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Homework, Yay or Nay?

Homework has been a tradition in our schools for decades.  But, is it a tradition that needs to be retired?  At the very least it's time to evaluate your homework policies.  

Research shows homework is not all bad, nor is it all good.  Like everything else there are pros and cons.   

-Homework gives students time to practice the academic skills they need to master. 
-It gives parents a way to be involved in their child’s education.
-Having a homework routine helps students learn time management. 
-Homework can encourage self-discipline and independent problem-solving skills.

-Homework can lead to a negative attitude toward school.
-Homework cuts down on the time kids have to be active and play.
-Homework is often busy work the student really doesn’t need.
-Not all homes are created equal.  Completing school assignments at home can be a burden for some kids.

What most studies have found is that homework can be beneficial, but teachers need to make sure to minimize the negative effects of homework. 

Homework can be an valuable part of a child's education.  The cons don't necessarily outweigh the pros.  But, before you implement a new homework program these are some of the questions you need to ask myself. (Not listed in any particular order.)

1.  Will this assignment help my students grow academically?
2.  Is the assignment at the student's independent learning level?
3.   How long will it take the average student in my class to complete the homework assignment?
4.  How can the assignment be modified to meet the varied needs of my students?
5.  How will I manage the homework system I put in place? 

One way to think outside of the "homework box" is to give kids more choices.  Too often one assignment is not the best for all students.  Giving kids a choice may also avoid the negative attitudes toward mandatory homework. 

Choice boards are used with literacy studies, learning centers and for research projects.  Why not use a choice board for homework? 

I've put together a homework choice board  that can be edited to meet the needs of your students.  This is an editable PowerPoint file.  When you click on this link it will open in your browser.  It is not editable in your browser!  You'll need to download and save it first.  Then open it in PowerPoint.  You may also need to click on Enable Editing in PowerPoint.   

 Give your kids a choice for their homework.  These editable choice boards are the perfect way to differentiate your homework assignments.

I hope you find these editable choice boards helpful in setting your homework system this year.  I'd love to hear how you use them.  Share your pictures on instagram and tag me (crockettsclassroom) so I can see, too. 

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Light up Your Room with a Lightbox

Light boxes are a fun way to make a statement in your classroom. You can put up an inspirational quote, make class announcements or use as a sign for a special area of your room.

I started my lightbox collection with a tiny light box I found in the Target Dollar Spot.  It was only $3.00 and is a fun way to add a little spot of brightness to a small space.  Then I purchased a mini lightbox from Michael's Craft Store.  It's made by Heidi Swapp.  

With these two lightboxes I needed to find a cheap way to add my own sayings.  I could use a purchased set of letters, but sliding in all of those individual letters sounded like too much work.  Plus, I like using lots of different fonts and colors.

So, in just a couple of minutes I created a template in PowerPoint.  Now I can create any saying, in any font, in any color.  I can also add graphics to make them extra cute!

You can download this simple template here.  The template is for a mini-lightbox (6.5 X 6.5)  Complete directions are included.  You'll also get the You are Awesome! inserts like you see in the picture above.  Once you click on the download you will need to save the PowerPoint file to your own device.  In order to edit the file you need to open PowerPoint on your computer and then open the file from there.  I have set the file to download as a "view only", but you will be able to edit it when it is in PowerPoint.  You do not need to request permission to edit.  

Have fun!

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Easy, Inexpensive, and Efficient Ways to Organize Literacy Centers

Organization is key to running efficient literacy centers. Find out how to get your literacy centers organized quickly and easily.

Organization is key to running a smooth and successful literacy block.  When your materials are organized and students know how to maintain the organization you have time to focus on your lessons. 

First you need to think about your space.  What type of storage area do you have?  Do you have 
  • counter top space
  • shelves
  •  cabinets
  • none of the above
I've been in classrooms with amazing cabinets and counter top space.  And then, other classrooms with only a few open shelves.  (Don't you wish they would hire a teacher to help design classrooms!!)  If you don't have adequate storage space you may want to add furniture to your classroom.  Since most schools don't have the budget to buy more furniture, you may need to go shopping for yourself.  Second-hand stores, like Goodwill,  are the first place I look.  You'll be amazed at what you can find that just needs a little bit of cleaning or a coat of paint.   Garage sales can also turn up great treasures, but it can be time consuming driving from sale to sale. 

Next, what will hold the materials for each center?  Tubs, bins, file drawers, or a cart are great for organizing the specific materials for your centers.  The books, papers, pencils, crayons, game pieces, etc. for each center should be kept together in one container.  It’s also easier if the center containers can be removed from the storage area and taken to a work space.

Tubs or bins work well if you have a cabinet or shelf storage area. Tubs and bins can also be kept on a counter top.  When choosing this type of storage look for a set at least 10” by 12” so they will hold regular sheets of paper.  You also want it deep enough to hold the other materials needed for the center (pencils, scissors, glue, crayons, etc.) Check out the lid for the bin.  Make sure it closes securely and is easy to get off and on.  Another important feature is their ability to be stacked.  Many have lids that are designed to be easily stacked without sliding off of each other.

Easy and efficient ways to organize your literacy centers without breaking the bank!  

If you like keeping organized, you'll love these ideas for easy, inexpensive and efficient ways to organize your literacy centers.

The bins in these photos are by Sterilite.  They're 11" by 14" and 2.75" deep.   I like the way the lid clamps on.  Being see-through is a plus because I can see what's inside without taking off the lid.  And, the lid is designed for super easy stacking.

Drawer Sets are an easy and inexpensive way to store your centers.   These drawers are 9" by 12" and can be removed so students can take them to their work space.  That's large enough for regular size paper and a few supplies.  They do not have a lid, so kids have to be careful when moving from place to place.  Two sets can be stacked on top or beside each other.
If you like keeping organized, you'll love these ideas for easy, inexpensive and efficient ways to organize your literacy centers.

File drawers are a convenient option because most classrooms have a file cabinet.  You can use file pockets to hold the paper materials for the center and a separate box for the other materials.  The file pockets aren't as durable, but they're easy for students to take out and then return.  

Carts with drawers are great if you have limited storage space in your classroom.   Wheeled carts work well because they can be brought into a work space during center time and then put away later.  Look for a cart that is sturdy and not wobbly when wheeled around.  You can usually find these carts at craft and hobby stores.  Keep your eyes open for back-to-school sales or their coupons.  I recently found these two at Michael's Craft store.  

If you like keeping organized, you'll love these ideas for easy, inexpensive and efficient ways to organize your literacy centers.
The cart on the left has 10 drawers with a light metal frame.  The cart on the left has eight drawers and is a little more expensive. The drawers are larger and the cart much more sturdy.  

Materials caddies or boxes can ensure that students have everything they need at their work space.  These little boxes can be filled with crayons, pencils, scissors, and glue sticks.  Including a picture of the organized box will help students know how to repack the box. 

Keep everything organized with these easy and efficient ideas for your literature centers.

Labels are a must!  You should label the bin or box with the name of the center.  Make sure the lettering is easy to read.  If possible, color coding the label and the materials inside helps kids know which materials go into each container.  A materials list will also help the students know if they've returned everything when they're cleaning up.  A picture of how the contents should look will help if there are lots of materials and they fit in a certain way.  All of this helps students know the high expectation you have for taking care of the materials.

To help you get started with your labels, you can download this free set of editable labels to use on your containers.  I designed them to be printed on whole-sheet (8.5 X 11) shipping labels.  This way you won’t get frustrated when the label design doesn’t fit exactly on the label.  You do have to cut them out yourself, but I’d rather do that than throw out a whole page because it didn’t feed through my printer perfectly. Plus I can make the labels any size I want and not the ones predetermined by the label companies.

 Editable labels to keep your literacy centers organized

You can download this free set of editable labels to begin organizing your literacy centers.  Click on the picture above to download the PowerPoint file. 
Important:  You must download and then save the PowerPoint file to your computer or device before you edit.  Once you've downloaded and saved the file, start your PowerPoint program and open the label file from there to begin editing.  

Happy organizing!

Organization is key to running efficient literacy centers. Find out how to get your literacy centers organized quickly and easily.

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Character Trait: Searching for the Evidence

What an inspiring character!  A young girl shows you should never give up on your dream.  Although there were many roadblocks in her path, with determination, she found her way around everyone to finally achieve her goal.  What a great lesson for all of us.   And . . . a fantastic book to share with our students as they learn about the characters.

Character Traits:  Finding Evidence,   using the book The Girl With a Mind for Math, students choose a character trait and then search for evidence from the text.  You can download this free activity from my TpT store.

The Girl with a Mind for Math  tells the story of Raye Montague.  Early in her life, her grandfather takes her to see a submarine.  She quickly decides an engineer is what she wants to be when she grows up.  This isn’t an easy thing for a young black girl in the south.   The author, Julia Finley Mosca, uses narrative verse to share the life story of this incredible lady.   The illustrations, by Daniel Rieley, are unique and very eye-catching. 

                       Character Traits:  Finding Evidence,   using the book The Girl With a Mind for Math, students choose a character trait and then search for evidence from the text.  You can download this free activity from my TpT store.

When I first read it to myself. I was struck by Raye's determination.  She starts with a dream and never gives up, no matter how many people tell her she can’t.  A Girl With a Mind for Math is the perfect book for helping students learn about character traits and how to find supporting evidence for those traits.  I created a character trait activity to go along with this book.  The activity can be used with your whole class during a read-aloud time or set up in a literacy center.   Click on the image below to be taken to this free product in my TpT store.

 Instagram Give Away

Disclaimer:  I was given a free copy of this book for this review.

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High Expectations are NOT Enough

How do you hold your kids accountable for their work and behavior during literacy centers?  Setting high expectations is not enough.  Find out how you can improve student accountability with these 5 ideas.

      Picture this:  You have your centers set up and your small group lessons are planned.  The kids are working on their reading and literacy center tasks.  You're focused on your small groups.  You give yourself a pat on the back because everything is running so smoothly!

At the end of the week, you collect their literacy folders, which hold all their written work for the week, and their learning journals.  When you sit down to go through the folders and journals you notice the written work is uh . . . let’s say, not up to the quality you expect.  You wonder, “What were they doing all week?!”

Even if you’ve taught the routines and your literacy block runs smoothly unless you have high expectations and a way to keep kids accountable, what’s the point? That’s when center and reading tasks turn into busy work, and nobody has time for that.

I have a few ideas for ways to hold students accountable for the high expectations you set.  I firmly believe that expectations are pointless without the accountability.  I’ve divided the tips or suggestions between the three reading tasks and three center tasks that I use during my literacy block.  Every classroom is different, so feel free to take, use, or modify any of them to implement in your classroom.

One other note,  I've never found anything that works every year with every class.  Each group of students is different.  The accountability checks I did one year might not work the following year. As with everything else, teaching is about making adjustments for the students’ needs. 

My goal was always to foster independence and a habit of doing their best on every task.  Once the expectations and accountability checks were established, I was able to focus more on the content of their work.

1.  Journal Response
One of the most difficult literacy tasks to check is independent reading.  How do you know if they are really reading?  One way is to have students write a short journal entry.  The entries can be a short summary of what they read, a topic chosen from a list, or focus on a specific skill.   For example:  Write about the characters and how their words or actions affected the plot.  You need to do a lot of modeling of the exact format you expect for the journal entry. 
Here's a free set of reading response stems you can use in your classroom.
 Reading Response Stems  are one way I hold my students accountable during their literacy centers.

2.  Accelerated Reader (AR) Quiz
I like this program for one reason -- it held my students accountable for their independent reading. It is NOT a great way to check a higher level thinking skills, but it is a good way to quickly and easily know if a student has read a book.  I talked to each student at the beginning of every quarter to set goals. The reports made it easy for us to check progress.

3.  Buddy Check-in
In a couple of my centers, students read with a partner.  Part of the expectation is that they keep each other on task.  I choose the students for each partnership carefully so I can set them up for success.   In my fluency center, the students write a comment or two about their partner's reading and this serves as the check.  If there is a problem in the partnership, students can talk to me about the issue and I can help them work on a solution.  Buddy Check-in is also a way to recognize students who are focused, polite or helpful buddies.

How do you hold your kids accountable for their work and behavior during literacy centers?  Setting high expectations is not enough.  Find out how you can improve student accountability with these 5 ideas.

4.  Discussion Monitor
One of my reading centers has groups of 2-4 students reading an assigned text.   As they read, they stop and chat about the text.  The discussion is focused on a reading skill we've been working on in our whole-class lessons.  Each student has a thinkmark with reminders about the skill.  It helps them stay focused on the purpose of the discussions.  One student can be assigned the discussion monitor for the day or for the week.  The monitor makes sure the readers stay on topic and prompt students to give complete and thoughtful comments.  At the end of the daily discussion, the monitor fills out a simple rubric/checklist about the group members' participation. 

5. Switch and Check
One of my favorite ways to hold students accountable for centers with a written task was to assign them a checking partner.  When both students finish the task they switch papers and use an answer key to check the work. This worked well for written center work because I rarely took grades on this work.  

6.  Star Student
I've seen this idea used in different class situations.  I like to use it during literacy block because it's an easy way to give recognition to students who are doing what they're supposed to be doing. Sometimes I was looking for a student who had over-all good behavior during our literacy block.  But sometimes we had a focused behavior for the day or week.  During literacy block I make a mental note of students who are on task, working quietly, keeping their area neat and organized, helping others, etc.  At the end of the block, I would choose one student to recognize as the Star Student for the day.  I would write the student's name on a small display at the front of the room.  Sometimes I would put the name in a jar for a drawing at the end of the month. 

Click on the image to download this Star Student sign you can use in your classroom!
How do you hold your kids accountable for their work and behavior during literacy centers?  Setting high expectations is not enough.  Find out how you can improve student accountability with these 5 ideas.

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Your Literacy Block Schedule Doesn't Have to be Complicated!

Simplify your literacy block with this new scheduling idea.  Learn how to keep kids engaged in meaningful tasks while you have time to work with small groups.

     Let the circus begin!  That's how I used to feel right before the small groups/centers time of my literacy block stated.  For years I followed the trend of having my students rotate through literacy centers while I met with small groups.  Each rotation was 20 minutes because I wanted to meet with three small groups every day.  If I was lucky, that 20 minute small group time ended up to be 15 minutes of instruction time after all the kids got to the table and materials were either handed out or collected.   Then, that 15 minutes was frequently interrupted by the kids who were supposed to be working independently at the centers.   I felt like my small groups never got my full attention.  This system may work very well for a lot of teachers, but it just wasn’t working for me.  I decided that something needed to change.  But what?  I didn't necessarily want to reinvent the wheel, but I wanted to give it an update.   

First I looked at what worked well.
Ø Small groups:  Working with small groups of students is important.  They get short focused lessons that meet their needs.  And, I loved the challenge of planning those lessons and seeing the little light bulbs flash on when they caught on to a new concept.
Ø Centers:  I looove centers.  It's a time for kids to practice the skills that have been presented in class.  Centers are one of the best times of the day when you can truly individualize tasks.  Let’s be honest,  we know we need to meet the individual needs of our students, but it isn’t easy.  During centers,  students can work on tasks specific to their needs without feeling like they’re different.  Plus, I really like creating all the games and activities. That's my teacher fun time!

Simplify your literacy block with this new scheduling idea.  Learn how to keep kids engaged in meaningful tasks while you have time to work with small groups.

What’s left?  The rotation schedule!  That’s what I hated, so I got rid of it!  Sound crazy?  Let me explain how it works.

First, divide your small group/center time in half.  So, if you have 60 minutes (the old 3 X 20 min. rotations) you now have two 30-minute blocks.

Then, divide your students in half.  Each group should be a mix of students based on achievement levels, boys/girls, behavior needs, etc.  Forget about your reading groups for now. The kids from each group do not need to be in the same class group.

Now you’re ready to start teaching!  Well, I guess I need to explain a few things about this new way of running your literacy block.  Read on . . .
This block of time now has three sections- time with the teacher, reading activities and center activites.  The reading and centers are going on at the same time the teacher is busy with groups, individual students, etc.

Simplify your literacy block with this new scheduling idea.  Learn how to keep kids engaged in meaningful tasks while you have time to work with small groups.

During this block of time, students will be doing one of two things while you meet with small groups.  They will be working on reading activities or they will be working at literacy centers.   At the half-way point of the block time, the students switch, the ones who were reading move to the centers, and the students at the centers move on to reading.  Simple!  The kids only switch one time, which means more time engaged in learning tasks.  Here are more specifics about each part of TeRC. 

Simplify your literacy block with this new scheduling idea.  Learn how to keep kids engaged in meaningful tasks while you have time to work with small groups.

The biggest change in this schedule structure is when the teacher meets with small groups. One question I get most often is "How do you meet with groups if the kids are scattered between the reading and center activities.  Well, that was part of my AH HA! moment.  I decided not to worry about where they were.  When I was ready to work with a small group, I simply called them to join me at the reading table.  They put away what they were working on and joined me for their reading group.  They would have time, either later that day or the next day, to get back to those other tasks.

When I was freed from the 20-minute rotation schedule, I found that I had more time to meet the needs of all my students.  Taking away the time restraint allowed me to meet with a group for just a few minutes to check on their progress toward a week-long project, or work with a  group for a longer time when they were struggling with identifying the cause/effect of events in a story.  In between the group meetings I could wander around the room to answer questions or make sure kids were on task.

Each day I knew which groups I wanted to meet with, so I wrote them on the board.  But, I didn't write a meeting time.  The kids knew that when called, they would join me at the reading table with their reading folder and book.  When their group was dismissed they returned to their task.  If the reading/centers time had switched the kids cleaned up their area and moved on to either the reading tasks or center activity.

Simplify your literacy block with this new scheduling idea.  Learn how to keep kids engaged in meaningful tasks while you have time to work with small groups.

In order to become a better reader, you have to read and read and read!  During this part of the literacy block students are involved with a variety of reading activities.  Here are a few of my favorite activities for the reading time:
Read a self-selected book--   Kids usually read a book they picked for themselves, although sometimes I would assign a specific text.  Then they wrote a brief journal entry to reflect upon what they had read.  The focus of the journal reflection was a reading strategy.  If we were working on drawing conclusions, the students had to write about a conclusion they made while reading their self-selected book.

Fluency Partners -- Each week we had a targeted fluency skill (accuracy, phrasing, reading rate, expression, intonation, etc.)  The kids would pair up and choose a book from the sets I made available.  Then, they would take turns reading sections of the book to each other.  One student was the reader while the other one followed along, paying attention to the targeted fluency skill.  The listener would then give feedback to the reader, letting them know what they did well and an area where they could improve.  The roles were then reversed.

Partner Discussions--  For this activity, kids were put into small groups of 2 or 3.  It's run a little like a book club.  They all read a common text and had discussions at designated stopping places.  The kids would decide how much to read before the next discussion, but I chose the discussion topic.  The topics were based on the strategies we were learning in our whole-class lessons.  The topics might be; summarizing, inferring and predicting, analyzing and evaluating, visualizing, etc.  The kids were given a thinkmark with reminders or clues about the strategy so they knew what to be prepared to discuss at their next meeting.  Sometimes, I also ask them to write about their group discussion in their journal. 

Reading Assignments-- Often, the students had an assignment from a reading lesson to complete.  This might be an assignment from their small group or from a whole class lesson.  I required that any assignment had to be completed before they went on to the other activities.    

Simplify your literacy block with this new scheduling idea.  Learn how to keep kids engaged in meaningful tasks while you have time to work with small groups.

The literacy centers gave students time to practice skills in other literacy areas, like word study, vocabulary, grammar, etc.  These activities were more hands-on and most were done with a partner or small group. Most of the centers had a short written practice sheet to go along with the game or activity.   Here are a few examples:

Grammar Sorts--  At this center, the kids would sort a set of cards that went along with the grammar skill we were leaning that week.  If we were learning about sentences, the sort might be sorting subjects and predicates.  I always included a recording sheet so they had to write down the answers to the sort.  This helped with accountability. 

Word Study Game-- These simple games focused on our word study skill for the week (prefixes, syllables, context clues, antonyms, etc.).  I created a simple game board that would be used for several weeks and then switched out the game cards for each word study skill.  For accountability, I had the kids write their answers on a recording sheet as they played.  

Writing--  Each week the kids were expected to complete a short piece of writing.  They had to brainstorm, write the first draft and then edit and revise.  By Friday the final piece of writing had to be turned in.  

Check back next week for the next blog post about TeRC.  I'll go into more detail about what the students do during the reading and center part of the schedule. 

In the meantime . . .

I have a special surprise for you!   You don't have to create these reading and literacy centers because I've already done it for you!  I have complete sets for 3rd, 4th and 5th grade, ready for you to print and use in your classroom. To see what they're like, you can download a free week to try out.  Click on the link below for the grade level you'd like to try and I'll send you an email 

 3rd-Grade Week 1 Centers   4th-Grade Week 1 Centers  5th-Grade Week 1 Centers

I'd love to hear how the centers work in your classroom!  

Take a few pictures of the centers in your classroom and share them on Instagram. Tag me @crockettsclassroom and use the hashtag #3rdlitcenters, #4thlitcenters, or 5thlitcenters.  Each month I'm going to choose one teacher who shares a picture of the centers in their classroom on Instagram to receive a $10 TpT gift card!

Email me anytime with your questions.  debbie@crockettsclassroom.com

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