Pack Your Classroom Like a Boss!

Ways to make the end of the year pack up go smoothly and set yourself up for success in the fall! So many good ideas!
Ugh packing. Am I right? While I am all about cleaning and organizing there is something about the extra step of packing it up that really grates at my nerves. When it involves the classroom it seems to get even worse. Maybe it is because you are expected to pack your room, because of course you have to be out of the way for summer school, all while still keeping your students engaged in rigorous learning activities. Over the years I learned a few things about the end of the year pack up that I am hoping will help you too. 

Throw It Away

You heard me. Throw it away. Just do it. If you are not absolutely positive that you are going to use it again just get rid of it. This doesn't necessarily mean everything should go in the trash can. It can go home with your students, go to a colleague that thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread, or in the recycling bin. What it can't do is live in a box all summer that takes up precious space only for you to get rid of it in the fall. So, just throw it away. I promise you won't regret it. 

Pack with Intend and Label, Label, Label

While you are packing up I know it is all to tempting to just shove everything in a box/cabinet/drawer and think that you will deal with it in the fall when you are back in the classroom. At the end of the year I was always ready to be done, and that meant getting out as quickly as possible. Then every August I would curse my previous self for creating just a disaster zone that I then had to undo before actually setting up my classroom. 

Instead, think about where you are packing things. What is the closest place that something can go to where you will want it next year? Is is possible to leave your classroom library books sorted into their book boxes and just place them in a cabinet? Moral of the story, don't make more work for yourself! 

Label everything is if your life depends on it. There are many ways to go about this, but I LOVE these Post-It Note Labels. (affiliate link) They are the bomb. (I am stuck in the 90s today, deal with it.) They come in a variety of colors and sizes and the whole back is sticky, BUT they are sticky like a Post-It so when you peel them off there is no residue. I use these bad boys and write out every last thing in each box so that there are no surprises or mysteries when it comes time to unpack.

Have Your Students Do It

There are many, many tasks that I find painful. I am talking would rather give myself a root canal painful that have to take place at the end of the year. Most of them, i.e. paperwork, I have to do. There are many more tasks though that don't need my involvement at all, they just need to be done. The magical secret here is that you students will LOVE these tasks, and will feel special that you thought to include them. 
A short list of ways your students can help to save your sanity:
Filing resources-I hate filing, but my students love to take the fold-up examples of incomplete metamorphosis and file that bad boy in the life cycles folder, so why not let them?
Sort supplies-This might be going through the check whether markers are working, sorting markers from crayons, or even pre-sharpening the pencils that are leftover (read: you bought last week because you weren't sure you would make it to the end of the year) for next year. 
Sort colored paper-I love having paper sorted into colors, but I hate doing it.
Ways to make the end of the year pack up go smoothly and set yourself up for success in the fall! So many good ideas!Evaluate math games-I have a student or two go through all of our math games and make sure all the pieces are there. If it is missing a piece/card I have them make note and set it aside. Most of the time they find the missing piece in another game and it sorts itself out, but if they don't I can usually recreate just that piece without having to recreate the whole game. 
Check the Classroom Library-Books at the end of the year are lucky to still be in the classroom. I have a student go through the library and resort the books. They also pull aside any books that may need to be repaired. 
Wipe Down All the Things-I know that we can't have our students running around with Clorox wipes (as much as this seems like a dream to me) but a spray bottle of water (or if you dare a little vinegar and lemon juice) and a rag can go a LONG way to cleaning up your room. If you don't want to turn a student loose with a spray bottle, wet wipes will do a world a good. 
Remove Staples From Bulletin Boards/Walls-My students thought of this as a reward, which is amazing, because I. Hated. It. Not going to lie, I would pretend to be really excited about it, and then they would jump all over it. It's all about how you frame it people. 

What have I missed?  I know there has to be more!

Make Your Copies Now

Why wait until the beginning of the school year to stand in line. If you know you are going to use it, copy it now! Think about morning work, new math stations, or parent contact information for the first week. You can even go above and beyond by taking some time at the laminator to really get the ball rolling. 

Enjoy Your Students

I mean really this is the most important one by a landslide. I know you are excited about summer. I know you are, and you should be, BUT don't wish away your time with the little people you have working so hard for/with this year. Take this time to soak them in, every annoying moment, because  you know you will miss them! 

Breaking the Cycle of Disengagement

Four ways to break the cycle of disengagement and keep students working. The 2nd one was a life saver for me!
We have all had a moment in which we just can't continue doing a task. Our students face these moments every day. It can be frustrating for both them and their teacher, because disengagement means that we can't move on to some of the stuff we want to do until we get through the stuff we have to do. This can often lead to a cycle of complete disengagement, because the same student(s) never seem to get through the have to, in order to do the want to.

Instead of watching a student struggle, become disengaged, and slowly float further and further into the atmosphere to seemingly never come back I liked to try these four tactics to break the cycle, and re-engage the student in their task.

Restructure the Task

Change up the task just enough to make it seem new. This might mean breaking down the task into smaller assignments, changing the order of the assignment, or finding an alternate assignment. 

This might sounds something like-
"Why don't you do all the odd numbered problems?"
"Have you tried the problems on the back yet?"
"Which problem would you like to start with?"
"Would you prefer to work on a whiteboard instead of with a pencil?"

These options give students a bit of choice, but still has them completing the assignment. 

Restart

Sometimes we get ourselves into a spot mentally that we just can't seem to get back out of. Our students don't know how to get past these moments without a little help from us. By simply restarting an assignment it can give students a chance to restart their mindset as well. 

This might look like-
Handing the student a new assignment.
Providing the student with a change in scenery. This might be a different spot in the room or a complete change in venue. 
Offering the student an alternate task with the same concept. 
Changing the expectation for the assignment by asking for a different outcome. 

Non-Verbal Cues

Four ways to break the cycle of disengagement and keep students working. The 2nd one was a life saver for me!Students who have a habit of becoming disengaged while working sometimes just need gentle reminders. If using a verbal cue, some students may become embarrassed and dig their heels in further. This can lead to the cycle continuing. Instead, speak to the student during a private moment and brainstorm a special signal that you can use to help remind them to stay on task. 

Carol Burnett pulled her ear and I tapped my nose. Now, what my students didn't know is that I had the same special "get going" signal for several students in my class. they didn't need to know. This made my life incredibly easy when I needed my students to get working, because I would tap my nose and it would catch the attention of all those students. It worked like a charm. 

Exaggerate the Act

This one may just be my favorite, because I get to let my feelings out a bit. Now, I am not saying that you should let your frustrations out on your student, but you can take a couple of deep breathes and roll them into you acting. 

This might sound like-
"Oh no! How will we be able to do the super fun science lab if we don't finish up this vocabulary? I have been planning and planning for this afternoon's science lab, and I am worried that we just won't have time if we don't get to it."

This one comes pretty close to a guilt trip, but the trick is to motivate the student to complete their assignment while dangling a carrot of what is coming up next, not make them feel as though they are holding the class back. This is best done privately, and not with the whole class. 

Want to Know More?

These books provide excellent suggestions for working with disengaged students. (affiliate links)




The Benefits of Student and Family Evaluations

Are you looking to reflect on your school year? I love to send these FREE student and family evaluations home with my class to hear where I glow and where I can grow in their eyes!
This time of school year I tend to get really reflective. I think a lot about what I loved about this school year, and what needs to get kicked to the curb to make next year better. While I have always had a laundry list of items to work on I find it extremely important to also get feedback from my students and their families. I mean, who would be better at offering suggestions on things they loved as well as the things that may have been in the way of an even better experience.

I use these FREE Student and Family Evaluations to get some insight into what my clients are thinking. The opinions that really matter to me are those of my clients, my clients being my students and their families. So, every year about this time I pull on my big girl panties and ask for some honest, no holes barred feedback in the form of a teacher evaluation. Is is always easy? No, but it is always worth it.

Giving the Evaluations


This pack has two sets of evaluations, one for students and the other for parents.

The student evaluation I give in class. I make sure that students know that I want their complete honesty, and for this reason we keep them completely anonymous. Before giving out the evaluation we talk about honestly, and how you can be honest without being mean. I like to share comments that I have received in the past and share how they helped me to shape our classroom. This really gives students ownership.  In the six years that I have given these evaluations, my students have always taken them very seriously. I believe this is because they know that I truly want to know what they think.

The parent evaluation I send home. I have sent it home as a paper copy and as an attachment to an email. Both have worked out well, but I have had a higher return on the paper copy. I think this might have to do with the anonymity allowing families to be truly honest. I place a box at the back of the room and ask students to place it in the box by a certain date. I don't open the box until that date, so that I really have no idea whose is whose. Either way that you choose to share with parents I would recommend attaching a note stating that you would like honest opinions and again give examples of how they have helped you to grow as a professional.

In the end, do I always want to hear what is said. No, I don't want to think that I am not the perfect teacher, BUT I NEED to hear it, because that is how you grow.

One year I was feeling particularly brave and gave the evaluation three times:
First around parent conferences in October.
Again at the end of the first semester.
Then wrapped up the year by giving them again the last week of school.
I received so much wonderful feedback in both glow and grow areas that I used to really improve my teaching and classroom environment.

Interpreting the Evaluations

Are you looking to reflect on your school year? I love to send these FREE student and family evaluations home with my class to hear where I glow and where I can grow in their eyes! Reading over the evaluations can be an uplifting or totally crushing experience based on how you set yourself up. I recommend really embodying a growth mindset, and tell yourself that feedback is how you grow. 

Don't even think about just "looking over" these evaluations. Save them for a time when you have an ample of time to not feel rushed and really reflect on what you are reading. I usually liked to go to my favorite restaurant and belly up to a giant sweet tea and bowl of queso. I would take my time going through the evaluations using sticky notes to make lists of important points for both areas of strength and possible growth. 

I am not going to lie. There were tears almost every time. Most of the time they were happy tears because of something positive that was written that I didn't even realize I had done. Other times, I would be upset with myself for not knowing something. Both of these are important to realize, and the queso makes it infinitely easier to get through it.

After You Digest Your Evaluations

In order to kind of wrap up the evaluation process I would gather up my lists of glow and grow areas and draft an email to parents and a little speech for my class. I wanted to recognize their honesty and let them know that I really read each and every word and was taking it all in. For these, I would usually pick 3-5 positives and the same number of areas for growth to outline and then again thank families and students alike for their help in my professional development. I ALWAYS received more feedback from families after sending this email, and since that was my goal in the beginning it was very much appreciated! 

What Now?

If you are feeling brave and ready to try out this Teacher Evaluation System for yourself, then hop on over to TPT to grab this free printable!


Classroom Project Time

We all know the feeling. State testing is over and we can breathe normally again. Now the struggle of the end of the year begins.

Encourage creative, independent thinking with culminating projects that integrate research, math, writing, art, speaking, listening, and map skills to review skills you have worked on all year!I long for this time after the test every year, but then when it gets here I find myself falling to pieces just a little bit. I know that this is the time of year when students need the most structure. I also know that I need to keep every day engaging and content filled, because my dear friends, it can not all come to a grinding halt after the test is over. If we end our serious learning right after the test then the students know that the test is what counts, when we friends know it couldn't be further from the truth.Okay, rant over, and here is my plan:
For the rest of the year we are focusing on project based learning. This is the stuff real learning is made of, and I love it! Now I know that some teachers are able to just let the projects flow, and I would love to say that I am one of those people, but that just isn't true. So while I may give a boat load of structure and specific directions going into a project, I am all about allowing students to make the choices that will make the experience meaningful to them, all the while keeping the project content rich!
Our first project started this week and we are planning a dream field trip! During this project students will complete research on their chosen trip, take part in four different writing tasks (persuasive, expository, how-to, and narrative), conduct three math tasks, and create their own map! I LOVE watching my students to see where they choose, it becomes so personal to them. 

In the end, they create a poster to present, and are so into it! Of course the field trip is just the beginning. About the time they finish that one up they are begging for more, so we move right into the next one! One of the glorious things about these projects are that students can work at their own pace and begin and end them one their own, we don't have to stay at the same place as a class which works out wonderfully at the end of the year with all the various times that students get pulled/are absent. 

Have your tried one of Teaching in the Fast Lane's Culminating Projects? Send in pictures of your students in action to teachinginthefastlane@gmail.com for a special thank you! 

** I wrote this post last year while still in the classroom, but never posted it. Although I don't have my own classroom this year I have been volunteering and all these thoughts still ring true

Empowering Students...Without Giving Up Yours!

So often our students are left feeling helpless. This can lead to a power struggle in the classroom that means engagement goes down and disrespect, in both directions, goes up. By empowering out students to take control of their own learning we are showing them that they are an important part of the classroom. The balance is tough though, because we want to maintain control over our classrooms all while watching out to make sure that our students have a safe place to experiment and grow their blossoming personalities. 
In this post there are five ideas for how to give students a little power to have choices in their learning, and therefor help them to grow as individuals. 

Hear Them Out

Sometimes it is all too easy to move forward with a plan without hearing how a student feels about it. This is especially prone to happening when we think, and we usually do, we know what the student is going to say. 

Instead of cutting the student off, hear them out. Then show them that you were listening by validating them with a phrase such as, "I am hearing that you feel ____ because_____." This can also be a great segue into explaining your thoughts on the matter. 

Just by hearing a student out, they feel that they have a little more control in the situation. 

This Then That

This is a very simple idea to institute, and is often known as Grandma's rule, because you come out smelling like a sweet rose. 

It is very simple. You just state that, "First this needs to be done, then you can do that."

This principle works extraordinarily well with students that have a tough time with completing assignments because they would rather do something else. For example, I had a student that just LOVED to read. He would often try to read all day long instead of just about anything else. Sounds like a dream, until you took a look at his unfinished work. I would simply tell him that first the assignment needed to be completed and then he could read. Knowing that he got to do what he wanted to, namely read, as soon as he completed his work gave him the extra umph he needed to get through the assignment. 

Put It In Writing

Some people just need to see it spelled out for them. This is where a contract can come in handy. This can be as complicated or simple as you want it to be, but the important thing is to include the student in its creation. If you try to come up with a plan and then present it to the student without their input, it is likely to backfire. 

My favorite for of contract for the average student was a sticky note contract with very simple statements that they could keep on their desk. I would ask the student what they wanted, and I would tell them my expectations. We would come to an agreement, record it on the sticky note, and then both sign it. Then the student would keep it on their desk. If either of us wasn't holding up our end of the bargain, the other could just point to the sticky to remind the other. this makes for GREAT nonverbal reminders. 

Language of Choice

Another really simple idea that you are probably already doing! This one is simply giving students a choice of doing this or that. The trick is to structure the choices so that the student is meeting expectation no matter what they choose. 

For example:
Would you like to write in pen or pencil?
Would you like to complete this assignment on your own or can I help you get started?
Would you like to do your reading or writing first?
This way, students get the power to make the choice and save face if they have worked themselves up, but they are also meeting the classroom expectations.

Acknowledge Student Power

Sometimes just acknowledging that students do hold the power to make their own choices is enough to get them out of a funk. 

This might sound something like, "I can't make you," followed by then clarifying the consequences. this helps students to maintain a sense of control over their own choices, but also allows them to see the logic of a situation. 

Want More Information?

This following are a list of books (affiliate links) that I have found to be helpful when working with students in the classroom. 

Fables with Squids Will Be Squids

A few weeks ago a friend brought a book over to my house. Now, I consider myself to be quite knowledgable on children's authors and books, but I had never heard of this one. Jon Scieska and Lane Smith have created some of my favorite books to use in the classroom like (affiliate links) Baloney, The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, and the Time Warp Trio Series. I thought that I had read all of their books, but I was wrong. This new book, Squids Will Be Squids, quickly took over as my new favorite! 

This book is a wonderful collection of thoroughly modern fables with new animal characters and great morals such as, "Squids will be squids," and "If you are an ant and are going to dump your best friend for a new one, you should know that Echidna is another name for Spiny Anteater."

As I read this book I knew I had to find a way to use it in classrooms, and it obviously needed to be with fables. Voila! A mini-unit is born!
This FREE Mini-Unit is a great way to bring a little fun to teaching fables. Included in this pack are mini posters about fables and personification, a graphic organizer for use with the fables in Squids Will Be Squids, and a writing project with rubric for students to write their own modern fables.
I think that this mini-unit will be a blast to complete after testing is done, or anytime of year, to get the creative writing juices flowing, and have some major laughs in the classroom. We all know that kids find lessons in the funniest of stories.
If you complete this unit in class, I would love to hear from you in the comments about the funny morals that your students share with you! 


Terrific Testing Tips

It's that time of year again, and while there is no denying that testing season is the absolute worst, I wanted to offer up some tips for making it suck just a little less.         
                           

Gamify Test Prep

Gamification works! By turning review into games it increases engagement and allows students, and you, to have more fun with it. To check out my favorite ways to gamify test prep click on over to this post

Practice Challenging Problems

Give students the most difficult and challenging problems you can think of. This serves two purposes. The first is that students will get used to this increased rigor and then have an increased level of confidence on the test itself. The second is that it gives you the chance to model techniques for working through frustration.

If you are looking for strategic test prep my Test Smash and Big Ten Math series are great places to start!

Stretches Students Can Do In Their Seats

Four hours is a long time for students to have to sit still and quiet. If we are being honest, four minutes is a long time for them to sit still and quiet. Practice stretches that students can complete while still quiet in their seats. This might look like stretching your arms as high as possible into the air, reaching your arms as far to the ground as possible, or crossing the midline. 

The key is to get oxygen to the brain, but not be distracting. 

Compliment Capes

These are a great activity to do the day before testing. Tape a piece of paper to each student's back and have them travel around the room writing compliments on one another's capes. I love to see their eyes light up when they read all the nice things that their classmates wrote about them. It is a real confidence booster!

To the right you can see a picture my friend Katie took of her students and their compliment capes! 

Earlobes

Did you know that if you are tired squeezing your earlobes will help you to wake up? This little trick always makes my students giggle, but sure enough, I always see them doing it come test day. 

Positive Self Talk

Self talk is an important skill to teach our students. I love to use this video to show what positive self talk looks like, and it is has never steered me wrong. It is just a really cute way to start the day off right! Sometimes I break out the mirrors from our math manipulatives and have students practice positive self talk like that. 

Positive Note

The last thing I do before leaving the day before our big test is write each of my students a positive and personal note on their desk in dry erase marker. That way, when they come in the next morning it is the first thing they see. I tell them to erase it, but to remember that it is there all day cheering them on.

You and your students are ready!

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