Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's Resolutions and a Freebie!

Personally, I love the New Year - a chance to reboot and restart! And create lists! (I love lists.....) So today I'm excited to link up with Jen at The Teacher's Cauldren to share our personal and blogger resolutions.
And I'm glad to have another opportunity to put my S.M.A.R.T goal training to use!  

Personal Resolution:
I will improve my health by losing 10 pounds by March 31st. I will achieve this by tracking what I eat daily through Weight Watchers online. I will also walk, do yoga, or work out on my elliptical machine for at least 30 minutes 3 times each week. (And if any of you do WW online - I'd love to join a community group with you to encourage each other!)

Blogging Resolutions:
(Since I have three blogs that I'm involved with, I'll share my goals for each of them....)

Mrs. Allen's 5th Grade Files:
I will write at least one blog per week and link to it on Facebook-even if just to share quick ideas, reflections, and strategies that are working in my classroom while I work on more involved posts. 

3-6 Free Resources: 
I will share at least one resource per week and link it to Pinterest.

Mrs. Allen's Recipe Files:
I will share at least 1 recipe per week - and at least one original per month with recipe card. I will also calculate and include the Weight Watchers' points for each recipe or serving.
 I will achieve these blogging goals by taking more pictures during the week and editing them each night so they are ready to be included in a post. I will also write posts Thursday and Friday evenings when I have the most energy and then schedule them throughout the week. I will carve out more time for writing by limiting Netflix viewing and App playing to rewards once I have completed a post.'s out there now - I can't take it back so you'll all be witnesses to how I'm faring!
I also think it's extremely important for children to set their own goals - both personal and academic. When we go back to school this Wednesday, this will be their first writing journal prompt:
You can download a copy here in Word format for free and change the examples to match the experiences of your students and grade level.  

What are your New Year's resolutions for 2013? 
Have a happy and safe New Year!!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

5 Tips for Dealing With the Santa Minefield

Last week, one of my more "sophisticated" 5th grade girls - of the eye-shadow-wearing, high-heel teetering, eye-rolling variety - looked ready to cry when a boy in our class told her, "Duh - Santa's not Reeeaallll!"  I have to say, talking about Santa was one of many things I hadn't anticipated when I moved from teaching in a middle school to teaching at the elementary level. Actually - I don't really talk about Santa much at all. He's referenced in one cute R.A.F.T writing assignment:

Imagine you are Santa Claus. Write a letter to Mrs. Claus explaining why you won't be home for dinner....again.

(My students love that assignment and their reasons and apologies are just hilarious, but it's not really endorsing the idea of Santa.)  And all of my classroom holiday decorations are of the red berries and garland variety - more wintery than anything.  A small little tree hosts ornaments my students have given me over the years and one or two may have Santa on them.'s dealing with the students' chit-chat and direct questions aimed at my opinion that's the minefield. I do not want to utter anything that would land me in the news - just Google "Teacher Tells About Santa" to see where that might get you - yikes! Stories like this one seem to be a fairly common occurrence. 

So....after some thought and  research, I came up with a few classroom ground rules for myself:

1. Do NOT threaten with Santa. 
No "Santa is watching so study for that Spelling Quiz!" This method always seemed vaguely creepy to me anyway, and my husband and I never do this in our house with our daughters. I really don't want to encourage my children or students to be good only because someone is watching them. No matter how adorable that darn Elf on the Shelf is!

2. Intentional Ignoring
If Sally and Alice are starting to have a Santa conversation - just let it go. Debate, sharing ideas, and defending your own beliefs are part of growing up. If it's causing a major distraction, move ahead with #3!

3. Redirect!
If #2 does not work - try the old standby - "Ah...look at the time boys and girls!!  Let's get started with  (Insert Very Important Task Here)!"

4. Turn the Question
If Mikey asks something like, "How do you think Santa fits down all those chimneys?" Respond with, "Well, what do you think?"

5. Reference Others
Respond to questions by saying, "Some people think that Santa uses magic dust to make the reindeer fly." or "Some people think Santa uses the window if a house has no chimney." I like this one because it doesn't really offer your opinion and puts the critical thinking back on the student. Also - my students are a bit familiar with this since I wouldn't tell them who I would vote for during the last election or even my stance on controversial topics. The "Some people think" opening has served me well so far!

If you're interested in further reading, here are a couple resources from different viewpoints on the subject:

Dr. Lydia McGrew wrote this article explaining why Christian parents might want to reconsider Santa.

Dale McGowan is the author of the secular parenting blog called the Meming of Life. Here he has an interesting post about how the Santa tradition is a great "Dry Run" for developing critical thinking in children.

A couple of the sites I visited also mentioned these two books about talking to children about a variety of difficult topics. Since this seems to be an area overlooked while attending college for education, I may have to pick them up.  (If you own them, let me know what you think!)

So how do you handle Santa in your classroom?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Spelling Freebie & December Currently

Hooray - I'm back! Switching grade levels and buildings - while terrific - has also been far more challenging than I had imagined. Phew! I've been gathering lots to share - just haven't had as much time to actually get it posted. But stay tuned....more will be coming shortly!  First off, here is my December Currently from Oh' Boy 4th Grade.....
 We put up our Christmas Tree today and always watch White Christmas while decorating it.  My two daughters (3 and 5 years old) like to dance to the "Sisters" song while prancing around with feather dusters.  :-)   
And here's a quick freebie I've been fine-tuning and wanted to pass along.  I know many of you use similar lists of assignment options for students to complete to review their spelling words. I call our classroom version a Word Study Menu. Students can select any choices from Appetizers, Entrees, Side Dishes & Desserts - completing 100 points worth of work.

Just click on the picture above to download yours from my TN Store, or you can also get it from

I opt to have students study one list of words (20 words plus 5 bonus words) over the course of 2 weeks.  The spelling preview is on Monday and they grade their own the same day. The following Thursday is a quiz on the meanings of the words and Friday is the spelling quiz.  I find that they're more likely to actually remember the words if we spend more than the traditional week.  Of course, students love choice, so this is a nice way to give them some options.

Also - since there is no way we can get to all 30 lists from our Scott Foresman series, I give the students two choices and let them vote.  They selected Compound Words this time - one of my favorites, too.

What are your favorite spelling assignments?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Is There a Downside To Small Classes?

Reducing class size seems to be a no-brainer - something that teachers, parents, students, and administration can agree is a worthy goal.  In my 8+ years of teaching, I've had classes of 8 students pulled out to receive Enrichment Math & ELA instruction to 28 student in my middle school English Language Arts class. This year I have 21 students in my 5th grade class.  To me, smaller class sizes can be a huge positive factor in so many areas. Mainly - fewer students per teacher allows more interaction and 1:1 time per student.

So...what could possible be wrong with small class sizes?

Well - according to Eva Moskowitz, founder and leader of Success Charter Network in NYC,  - a lot.  In an interview with Talk of the Nation she argues that the decision to keep class sizes low comes at the expense of other positive benefits. Specifically, Moskowitz thinks that paying for more teachers results in fewer students supplies, professional development, field trips, and technology which can cause lower academic achievement.

I guess she a has a point. But in my experience, there has never been a positive result from the decision to allow larger class sizes. It's always been more students per class AND fewer field trips AND less money for supplies and technology. I'd gladly have a couple more students per class if it meant that they could all have a laptop or iPad, but in reality that is not how it pans out.

In the past, I was in a situation where (due to budget cuts and lay-offs) one grade had only 10 teachers while the other two grades in the building had 15 teachers leading to vastly different class sizes. (Sometimes 30 vs. 9) And let me tell you - that created some tension.  I also think that Moskowitz overlooks some key negatives of larger class sizes:
  • Paperwork Load (general grading, filling out individual assessments, grade reports, IEPs, report card comments, copying, preparation of supplies, reading records, etc...)
  • Parents to Contact (answering e-mails, notes and phone calls promptly...)
  • Meetings & Conferences (individual writing conferences with students, IEP meetings, parent conferences, intervention meetings, etc...)
Completing all those things well for 28 students vs. just 18 requires a big jump in time and energy that takes away from effective planning and teaching.  There is enough pressure on teachers already without this additional excuse to slash our jobs.

So how are your class sizes this year? And how has class size influenced the success of your students?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Helping Students Choose Just-Right Books

I am so pleased to welcome Amy from Active Readers and Writers today. She has lots of fabulous freebies and resources on her blog, so I hope you stop by to check it out!
Active Readers and Writers

Helping Students Choose Just-Right Books

Expectations run high the first few weeks of school for teachers. You have spent the summer preparing your classroom and curriculum, yet do we ever feel 100% ready for those students to walk through the door? Along with getting to know them as individuals and building a classroom community you must spend those first few weeks getting to know them as readers.

Within these first few weeks of school it is important to help students in deciding what is a Just-Right Book for them? Before we can allow them to choose books of their own spend a couple of mini-lessons doing the following:

Ask them to write and sketch about a time when reading went really well for them and a time when reading did not go as well for them. I've included a printable to use and have them keep in their reading binder. Click Here to view and download.

Have them reflect on books that they read last year or over the summer and think about what qualities of the books made that book: too hard, just right, or too easy for them to read. Have them complete a chart and list book examples if they would like.  Click Here to view and download.

Go over the iPICK Acronym:
P: Purpose: Why do I want to read this?
I: Interest: Does the book interest me?
C: Comprehension: Do I understand it?
K: Know: Do I know most of the words?

Go over the 5-Finger Rule: Pick up a book and read the second page. Hold up a finger when you come across a word you do not understand. If you hold up 5 or more fingers, you should pick another book.

Have them set reading goals as to what types of books they would like to read, possibly trying new genres, increasing the amount of minutes read during the day, etc.

Once you do these mini-lessons with students it should help to guide them in picking books that are close to their just-right reading level during the first couple weeks of school. It will then give you some breathing room to complete your reading assessments to gain further information. Hopefully you will see your students filling their book bins with appropriate reading material from your library!

Amy Gregory lives in Massachusetts and has been teaching 5th grade for the past fourteen years. She is the creator of the blog, Active Readers and Writers, where she shares teaching strategies and connects with other teachers who are interested in best practices around reading and writing.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

First Week - DONE! (Plus a Classroom Jobs Freebie)

Well...I survived my first week as a 5th grade teacher! And boy...oh...boy am I BONE tired. I forgot how exhausting the first week of school is - my feet hurt, my head aches, and I can barely string together a coherent sentence. was a great first week of school.

Here are a few things that went well:

1. Our Get-To-Know-You Bingo

2. Collaboration lessons learned from a group competition - 5 groups raced to put together their SpongeBob puzzle first. Terrific opportunity to discuss working together, "divide and conquer" strategies and recognize persevering students who did NOT give up.

3. Dictionary Hunt -  After discussing a few dictionary terms, kids worked with a partner to hunt through a dictionary to find guide words, parts of speech, and definitions. They really loved this activity. Maybe I even won over a few dictionary naysayers.  :-) You can read more about this and get the handouts for free here.

4. Great Poetry Race Intro - more on this later!
5. Reflection Post-it Activity 

6. Classroom Jobs - Students generated ideas, I added my own, and then they applied for a job.  Here is the description and application sheets for you to download for free if you like. They are left in Excel format so you can adjust them however you want!  Just click here for the Classroom Jobs and click here for the Application.
So how has your school year gone so far?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Thoughtful Classroom - Takeaways

Have you heard of Dr. Harvey Silver?  He is the author of The Strategic Teacher and our new (New York State required) teacher evaluation tool - The Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Effectiveness Framework.  Dr. Silver was our presenter for a full day of learning about this new system. Truly - I was dreading it. Who wants to spend 6 hours cooped up in an auditorium viewing the details of what your boss will be looking for as they observe you? But actually, it was a surprisingly pleasant day.  Silver was funny, warm, and actually practiced all the teaching behaviors he recommended.  I won't bore you with all the minutiae of the meeting, but I did come away with several things I want remember this year that I thought I'd pass along to you.
  1. You only have 7 seconds to make a first impression. Make those first moments count - smile, make a connection, and make them feel welcome! 
  2. Use your students' names in examples and while speaking to vastly increase their attention and engagement.
  3. Let your students get to know you - tell stories about yourself, share your own goals, and maybe even show them a picture of yourself when you were their age.
  4. Post surprising pictures or intriguing questions to hook your students into the lesson and engage their thinking.
  5. Stop often to ask for QCC: Questions, Concerns, Comments.
  6. When you ask a question during class, don't just use "wait time" until you see a hand or two go up - ask all students to jot down an answer to engage their thinking and then have some share - with each other and then you.
  7. Emphasize Learning - not Grades. If the learning is happening, then the grades will come. Have them record what they've learned often.
  8. Have students "mumble read" their writing to themselves so they can catch more errors and smooth it out. Then have another student read it to them to help them spot even more areas to improve. 
  9. When looking for areas of your own growth - try looking at the "opposite" of what you do well.  For example, if you're great at fostering an appreciation for diversity, try working on developing unity in your class.
  10. Ask students what they need - Example questions: "After looking at the goals for this project, what will you need to accomplish this by Friday?" This increases motivation and engagement.
Many of these I incorporate into my teaching already, but I plan to add them in a more "thoughtful" way now.
If you're interesting in learning more, you can check out Dr. Silver's book:

I'd love to hear from anyone who has used this system.  How are teachers evaluated in your district?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Made it Monday: P.I.P.s (Pinterest Inspired Projects)

Today I'm linking up with Tara over at 4th Grade Frolics for her last weekly Made It Monday!

I finally finished two of my P.I.P.s (Pinterest Inspired Projects)!
#1 Students' Toolbox 
(Inspired by Create*Teach*Share)

This will be used in my student supply center.  Of course, I had to have it match my Animal Print / Safari theme, so I created the labels in alternating zebra and giraffe print!
If you like it, you can download it (well the labels anyway!!) on my TpT or TN store for free. And customize it how you want it, since I've left it in Word. :-)

#2 Clipboards
(Inspired by Classroom DIY)
Some of my clipboards were looking a little worse for wear (including some...uh...."unfortunate" graffiti....) so I decided to spruce them up with some fun duct tape.
Also - I'd love for you to check out my Top 10 Teacher's "Survival Kit" Essentials - and link up your own!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Teacher's Survival Kit Linky Party!

Hi everyone! Since I moved buildings and classrooms this year, I had a chance to start from scratch and truly think about those "must-have" items that I really needed to have stashed in my desk - my "Survival Kit" so to speak.  And of course....since I know I probably forgot something essential - I decided to host a Linky Party and hopefully we can share some ideas with each other as well!
Here are the guidelines:
1. List your top "Survival Kit" items that you keep stashed at school. (Make sure you link to your specific post so we can easily find it!)
2. Please include the button above or a link back here so that your readers can easily find everyone else's posts.
3. Comment on two other posts.

I can't wait to see what you all link up!
Just scroll down to add yours.  :-)

Here are my Top 10 "Survival Kit" Items:

1. Dark Chocolate - It's healthy for you! Right? In any case, every once in awhile okay - nearly every day, a piece of chocolate is just what I need.
2. Coffee, Tea, Hot Chocolate - Something nice and hot to sip on while answering e-mails or grading papers hits the spot. Especially on those icy Upstate New York winter mornings. I had really liked those Folger's single serve packets, but my new school has a KEURIG - yippee!  Also - I must have a packet or two of Land-o-Lakes Mint or Raspberry hot chocolate. Deee....lish.
3. Healthy Granola Bars - For a little afternoon boost if I need it. emergency lunch if I forgot mine at home. Again.
4. Extra Contacts & Saline Solution - After that afternoon I had to teach with one eye after my contact ripped in half - I always keep an extra pair on hand. (Driving home was scary that day!)
5. Tide To-Go Stick - As I've mentioned before, I am super klutzy, so having this on hand is helpful. Thank goodness we now have whiteboards - I was always the one with the chalk hand print somewhere on me. least that just wiped off!
6. Aspirin - I typically get headaches on the first day of anything new, so this is essential and having it right in my desk avoids a trip to the nurse.
7. Deodorant - Well...because sometimes a little re-apply is a good idea.
8. Nail Clippers & Nail File - I can't stand having jagged nails - they always seem to catch on everything - I've ruined some great sweaters that way. I've even tried scissors in a pinch. Not good.
9. Wisp Mini Disposable Toothbrushes - Perfect when you have a parent conference or a meeting with your principal and your sub sandwich breath just won't dissipate. Yuck - O.
10. Gum & Mints - For me, this is great after lunch or during those afternoons when I'm trying to avoid eating that whole box of above-mentioned granola bars.  :-)

 So...what's in your Teacher's Survival Kit?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Free App to Boost Your Productivity - Guest Post!

I'm thrilled to be Amanda's guest today over at The Teaching Thief!  I've been following her blog for a long time so I'm really excited to be her first guest blogger.  :-)
The Teaching Thief
Just click on the image above to check out my post about a fantastic free App I discovered last year that made HUGE improvements in my productivity (and sleep).
Now what teacher would say no to that?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Back to School Jitters!

Today I'm linking up with Ms. Jessica at A Turn to Learn for her Back to School Jitters Linky!  It's a year of many, many changes for me (changing grades, buildings, starting new programs, etc.) so I absolutely have a few jitters....
I really have to remember that last one. I am committed to making healthier food choices and making time to exercise at least few times a week. And NOT bringing home so much work!

How about you?  Any back to school jitters?  Link up right here!
Back to School Jitters Linky Party

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Classroom Makeover Sneak Peek

This afternoon I was finally able to coordinate with my design assistant (AKA my awesome incredible fabulous amazing Mom!) to help me redo my bulletin boards.  Since I realized today that I haven't shown y'all my new classroom, I thought I'd give you a "Before & After" sneak peek at what I've been working on over the last few months.


My first day moving in. This is the students' cubby area. Be thankful you can't see all the boxes I dragged from my old school behind the counter!


 Getting better.... Am I the only crazy one who brings a feather duster to school?


 Ahhh....much better! I just can't stand piles-o-stuff out where everyone can see.
Better feng-shui with bins from Target. :-)


Blah corkboard above the Student Supply Center I am creating. (Hey - I just noticed someone wrote "hi" on it....hmmm.......)


Black paper with giraffe animal print trim. I've always loved black background paper- things just seem to "pop" out more.


A small blackboard and super loooooooooooong corkboard at the back of the room.


Black paper and alternating zebra / cheetah print squared sections. Let me tell you - maneuvering that huge piece of paper was a bear and STILL it has ripples.  Oh well - there will be other things covering it up!

Just two more weeks to add the finishing touches!
Okay, I'll try not to freak out about that now.......

So what have you all been doing to prepare your classrooms?