Monday, March 28, 2016

Twas the Night Before Writing STAAR

It's THAT time of year again. When Spring Break has come and gone, the kiddos start to get a tad restless, and an important assessment is coming up. Y'all know what I'm talking about... STAAR. 

I could write an entire SERIES of blog posts regarding my feelings about high stakes testing for my 4th graders. However, I'll boil it down to this: While STAAR is an important test, it is just ONE snapshot of many to gauge student understanding. 

I struggle every year finding the balance between preparing my kiddos yet not extinguishing their love of learning. On one side, I want my kiddos to be set up for success regarding the STAAR. I want them to walk into my school on the day of the test knowing EXACTLY what to expect and EXACTLY how to do well. I want them to have had experience with the types of questions and essays so there will be no surprises come test day. My kiddos should go to bed the night before the test with not a worry in their minds as they feel ready with all the practice, pep talks, instruction (small and whole group), and writing we've done. They will OWN that test! 

However, another side of me cringes a little at the above paragraph. Isn't the best STAAR prep solid teaching all year long? Isn't that what the test itself is supposed to be- just a spotlight demonstrating what we've been doing to ensure kiddos are on track? "Teaching to the test" is a tense phrase in education- it's usually accompanied by red sirens going off in educators' heads. It has a terrible connotation and rightly so. It alludes to teaching that is ONLY geared towards doing well on a test. There is nothing past strategically answering multiple choice questions by eliminating incorrect answers and proving correct ones. Where is the higher level projects? What about learning through 21st century devices and collaboration? How about applying the knowledge to a real world situation and creating a product? 

I've come to appreciate the middle ground. All year long, I work my hardest to incorporate higher level skills, collaboration, technology and application. However, I also work to expose my kiddos to the formatting of the test. Multiple choice questions are part of a student's life. They need to know the best strategies of working through each answer choice, going back to the passage to find evidence, and proving each correct answer. I want my kiddos to LOVE learning at a higher level, and I want them to excel taking the STAAR test. Is it too much to want both worlds? I don't think so... we shall see I suppose!

At this point in time, when I feel anxious and stressed and pressure, I try to remind myself that my kiddos are ready. We have been working diligently all year long to get to this point. They are proud, they are confident, they are going to SHINE. 


When it does come to preparing my kiddos for the formatting and style of the test, I found this gold mine blog post A Great Big Collection of Test Prep by Teaching with a Mountain View. We incorporated SO MANY of these activities these past couple weeks: Stinky Feet, collaborative STAAR prep activities for points, etc. 

One of my favorite things we did today were the acrostic poems where students used their names to describe test taking skills. 

Here are some precious examples:















After dismissal, we teachers secured some sidewalk chalk and wrote inspiring messages for when the kiddos enter the building tomorrow morning, starting off their days on a positive note. I am so excited for them to see it! 






For now, I'll go and reread my STAAR administrator manual one last time to ensure I'm ready to rock it tomorrow. My kiddos are ready to rock it.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

2 Minute Pep Talk for Teachers

Hi there!
The following is an excerpt from an essay I wrote. My sweet friend and teammate Whitney Parlin (Check her out!) encouraged me to share it with others. Hopefully I pulled a Kid President and inspired you to finish this year out strong! You are doing AMAZING things. 
Staring at the glaring computer screen, my hands rapidly try to type quickly enough to keep up with my brain. Preparing sub plans is a job in it of itself. Please complete the activity by passing out A, discussing B, then assisting the students as they do C and D. Make sure student E doesn’t sit by student F and that student G goes to the nurse at 9am! At 11am, students H, I, and J will go to GT class. Student K has been emotional lately due to troubles at home, so please give him a hug if he needs one. Please make sure students L and M provide their best quality work, as they have been rushing lately. Students N, O, P, and Q will stay in for study hall to redo an assignment. Please let student R know that her mom is picking her up in the front loop today. If she asks, tell student S that no, like always, there will not be free time in class. After school, students T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z will come for Robotics club. Direct them to the video uploaded to Google Drive to teach them how to code the robot to turn in a square. 
Whew!That right there is why, in a world of emerging technologies and things rapidly changing, teachers will never be replaced. We serve as an all-encompassing role for our kiddos. Upon our profession rests the future generation, and we educators do not take that lightly.
We plan, grade, email weekly updates, attend staff meetings, change our plans again, tie shoes, comment on students’ blog posts, attend community driven events, smile with students’ successes and especially with their hardships, gush, “Thank you!” when given another teacher mug. We replan, speak with enthusiasm because if we aren’t excited about poetry, how can they be?, search online to find the best way to teach topic sentences, engage in a Twitter chat about learning in the 21st century, greet each person as he or she walks through the door, cut ourselves counting stacks of paper, comb hair on picture day, change our plans one last time, cry when a student loses a parent, write with clear, centered script on anchor charts. 
We leave school feeling exhausted and accomplished at another day spent with the people who make you the happiest, and wake up the next day to do it all again.

Why? Because we love kiddos. It’s what we do, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Teaching Dictionary Skills with Google Slides

Hi there!

So, I'm going to state the obvious. I've abandoned my poor blog for a while. I know I don't have to tell y'all this, but life gets busy. I'm committed to sharing more on here, though, especially as my new teammate is a rockstar Blogger. Check him out here, especially if you are a math person or new teacher (or have a slight minion obsession, ha!).

I wanted to share with y'all a collaborative, techy lesson that my kiddos did last week. I wanted a cumulative activity for students to demonstrate all their dictionary skills that we've been learning (pronunciation, syllabication, guide words, multiple meaning words). In addition to that, I wanted to use technology, because what better way to engage learners and encourage creativity? I also LOVE the no paper aspect as our copiers can be persnickety at times. ;)
We started the week by simply learning about the skills. I utilized some Nearpod lessons I created to teach kiddos syllabification and pronunciation, practice identifying which words would belong on a page with certain guide words, races between classmates to find words in the good ol' fashioned dictionary itself.... etc.
Next, it was time to bring it all together. I was inspired by this article by Alice Keeler on how to differentiate using Google Classroom. Now, I'm not THAT advanced at this point (ha!), so I did not use the spreadsheet, however I used the inspiration behind it. I grouped kiddos ahead of time (and was able to determine which level of difficulty of word to assign them, yay differentiation!). She also wrote this article on how to manage collaborative Google Slides. I loved the balance of ownership of one's own slide and collaboration among all the slides at the same time!

I instructed the kiddos to open up Google Classroom. We read through the instructions together, and I had each kiddo click on the Google Slides presentation that listed his/her name. From there, the kiddos used a good old fashioned dictionary to find the necessary information about their assigned word. After all the information was input, students were free to let their creative juices flow using fonts, backgrounds, images, etc. Once everyone in the group was done with their slides, the students worked together to alphabetize the slides. Each kiddo took a screenshot of his/her finished slide to turn in on Classroom. Finally, we shared the presentations whole class!
The lesson went swimmingly. The kiddos were 100% engaged and putting their skills to use without even noticing that they were working. I loved how my students were working together, but each kiddo was still responsible for his/her slide. Moving forward, you can bet I'll do more collaborative Google Slides!

Do you use Google Classroom to differentiate or Google Slides to create projects? I'd love to hear more ideas about how to use it in the classroom.

Only 8 school days left til the break!! We got this.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Streamlining Parent Communication Using Google Products

Hi there!!

One week left until the big first day for me, and I've been working like crazy in my room. In addition to making sure my borders are straight and rearranging my furniture 56 times, I've been working on setting up parent communication this year and wanted to share with y'all how we do things with our team. Hopefully it gives you an idea or two. :) We started streamlining our communication this way last year and LOVE how it turned out... but more importantly, our parents and students did too!
One of my core beliefs about education is that educators and parents should work as a team for the best interest of the kiddos. Side note: If you missed out on my Beliefs to Actions blog hop (where this idea came from), check it out here-- a lot of amazing educators had amazing things to say.

Now, it's one thing to believe it. It's another thing to put it into action. My thought is that clear, easily accessible communication is the means of achieving this partnership between educator and parents. My (fabulous, wonderful, hard working, innovative) 4th grade team and I, along with ideas and help along the way, have established a way to streamline our parent communication in a time efficient, yet informative way. And... we did it all with Google.

Ahhh... Google. Even saying the word brings a smile to my face. Remember when it was "just" a search engine? Those days are over. Google is now taking over many worlds, education and business included. Funny story, our school has been using Google products often, especially after adopting the 1:X program (one piece of technology to every 4th grader and up). What's funny is my boyfriend, an accountant at a Big 4 accounting firm, just now had all his work products moved over to Google. Guess my school had the leg up on that one. :P  What better way to educate kiddos than to use technology they may be using in the workforce?

To best communicate with parents, my team and I utilized:

  • Google Sites
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Docs
And let me show you how. :) 

GOOGLE SITES
First and foremost is our Google Site. Our site is the "go-to" for all important information. Students create an app out of the website on their iPads, and we encourage parents to bookmark it. As you can see in the screenshot below, we have one site for all of our grade (we are departmentalized 3 ways- ELA, Math & Science/SS). The home page includes important information, as well as the Google Calendar which I will address later. Along the side, you can see each teacher's individual page, as well as important other information. 
 On each teacher's individual page, we share the weekly concepts that we cover, helpful links, and even resources to practice or enrich at home. The FABULOUS thing about Google Sites is because all 4 members of our team can be owners of the site, we can all go in and update the site on our own, and it automatically updates everywhere. It is also helpful to parents as it is a one stop shop for all the 4th grade information.

GOOGLE CALENDAR
At the bottom of the picture above, and in a closer look below, we have a Google Calendar embedded into the home page on our site. Y'all.. this feature is SO COOL. Again, the calendar is"owned" by each teacher in 4th grade. Each day, the teacher edits the Google Calendar (easy process, all ready to go with your Google account) with the homework. Afterwards, the homework AUTOMATICALLY UPDATES ON THE SITE! No more questions about homework for the students or parents- it doesn't get much clearer than that! 
As you can see on our planner, we have the title everyday as PLANNER, so that every homework assignment doesn't fill up the daily boxes. In the details, we copy and paste every subject, then each teacher fills in the homework after his/her name. 

**If creating and embedding a Google Calendar into a Google Site is something y'all are interested, I would be happy to do a how-to! Just let me know in the comments below!**

GOOGLE DOCS
Finally, we have good ole Google Docs. We utilize Google Docs for our weekly email purposes. At the beginning of each week, we create a copy of the weekly email form (making sure it is still shared with the whole team), rename it for that week, then start editing it as information and important dates come out over the week. Each teacher also fills in the concepts and upcoming activities in the columns under his/her subject. On the same day of each week, we all send out a link to the Google Doc so parents can access it. Of course, when we send the link it is in 'View Only' mode! 
Parents responded very well to the streamlined form, as opposed to the verbose, essay format we used before. To see a FABULOUS post about how to create weekly emails that communicate information well, head over to my teammate Whitney (yes, it's her name too!) blog post here! Bonus is we use the blurb that we type in the weekly email and copy and paste that into our website for the week's happenings! 

In short.. We update our Google Calendar daily with homework. Weekly, we create and send through email a Google Doc for a newsletter, as well as update our site. The time spent on these activities is so worth it because it keeps our parents and students informed, while cutting down on confusion and misunderstandings. It's a win win for everyone. :)

Have a GREAT beginning of the school year, all you fabulous educators out there. :) Here is to clear communication, done the easy way!! 

With Love from Texas,

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

*Updated!* INSTRUCTIONS: Beliefs to Actions Blog Hop


Hi there!!

First off, I'd like to say WOW. I have had a huge outpouring of support about this blog hop. It says a lot about our profession that so many educators are so passionate about what they do that they will dedicate the time and effort to reflect on their beliefs and write about it. I'm proud to be a part of this. :) 

Secondly, if you are unable to participate in this blog hop, please email me ASAP! I will need to make adjustments so there is not a dead end in our loop. Thank you for your help with this! :) 

Now, let's get to business. Here is what you need to know for the blog hop:

COMPOSING THE POST
The main purpose of your post is to list your education beliefs. You may do so however you please.. writing them down, using a template I created (https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0BxSwYMKRMkIifkxIb2wtbDM0Y2szdkdLQndxbm1oOTFJME1DNGNPWjVLZldkRTJ6ZndaVXM&usp=sharing), or creating your own!! You may add to the post as you see fit, possibly discussing how you came upon these beliefs, how these beliefs will drive the upcoming school year, how your beliefs align with your teammates/school/district, etc. Completely and totally up to you! 

At the bottom of your blog post, you MUST link up to the person after you on the spreadsheet (see instructions and spreadsheet below).  I encourage you to make the 'link up' portion stand out by adding color, highlighting or SOMETHING to encourage your reader to continue through the hop and discover all you amazing educators!

Insert the attached image somewhere on your blog to have continuity across the blog hop. Use this image on social media to spread the word, too!!  

See my blog for an example of how it should look if you have any questions. :)  http://withlovefromtexasblog.blogspot.com/2015/07/i-challenge-you-turn-your-beliefs-into.html 


LINKING UP
Click this link to see a spreadsheet listing all the contributors to the hop. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1PtqPEyVaKNeDsqU2YFFal3R3OFGUhwmHH_bUNRszajQ/edit?usp=sharing 
*Please email me if there are issues with this file to let me know!

The spreadsheet is numbered, and it will indicate to you who you will link up to at the end of your post. The person with the number before you will link up to you, and the person with the number after yours will be who YOU link up to at the bottom of your post. 

Also, remember you are commenting on the person before you and the two people after you once the blogs are published! That is THREE comments total. Share some love. :) 

**VERY IMPORTANT**: Your blog post must be published by this Friday, 7/31! Post your three comments (on the post before yours, as well as the two after yours) by Sunday, 8/2!

Thank you so much for being such a wonderful group to work with! I am having a blast organizing this, and I hope it is a great experience for you, as well. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.  

Thank you:)
Whitney





UPDATE:

Lizzie Clarke, a contributor for the hop, had a great suggestion. She thought it would be best if on the link-up, we included the exact link to the blog post instead of the blog site itself. This way, the post will not get lost in the shuffle (especially if you are a frequent blogger)! 

This is completely optional. If you do not blog often and know you won't have another post for a little while, it is fine that you leave your blog site link in place. However, if you think you may be blogging soon after you post the Beliefs to Actions post, you may want to do this!! 

If you are on BLOGGER:
See the attached PDF for instructions on how to access the permalink to your post. You can edit the spreadsheet with the permalink even if you are not done with the post itself!

If you are on WORDPRESS: 

Here is the link to the spreadsheet again (now editable!) so that you may change your link if you choose to do so. :) 

I ask that EVERYONE double check on Friday to make sure they linked up to the correct link for the person following you. If you were a go-getter and wrote your post early, you may need to go back and edit it if the person after you chose to change his/her link! 

​Thank you so much for your cooperation with this!! I'm sorry for the extra work it caused. :p

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

BLOG HOP CHALLENGE: Turning Beliefs into Actions

Eeek! Forgive me if I sound like a giddy, overly excited teacher, but that's what I am right now! I recently posted a blog about my experience of writing down my beliefs to turn them into a compass for my actions (see the blog post here). My sweet friend and fabulous educator Monica MeGown from Mrs. MeGown's Second Grade Safari encouraged me to spread the message by encouraging others to partake in the challenge via a Blog Hop.

Emotions I typically feel nearing the beginning of the year: excitement, stress, happiness, stress, giddiness, and... stress. Is anyone with me? There is just SO MUCH to be done! What better way to start off the year by reminding yourself of your purpose?? If you are able to answer the WHY behind organizing your classroom library (again), triple checking that your borders are straight, and designing the first week of school activities, it takes away the stress and replaces it with JOY. Because those books are for eager eyes and opened hearts ready to take on adventures, those borders are stapled down to showcase proud student work, and the first week activities establish a safe, fun, and loving environment for the year. 

So, friends, I pose a challenge to you. What are your education beliefs? What do you feel strongly about? What spins around in your head as you lie in bed at night? Take your time, don't be afraid to use your eraser, and open your mind to the WHY of what you do.

TO TAKE ON THIS CHALLENGE:

1. Help spread the word by sharing the social media button (located on FB and above)

Signing up is now closed. Anyone who signs up past this point will unfortunately not be able to participate, as I need to organize the hop. Thank you to those 40+ educators who have done so!! 

2. BY SUNDAY 7/26: Fill out this Google Form to let me know that you are participating in the Blog Hop
**I will send out an email by Wednesday 7/29 detailing the Blog hop (who will link to you & who you will link to). I will also send out a graphic to advertise the Blog Hop so others who aren't participating can read.**

3. Advertise the event by posting the social media button that I will send out on Wednesday! This will generate interest and excite others about what we are doing.

4. BY FRIDAY 7/31: Consider and jot down your education beliefs. Once done, write a blog post about your beliefs. Possible channels your post could take: How did this activity help you as an educator? How will this shape your upcoming year? Why do you think your beliefs are what they are- what shaped them? Did you learn anything about yourself while doing this? You could create a graphic detailing your beliefs, borrow one of my templates, or simply write a post! Whatever works best. Be sure at the end of your post that you link to the next educator in the loop! Click HERE to see my templates. Feel free to save PNG, upload it to ppt and edit it to make it your own.

5. SHOW SOME LOVE BY SUNDAY 8/2: At the risk of sounding too much like a teacher... feedback is a great tool, right?! Leave a comment on the educator's post before you, as well as the two educators after you. This will be 3 comments total, and it will also generate a lot of views for your own blog!! Comments create smiles. :)

OFFICIAL HASHTAGS: #imaBELIEVER #actions2beliefs

I am SO excited to see what drives everyone!! Different ideas and opinions bring such insight. I am honored to be hosting this Blog Hop. Thank y'all for being such a support. :)

Please, please email me at whitneyalexanderson@gmail.com if you have any questions or comments.

With Love from Texas,

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I Challenge You: Turn Your Beliefs into ACTIONS


Hi there! I hope my fellow Texan friends are staying cool in this weather. If you are escaping the heat.. well then.. I'm jealous. :) This past Sunday, I attended a church service. The preacher's message was on that really stuck with me. He asked if we know what we believe in. And if so, do we really live by those beliefs? Sure, it seems simple enough. Without analyzing, you could easily say yes! But if you take the time to really truly look inside and evaluate yourself.. do you really? 
It got me thinking... I have my beliefs about religion, family, and life in general. But I have never written them down. After doing that, I was on a roll. Because education is another integral part of my life. I could apply this to my profession, as well!

After days of erasing, crumpling paper, and jotting down notes, I *think* I have my education beliefs covered. There are so many things I could say, but everything boils down to these 8 statements for me.
The experience was one that really helped me grow as an educator. I gave myself time to really reflect and decide what was most important to me. Writing it down just solidified my thoughts. 

What about you? Do you have your beliefs? Most importantly, are they written down? Because now that I did, I have a reference. Anytime there is a sticky situation, or I am feeling frustrated, or I am unsure of how to handle a situation, I will come back and read my 8 statements. These give me purpose, and they drive my action. 

The Purpose Driven Life is a popular book with a widespread audience. I challenge you to take the message, but funnel it to our profession. Teach with a purpose. Use your statements to drive, encourage and help you through the fulfilling, emotional, gratifying, overwhelming, happy profession we call teaching. 

I encourage you to write your own beliefs. Please share a link to your Blog, or the beliefs themselves, in the comments below. Let us teach purposefully!


Continue on with the Beliefs to Actions blog hop by visiting my friend Racheal Burden (also known as 180 Days to Happy) by clicking here!! 

With Love from Texas,