Friday, January 15, 2016

How to Organize Math Fact Fluency

I saw a question on a teacher Facebook page the other day about leveling math fact fluency.  She was a new teacher, and the rest of her team had their entire classes mastering the same fact; when the class as a whole reached 70% mastery, they moved on.  

I know.

Thankfully, she didn't feel comfortable doing that, and she wanted to know how to organize fluency so that it was leveled and students were working on the facts that they really needed to master.  And I thought, you know, this is one of those things that I just do without thinking, but the method is something I've developed over the past few years, and it really works for me.  And if you're looking for a way to organize your fluency program, it might work for you, too!

Let me start by saying that the basic organization could apply to any fluency program - Rocket Math or a program that you purchase from somewhere else. 

Our district purchased this for us a few years ago.  It's Rainbow Math, and I honestly don't even know if it's available anymore - the website isn't active.  But, I love it.  

This is what one of the drill sheets looks like.  As you can see, the kids have to know not only the products but the factors, too.  We do three one minute timed drills at the beginning of every math lesson, one minute per column.  If a student correctly finishes any of the columns, they've mastered that fact!

So, here's how I organize it.

1.  First, I copy plenty of drill sheets at the end of the year for the next year.  I organize them in files like this.

Rainbow Math has drills for each fact and then for each fact mixed with others.  So, once all of my copies are made, I file them in the folder for each fact.  I put a piece of construction paper in the folder, and I store the standard drills in front and the mixed drills in back.

2.  I have a master clipboard that lists the kids and which fact each one is on.

This is a hot mess, but it works.  Each student's name is listed, and the columns list the facts.  They get a checkmark when they've mastered the regular fact.  I put an X on top of the check mark when they've mastered the mixed fact.  I just write "done" by their name when they've mastered everything.

This record is the key to running the program.  With it, you know where each kid is in their mastery progress.

3.  Using the clipboard, I have a student (they pretty much run this program for me) pull the copies for the next day.  It takes a couple of days to train them, but now I can just ask her to pull copies at the end of the day, and she gets the clipboard, goes to the file, pulls the copies in order, and puts a binder clip on them.  

Then, right before math, I put each drill sheet on the students' desks face down.  When they come back from PE, they usually do a warm up problem on the back.  Then, when everyone's settled, we begin timing.

4.  I have a student whose main job is just Rainbow Math.  He was the first to master all of his facts, so once he did, I was able to hand it off to him.  He grabs the timer and the clipboard and tells them when to start.  When the minute is up, anyone who has mastered raises their hand; those who didn't work to finish the column.  Other students who have mastered all of their facts work as checkers; they walk around and check for accuracy.  At first, I'll check everyone's drill, but as more and more kids master, we get more and more available checkers.  They tell the student in charge if the student mastered, and he notes it on the clipboard.  Then they just repeat the process two more times!

5.  At the end, I will have students take home unfinished sheets to finish for homework.

And that's it!  At the end of the day, I ask a student to pull the copies, and it starts all over again!

There's a bit of work for me at the beginning of the year, but once I have kids start mastering, I can turn over more of the process to them.

When I get to where about half of my class has mastered their facts - which is where we are right now, I assign math buddies.  I partner up one student who has mastered with one who hasn't.  The coach is responsible for, in their spare time, working with their buddy to help them master the fact that they're working on, however they think best.  Some make flash cards, some have them write facts, and some assign them special homework.  This is one of my favorite things to watch - the kids are natural teachers, and the buddies respond better to their coaches than they often do to me.  I see them being so kind and patient with each other; it's precious.  Then, when we do our timed drills, the coaches stand behind their buddies, and if the buddy passes, we celebrate both coach and buddy.

It's not exactly easy, but with trained students it's a process that kind of runs itself after a while.  Which leaves you with time and energy for more important stuff.

Sounds good, doesn't it?  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Top 5 Ways to Build Your Classroom Library

The most important thing in any literacy classroom is its library.  Nancie Atwell, my reading guru, says that we shouldn't think of it as having libraries in our classrooms, we should think that we're creating classrooms in libraries.  Research resoundingly points to the importance of having a sea of books readily available to kids - and how much more readily available does it get than right there in your room?

If you're looking to begin or expand your classroom library, it can be a daunting - and expensive - proposition.  But, after accumulating more than 3,000 books in my library, I have some tips and tricks for making the process easier and more affordable.

1.  Scholastic book orders.  You remember them from your own childhood - the thrill of the box arriving, the feel of the smooth, never-opened cover in your hands.  Well, Scholastic is just as good now as it was then.  And when your students order, you accumulate points that you can spend on books for your classroom!  There are a few ways to really make Scholastic work for you, though.  First, try to place a really big order at the beginning of the year.  Scholastic often doubles or triples your points with that first order, so the more you order, the more points you get.  Second, be sure to tell parents about the online ordering option.  I've found that parents tend to order more when they order online (don't we all?).  Next, if you have money to spend, Scholastic books are a double whammy, since you're getting super affordable books AND earning points for yourself.  And, last, if there are teachers in your school who don't order from Scholastic, see if you can distribute flyers to their students. 

2.  Library book sales.  Our local libraries have annual book sales, usually in the summer months, and you can often really stock up.  Our children's section usually has paperbacks for 50 cents and hardbacks for $1.  Contact your library to see when they're having their sale, and plan to get there early on the first day to get the best stuff.  Also ask if they provide boxes or if you'll need to bring your own.

3.  eBay.  My second year of teaching, I tripled the size of my library through eBay.  The best way to get books through eBay is to buy books by the lot.  Search for a series or author, and you'll find people selling lots of books together.  Set yourself a limit - I said I wouldn't spend more than 37 cents a book - and start bidding!  Don't forget about shipping charges.

4.  Goodwill.  Goodwill is a great place to stock up.  You'll want to check back often, since they have frequent turnover, and check out all of the stores in your area; some will notoriously have better selections than others.  Don't forget to check your store's sale schedule - once a month mine marks all of their books half off, and it's the perfect time to load up.

5.  Donations.  Let the kids and parents in your class know that you love to get gently used books.  Some of my current students will bring in books they no longer love or that they've outgrown, and I'll pick out the ones I like and share the rest with other teachers.  I'll also have parents, years down the road, show up with bags of books for our classroom.  It's always the best surprise.

So, those are my top 5 ways to build up your classroom library!  It's the best money and time you'll ever spend - and you'll absolutely love it.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Best Way to Build Your Teaching Wardrobe

It's 2016.  Which means you likely have resolutions.  I'm not a huge resolution fan - in the past I've enthusiastically made them and then battled guilt when I didn't follow through - but last year I resolved to expand my personal style.

Because it was woefully lacking.

As in, if it didn't come from Gap or Loft, I wasn't wearing it.

Partly because I seriously lack the style gene that other women seem to be born with.  And partly because I have no time or patience for shopping.  So I tended to find something that fit well, buy it in every color available, and call it a day.

However, I knew I needed to kick it up a notch or fifteen, so when I stumbled across Stitch Fix on Facebook, I signed up.  And it's seriously one of the best decisions I've ever made.

What is Stitch Fix?  Well, according to their website, they are the first fashion retailer to blend expert styling, proprietary technology, and unique product to deliver a shopping experience that is truly personalized for you.  Simply fill out the Stitch Fix Style Profile and their personal stylists will handpick a selection of five clothing items and accessories unique to your taste, budget, and lifestyle. You can buy what you like and return the rest!

So how does it work?

First, you fill out the Style Profile on their website.  You tell them your size, style, shape, budget, etc. It takes about 10 minutes.  Then you pick the date you'd like to receive your shipment, and how often you want to receive Fixes - every two weeks, every month, whatever.

Then, on your shipment date, you get a glorious box on your doorstep with five clothing items and/or accessories that were handpicked by their personal stylists.  When your stylist styles your Fix, you're charged a $20 styling fee.  That $20 is applied as a credit toward anything you keep from your shipment.

You try everything on in your home!  Which is one of my favorite things, because in a store, I always think, "But do I already have something like this?" or "Do I have anything that would go with this?"  With Stitch Fix, I can play around and try their stuff on WITH my stuff to see how it will work.  I can take my time to try it on and really see if it looks - and feels good.  After all, we all know that comfort is incredibly important as a teacher, right?  You also get a styling card with your Fix that helps you see different ways you can put outfits together.  Stitch Fix is great at helping me really step outside of my usualness and try things I'd normally never pick up, and they encourage you to try on everything.  I can't tell you how many times I've pulled something out of the box and thought, "Meh," then tried it on and danced the happy dance.

You check out online, buy what you like and return the rest in their prepaid bag.  You have three days to decide what you'll purchase and what you want to send back.  If you keep everything in your Fix, you get 25% off the entire purchase.

And here's where the beautiful part happens.  You leave specific feedback about each item.  Keeping it?  Let them know why!  Returning it?  Let them know why, too!  Over time, your Fixes get better and better.  I also have a Pinterest board just for Fix ideas, and I linked it in my profile, so my stylist can see what I like and can use that to style my next Fix.   

Which comes whenever you want.  There's no monthly fee, so you can schedule it every month (like me), or more or less often, whatever works for you.

One of my favorite things about Stitch Fix is that it's so personal.  For example, I let them know that I needed some professional pieces for speaking engagements after being named Teacher of the Year.  A couple of days after my last Fix, I found a mysterious Stitch Fix package in my mailbox.  When I opened it, this is what I found:

I mean, that kind of thing doesn't happen in a store.

Now, do I still shop some?  Sure.  But mainly for the basics.  I can't tell you how much better my closet looks after signing up for Stitch Fix!  I absolutely love it.

If you'd like to try it, too, click here to use my referral link.  In the interest of full disclosure, I do get a $25 credit for each person who signs up using my referral link - but if you sign up, you will get your own referral link to share!

Stitch Fix is too much fun, and it's helped me (finally) actually stick to a resolution.  If you give it a try, let me know what you think!

Happy Shopping,

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hour of Code

Hour of Code last week was, hands down, a success!!

The high school coding teacher and I coordinated our schedules for Hour of Code, and my kids got to take a bus over to the high school to code with the "big kids!!"  Oh my goodness, was it ever incredible!

I blogged about our plans here, so head there now and read that first.

Now that you're all caught up, let me show you a "few" pictures of our time.

It turned out a little blurry, but this was our Tweeted picture before we left for the high school.

This high schooler looked at me and said, "This kid is coding at my level!"  That was exactly what I wanted to have happen - for everyone to see that anyone can code . . . and be a rock star at it.

All of the yellow shirts are mine.  Don't you just love this lab?  And look at the expressions on their faces.  Engagement!!

I loved seeing so many girls totally into coding.

I loved how the high school students coached more than anything.  See who's got the mice?   They let my kids take the lead and just guided as necessary. 

This is my favorite picture.  This one seldom smiles.  Just look at that face!!

This was one of my favorite days ever.  We also had two newspaper reporters, the director of our local Chamber of Commerce, and a rep from the organization responsible for the lab grant with us, along with several administrators.  To see the kids collaborating with others twice their age hopefully had a significant impact on everyone there.  I wanted them to see that our kids are capable of so much, and that the 21st century skills of collaboration and problem solving that we talk so much about are not only doable but achievable.  

Of course, it's not too late for you to start coding!  Go to, sign your class up for free tutorials, and get them started.  NO prior experience is necessary (believe me).  This was a big risk for me last year, but one that I'm so incredibly glad I took.

Happy coding!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Words Their Way - Assessment

If you missed last week's post, be sure to check it out here.  I've listed all of the supplies you need to do Words Their Way - and why you should consider using it in your classroom.

This week's post about assessment is short and sweet because the ladies at Second Story Window have already done such a fabulous job, I'm just going to send you over there!  Their method and forms are the exact ones I used in my classroom, and they're working wonderfully.

Click here to head on over and read the "Assessment" portion of their post!

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Hour of Code is Here!

I learned about Hour of Code last year and kinda sorta did it with my kids.  I didn't think much would come of it - until I saw them doing it.  Holy cannoli - these kids were writing html and Java like bosses!!  And they were loving it!  They were collaborating and problem solving and celebrating.  In fact, it was so exciting, I texted our principal to just come down and watch them.

So I knew that I wanted to do it bigger and better this year.  I began at the beginning of the year, setting up a class account with usernames and passwords for each of my kids (which is super easy to do, by the way).  Then, I coordinated with the computer programming teacher at our high school (our high schoolers are coding for the first time this year), and my thirders are going to get to take a bus over there Tuesday to code with the big kids!!  I honestly don't know who's more excited - me, Mrs. Colbert, my kids, or her kids.  We've planned some time for the high schoolers to mentor my kids on the Hour of Code site, some time for lunch in the big kid cafeteria, and then more time later for the high schoolers to help the thirders turn their "Naughty and Nice" holiday paragraphs into customized web pages.  

I'm so excited for a lot of reasons.  I can't wait for my kids to see this incredible computer lab - I blogged about it here.  I can't wait for them to see that their skills aren't that far behind those of the high schoolers.  And I'm excited to share the importance of coding with media - we'll have reporters there to join in and see the fun.

It's not too late for you to participate in Hour of Code this week!  All it takes is one hour and a computer lab.  And you do not have to have any prior coding experience - the videos and tutorials take care of it all.  If you do join in, be sure to Tweet and share with the hashtag #hourofcode.  Be a part of this global movement to make sure all kids have the opportunity to learn programming!

Happy coding,

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Words Their Way - Resources

Let me tell you about spelling in my classroom.

My first years of teaching, we had the regular spelling list.  I give it out, you study it, I test you on Friday, and we move on.  I tried to get creative with homework and such, but that was basically it.

Last year, we had no spelling at all, the reasoning being that students don't REALLY learn it, we are already learning spelling within the context of writing, no spelling was provided with our curriculum, etc.  Students - not surprisingly - didn't leave much better in spelling than they were when we got them.

So, this year, back to spelling we went.  I began the year with the standard list, which actually came from an old reading series.  I pretested on Monday, the kids studied, and then we posttested on Friday.

But what was happening was this.  About a fourth of my class aced the pretest - which meant they didn't have to study any words at all during the week.  Another fourth or so of my class STRUGGLED with the words - and regularly failed the posttests.  The rest of the kids were rocking along pretty well.

And I thought - don't ALL of my kids need to be learning words?  And don't these words need to be just right for them - so that they aren't studying for hours and then STILL failing the test?  I mean, I teach how to choose a just right book.  I differentiate my reading materials.  I scaffold their work in math.  What about spelling?

I know this may not be such a shock for many of you, but it really was an eye opener for me.

So, I got to digging.  I found lots of good stuff, but everything I read that I liked kept circling around to Words Their Way.  It had everything I was looking for - differentiated lists that matched kids' spelling development, an emphasis on learning spelling patterns rather than a random list, and a heavy use of sorts to practice spelling.  I also noticed that it was a lot of work, but what's a little hard work, right?


Well, so far, so good, and I'm far enough into it to feel comfortable sharing what we've done, where we are, and what I have planned next.  I'm planning a series of blog posts on Words Their Way so that if you, like me, are a little lost about the best way to implement the whole system, you can learn something from someone who's found a way to make it work for her.

Today I'm going to share what I've bought - which is really very little.  But I'm one of those who likes to have all of my materials in hand before I dive into something.

The first purchase you'll want is this:
Buy this now.  This is the latest and greatest edition.  I have an early edition I snagged for really cheap from Thriftbooks, and it works just as well.  This is your absolute must have.  Skim through it and read the parts that really interest you.  Don't try to read it cover to cover.  You'll find yourself reading chapters here and there later on.

Buy these later.  You won't need all of these, but you'll want to pick up the ones that most match your kids.  They have these books of words sorts for each level of spelling development.  Again, you can snag them pretty cheap on Thriftbooks.  You'll get these after you assess everyone and see where they are.

Buy this now and later.  You'll want to go ahead and get some so that you can get started with making sort cards.  You may need more later, depending on much you like it and how much you need.

Buy this now and later.  You'll want lots of these to use to file/organize your sort cards.

Buy this now and later.  You'll use these to store your sort cards.

Buy this now.    You'll only need one package, so go ahead and pick it up now.  You'll use these to label your sort cards.

These supplies will help you develop your entire spelling curriculum, so even though there may be some initial investment now, you won't need to buy anything else in years to come.  And even these supplies are pretty reasonable.  

But for right now, you want the book.  Get it, skim it, and check back in next week when we talk assessment!

Have a great weekend,