Nancy Teaches

Nancy Teaches

A Teacher Who Loves to Learn


Tuesday, July 5

File Folder Fun!

July 05, 2016 0
Many teachers need a few weeks to catch their breath at the close of the school year. Me - not so much. I need to get organized first! Then, I can relax.

It was a long, but exhilarating year in fourth grade. I had the most amazing class - ever! I was new to teaching fourth grade at my school, so suffice it to say, learning the curriculum was the most challenging part.

Now that I've completed a year, I was ready to sort, sift, and purge. I took over the classroom of someone who had been there for YEARS and who had kept everything.  I spent most of the year searching for items and I was determined to
reorganize this summer.

Much to my husband's dismay, I brought home every file from every drawer from every subject. (I wish I had taken a before photo but it was too traumatic.)  I promised him the floor would  reappear by summer's end.

First, I made one of my infamous "to do" lists. I sorted by subject and dove in.  Now that I know the curriculum, I quickly purged the unnecessary items. I scanned study guides and tests onto Google Drive (which I also reorganized - love that you can color code the folders!).

The most fun was the use of Avery File Folder Labels number 8366. I'd like to personally thank the Avery company for this invention. Every folder now has a color coded, same size, same font printed label. For the hanging folders, I used Aver Index Maker 5 tab labels so they could match as well. Yes, my organization obsession has reached a new high.

All packed up and ready to return to the classroom at the end of August!
I thought it would take all summer, but I accomplished this goal in a week.  Now, I can search Pinterest and blogs for ideas to supplement the curriculum.  By the way, I did all of this in my craft room which you can see in the back of the photo.

Happy organizing.

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Friday, January 1

The 3Rs: Rituals, Routines and Rules

January 01, 2016 0

After three years as a library/media specialist, I was ready to return to my first love,
the classroom.  And, I was even more excited to return to teaching fourth grade.  With the New Year, I am reflecting on the first half of the school year.  So much has happened!

I'm totally in awe of the remarkable students with whom I spend each day. This inquisitive, thoughtful, delightful group approaches each day with eagerness and willingness.  They exceed my expectations in every way.  One of the reasons for this first half of the year success is the environment of our room.  Each day is based on rituals, routines and simple rules.

We spent time during the first few weeks establishing a culture of kindness. We have three rules: be kind, don't interrupt the learning of others and tone of voice.  These three cover almost any situation that arises.

Next, we learned about Growth Mindset. The students are surrounded by posters and
reminders to change your words, change your mindset. I read Carol Dweck's book, Growth Mindset and it had a significant impact on both my teaching and life.  I spent the summer reading and creating ways to help students develop this approach to learning. At parent-teacher conferences in November many parents shared with me the results they observed at home and it is contagious among the parents as well.

Finally, I created a black and white classroom.  I had always wanted to do this and I was eager to see if I could create a classroom that was warm, sleek and most importantly, encouraged calm and serenity. I had a vision of a space that was organized and free from

Once I arranged the physical space, I invested in all matching clear book baskets, book boxes and chose a font that would be consistent throughout the room.  I considered every detail
and set up the room that was aware of the traffic of everyone.  (The only thing missing is a rug -- I'm saving up for it.)  We keep the room so clean, that students don't seem to mind sitting on the floor. Students know how to line-up, move to retrieve items or supplies, visit their mailboxes, procedures for drinks, restrooms, lockers, turning in work, etc. It runs like clockwork!Visitors to our classroom are considerably impressed by the students' desks.  Each desk is organized and set up the same way.  This is accomplished by providing one small pencil box, colored folders for each subject and the all important WIP folder (Work In Progress where they keep items that need fixing or finishing).  All other supplies are kept in supply drawers, so there is no clutter or mess.  

When students need supplies, they know the procedure to move through the room.  While
this may sound regimented, it isn’t!  The students easily follow the procedures and rituals because it was practiced and consistent.  The time we spent on this in the beginning of the year paid off in a calm classroom.

Students know that at any moment during the day, I may say, "Desk check!" They quickly organize and straighten.  There's no reward; just a feeling of accomplishment.

The combination of organization, rituals, routines and simple rules has created a
place where learning happens not only calmly, but joyfully.  We laugh a lot and celebrate each moment of learning.

We take care of our space and each other.

(More photos of my classroom on  my pinterest page.)

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Saturday, February 14

Fourth Grade Book Tasting

February 14, 2015 0
I have been reading about Book Tastings in libraries and classrooms for a while, and this year, I decided to give it a try.  I can’t even begin to list all of the blogs, tweets, and Pinterest pins that inspired me. Once I “sampled” all of the amazing book tastings of my PLN, I created my own. My gratitude to others for their inspiration is immeasurable.

My first step was to assemble my own menu for the event.  So many fellow librarians and teachers created a variety of menus and I incorporated many of their ideas to create my own.

Next, I used the idea of a list of adjectives for the students to use. I loved this idea to support the students written work and discussions. I copied it two sided and placed it in a clear frame so everyone at the table could view it.  I also created etiquette signs to remind them of what was expected.

Then, I very strategically chose five different genres for each table that I knew were not popular genres in the library.  I also made sure the levels were on a continuum of reading levels as well as reflecting Black History Month.  All of the books were arranged on a “silver platter.”  I purchased these at the party store – they looked really expensive, but they weren't. 

Each table was set with red and white checked tablecloths and battery operated candles.  This really helped build excitement when the students entered the café! I dressed in a chef’s hat, apron and red bow tie which also helped.  (I was in an especially crafty mood, so I stenciled the name of the café on the apron.)

The one thing that I did that I didn't see on other blogs was how to get this event started.  I created a power point slide show in Google drive to review genres, call numbers, reading book jackets/sleeves, and to set goals for the lesson.  Before we started tasting, we reviewed how to summarize, evaluate, and collaborate.  I shared with the students that I was more interested in them having meaningful discussions and I encouraged them not to focus on finishing. 

Once the students began, I was in awe of their enjoyment and attention to task.  My principal observed the lesson and here’s what he said:

“Every step of the restaurant was planned in detail--menus as activity and assessment, discussion as focus, books in different genres placed on tables that would entice the group of students at each table to explore across genres. The visuals, both on the table and on the Smartboard, and the rules listed in the room, clearly showed what each step was for the students. This allowed the students to focus on the books and not waste time confused about the structure of the activity.”'

I'm so glad I decided to do this! The students loved it, and most importantly, they were excited to try a new genre! 

Kids were excited about reading!
I couldn't ask for anything more!!

Here are just a few of the teachers/librarians who inspired me.
How to Host a Book Tasting with Jo Nase
Fiction Book Tasting
Mrs. Lodge's Library: "Book Tasting"
The Unquiet Librarian: Book Tasting posts
Barrow Media Center "Book Tasting"
Miss Liberry Teacher "Book Tasting"
Tree Frog Blog Book Tasting

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Thursday, April 17

Author Visit Success - Ask Questions!

April 17, 2014 0

This year our school was lucky enough to schedule Matt Phelan for our annual author visit.  Along with organizing a luncheon and the sale of books, I wanted to prepare the students thoroughly so they could engage with him fully.  We met this goal.

While my initial plan was to expose them to as many Matt Phelan books as possible, I didn’t want to seem as if I were pushing book sales.  Granted, I was excited to share my enthusiasm for Matt Phelan’s books and illustrations, but something seemed missing.  I needed a better plan.

To begin, I created a Google Presentation about Matt and his life.  After a number of lessons on creating a PowerPoint in Google Docs this year, the students were immediately drawn to my presentation.  They were given the opportunity to not only view my work and content, but to offer suggestions. Fortunately, this initial step provided the catalyst to my next step.

Now that I had them excited about Matt and his work, I wanted to explore questioning.  As a former reading specialist and classroom teacher, it seemed natural to provide a lesson on thick v. thin questioning.  I began by modeling, and then we brainstormed a list of questions.  The next step was pivotal.  How do we ask a visiting author questions that show us at our best?

Each grade (K-4) had the chance to practice asking questions.  While this may seem like over-preparation, it is an important life skill, and it was a lot of fun! The students learned how to introduce themselves, and then ask questions that couldn't be answered with a yes or no response.  They learned to lower their hands while the author responded and to be polite and patient listeners.  We worked really hard on our listening skills so we wouldn’t waste precious time asking questions that were already asked.  The younger student concentrated on forming their question in their mouths so they would be ready if selected. 

During Matt’s presentation, the students were focused, attentive and showed their best “Myers Manners.” This catch phrase became our signal to present ourselves in our best way.  When Matt asked for questions, even the Kindergarten students remembered to introduce themselves, lower their hands while he responded and ask deep, rich questions that showed they connected to his work.  Matt was very impressed.

Overall, each grade exceeded expectations, and most importantly, learned how to present themselves respectfully and politely in a public forum. 

By the way, the books sold out and the excitement for reading grew even more.

It was a memorable day.

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Monday, April 14

Using Voki with Digital Citizenship

April 14, 2014 0
After a six week course of study on Digital Citizenship, I was looking for a culminating activity for my students.  

Quite accidentally, I found Voki.  I’m a teacher who relies upon my PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter, and I saw a few tweets about Voki and I began to explore. I was quickly intrigued.

While I had seen a number of ways to create avatars, I had never seen one that included not only a voice feature, but an abundance of creative choices.  I knew I had to find a way to include this in my library.  I began by setting up a free account.  Then, I tried to make a Voki that looked like me.  I was thrilled by the feature that used my cell phone so I could record my own voice.  Each step of the way was so user friendly.  My Voki told the students about the genre of the month after I easily copied the embedded code onto my library website.
 I showed my students the Voki on our website.  They loved it.  When I told them they would be creating their own Vokis… well, let’s just say the enthusiasm included applause and high-fives.  In our district, the students all have a standard user name and password.  Prior to class, I had created Voki accounts for each student using the Voki Classroom feature.  This was a huge time saver.  It didn’t take too long and it insured that each student had an account with their correct user name and password.
Once I showed them how to navigate to Voki using our Symbaloo (an exceptional time saver), I created another Voki. I showed them how to choose a character style, and the multitude of customization features as well as the background and player features.  (The bling was a huge hit!) One of the areas I didn’t stress s
During this first introductory lesson, my goals for the students were to log on, create a Voki, enter text to make it talk, and save it.   The next week they logged on, they found the assignment I created.  Not only does Voki have a place for teachers to share lessons, but you can create assignments for your students.  Each student was required to describe what being a good digital citizen meant.  Since we are always running short on time, creating the Voki the first week and focusing on the content the second week, made it much easier for the students.

Another great feature in the Voki Classroom is that the teacher can approve, disapprove and leave comments for the students.  Once I approved their Vokis, my next step was sharing. While each lesson automatically creates its own Web page, where you can showcase your students’ work, I wanted all of the students in the school to be able to view the Vokis through my website.  When I clicked on the publish feature, I discovered that Voki had a feature for sharing the link on Symbaloo.  As mentioned earlier, Symbaloo is a great time saver if you are looking to save all of your links in one place.  I created a Symbaloo webmix that shared all of the third grade Vokis.  Now, everyone (including parents) could view the Vokis.  It didn’t take too long to copy/paste the Symbaloo Voki link for each link.  It was worth the time and effort.

I’m always looking for ways to excite my students about technology in a meaningful way.  Using the Voki as a culminating activity for our unit on Digital Citizenship was not only exciting and fun, it was meaningful.  It meshed different apps, typing skills, writing skills, summarizing skills and creativity.  An added bonus was when the teachers found out what the students were creating, they wanted to set up accounts and use Vokis in their classrooms.

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Sunday, February 2

My Heart (Still) Belongs to Twitter!

February 02, 2014 0

So, I reached 3,000 followers on Twitter.  Now, I know numbers shouldn’t matter, but this felt like a pretty significant milestone to me. I’ve been tripping down the memory lane that is my Twitter journey.

Back on February 14, 2010 I wrote my very first blog that described why I joined Twitter.  Not much has changed in four years.  The goal has remained the same: connecting and learning with others.

While there are many who followed the trend of “unfollowing” everyone, and only interacting with a select group of personal connections, that choice was not for me.  As my PLN (Personal Learning Network) grew, I couldn’t wait to see what would come up in my feed! I treasured every chance to grow, learn and become a better educator.  I cherished the unexpected interaction.  Even when people randomly “unfollowed” me, I continued to follow them.  Maybe they would change their mind.

When I was hungry for professional development and encouragement to try new things, Twitter was my avenue for learning.  When I needed answers, advice or just old-fashioned reassurance, Twitter gave me everything I needed and more.  I was consistently overwhelmed by the generosity of others and I was determined to pay it forward. 

Over the years, I met and formed friendships that have sustained me and helped me when I needed it most.  I know I found a life long friend in Tania Ash who lives an ocean away in Morroco.  Together, we formed and moderated one of the early educational chats called #elemchat.  While we no longer run this chat as the need for grade and subject specific chats developed, I know I have a friend for life in Tania.  Through Twitter and unconferences such as #edcampPhilly and #ntchat, I met Jerry Blumengarten, one of the most preeminent educators on Twitter, the reveered and respected @cybraryman1.  I am lucky to call Jerry and his wife, Gail my friends and I look forward to seeing them whenever I am in Florida.  Again, I can’t stress enough the rich relationships I have found via Twitter.

Just the other day, I wrote a blog for Digital Learning Day that only came about through the encouragement of @geraldaungst.  We followed each other on Twitter, and then, I discovered we both worked in the same district.  Together, we’ve tried to encourage our colleagues to embrace Twitter to enrich their professional lives.  We have a pretty good track record.  I’m especially proud of @flyteach1st who is just as excited as I am by ways to include technology in our teaching.  And, speaking of proud, our school counselor, @carlicounsels not only embraced Twitter, but has successfully started her own chat #escchat.  Now, she’s off to Florida this summer to share her Twitter skills and journey as a presenter at a conference.  I feel like a proud Twitter Mama!

As social media grows, changes and becomes an expectation in our daily lives, I’ve had a blast exploring new places to connect such as Tumblr, Pinterst, ScoopIt, Instagram, Vine, etc., but my heart will always belong to my first love…. Twitter.

Thank you Twitter for the connections and learning.  Oh, and I can’t wait to meet my future followers.  Who knows what kind of learning we will share together?

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Saturday, January 5

Inspired by "Why School?" (A Beginning)

January 05, 2013 0

Or... How I Introduced Edmodo!

“Connecting and learning with other people online, distinguishing good information from bad, creating and sharing important works with the world: None of that (and a whole bunch of other stuff I could mention) is on the test.”

Richardson, Will (2012-09-10). Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (Kindle Single) (Kindle Locations 174-176). TED Conferences. Kindle Edition.

I’m currently reading “Why School?” and I’m completely over-using the high-lighting feature on my Kindle!  One of my favorite notes: “No matter how often we dub our kids “digital natives,” the fact is they can still use our help to do those things and more if they are to thrive in the abundance of their times.”  While I consistently try to learn and grow with my students, especially with integrating technology, this book has provided me with a clearer picture of how I visualize my teaching.

I’m leading the Reading Olympics for fourth grade at my school.  I wanted to find a way to have the participants feel not only motivated, but connected as we prepare for our event in May.  To that end, I introduced Edmodo.  At our weekly meeting, I told them that it reminded me of Twitter and Facebook, and instantly these two words were all the anticipatory set I needed.  They were attentive and eager to learn.

I told them that I love Twitter and use it as a way to connect with other educators around the world.  Edmodo reminded me of it and I thought it would be a great way for all of us to discuss the books they were reading.  My typically rambunctious and energetic group was mesmerized as I displayed Edmodo on the Smartboard.  I set up a student account for myself so that the displayed screen would replicate what they would see.  I modeled how I picked my profile icon, joined groups, and connected with our school district.  I shared that we would learn together since Edmodo was new to me as well.

Next, I showed them my teacher account.  They thought this was particularly fascinating.  It was as if they were getting a peak into the teachers’ lunch room.  Again, they were completely focused and mesmerized.  I quickly gave reminders about appropriate posts.  Basically, I reminded them not to post anything they wouldn't shout in front of their parents or teachers.  I have found this is the quickest and easiest reminder to provide.

By dinnertime that night my notifications on my phone and laptop were out of control.  All the students had signed up and were posting.  At our next meeting, we talked about not just saying hello or as they say, “sup,” but composing posts that focused on their reading.  I also congratulated them on the ease at which they learned how to do more than what I introduced.

When we met yet again, I told them I had an idea.  I suggested that we put images of the books we were reading next to our posts.  I said I wasn't sure how to do it and I needed their help.  Within seconds, the  group figured out how to navigate to Google images, copy/past using their right click and paste the images.  The speed at which they worked together and listened to one another was breathtakingly fast and efficient.  Then, since we were working on PCs, I asked about doing it on Macs.  I wanted to make sure they were cognizant of different operating systems.  As I stood back and watched them, I was in awe of their almost innate collaboration skills.  

One of my favorite quotes from “Why School?” is, “Students are encouraged to connect with others, and to collaborate and create with them on a global scale. It’s not “do your own work,” so much as “do work with others, and make it work that matters.”

I think we are off to a good start.
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Saturday, April 2

Am I so busy teaching I forget to listen?

April 02, 2011 25

I’m constantly looking for ways to improve my teaching. I’m always searching for new techniques to motivate and inspire. I enjoy learning new methods that I can share.
Notice all of the sentences start with the pronoun “I?”
Maybe I need to revise my thinking and explore more about the way my students are receiving my instruction.

Recently, I had an interesting experience that made me stop and reflect. I’m a never-ending beginner quilter. It is a hobby I love and helps me unwind and slow down the pace of my life. I’m not very good at it, but I make up for it with enthusiasm. Long ago, I decided that I would enjoy the process, not the product, as well as not give anything as gifts.

As part of my hobby, I take classes to learn new skills. Recently, while sitting in a class, I became confused. I didn’t understand what I was asked to do. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the technique. It seemed backwards and overwhelming. A quick look around the room showed me that everyone else was grasping it. The class was moving on to the next step and I was completely lost. Suddenly, the room felt overly warm and I had the urge to scream, “Slow down. Wait a minute. I’m lost.” Instead, I struggled on and lost my momentum for learning.

Driving home from the class, I reflected on the experience. I was a bit annoyed with myself for not speaking up, but during the class I felt defeated, anxious and confused by the way everyone else was learning the technique. I was timid about admitting I was lost. I didn’t want the class to slow down on my account. I didn’t want my classmates to see that I was totally confused.

I didn’t raise my hand and ask for help.

I began to wonder how often this happens in my own classroom with my students. I like to think I’m in tune with my students and ask the correct questions to insure they understand. Is it possible that in the business of the day, I have students who are afraid to speak up for fear of embarrassment? Am I being as aware as I think I am? I know I use a variety of cues and lists and strategies when I teach, but am I so busy teaching I forget to really listen?

When I go to school on Monday, I’m going to remember what it was like to sit in a classroom and feel afraid to speak up. I’m going to give my students a reminder that I always want them to say, “I don’t understand. I didn’t get that. I don’t know what you mean. I need help.” I want them to feel safe enough to reach out to me.
I want to see things from their point of view and remember that they are what is most important -not a new technique, method or project.

My goal is to listen more!
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Saturday, March 5

I had another idea...

March 05, 2011 9

We have a standard spelling program from a reputable publishing company. It is a pre-set part of our curriculum and all of the teachers are required to use it. Each week the students complete different pages of a workbook and then take a test. Some teachers spend part of their teaching day doing these pages. In my fourth grade classroom, I don’t!

Each week’s lesson has a “rule” and through various activities the students practice the rule. I do not devote any of my class time or instructional minutes to these four pages. Each week I assign it as homework and tell them to finish it by the end of the week. (We are required to assign a certain number of homework minutes each night.) The students do it without complaint and easily finish it. Most weeks every student gets a perfect score on both the workbook pages and the test. Would I rather have them reading for pleasure, you bet! If I have to do the spelling program, I would rather it be something they can breeze through at home so I can concentrate on real learning in the classroom.

I have a few students who each week score 100% on their spelling tests and they are the worst spellers. Their talent is in memorizing! I’ve tried to explain this to parents and have been met with disbelief. A weekly spelling test is a memorization test – not authentic learning.

Some parents eagerly embrace the spelling work and weekly tests. It is familiar to them and something tangible that they can readily measure each week. I’ve stressed that it shouldn’t be used as a barometer of their child’s school performance or success.

At this point, you may wonder why I even use the program. When I wanted to change from our basal reading program to Reading Workshop, I had to fight hard. After hours of persuasive arguments and research, I won, which means the students won! In every great negotiation, you have to leave something on the table to get the most sought after prize. I left spelling on the table.

You may ask if I am one of those teachers who embraces “inventive” spelling. The answer is no. I teach spelling all day long, every day. Whenever I am working with students we discuss spelling rules: prefixes, suffixes, root words, doubling rules, vowel diagraphs, etc. Throughout each area of the curriculum, we discuss it and apply it as needed. Each student in my room has learned the dangers of relying on “spell check” on the computer and learned editing skills. When we construct paragraphs, we let the words flow and fix spelling during editing. All of my students keep a handheld spelling ace with them for checking words. We use peer editing to check one another’s work. I’ve taught them the old trick of reading your work backwards since your eye can sometimes miss words that you spelled wrong. Spelling is a part of every lesson.

I envision my students sitting for their SATs and attacking the writing section. I imagine them using the prewriting techniques I’ve taught them to organize their ideas. Then, I envision them constructing their paragraphs. Finally, I see them editing and fixing their spelling. They will successfully compose not because of workbook pages, but because they learned to apply rules innately and in context.

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