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Grading---Keeping it in Control!

I don't know of a single teacher who says they love grading papers, but it is such a valuable part of teaching.  A student's written work is one piece of data or evidence that we have to see how well the students are understanding the skills or concepts being taught in class. Through the years I've found a few ways to keep the paper grading from becoming too overwhelming.
Everyone can keep their paper grading under control with these simple organizational ideas.

First,  you need a way to keep the papers organized.  I've tried pocket folders and a binder with pocket dividers.  Here's how I set them up.

Subject grading folders are a very simple idea.  I made sure to have a different color for each subject.  Then I wrote To Be Graded on one pocket and Graded on the other.  When a set of paper was graded I wrote the scores on a class slip, clipped it to the set and moved them to the Graded pocket.  The class slip of paper was an easy way to temporarily keep the scores until they could be transferred to my grade book or computer grading system.
Using a separate folder for each subject or class is an easy way to organized papers that need to be graded.

A Grading Binder became my favorite way to keep the paperwork organized.  I liked having everything in one place, but it is larger and not as easy to slip into a bag to take home for the evening.  When I set up my binder I used dividers with pockets.  The pocket dividers were labeled for each subject.  On the front pocket I wrote To be Graded and the other side was labeled Graded.  Just like mentioned above, a class strip with scores, was clipped to the graded set of papers.

One of the advantages of using a binder is you can have so many other things right on hand.  One handy item is a zipper pocket at the front of the binder to hold marking pens, sticky notes, stickers, and a grading scale.  The binder can also have a section for your grade book pages.  I always kept a paper grade book, even when my district went to computer grade books.  I liked having those paper grade sheets to look at quickly.
 Keep your paper grading in control with these simple ideas,  Use folders to keep all those papers organized.

Other time saving tips:
-Label each set of papers with the assignment, page number, etc. 
-Have sticky notes close by!  You never know when you might need to write a note to a student or to yourself! 
-If you assign a % score, use a grading chart or wheel.

 Keep your paper grading in control with these simple ideas,  keeping the materials you need close at hand is essential.

Just a word about student work . . . I don't like and never gave my students "busy work".  I define busy work as anything given to a student just to keep them busy, and did little or nothing to help that child learn or master a skill or concept.  I've seen trash bins filled with student work that was never looked at by the teacher. If a student takes the time to do it, then I think a teacher should take the time to look at it.  But that doesn't mean you have to assign a score or grade to everything. So, here are a few ideas of what to do with student work you know you'll not be scoring or grading.
-Have students exchange papers in class.  They can each use a marking pencil or crayon to check the answers as you read them aloud.  Walk around as students are checking to see if any papers need more attention from you.  Or, you can collect the checked set of papers to look through quickly to see if anyone needs a little reteaching of the skill.
-Assign checking partners.  Students get together to compare answers. If answers are different the students rework to see where a mistake was made.
-Check work as students are working.  Walk around with a marking pen and put a star on problems that are correct, or circle problems you want the student to look at again.  When students turn in their work, you can quickly look through the rest of the work to get an idea if students have done well, or need more practice.
-You don't have to grade everything on the page.  Box in one section and grade only that area.  If it's a written paragraph or essay, grade it only for one writing trait.
-Read through the student work and give a simple star or sticker to indicate you've looked at their work.  You can pull out papers that need more of your attention.
 Keep your paper grading in control with these simple ideas.


Click on the image to download the free printables to help simplify your grading.


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Setting Smart Goals with Students

How do I get my students to set goals for the new year?  Help them write S.M.A.R.T. goals.

The new year is here!  It's the perfect time to help your kids set goals. I know we've all set New Year's Resolutions and they've probably lasted just a few days. That's probably because the resolution wasn't S.M.A.R.T. In order for goal setting to be effective you need to show your kids how to write S.M.A.R.T. goals. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Realistic and Timely.

As you have a discussion about S.M.A.R.T. goals, go over these questions.
Specific:  What exactly do you want to accomplish?
Measurable:  How will you know when you’ve reached this goal?
Action:  What will you need to do in order to reach your goal?
Realistic: Is this goal reachable? Can I really do this?
Timely:  When will you reach this goal?  What is your deadline? 


You can download these pages to help your students set up their S.M.A.R.T. goals for the new year.
 Help your students set SMART goals.




Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals with your students just got a whole lot easier!  Free Download!




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Winter Fun with Winter Books

Let it Snow!
One of the reasons I live in the Arizona desert is the snow-free winters. I don’t hate snow, I just don’t want to live with it. But these snow-free winters mean a lot of our students have never seen snow and that’s a shame because the snow can be a lot of fun. 

So…. I use books to bring the fun of snow into the classroom without living in the cold and mess!  

Snowy days ahead!  Let your kids experience the cold winter days with fun and engaging books about snow.  You can also download a free activity!

Thomas’ Snowsuit by Robert Munsch, Very funny book about the difficulties of putting on a snowsuit.  (You can listen to the author the book aloud on his website!)

The Story of Snow by Mark Cassino. This link will take you to a free teacher's guide!

Snow by Cynthia Rylant,  a young girl enjoys a day in the snow. this link will take you to a brief activity guide for the book.
Snow Day by Lester Laminack, This delightful story puts a twist on "Snow Day."

A Perfect Day by Carin Berger, This book paints a picture of a perfect day in the snow.

Snowballs by Lois Ehlert In this beautiful books students will enjoy the collages used to make the pictures.  The link goes lesson ideas for this book.

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, A wonderful informational text about life over and under the snow. The link will take you to lesson ideas.

Blizzard by John Rocco This book is based on true experiences by the author.  The link will take you to a book trailer.  

The Missing Mitten Mystery bySteven Kellogg, After a day of playing in the snow a little girl discovers one of her mittens is missing!  Where could it be?  The link goes to a site with free lesson ideas.

Polar Bears by Gail Gibbons Another wonderful book filled with interesting facts about these giants of the north.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen In this nighttime adventure a girl and her father go searching for owls on a moonlit winter night. The link takes you to lesson plan suggestions.

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Brigg,  (the link takes you to Snowflake Bentley's official website)  I saved my favorite book for last.  This beautiful book was introduced to me by a good friend who lives in Vermont.  One year she sent me the book along with a snowflake print from Bentley's collection as a Christmas gift.  I instantly fell in love with the book and used it in my classroom every year.  
You can download a free activity to go along with this very special book.

Check out this free activity that goes along with a wonderful book about Snowflake Bentley.



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Simplifying Classroom Jobs

Classroom jobs, how to keep them simple, yet effective.  We want our students to have responsibilities in our classroom, but when we end up giving hundreds of reminders it becomes too much to manage.  Learn about a simple way to keep your classroom jobs effective.

Most teachers would agree that classroom jobs are important. The challenge is how to make the jobs meaningful and how to get students to take responsibility for them.

Throughout my years as a classroom teacher I tried so many different systems.  Some were okay, but most of them ended up being more of a chore for me.  I got so tired of giving reminders to students about their job.  Much of the time, students had jobs in name only.  I ended up doing all the work myself.


As with most things, the simpler, the better.  A good friend of mine has one of the best job systems I’ve ever seen.  It’s simple and the kids really do their jobs!  The system has four class jobs; Teacher Assistant, Classroom Clerk, Public Relations, and Health & Safety.  Each job has several responsibilities.  

Classroom jobs, how to keep them simple, yet effective.  We want our students to have responsibilities in our classroom, but when we end up giving hundreds of reminders it becomes too much to manage.  Learn about a simple way to keep your classroom jobs effective.

Now, here's how this system is unique and effective.  Each week there are two people assigned to the job.  One is the Expert and the other is the Apprentice.  The Expert is in their second week of having that job and the Apprentice is new that week.  The teacher doesn't have to train the students for their new jobs every week, that's up to the Expert!  The Expert is responsible for making sure the job responsibilities are completed as well as training the Apprentice.  The next week the Apprentice moves up to be the Expert and a new Apprentice is assigned to the job. With two students responsible for the job, things get done!

Classroom jobs, how to keep them simple, yet effective.  We want our students to have responsibilities in our classroom, but when we end up giving hundreds of reminders it becomes too much to manage.  Learn about a simple way to keep your classroom jobs effective.

She also has a fun way to give recognition to the eight job holders for the week.  The expert gets the lanyard with the job description and the apprentice gets the name tag that also fits into a little holder that can be placed on top of his/her desk.

You can download an editable version of these job cards here. (Just click on the image.)

 Classroom jobs, how to keep them simple, yet effective.  We want our students to have responsibilities in our classroom, but when we end up giving hundreds of reminders it becomes too much to manage.  Learn about a simple way to keep your classroom jobs effective.







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Tips for Using Informational Text

Informational Text, tips for using it in your daily lessons.

We all know that informational text is playing a bigger role in our reading instruction.  Teachers are also aware that their instructional day is packed and that the content areas of science and social studies often gets squeezed out.  I've gathered some tips to help you use your science and social studies texts and curriculum to teach the required reading skills. Stop thinking of the content areas as a separate part of your day, bring them into your ELA block.

1.  Show students the difference between literary and informational text structure.  
     One of the first things students need to understand is the structural difference between literary and informational text.  Literary text will generally have characters, a setting and a plot that has a beginning, middle and end. While informational text will usually be organized by topic with sections having main ideas and details. To help students compare these two types of texts you can use a T-Chart along with sample texts.  Set the students up in small groups.  Give each group a few text samples and a T-Chart.  Let them explore the text and make note of what they see.  You can sum up the activity by having them list things the texts have in common and some of the major differences they noticed.  Make sure you have a list of the main points you want to make with this activity.  Depending on the age of the students you can guide the summing up discussions to make sure all the main points are covered. 
Click on the image to download the organizer.

 Informational Text T Chart to compare literary and informational text.

2.  Teach students how to find information using the table of contents and index.
     I think the two most important features of an informational book are the table of contents and the index.  As students begin to use informational texts for research projects they will not always be reading the entire book from beginning to end.  They will use the table of contents and the index to find the specific places in the book that has the information they need.
     A fun way to give students practice in using these features is to have a scavenger hunt.  Choose an informational text for which you have enough copies for each student or each pair of students.  I always did this activity with our Science and Social Studies texts because we had a class set.   Write a set of questions that can be answered from the text.  Make sure some of the questions require the table of contents and some require the index in order to find the answer. I also leave a space to write the page number where they found the answer and if they used the table of contents or the index.

3.  Use graphic organizers to gather information.
     Graphic organizers are a must for gathering and organizing information.  There are many different types of graphic organizers that can be used, depending on the text structure and the type of information to be organized. This handy chart will give you an idea of which organizer to use with your students. 
Click on the image to download the chart and 3 free organizers.
 Download your 3 free graphic organizers to use with informational text.

4.  Choose reading strategies and or skills that fit the text.
     Throughout the year students will be learning many different strategies and skills as they become better readers.  You’ll want to choose just one or two to use with this lesson with informational text.  When you’re planning, read the text with fresh eyes and think about the skills and strategies you’re using as a reader.  Mark places where you used specific skills or strategies. When you finish, go over your notes and decide which skills/strategies fit the text and also fit the needs of your students. Then you’re ready to plan you lesson!

5.  Reread the text to teach different comprehension skills.
     Now that you have your first lesson planned, use the text again to target a different skill or strategy.  On the first day you may cover main idea and details with a graphic organizer.  On the second day the focus may be cutting down the details to just the most important ideas and writing a summary.  Later in the week you might focus on vocabulary or author’s word choice. Reading the same text again and again is always a good thing!


Kids love learning about things in their world.  I hope these tips will help you begin using more informational texts in your ELA lessons.


Find out how you can use informational text in your daily reading lessons.



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The More you Read . . .

the better reader you become. The better reader you become, the more you read!


It just makes sense that to become a better reader you have to read.  I used to tell my students that pro basketball, baseball or football players got there by practicing!  They dribbled, batted, passed, ran, jumped and practiced shooting the ball into the hoop for hours and hours in order to become the best player they could be.  To be a better reader, writer or mathematician is the very same, you have to practice. (Click on the image to download the free sign.)
 The More You Read poster


I found this chart on Mrs. London's Free Resources that very clearly shows how reading more often leads to increased test scores.


I know the school day is very busy, but you should try to squeeze in as much time as possible for students to read.  In my classroom, if students had any extra time they were to get out a book to read. There weren't any other little time filler activities, they just got out their book and read.

Here are some tips for getting your students to read more:

1.  Make sure they have access to books at their level.  Set up your classroom library so they can easily find good-fit books.  Teach them how to find those books.  You can show them the 5 finger test. Choose a page from the middle of the book, read it.  Count one finger for each word not known or not able to read.  If you get to five fingers then this book may not be a good fit.
2.   Make finding a good-fit book part of your morning routine.  Each student should have 2 or 3 books at their desk, ready to read.  I liked giving my students a Book Baggie.  They kept at least 3 books in it at all times.  When one book was finished it was taken out and another was put in.  This Book Baggie went home every night and was returned the next morning.


3.  Make reading the one and only choice of what to do when an assignment is finished.
4.  Schedule a relax and read time after recess or lunch.  Kids can get their water bottle and find a place around the room to relax and enjoy their book.  In order to maximize the time, set a timer.  When the timer goes off, if everyone is in their spot and reading, the class earns a point toward a Friday reward.
5.  Connect independent reading to your reading lessons.  One way to help connect your reading lessons to the independent or read-to-self time is to use Thinkmarks.  Thinkmarks are small bookmarks students keep in their book to remind them of a recent skill or strategy taught during a lesson.  The Thinkmark may even have a place for students to stop and jot down notes as they read.  
 Click on the image to download a free sample of the Thinkmarks from Crockett's Classroom.
 Reading Thinkmarks ---free sample.  Great way to hold kids accountable and have them show their thinking as they read.




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Keeping it Positive

"Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words can never hurt me."

Of course you’ve heard this saying and may have even used it to try and comfort a child who  just had unkind words hurled at them.  But I say it’s untrue.  Words do hurt.  Even as adults, we’ve heard things that hurt and sting for a long time. To a child even the smallest insult can have a larger impact.

During the first week of school. teachers spend a lot of time teaching procedures.  They also explain the behavior expectations and the classroom management system for the year. One activity you should add to your first week is this simple activity that shows the lasting effect of unkind words and actions.
1.      Begin by asking the kids what unkind words they've heard other kids say.  Write these words on some of the Sticks 'n' Stones slips. You'll need them later on in the activity.
2.    Now give each student a piece of paper with a blank human figure on it.  Ask them student to color the figure to look like themselves. As you wonder around the room make lots of positive comments about their work.  You want the students to be super proud of their figures. After they finish coloring the figures, students should cut out the figures and write their name on the back.


3.    Have students sit in a circle with their finished figure, a pencil and crayons. Tell students to pass the cutouts to the person on their right.  Read one of the Sticks 'n' Stones cards and tell students that those words hurt. Ask the student holding the figure they received to make a tiny tear in one of the legs.  Make sure it’s small.  (You might hear a few gasps when they see their figure being torn.)
4.    Pass the figures to the right again and read another Sticks 'n' Stones card.  This time ask students to use a crayon and draw a dark zig-zag line across the center of the body. (make sure the color they use shows up on the figure.)  
5.    Pass the figures again and read a Sticks 'n' Stones card. This time have them draw an X on the face with their pencil.
 6.   You can continue passing the figures as many times as you want, reading the Sticks 'n' Stones cards and adding other tears and marks to the figures.  I usually had the students do 5 or 6 things.
7.    On the final rotation read a Sticks 'n' Stones card and have students crumple the figures into a small ball. Collect the crumpled figures.
8.  Students now return to their desks as you gently uncrumple the figures and give them back to the owners.  When the students have their own figure they can try to repair themselves by flattening, smoothing, erasing, or taping.  They'll notice that no matter how much they flatten, smooth, erase or tape their figure the damage can still be seen. 

Now is when you can talk about the effects of unkind words and hurt feelings.  Once words are heard or read, some part of them remain in our memories and continue to hurt. The figures will make a great display about using kind words.

 Sticks and Stones,  words really do hurt. This activity will show your students the damage even the smallest words can do to someone else.

Click on this graphic to download printable for this activity and to receive a free sample of my Positive Behavior Tool Box (SPARKLE).


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