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Come Visit My 4th Grade Classroom!

As usual it's been a very hectic start to the new school year!  Come join me for a quick tour of my 4th grade classroom!

After four years in 5th grade, I have been moved to 4th grade.  This was not by choice but I am embracing my new grade level, new teammates, new students and enjoying it already!  One of the biggest challenges of changing grade levels?  MOVING!  I had to pack up all of my stuff at the end of last year and then had to wait until the carpets were cleaned before I could unpack in my new room.  I was a bit miffed about not being able to get into my classroom earlier but in hindsight I think it was for the best.  I spent the least amount of time I've ever spent setting up my classroom and that means that I spent more time enjoying my summer and my family!

This is the view of my entry way.  I happen to LOVE the color of the walls - it's my favorite color and it makes me smile every single day.

Right next to the entrance is my classroom library area.  My books are not totally organized yet but I will be putting my students to work on that soon!  I have a toy box that I found in my attic that is stuffed with a pile of fluffy pillows, some re-purposed patio chair cushions, a bungie chair and a small ottoman.  Over the chair, are reading genre posters and in the large tall bookcase in the corner, I have leveled readers, math books, and a collection of puzzles and games.  The bulletin board is empty and awaiting our Language Arts anchor charts and book challenge materials.

This is the view of my room from my desk.  I have 22 desks set up - three rows of 2 pairs of students plus one row of just a pair of students and then a long row of 4 students on each end.  I like my students working in groups and needed a layout that would accommodate the large desks.  So far this arrangement is working well!

I LOVE that my classroom has a huge wall of windows (it's very difficult to take a good photo here due to the light).  There is a whole wall of cubbies that I'm using to store manipulatives, dry erase boards, clip boards, centers, and extra textbooks.  This area here is my homage to Space Camp!  I had the opportunity to attend the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy this summer and it was the most amazing professional development experience!  My flight suit is ready for "Flight Suit Fridays" and I have my newspaper articles, autographed astronaut photos and other fun stuff. My students love looking at my mementos and they love hearing stories about Space Camp (thank goodness they love it because I LOVE talking about it!).

This is my desk.  It's small and I don't sit at it much during the day but I do most of planning here in the afternoons.  My favorite item over here is my coffee maker in the corner!  I splurged on myself this year and love having a cup of coffee in the morning and after dismissal.  This splurge was totally worth it.  

On the front wall, I have our essential questions and our class schedule posted.  I also keep my Friday "gift bags" here.  I pass out raffle tickets throughout the week and raffle off these 3 surprise bags every Friday.  My students are really working hard to earn tickets and it has made our Fridays very exciting!

This area is where I spend most of my time.  This computer is connected to my projector and document camera.  My students use the document camera to share their work and strategies. My favorite read aloud EVER also sits there (can you tell what it is?) and you can see our classroom rules - we only have 2 very important rules!

This is my small group table. When the floor lamp is on, it signals "Do Not Disturb".  My students love coming to the table and love sitting on the stools I found at Family Dollar ($5 each!  For real!).  I also have growth mindset posters on the wall behind my chair. We are working on growth mindset every day and we discuss it when we work in our small groups.  I will also use this area for conferencing, discussing their data, and setting goals with individual students.

Thanks for stopping by my happy little classroom!  I can't wait to share some of the things we'll be working on throughout the year!

3 Simple Tips to Manage Difficult Students - Tip #3

This post is the last in my series on 3 simple tips to help manage difficult students.  You can catch up on the original post here and read in detail about Tip #1 here and Tip #2 here.  In this post, I'm going to explain tip #3 and how I give all of my students a safe, quiet place to calm down whenever they need a break.

In my 10 years of teaching, I've noticed that more and more students come to school unable to self-regulate their feelings and emotions.  My school has been implementing trauma-sensitive training to make our school a safe place for students - academically, physically, socially, and emotionally.  A trauma-sensitive approach is beneficial for ALL students.  Many children who have experienced trauma have difficulty managing their emotions and can react in an extreme way to a minor difficulty. These types of students are usually on the radar of a counselor or administrator but there are ways to help students learn about their emotions and teach them strategies to cope with them.

To help students understand and manage their emotions, I've set up a "Calm Down Station" in my classroom.  I have an old carrel-style desk in a corner of the room. At the desk I keep a stash of tactile toys that students can use to help alleviate stress, anger, or frustration.  I keep a small box that contains things such as a bean bag, modeling clay, pattern blocks, and foam dice.  I carefully select items that are soft and won't create much noise.  At the Calm Down Station, I also have a cup of colored pencils and an assortment of paper and coloring pages, a mirror, stuffed animals, and a glitter wand.

Over the course of several days we discuss as a class how at different times, different people have a range of feelings and emotions.  We talk about positive and negative feelings and how these feelings can impact our lives in positive and negative ways. 


In groups, I have my students discuss different feelings and what might cause them  Maybe we get grumpy when we are hungry.  I am worried because my puppy is sick. I am overexcited because I'm going to the water park after school today. I am disappointed because I didn't do well on the test.  We then talk about how these feelings might affect behavior at school.  We've all had situations where we have been a negative feeling and couldn't concentrate on a task that needed to be done. We might be really worried about something and spend time thinking about the worry and not focusing on learning. Or we may be so angry about something that we can't sit still and just want to scream. These feelings are OK and normal and valid.  Sometimes though, it can be difficult to manage those feelings and it can affect learning or behavior at school.  


Next, students discuss in groups different strategies they can use to calm down so that they can focus on school. We share the strategies discussed as a whole class and then I share some of my favorite strategies. We talk about how different strategies work for different people and for different feelings.  As a class, we come up with procedures and expectations for using the Calm Down Station area.  We create an anchor chart and I hang it on the side of the carrel.  My students are free to use the station when needed.  I monitor the time they spend there and will check in with them after a short time (after a few minutes when we first start using the station) to make sure that they are ok and are focusing on using a strategy to refocus so that they can come back to learning as quickly as possible.  At times, I have had children linger there and I will quietly tell them that they have just a few more minutes and then need to get back to work.  I have also had students who could not calm down and this may require a private discussion with me, parent contact, or a meeting with a guidance counselor.


At the Calm Down Station, I also keep a stack of reflection forms.  Students are encouraged to fill one out before they head back to class. Students keep their completed reflection forms in their folder so that students can monitor the frequency of certain emotions and possible triggers as well as identifying strategies that help them manage those emotions.  I make a note of which students have visited the Calm Down Station and make sure I touch base with them during a quiet time to have a brief chat of what happened and if a strategy helped.  This also helps me to identify patterns so that I can be proactive and better understand my students' needs.

Teaching students self-control can be challenging process that takes time and patience for teachers and students.  A Calm Down station in your classroom can be an easy way to give students a safe place to refocus and to learn and practice strategies to help manage their emotions.

I have created a Calm Down Station resource for my safe zone.  I keep a set of "I am Feeling" cards on a binder ring so that students can flip through the pictures and definitions to help identify what they are feeling.  I also have a set of "Calm Down Strategy" cards with different strategies for students to try. If you would like to use the Calm Down Feeling Cards, Strategy Cards and Reflection forms that I have created, you can find my resource on Teachers Pay Teachers, here.

3 Simple Tips to Manage Difficult Students - Tip #2

I'm continuing my series on 3 simple tips to help manage difficult students.  You can catch up on the original post here and read in detail about Tip #1 here and Tip #3 here.  In this post, I'm going to explain tip #2 and how I use my most challenging students as helpers.

Often, the most challenging students are seeking attention in a not so positive way   They don't feel good about themselves and they need your help.  They just want to be noticed, they want to be cared for, they want to be loved, they want to SUCCEED in the classroom and they don't know how. Getting in trouble is a time-honored method of getting out of class and getting out of the work at hand.

I like to make my most challenging student my helper. If  I notice that "Nina" is getting frustrated in math, I might ask her to run a quick errand for me.  "Could you please bring this note to Mrs. T down the hall?"  This allows Nina to have a brief break before she blows up.  When she returns, I'll make a point to go sit with her, thank her for helping me out, and help her work through a problem.  

I  also enlist my most challenging students for help every day in the classroom.  I"ll give them tasks to complete in the morning before other students come in, before instruction begins, during transitions, or at the end of the day (I only have them do tasks during academic instruction if I see an urgent need for the child to have a break from what they are working on).  I might have them straighten out a drawer, erase the board, turn on all of the computers, set up the chairs, wipe down the desks, or sharpen pencils.  A small, simple task, that really helps me in a small way.  This student will the first one I'll turn to for a simple favor.  If they don't want to do the task, I don't take it personally - I'll just say "OK, maybe next time" and give the task to another student.  Most times though, the student will help me.  I don't make a big deal of the task completion but offer a simple and sincere thank you.  After a bit (and it usually doesn't take very long), my most challenging friend will come asking me for something they can do.  Most every one wants to feel needed.  Enlisting the help of a challenging student helps to build a rapport and a connection in a genuine way.

The key to the success of this technique is getting to know your student by looking for patterns of behavior.  What is setting them off?  Is it during math?  A certain time of day? After an interaction with a classmate?  Looking for a pattern and having an idea about what might trigger a student's outburst is when it's a good time to redirect with a simple task in or out of the classroom.  Making a child feel useful and appreciated can help a child feel important, needed, and in control.

3 Simple Tips to Manage Difficult Students: Tip #1

I've previously written about 3 simple tips I use to manage my most difficult students (find it here),   In this post, I will explain more about Tip #1: Get to Know Them.

Getting to know ALL your students, is an important part of building a successful classroom environment.  For most of our students, getting to know one another is easy.  At the beginning of the year, teachers do many fun and engaging "getting to know you" activities to help build community and to learn about "who" is in our classroom.  One of my favorite activities that I do is to write my students a letter all about me and their assignment in my classroom is to write a letter back telling me all about themselves. (I keep extra copies of my letter and use it throughout the year as I get new students).  I also use a simple survey to gather information about my students. Getting to know your students - their likes and dislikes, their family life and background, their previous school struggles, and more - can help to build a rapport and help you find meaningful ways to reach them as a teacher and as a caring adult.   Most of the students in our classroom enjoy coming to school and enjoy getting to know their teacher and their classmates and are willing and happy participants.

I have found though that some of my most difficult students are not receptive to these activities or they "pretend" to be.  My most challenging students often come to school with a mindset that school is hard (academically and/or socially) and that they are not going to be successful.  They may act tough, like they are too cool for these activities or they may act like it's a joke and not take it seriously. Maybe they believe that previous teachers disliked them.  Maybe they think they are not good at school.  Maybe they have no real friends.  Whatever the reason, deep down inside is a child crying for attention.

This simple idea came from Angela Watson's The Cornerstone for Teachers' post "The 2 x 10 Strategy: A Miraculous Solution for Behavior Issues".  Angela learned about the strategy from her Encouraging Teachers Facebook group (which you should really join when the opportunity opens up. Get on her email list to find out when the next enrollment period opens.  It's a fabulous group!)
The challenge is to gently and persistently approach this child and work on building a relationship.  I know I said that my tips are simple, and they are, but this will take some time.  I use the letter they have written to me, the survey I've given, or my observations to start a conversation. I might notice an interest in a sport or a type of music, creative doodles, or a comment about a movie or event - I take note and jot this information down. I make a strategic plan to talk to my target student every single day.  I may greet the student in the morning and have a brief conversation in the hallway. We may chat in line on the way to lunch or I'll steal a few minutes at recess. Some days, they will brush me off and that's OK.  I don't take it personally and I'll just try again the next day.  For our "chats", I come prepared with some conversation starters from what I've learned about them or some silly jokes.  I open our chat in a light-hearted way and steer clear from asking them about tough topics or academics in our first few conversations.  I want to gradually build trust in a genuine way. The plan is to talk to my target student for two to five minutes every single day for ten days.  That's it.  You will find that the student may start to seek YOU out for a conversation and may start to become more receptive to directions in the classroom.  

One of my more recent and  most challenging students, (I called him "Joe" in my earlier post here) took a bit longer than ten days to get to a point that he would actually talk to me.  In the beginning, he brushed me off repeatedly but I would just smile and say something friendly like "have a great day" until eventually he responded.  Joe loved to doodle and his doodles were very dark.  I could tell from the doodles that they were  referencing video games.  Lucky for me, I have a 15 year old son who loves video games,  Much to Joe's surprise, I knew quite a bit about video games. I asked him what he liked to play because I liked to play too.  He asked me what my favorite game was and I said, "don't laugh, but it's Mario Kart".  He laughed but then said, "I really like that game too!".  I was surprised (the dark doodles were not Mario-esque) but happy to make that connection with him.  He thought that it was great that an "old" lady like me  enjoyed video games too. Every day after that we talked about it and  our conversations eventually turned to other topics at well. His behavior gradually improved to the point where he was actually making some effort in class and causing far fewer disruptions.  "Joe" became one of my favorite students and one that I will never forget.  While, he didn't achieve a lot of academic success that year, he showed great improvement and, he and I both had hope that he could succeed in the future.

Of course, I recommend getting to know ALL of your students because they are all deserving of our attention.  Making a strategic plan to get to know your most difficult students will help you to build a positive relationship which may just lead to more positive behaviors in the classroom.

Have you had success with a difficult student?  What helped you turn things around?  I'd love to hear your success stories!

3 SIMPLE Tips to Help Manage Difficult Students

Think of one your most difficult students.  One or more students come to mind right away, right?  We spend more time thinking about our most challenging students and what we can do to help them to be successful in the classroom.  You've tried the common tricks in your toolbox like positive reinforcement, rewards, and even negative consequences and nothing seems to work.

1. Get To Know Them
Find a way to connect and build a rapport with a student. Talk with them every day outside of the classroom, such as recess or invite them for lunch. Do they enjoy basketball?  Shoot hoops with them on the playground.  Let them teach YOU how to do something at recess.  Let them explain how the details of their favorite video game. Last year, I had a super-challenging student who was very difficult to connect with.  I noticed that he really didn't have any true friends but loved getting other students' attention with his disruptions.  I spent a few minutes every day just chatting with "Joe" about non-school related things. It took me a solid month to build up to a meaningful conversation but I was determined. I found out that he never played kickball and was embarrassed to try and was worried that the other students would make fun of him. I enlisted a few of my good kids to invite "Joe" to play and they invited me to play too.  The entire class played kickball that day and the students were so happy that every single classmate was on the field.  They patiently taught "Joe" the rules of the game and gave him some practice time to kick the ball.  When he got his first time up in the game, the students were coaching and cheering him on and he was grinning from ear to ear.  From that day on, he played kickball every day!  He really enjoyed it and I loved seeing him chatting and playing with his peers.  Did he become a perfect student in my class? No, but things improved immensely.  He had a sense of belonging and began to make connections and form real friendships with some of his classmates.

Read more about getting to know your difficult students in my post, 3 Simple Tips to Help Manage Difficult Students: Tip #1.

2. Enlist Their Help
I often make my most challenging students my go-to helper.  If I notice that they are getting fidgety and potentially about to cause a problem (or just starting to), I will give them something "important" to do.  My favorite task to give them is to deliver a note or item to another teacher.  I'll write a quick note to a teacher friend for my student to deliver.  The note may just be something silly that says "have a great day" or "you are awesome".  It may be something unimportant that I need to return to them (Mrs. T needs this DVD returned right away and tell her thanks!).  Just getting the student up and about on a seemingly important errand can give them the classroom break that they need. Currently, I have a student who just loves to feel important (and really, who doesn't?).  I give him a special job or task when I know he needs a quick break.  I might have him do something as simple as emptying the pencil sharpener, delivering a message to another teacher, or returning a library book for me. Now that he knows that I like his help, I have my student asking me for things he can do to help and I always take him up on his offer.  He'll stop by before class to see if I need help straightening the desks or filing papers.  Allowing him to help me in little, yet meaningful, ways gives him positive attention, makes him feel special, and gives him a sense of accomplishment.

Read more details about enlisting their help in my post 3 Simple Tips to Help Manage Difficult Students: Tip #2.

3. Give Them A Safe Space
Give your students a quiet, peaceful place where they can move to calm down when they are getting frustrated, agitated, or upset. I have a desk set up in a corner of my classroom that we call the "Calm Down Station".  My students know that they can take a time-out at any time they feel they need a break.  At the desk, I keep a box of hands-on stress relievers such as a bean bag, pattern blocks, and clay. I also have a glitter wand, paper, coloring pages, and an assortment of markers and color pencils. I have taught my students how to use the Calm Down Station and I make a note of the students who use it and how long they stay there. If I feel that they are avoiding work, I will gently ask them to return to our class for a few minutes or bring their classwork over to them to complete. Read more about this strategy here, 3 Simple Tips to Manage Difficult Students: Tip #3

We all have students that will need extra attention. Having a simple, workable plan in place can go a long way towards having the best class possible. What strategies would you add to the list?  
Read more details about each tip in my separate blog posts, Get To Know Them, Enlist Their Help, and Give Them a Save Space.

5 Simple Ideas to Start the New Year RIGHT in Your Classroom!

Happy New Year!  I always like to start the new year with renewed energy and a positive outlook.  I am excited to get back into the classroom with my sweet student - I've missed them!  The school year is nearly half-way over (already??!) and I want to continue pushing my students to learn and grow to be their best!  I want to maintain a positive and safe classroom environment - the new year is a perfect time for a review of procedures and to introduce some new ideas!

Here are 5 things I plan to do to start the year off right:

1. It's the FIRST Day!  You've been on break for a bit now, right?  So guess what? Your students (and YOU) are a bit out of the school routine.  While it's not actually the first day of school, try incorporating some fun activities to review procedures and expectations.  At the beginning of the year, I show a meme slideshow to go over procedures in my classroom.  My students love it and the best part?  They remember the procedures! Search the internet for a couple of silly memes that will help you review your procedures.

2. Check IN! Now that I've had a nice relaxing break away from the classroom, I realize that I miss my students.  The first week back, I will make a point to have a personal conversation with each of student to check in with them about their break and get a feel for how they are doing. Unfortunately, some of my students likely did not have a fun and relaxing break.  I want to welcome them back into the safe and structured classroom environment. I want to work to rebuild and maintain a connection with each student for the rest of the year.  I keep an actual checklist so that I can write down the date we chatted and what we talked about.  Showing that you really care about someone takes just a little bit of time but has huge and lasting benefits.

3. Be POSITIVE!  I plan on starting the new year with a fresh, positive attitude.  I will reward good behavior A LOT the first weeks back.  I will embrace getting my students to "clip up" the behavior chart, writing positive notes to parents, and giving out tickets to the treasure box - my treasure box is filled with fun new treasures (I cleaned out my own children's old toys to make way for new ones over the holiday break).  Negative behaviors will be addressed quietly and privately with students with gentle reminders in the classroom and a conversation at recess.

4. Build COMMUNITY!  Make it a fresh start and incorporate community and class-building activities. If you expect students to work together collaboratively you MUST teach them and show them how in fun ways. I do this by incorporating a morning meeting with each of my groups.  We get to know each other by sharing and learn to work together by playing  games. The games can be quick and simple like "Telephone" or "Two Truths and a Lie". We also discuss classroom issues and brainstorm ways to resolve them.  I dedicate at most ten minutes every day for our morning meeting and usually add a longer fifteen minute session once a week or as needed. If the weather is nice, take it outside for a breath of fresh air! 

5. REFLECT!  Make the new year a great one by incorporating student reflections and goals.  I have my students reflect on their learning every Friday by writing about 3 things they learned during the week.  They then write about whether it was easy or challenging for them and why. My students keep a Learning Reflections Journal with their data and goal-setting notebooks.  Teaching and modeling to students how to reflect on what and how they are learning is such a powerful way for students to really think about their thinking.  It also gives them opportunities to look back and set meaningful goals for themselves as they move forward in their learning.  You can easily this by students writing each week in a new or existing journal.  To make it even easier, you can check out my Weekly Learning Reflection Forms in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here or click on the image below!

I hope you can use some of these ideas in your classroom in the upcoming weeks!  
What will you do to start the New Year off right?
Happy New Year!

Celebrate Christmas with a Math Project!

The week before winter break is always an exciting time in the classroom and it can be a challenge to keep students on task and learning!  Students seem even more energetic than usual and less focused on learning.  I'm always looking for fun and meaningful ways to integrate the holidays into my classroom to keep my 5th graders focused on academics.   My 12 Days of Christmas Math Project is challenging, yet fun, and allows students to practice problem-solving skills by calculating the cost of the 12 Days of Christmas.

I start by having my students read the lyrics to the "12 Days of Christmas"(I like to play the song as they read along). I have my 5th graders highlight the gifts for each of the 12 days of Christmas as they read. Next, I give them the 12 Days of Christmas Task Page and review the three tasks they are required to complete. 

Task 1: Calculate the cost of each gift
Task 2: Calculate the total cost of all gifts given on each day
Task 3: Use the calculations to answer questions 

After we review the tasks, I give my students the 12 Days of Christmas price list.  There are two price lists options to choose from - whole numbers or decimals to the tenths place.  I differentiate this activity by giving each student the price list that suits their needs best.  You may also choose to have students work with partners or in cooperative groups to complete the project.

Students use the recording pages to calculate all of the costs.  While they are working, I like to project a Yule Log video on the board and play holiday music in the background.

Answer keys are also included.  If you would like to share this activity with your students, you can find it in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here!

Happy Holidays!
Live, laugh, love to learn,
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