Saturday, April 28, 2012

Differentiated Instruction

Wowzer!!! What a week!!! I had a substitute in my room 2 1/2 out of the 5 days - and I wasn't even sick. Monday, I had training on Differentiated Instruction presented by LeAnn Nickelsen (more on that in a sec.), Thursday I had a full day of 3rd grade staff development on the Common Core, and Friday morning, well I had to go watch the MOST precious preschool program in the whole world featuring my very own star 5 year old!

Okay, back to the part on the Differentiated Instruction. At one time I was so scared of the word "differentiated".
I didn't quite understand stand it. And it seemed so difficult and complicated. Then, along comes an opportunity for me to attend a workshop on the very subject, that at the thought or mention of, would make me cringe. So what do I do? I volunteer.

Well, it turned out to be one of the very best things I have done in my career! This workshop was presented by a fabulous lady, LeAnn Nickelsen. She is so enthusiastic and passionate. I was immediately drawn to her warmth and love of teaching! I came away from these two days with a wealth of information. Ideas and tips that weren't scary or complicated after all. I couldn't wait to get back into my classroom and begin implementing everything she had taught us. I jumped right in transforming my room and ways of teaching to include differentiation.

One item on my agenda, making sure I was meeting the different learning styles among my students. LeAnn calls this teaching the V-A-K (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) way. And she taught us that all three should be in "EVERY lesson, EVERY day." Now naturally I was (somewhat) doing this. But I wanted to have a way to keep myself in check. So, I changed the way I wrote my lesson plans. At the bottom of my lesson plans I have created a key.

A- Auditory V- Visual K- Kinesthetic P- Priming F- Formative Assessment S- Summative Assessment

And in each lesson plan, I code what I am doing for each learning style in that lesson. This system makes me pause and contemplate how I am going to meet the needs of diverse learners. This has transformed my idea of differentiated instruction. Just this simple idea of meeting three different learning styles in each lesson is one way of making a difference in someone's learning.

So... Monday, I had another day (day # 3) of training with LeAnn. I came away with even more knowledge than before and soon I will be implementing these into my classroom as well. This time we focused on anchor activities and tiered lessons. We were also told that in the fall LeAnn would be back for more training and support! Whoopee!!

The most exciting part of my week though - wait for it, wait for it!!!

LeAnn came to MY classroom on Wednesday for a visit. YEAH!! I was so excited to have her come in and see all the ways I was using differentiated instruction in my classroom. She was so sweet and complimentary. She loved my Homeworkopoly board (check out my previous post on it) and was going to google it when she got home. She also LOVED my stop sign exit ticket strategy and the I can statement sheet (also in previous posts). Needless to say, it was a very exciting, learning-filled week for me!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fab Four Reading Friends

What better way to teach reading strategies then with some FUN friends! I love this lesson and so do my kids! What is it and how does it work? First, I found four small finger puppets at a local teacher/parent store: a porcupine, chick, sheep, and opossum. They are my Fab Four friends. I sat them around my small group table and right away my kids could not wait for me to tell them about these guys. Remember, I teach 3rd grade - they are not too old for puppets! I started off by introducing them one by one. I introduced them as I taught reading strategies during guided reading.
I first introduce Clara the Clarifying Chick. She was there to help us clarify anything we were unsure of as we were reading. I passed her around the table so that everyone had the opportunity to touch Clara. Then we began our reading using our HM series leveled readers. And sure enough, Clara was there to help us understand words and concepts that confused us by leading us to context clues.
The following week, I introduced Sammy the Summarizing Sheep. Once again he introduced himself and we passed him around the table. We read our story and then used Sammy to help us sum up what we read, remembering to only tell the main details in a "short version."
Next came Polly the Predicting Opossum. She helps us make predictions about the text. To "look into the future".
Finally I introduced Quinn the Questioning Porcupine. I couldn't find an animal that began with "Q" so I went with a porcupine since it has Quills. They couldn't wait to meet the last friend! The anticipation was killing them! We did the same thing as we did with the first 3 friends: introductions, passing around... Quinn is there to help us ask who, what, where, when, why questions while reading and finding the answers.
Once all friends were introduced, I put them up on a bulletin board to remind us of our helpful Fab Four Friends. They now help us all the time. The other day during a science lesson, we were about to read a book called The Moon. We used all four of our friends: we made predictions about the text, came up with questions we hoped to find answers to, we clarified any concepts that we didn't understand while reading, and finally we summarized the story.
Voila, an easy and fun way to apply reading strategies.
Here are my Fab Friend Posters. Click on image to download in google docs. (this was my first time using google docs so I hope it works - fingers crossed) Fonts from ClipArt from

Friday, April 20, 2012

More Test Prep

Yeah!! Finally Friday!! We made it through our first week back from a long spring break (the kids had off 1 1/2 weeks). We spent the week learning a few new concepts in math and spent the rest of our days reviewing for the upcoming EOG's. Yesterday's post included the math strategy poster CUBES. And already I have had our curriculum coach come in and check it out as we put the strategy into action today. A colleague in 4th grade has already made her own CUBES anchor chart - check out how cute it is!!!
Now for a picture of my reading strategy poster. I came up with this by combining different concepts I have seen other 3rd grade teachers use. It is called UNRREAL. Pronounced unreal, except it has two "r"'s. What does it mean? U - underline the title N - number the paragraphs R - read the questions but not the answers R - read the passage/selection E - eliminate obviously wrong answers A - answer L - look back for: 1. "right there" answers 2. make sure all answers were marked (none were skipped) Take a look at my anchor chart:
Only a few weeks left to review, review, review! Whew, I think I can, I think I can!!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Test Prep is Underway!

It is hard to believe that another year is winding down. What does that mean for a third grade teacher? Test prep!!
With only a few weeks left until our state exams, I have begun preparing my kids for the test. We are reviewing skills that we have learned throughout the year and are practicing our test taking strategies for math and reading.
I recently purchased a "Math Key Words Sort" from Ashleigh on Teachers pay Teachers that I loved using this week for reviewing! Click here to visit TpT. Here is how I used it to review:

I created this anchor chart after I saw a similar one on a blog not too long ago (I can't remember where I saw it, if you know I'd love to give a "shout out") I loved the idea of using this strategy with the math key words sort I have purchased. I gave everyone a copy of the sort and we went through each problem together step-by-step using the CUBE strategy. I demonstrated along with them using our document camera. Once we had thoroughly dissected each math word problem, the students then cut out and sorted the word problems by the "action" they would use to solve the problem (+ - x / ). They had a great time with this activity and I think they will be able to use what we learned to better understand and perform on the test.

Amber at Adventures of a Third Grade Teacher created a free math review that I just downloaded from TpT that I plan to use tomorrow with my CUBE strategies too. This download contains several pages including a poster with math key words, a key word sort (cut-n-paste), and a practice sheet on word problems. She calls these Operation Clue Words. Check her out!

That's all for now! TGIF tomorrow!!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


A favorite (and most asked about) bulletin board in my classroom is my Homeworkopoly board. It is a simple game to play as a reward for students turning in homework. Some assignments in my class are due nightly (like our Envisions "Daily Spiral Review") and some are turned in only once a week on Thursday (spelling "Tic-Tac-Toe" and math "Keeping Skills Sharp"). Students in my room never know when I will announce we will be playing Homeworkopoly - this way, they have to make sure it is always turned in on time. On the days I decide to play, I call up the students that have their homework turned in and they get to roll one (or two) dice and move around the game board. Each student has a giant thumb tack that I bought at Staples as their game piece. I numbered the thumb tacks with permanent marker to correlate with each assigned student number.
Special Spots on the game board:
Chance -
Choose a "Chance Card" from the deck. These cards might say something like "Free Homework Pass" or "Choose a Prize from the Treasure Chest"
Community Lunchbox -
These cards are a lot like the Chance cards. Choose one from the deck and you receive whatever prize it says!
Mystery Prize -
Choose a prize from the Treasure Chest!
Brain Binder -
I usually give them a puzzle (crossword, word search, etc.)
Game Spot -
Choose a game to play with a friend.
Free Homework -
The student receives a Free Homework Pass.
Take a Seat on the Bus -
Sit in someone else's desk for the day!
Go -
You automatically get to move to Free Homework!
On the Bus - Just Visiting
Sit in a "fun" chair for the rest of the day!
Library -
You can be the class Librarian for the week!

You can find homeworkopoly to download in your classroom below. Mrs. Van Dyke also has more information on her website about how she uses Homeworkopoly in her classroom if you'd like to check it out.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

I can...

An alternative to exit tickets is to give each student a form called an "I Can Statement" form. This form can be given to students each Monday in order for them to document what they have learned during the week. There is a section for them to self-evaluate their learning and a space for them to show or explain what they "can" do. At the beginning of a lesson, I have the students write down their "I Can" statement for the lesson in the space provided. This gives them the opportunity to hear, write, and read what they will be learning. We then continue with the day's lesson. At the end of the lesson (or at the end of the day), I have students evaluate how well they understand the concept and to show or explain what they learned.

For example, if the day's math lesson was on fractions of a whole, the "I Can..." statement might be "I can show fractions of a whole." At the end of the lesson, they would check the box that they feel best describes their understanding of fractions of a whole and then give an example in pictures, words, or both. A student might write: A fraction of a whole is an object that is divided into equal parts, like a pizza that is cut into 8 equal size pieces (including a picture of a circle divided into 8).

I have had a lot of success with this quick, easy form of formative assessment. I walk around and monitor what they have demonstrated/written. I instantly know who's got it and who needs some extra small group instruction. Let me know what you think.

Click here to purchase - happy assessing!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Linky Party

Here's another Linky Party called Currently - Link up at Oh' Boy Fourth Grade!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Link up at: Confessions of a Teaching Junkie
The reason I wanted to set up a blog was to first have a way to make connections to teachers from all over.  Second, I want to share ideas, thoughts, and my knowledge of the teaching profession to others.  Lastly, I wanted a way to learn more too!  Together, we all work to educate the minds of the future.

Today, I want to share my ideas for exit tickets.  What are exit tickets?  Exit tickets are a type of formative assessment.  They are quick, easy, and accurate.

Here is the first style of exit tickets I want to discuss:  the "stop light".  At the end of a lesson, I will often pass out sticky notes to my students.  On the top of the note, they write their name.  Next, they demonstrate by explaining(words) or showing(pictures) their understanding of the topic.  For example, if the concept learned was fractions of a whole, the student might write an explanation of fractions of a whole in words, or show me an example of fractions of a whole.  I then call them up by groups and they decide where to place their exit ticket on the stop light.  Green = "I've Got It!"  Yellow = "Almost There"  Red = "I Still Need Help"

Now, what I love about this method of exit tickets is the self-evaluating the students have to do in placing their sticky note on the stop light.  They have to decide how they feel about their level of understanding.  And guess what?  The students are almost always accurate!!  They pretty much "hit the nail on the head" when they take this type of ownership in their learning. 

Once everyone has placed their ticket on the stop light, I take a moment or two (usually during their specials, recess, lunch, or after school)  to evaluate their tickets.  First, I remove the notes on the green light.  I read over them and decide if I agree with them.  I place the tickets that demonstrate accuracy on the topic in one pile and those that may need some reteaching in another pile.  I continue down the stop light until I have evaluated each "ticket".  Now this may seem like it takes a long time, but it is actually very quick and gives me a good idea of who's got it and who needs more assistance.

I hope this helps some of you with another type of formative assessment.  Let me know what you think!  I will continue to add more posts on different types of exit tickets.


Yeah!  I have finally done it!  I have taken the leap into blogging!  I am so excited to join this new world; it is foreign and scary for me, but here I go...