for myself and my students this year.  I know it will take a little while for them at the beginning of the year but I'm hoping by the middle of the year they can do all of their afternoon expectations in 10 minutes!

Well, tomorrow starts my first day in 3rd grade with 20 eager pirates! Wish me luck!

Clip art and fonts in goal sheet:


Saturday, July 11, 2015

The time I gave up homework

So last year, probably 2 months into the school year, I gave up homework.  

I know what you are thinking... WHAT? You gave up homework? 

Yes, I gave up homework! And it was seriously the best thing I've ever done.  No joke. 

Kids liked it..... duh!

Parents seriously appreciated it! 

And it relieved SO much stress on me. I didn't have to make sure I had homework copied for the week.  I didn't have to worry about having time to check that the kids brought it back and time to check it to be sure it was correct.  I didn't have to motivate kids to bring it back.  I didn't have to give a consequence to those that didn't do it.  

So why did I give up homework?

Well ... #1 - The research done says it's not beneficial to elementary aged students and has no impact on their learning throughout the year.  If they are going to learn, they are going to learn and if they aren't - well - homework isn't going to help.

#2  It's impossible to give timely feedback and therefore any and all learning that could be done on it is moot.  

#3 Kids and parents are tired.  Kids go to school for 7-8 hours a day.  Parents work 8-12 (or any amount) of hours per day.  Now you add in afterschool, dance, baseball, soccer, gymnastics, dinner, bath.  I mean- where is the time?  

#4 There are so many other things kids can be doing rather than doing # 1-20 on a math worksheet, writing their spelling words in ABC order, doing their daily language review sheet, and filling out a reading log.  How about: Practicing how to be a teammate on their soccer team, learning persistence and not giving up even though you fell each time you did a cartwheel at gymnastics, going to the backyard and digging for worms, doing a science experiment.

I'm not even kidding you, this happened...

This is a child who would rather go outside and play baseball or do anything that did not have to do with reading ,writing, math, science, social studies.  One day, he decided to put together his own solar car (or something like that) and over summer intersession, this child brought a BOOK TO THE BEACH!  I am almost certain that if I required any homework throughout the year, that this child would have built a dislike of learning and for discovering the world around him, but instead, he became a scientist and a reader! And that's just one success story.  

And you know that?  This No Homework policy spread to my entire 2nd grade team.. and now to more and more teachers in my school that are taking up the same type of policy.  I truly think it's going to have a positive impact on the learners we teach in our classrooms each day.

So do I require the kids to do any at home learning? 

I require my students to read - every night if they can.  I tell them that reading isn't homework, it's lifework.  I do not assign a set number of minutes per night and I don't ask them to fill out a reading log.  Instead, they come up with a reasonable goal.  Some kids go for 20 at the beginning of the year while others who are more voracious readers, try for 30, 40, 50, an hour!  And if they don't get to read one night, well then, that's OK!

I also send home a "Learning Calendar" every month with possible activities that they might like to do.  Here's an example of one...

Again, this is not required, but if they have an afternoon free and want to do some fun learning, they can look on the calendar and choose something!

Last- if there is something one of my students is really and truly struggling with, this leaves afternoon time open for the kids so I can talk with the parents about what they can do to support their child at home to make learning at home have a positive impact on that child.

Does your school require homework?  If not, I encourage you to try this no homework policy.  Just get rid of one thing at a time! I really don't think you'll have any desire to go back once you say "Bye Bye  Homework!"

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Handling Bathroom Use

Last school year, my class had bathroom issues.  I'm not talking have to go all the time (I mean they did, but they're 7!) I mean - trying to sneak their way out when someone else is already out because they want to go with them, making lots of noise, and not making other smart choices that we had talked about a gazillion bajillion times. Sigh.

So I came up with a plan that I'm not going to take out this year unless I need it, but it worked for the group I had last year, so I thought I'd share!  I had 2 clothes pins.  One labeled "boys" one labeled "girls".  I attached them to my clothes each morning.  Anytime anyone had to use the restroom, they had to come ask me (Yes, I know- I really had kids asking me to go to the bathroom 257 times a day which I normally don't do, but this group needed it).  If I had the clothes pin, I attached it to their clothes and they went happily on their way.  If not, they needed to wait. When they returned, they unhooked the pin and I reattached for the next kid.  Voila- bathroom issues solved!

Oh side note: You have to attach the pin to the TOP of their clothes, I usually attached it to the sleeve of a short sleeve shirt or the collar.  If it's anywhere else, I don't even want to think about the bathroom nastiness that will come back on that thing.

How do you handle bathroom issues? 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tour my {unfinished} room

It's teacher work week! Wow oh wow, that intersession went FAST.  My room is not completely finished, I need to do a little more organizing, labeling, etc, but I thought I'd go ahead and share it because I'm in {L.O.V.E.}.  I moved classrooms this year.  My old room was ginormo, like really!  I was sad to move to a much smaller room but I'm quickly warming up to my new digs. 

Small group area. Justin traded tables with me so I'm basically in love with my new blue one!

In love with my word wall.  So glad Justin had these letters that he wasn't planning on using, they make the board awesome! The board to the right will have the Pirate ways on it :)

Student desks - so tough arranging them in this little room! It would have probably been easier if I put my small group table in the back of the room but then there would probably be too much traffic distraction.

Student desks. I've got about half of my stability balls I need to re-blow up. I put baskets from the dollar store inside their desk to keep the desk bomb from going off.

Meeting area: my Favorite Place <3

Meeting area / Essential Questions board/Desk-ish.  The table will leave enough room for a document camera and space for kids to work if they so choose, so it's not REALLY "my" desk - I haven't had one of those, ever! ha

Over the table is our phone guidelines.  When the phone rings, the kiddo closest will answer it.  Hooray for no more running to the phone. I put a sticky note pad and plenty of pencils so there's never a problem.  Under the message for students it lets students know what to do when someone calls that needs me.  If you want this, {click here.}  Make a copy of the doc and change it to suit your classroom.

This board will allow kids to leave the room without interrupting me but if I need to know where they are, I can look on the board.  It's right next to the door so that they remember to do it before they walk out. They have little anchor magnets with their name that they'll put in the box. I made sure to only put enough room for one person for the bathrooms!

For lunch count in the a.m. Lunch calendar will go where that magnetic notepad is.  Magnets with student numbers to be added.

This is where our HUGE computer cart needs to go (to the right of the green screen).  I'm super excited to use that green screen next year for fun shtuff. I'm also pretty stoked to have a class set of laptops - Oh the possibilities.

Our mailboxes - I need to add a few more. 

Our library.  I did a lot of work on it today.  You can see I got the chapter books done before I took this picture.  Most of the books are labeled and in baskets now, ready to be put into the hands of readers.

Supplies / math games will be stored here.  Also a place for students to work comfortably on the floor if they'd like.

Almost full classroom view :) Isn't it lovely??? <3 

Look forward to seeing pictures of everyone else's after your summer is over!

Until then, enjoy the rest of your summer! :)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Bring Your Welcome Letter from drab to FAB

How many of you get to send a welcome letter to your students before the start of the new year?  I was under the impression that this was a common practice, but maybe I am mistaken.  If this isn't something that your school does, I highly encourage you to suggest it!  It doesn't have to be letters that the school has to spend money on sending out, it could be an e-mail the teacher sends to the families.  Or if it's not a school-wide practice, maybe even ask if you could have your students addresses.  Seriously, I think it is one of the best ways to build students excitement before the year begins.  

I wrote last year about my welcome letter.  That post is {here}

Today, I'm going to give you a few suggestions to bring your letter from drab to FAB!  

 A drab welcome letter might look like this: (I'm going to go with a sort of "worst case" scenario with this letter here. For FABULIZING purposes - yes I just made up the word) This stuff is totally made up....

So, how do you take this letter from drab to FAB?

1. Instead of addressing the parents, address the student.  Not only will kids be excited when they hear "Johnny, you got a letter from your teacher!", it gives them the feeling of this is MY teacher, MY classroom and the anticipation and excitement begins to build for the new year. I imagine this is what my students look like when they get their letter from me.

Image result for student's excited face

2. Tell them a little bit about you.  What do you like to do in your free time? What about your family? Kids? Pets? Our students think we sleep at school! Let them know you are human and they'll be able to connect with you better.

3. Set up their expectations for the year.  Tell them what kind of year it will be.  What they'll learn. What they'll experience.  Your hopes for the year.  And I'm not just talking reading, writing, math, science, social studies.. I'm talking new friends, collaborating, how to use twitter, reading with classrooms around the world, skype - whatever will get them giddy about the upcoming year!

Image result for hopes for the year

4. Tell them that you've been thinking of them or a little bit about the classroom.  Something that will excite them. Last year I told them I knew a little secret about them - that I had heard they were all geniuses and that the year was going to be EPIC.  This year, I told them a little bit about what it means to be a PIRATE (based on Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz- which I HIGHLY recommend). 

You can click the picture below to purchase the book (just a sidenote: This is not an affiliate link) 

5. If you can, invite them to stop by the classroom during a set time to say "Hello", meet you, see their classroom, and get even more stoked for the year ahead.  This helps relieve some stress and anxiety the first day of school.  

Here are my letters from the past 2 years:

I hope I've given you some useful tips that you an apply to your welcome letter!  And if this is not something that your school does, please SUGGEST it! It's worth the excitement and anticipation this one little piece of paper builds for your new students.