Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mindset Book Study: Chapter 3

It's time for chapter 3 of our book study on the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.  

I am teaming up with Abigail from Kindergarten Chaos to host this book study!

And this week's chapter host is one of my best friends, Chad from Male Kindergarten Teacher!

Chapter 3 is all about ability and accompolishment and I had some pretty powerful AHA moments that already have me rethinking and planning some changes for my classroom.  

Here are my three take aways from chapter 3...

Dweck describes this "syndrome" as doing things as easily as possible so we don't have to work very hard.   As soon as I read that name and description, one work popped into my brain and wouldn't go away:


If you have followed me for a while you know how I feel about the worksheets.  And if you're a worksheet lover, I hope you're not offended.  But I do hope you'll think about ditching those worksheets.

Let's think about it.  We have a class full of eager learners.  We can run to to the copier and make 54,000 copies a month of worksheets (FYI that is not a RANDOM's the amount of copies made in a month at a school...TRUE STORY) and keep our kids quiet and busy.   That's very low effort.  We didn't have to work very hard and we're getting by.   But what will our kids learn?  Will they love learning?  Will they enjoy school?   

Pretty sure the answer to those questions is a big fat NO!

Or we can take the high effort (growth mindset) approach to teaching and find hands on, creative, out of the box ways to teach our kids.  Does it take a lot of time and work and effort to come up with engaging, hands on lessons?  Absolutely.   Is being an out of the box teacher hard work?  Yep.  But the rewards are so worth it.  Will our kids learn?  Will they love learning?  Will they enjoy school?

The answers to those questions is a big fat YES!

So, are we going to be a high effort teacher or are we falling victim to the low effort syndrome?


In fact, Mr. Greg and Jen Jones from Hello Literacy give you permission!

(I snagged this from Jen's IG account because it's PERFECT for this post!)

On page 64, this quote felt like a lightning bolt hitting me in the behind...

"...there's a lot of intelligence out there being wasted by underestimating students' potential to develop."

Are we wasting our student's potential by setting our expectations to low??

Wherever we set the bar for our students, that's where they will go.  If we set that bar sky high, they will go sky high!  If we set that bar at the ground floor, that's as they're going.

We need to raise the bar for our students so we can tap into their full potential.  

It is time that we get out from behind excuses and worksheets and raise the expectations for students so they can be all that the want to be.   And it's high time we stop using the words:  "...THESE KIDS..."   These kids could be the next Einstein or Bill Gates or President.  These kids are my kids.  These kids are just as deserving and capable and full of potential as any kid.  THESE KIDS can succeed and learn IF WE TEACHERS are doing our jobs.

But we also need to look at the expectations we're setting for ourselves as teachers.  Are we setting the bar high enough?   Do we have high expectations for our teaching and planning?   Or are we setting ourselves up for failure with low expectations.  

If our students are struggling, then we have to ask ourselves some questions:

"How can I teach them?"  (Not CAN I teach them...)
"How will they learn best?"  (Not CAN they learn...)

Raise the bar for yourself.  Set high expectations for the new school year and use your growth mindset to meet and exceed those expectations.  Imagine the difference we can make by raising the expectations for our own teaching!

The section on praise and positive labels was downright astounding to me.  Dweck has found that praising kids can actually lower their achievement because it pushed them into the fixed mindset.

Dweck says we need to praise kids for their effort and not their ability.

I think back to my friend Fire Drill and how she worked until February to learn to write her name.  I remember how much I praised her effort every day as she worked on those letters.  I can remember the celebrations when she finally wrote the S the right way by herself the first time.  I wonder if I had praised her ability to write an S instead of praising her efforts every day, would she have learned to write her name?

This also reminds me of one of the lessons I brought back from my trip to the Ron Clark Academy and something I worked very hard on during the last few months of school.  Make praise specific.  I know that's a no brainer.  But it's hard and easily forgotten.  I am so guilty of saying "Good job, Daniel!" and Danie wonders off not knowing what he did a good job one.  Did he do a good job writing or drawing or walking to my table (or in his case...did he do a good job of cussing...).   I made it a goal to give specific praise.  "I like how you used a period in your sentence."   "I like how you're facing forward in line."   "I like how you're using your sounds on that word."   When I used specific feedback,  I saw a noticeable improvement in my classroom.

So, remember to praise the efforts of your students.  No matter how big or small.  That praise will keep them motivated to keep trying and learning and growing.

And make your praise specific!

It's all about hard work and dedication!!!!  With hard work and dedication we can achieve anything!!

Make sure to leave comments with your thoughts from chapter 3.  And link up your posts below!

Also, I will be LIVE on Facebook tonight discussing chapter 3!  Not sure of the time because I'm traveling to do PD so keep an eye out!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The F Word In Your Classroom!

Today I'm going to share something I am very passionate about and something that gets me fired up.    This is an issue that comes up so many times when I talk to teachers all over the country.    

 I recently saw a post on Facebook where someone was talking about how Common Core has ruined Kindergarten and then a friend shared a story with me and a first grade teacher in her school said this:
"...I hope your kids transition from play to work well..."

(Note...I'm not engaging in a debate about Common Core....those are the standards and it's my job to teach on to see my thoughts...)

Well, now I'm mad.  

Look, here's the deal.  The standards are the standards.  The mandates are the mandates.  Curriculum is what it is.  Unfortunately as teachers, we're not in the position to change these or do away with things we know aren't right or developmentally appropriate.    We don't have to like it.  We don't have to agree with it.  BUT we do have to our job.  And we have to do it well.  Despite these issues.

So what do we do?  What can we do?

Two things...

What we can do is use our voice and continue to let those in charge know our professional and expert opinions.     We can make sure that those in charge know that there are better and  more effective and appropriate ways to teach our students.  We need to be the voice for our students and our profession.  

And more importantly, we can make learning fun.  

It is our job to take the standards and mandates and curriculum we have and make it accessible to all of our students.  THAT IS OUR JOB.  It's not my job to change those standards or mandates (see above!) but it is my job to do everything I can to see that my students learn and grow and meet whatever standards and benchmarks are put before them. 

Look, I get it.  It's frustrating and sometimes, downright infuriating.  But our number one priority is our students.  Every day.  It is my job to give them the best possible education possible every single day.  Despite the mandates and curriculum and standards.  I am going to find new, out of the box, hands on, engaging, and FUN ways to teach my students.   And if they're still not getting it, guess what?  I'm going to look for more fun ways to teach it until each child has reached their fullest potential.

And guess what?  While we're busy reaching our fullest potential and mastering our standards and meeting benchmarks, we're going to have a  BLAST.  

That's right folks.  We're going to have the F word.  FUN.  Yeah.  I'll say it again.  THE F WORD!  FUN!

See, here's the thing...we seem to think that learning and fun can't happen together.  We seem to think that if we're having fun in our classrooms, then we're not learning.  And vice versa.  If we're learning it can't be fun.


You can have fun and learn at the same time.  In fact, the more fun you have the more you learn.  Don't believe me?  When schools in a district tripled recess, guess what happened to achievement?  It tripled.  More fun=more learning.

People, we have a disco ball in our classroom.  With party lights going all day long.  Our classroom is a non stop party from the time we arrive until the time we go home.  Seriously, we arrive to a dance party.  Music bumping, kids singing and dancing and bouncing on a trampoline.  We end our day with a dance party.  And in between?  We sing and dance and play and LAUGH AND LAUGH AND LAUGH.  We're silly.  And goofy.  We get wild and crazy.  And we learn.  We learn a lot.   

We have an outright blast every single day.  And guess what?  My students learn.  They meet every benchmark and standard.  They master every skill.  They learn to read at and above grade level.  They learn to write and draw and become scientists.  They can count beyond 100 and add and subtract to 10.    And they leave ready for the challenge of first grade.

And never once did we stop having fun.

It's time we stop being afraid to have fun.  It's time we stop hiding behind standards and mandates and curriculum.  It's time we bring the fun back into our classrooms and give our students every opportunity to love school and reach their fullest potential.  

So, here's my advice:

Open your door.  
Have fun.

(Open your door so people see you having fun and learning so we can start changing minds!)

People, it's our job and our responsibility.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Rubber Ducky Learning: Using Rubber Duckys For Math And Literacy

I am always on the lookout for unique items to use in our classroom.  Brain research tells us that the brain loves novelty so anytime we can bring something new and different into our learning, the students will be more engaged and their brains will learn more.    

So what's more fun than rubber duckys?!  

I found these mini rubber duckies on Amazon and ordered a few sets....( People, if you can't find it on Amazon, you don't need it!).  They are $8.99 for a set of 20.

Then I set out out to make some fun center/workstation/hippopotamus activities!  

The great thing about these duckies?  DIFFERENTIATION!

First, I used a Sharpie and wrote letters on the ducks.

And now we can learn our uppercase letters, lowercase letters and sounds!

And then I wrote numbers on my ducks with a Sharpie!

I tried using dot stickers and putting those on the bottom of the ducks but the stickers wanted to peel so it's better to just write on the ducks with a Sharpie!

Now we can work on numbers, counting, adding and subtracting!

And as an added bonus these guys make great math manipulatives too!

Head over to the FREEBIES pages to download your rubber duck recording sheets!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Mindset Book Study: Chapter 2

It's chapter 2 of our summer book study:  Mindset by Carol Dweck.

Last week we were introduced to the 2 mindsets:  fixed and growth.  This week we get into the details of the mindsets and how they can affect our success and growth.  

Here are my 3 takeaways from chapter 2:

How do I want to spend my time?  Do I want to spend my time proving myself to others and seeking validation?  Or do I want to spend that time stretching myself and learning new things and getting better?   

Think about it.  Which choice is a more valuable use of our time?  Sure I want people to see me as a smart and successful...but I really don't want to spend my time and energy proving myself.  I would rather spend that time learning new things...stretching myself and getting better and smarter.    The more I stretch myself, the more I grow and the more I grow and stretch, the more people will see me as a success.

In this chapter, Dweck touches on assessments of our students and how that one assessment doesn't define our students.  One assessment is simply a snapshot of a single moment in time.  That one data piece or assessment cannot and SHOULD NOT be used to define our students.    It simply is what it is.  A single point to consider and use in the big picture of the child.  

When I read the assessment section, of course I thought about how we use data to impact our students but something else hit me and caused me to have a more intense reaction.  

TEACHER EVALUATIONS.  We all have them.  We all loathe them.   They stress us out. They make us sweat so much it runs down our backs...and other places...(true story)...Those few minutes that an evaluator is in our classroom allegedly determines if we're Exemplary or proficient or failing.  

So, let's look at it through the mindset perspective:

That evaluation does not define me as a teacher.  It does not define my teaching ability.  It's simply a snapshot of a few minutes of 1 lesson on 1 day with my students who are doing and behaving a certain way at 1 particular moment in time.  Good or bad.  It is not my teaching career or even my teaching day.  It's imply a moment in time.

How I respond to that evaluation determines a lot.  I can let a less than stellar evaluation get me down.  I can think that I'm just OK since I received a 3.  And I can be ok with a 3.  (Fixed mindset).  Or I can look at my feedback (honestly....sometimes the feedback is less than me, I get it) and my scores and I can decide to be a 5 the next time.  I can seek out other teachers who received 5s and find out what they're doing.  I can step up my planning and preparation. I can decide to grow and improve from that evaluation or I can be a 3 and be ok being average.  

The power of how I respond to my evaluations is mine.  I can't evaluate myself, but I can decide how those numbers on the paper affect me.  Will I let those numbers convince me that I'm just an average teacher or will I let those numbers push me to better and better everyday?

Here's my truth:  For the past 3 years, I have received 5s on my evaluations.  In our system a 5 is the best you can do.  In fact, when this system was rolled out, we were told and I quote "Even Jesus can't get 5s..." (TRUTH PEOPLE!).  After the first 2 years, people started receiving 5s.  So after 3 years fo receiving all 5s, I moved to my current school.  I received a 3.  

People, that hurts.  It infuriates me.  Did I get upset and complain?  Yes because I'm human.  BUT I got over it and tried to do better.  Do I believe I'm an average teacher?  No way.   Do I believe I deserve 5s?  IF I have earned them, of course I deserve them.  So I took those numbers on that paper and used that motivate myself even more to grow and improve.  And on my next evaluation, my scores were much higher!   


In chapter 2 Dweck talks about relationships and seeing out our husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends.  She talks about someone who puts on a pedestal (fixed mindset) or someone who will challenge us to grow and stretch ourselves (growth mindset).

As a read this I thought of mentors.  What kind of mentor am I?  To my students and my colleagues in the classrooms?

Am I someone who puts you on a pedestal and says everything you're doing is awesome?  Or am I someone who is pushing you to stretch and grow?

Hopefully I am inspiring my students to grow and stretch and take risks.  And hopefully I am inspiring my teaching colleagues to grow and stretch themselves.

We all need people to push us and challenge us and provide us CONSTRUCTIVE criticism so we can grow.      Dweck says we need to be seeking out constructive criticism so we're always learning.  TEACHERS NEED TO ALWAYS BE LEARNING!

Here's my truth:  I despise teacher evaluations for many reasons but my biggest reason is that I don't ever feel I receive constructive criticism to help me grow and improve my practice.  In fact, my principal encourages me to seek out people who can provide me with constructive criticism so I can grow and improve.  So what I have done is reach out to two of my college professors and ask them to watch videos of my teaching and lessons so they can provide me with constructive criticism.  

I also open my classroom to anyone who wants to visit and I ask those visitors what they saw that I can do better.  

Seek out constructive criticism so you can improve your practice and provide your students the best education possible!

(A note about constructive criticism:  I get it.  Teaching is hard and sometimes it turns into a competition.  STOP THAT!  It's not a competition.  Please don't tear others down or demean them or attack their teaching.  That only makes our jobs harder and adds unneeded stress to our lives.  We're in this together.  We're in this for one reason and one reason only:  OUR STUDENTS. Let's make sure we're helping each other grow and not attacking one another!)

Finally how I handle failure?  Do I let failure define me or do I deal with it and grow from it?

I remember a lesson idea where I spent hours making number templates for my class. We were going to use snap cubes to build the numbers.  The lesson started and BOMBED.  EPIC fail.  The templates were way to small for the actual number cubes.  Did I panic and beat myself up?  No.  I stopped the lesson.  I told my kids I had failed and messed up.  We even discussed what had gone wrong and how I could make the lesson better.  And we moved on.  I fixed the templates and we did the activity the next day with huge success.

I learned a lesson that I still follow today....always test out an activity before you try it with your kids!  

I also remember a science experiment we did in class where we used Peeps (yeah the gross squishy things people eat at Easter....) to make slime.  We followed the directions...but instead of slime, we got a big blob of sticky goo.  But guess what?  My kids had A BLAST playing with that goo.  We spent an hour just playing in that sticky goodness.   Sure, the slime lesson failed, but we turned that failure into something fun.  I could have stopped the lesson and clean up the mess but we would have lost out on a lesson about adapting and making the most of failures.

Don't let failures define you.  Learn from them.  Grow from them.  And use those failures as a stepping stone into something awesome and glittery!

My favorite quote from chapter 2:

Find your paths to success!

You can also link up your blog posts about chapter 2 below!

Make sure to join me at 7:00 pm CENTRAL time tonight on my Facebook Page for our live discussion on chapter 2!  You don't wanna miss it because last week's discussion was amazing!


Thursday, June 9, 2016

I Have Who Has Letters FREEBIE!

I Have Who Has is one of my favorite review games!  We play I Have Who Has frequently as part of our morning meeting!   This game can be tailored to fit any skill and any grade!   And it can be targeted to your class' specific needs when using your data! 

The best part:  it's super fast and easy.  Once your kids learn how to play the game, you're set for the year.  

Got a few minutes of down time....whip out this game!
Sub plans?....whip out this game!
Few minutes before dismissal....I Have Who Has!

How about this fun watermelon themed I Have Who Has Game for uppercase and lowercase letters!?

Click on the image and you'll go to my Facebook page where you can download the freebie!

Check out these posts for more I Have Who Has Games:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Summer Book Study: Growth Mindset Chapter 1

I am super excited to be teaming up with my friend Abigail from Kindergarten Chaos for our summer book study!  This summer our book is Mindset by Carol Dweck.   I am uber excited to read this book and study along with all of you.  

This week Abigail and I are teaming up to host chapter 1 of the book study!  So, you ready to hear my thoughts on chapter 1?


After reading chapter 1, I have 3 takeaways and questions to ponder....

Dweck writes that there are two mindsets we can have:  a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

A fixed mindset is a mindset that you have qualities that are carved in stone and unchanging.  Dweck says that people with a fixed mindset feel the need to prove themselves over and over again.

A growth mindset is a belief that with effort you can grow your basic qualities.  Everyone can change through application and experience!

So, do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?

I have a growth mindset.  I firmly belief that I can change and grow and improve through hard work and experiences.   I know that I can be a better teacher next year than I was this year because I will put in the time and effort to learn new and better strategies and methods for teaching.    Not because I have to...but because I want to.  I want to be better and improve so I'm going to work as hard as I can to make that improvement.  

I do not believe that I have anything to prove to anyone.  When it comes to teaching, I am doing what's in the best interest for my students.  That requires constant growth, study, knowledge and effort on my part.  If I want to give them the best, I have to be willing to work and grow so I'm being my best.  

On page 7, Dweck asks this question:

"...why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you?"  

For me, this question is my AHA moment of chapter 1!   Why do we stick with the tried and true?  Why are we afraid of change and risk?  Why aren't we stretching ourselves?   Everyday we expect our students to take risks and engage in experiences that stretch why aren't we doing that?

We are we still using 45,972 worksheets a month?  Or following our basal readers word for word?  Or sitting quietly in desks in neat rows and working in isolation?   Let's break out of the "this is how we've always done it" attitude and start taking risks...thinking out of the box and stretching ourselves to become better and better!

As a teacher, what are your strengths and weaknesses?  

Research shows that exceptional individuals have the ability to identify their strengths and let's identify our strengths and weaknesses!

My strengths in the classroom:
Classroom management
Literacy Instruction
Taking Risks
High Expectations

My weaknesses in the classroom:
Unwilling to listen and learn from others in my own building
Higher Order Questioning
Vocabulary Instruction

What are your strengths and weaknesses?
How will you address those weaknesses?

On page 6, Dweck recalls a story about a teacher who created a fixed mindset in her by the actions of the teacher.

So, by our actions, are we creating students with fixed mindsets?  Students who can't enjoy learning or school because they're so focused on proving that they're smart enough or good enough?   Do we only call on the "smart" kids or give those kids responsibilities such as running errands???

Or are we creating students who believe they can grow and learn if they work hard and not give up?

In our classroom we talk a lot about exercising our brains.  If we want to be smarter...or better at reading or writing or math or sight words...we have to practice and exercise our brains.  Our brains can't be couch potatoes if we want to be our best.   We have a growth mindset because we know we can be better if we put in the effort.  

Class Dojo has a great video series about growth mindset for kids...I love the video about exercising our brains!  

Feel free to link up your blog posts for Chapter 1!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Differentiating Instruction With Dollar Tree Cut Out!

Recently I've seen some posts on social media about how some classrooms have so many amazing resources and some scrape by with nothing.   People, I GET THAT!   I have worked in schools where we didn't have copy paper most days (and let's be honest...sometimes no electricity) and I am fortunate to be in a place now where I have some great stuff for my classroom.     I wish I could wave my magic wand (you know I have one...don't be surprised) and make all classrooms equal and rich with everything you could want as a teacher.    

And before I get to the goods...remember that centers and activities don't have to involve cute clipart and lots of printing and laminating and work.  People,  I am so guilty of that!   Trust me.  I'm all about creating things and printing them and laminating them.  THAT'S GREAT!  Those centers and activities are amazing and I plan to make more and more and more...BUT I also like the things that are different and simple and made without a computer or printer....

So, today's post is a way to address these two concerns...

You'll need less than $5.  A Dollar Tree or die cut machine.  And a marker.
Oh...and some recording sheet freebies...from me!

You need two different die cut shapes.  

You know I'm obsessed with the Dollar Tree.  I mean...$1.  And one thing I love is there random and always eclectic selection of die cuts and shape cutouts!   

No Dollar Tree?  Use the school die cut machine.  No die cut machine?  Trace some shapes on paper and cut them out!

So this morning I sat down to make a simple ten frame activity using some shapes from the DT and it hit me...with 2 different shapes and a marker, I can differentiate my instruction so easily and with very few resources.

So here's what I did...

I used my Silhouette Mint stamp maker to make a ten frame stamp.  BUT this isn't necessary at all.  You can draw ten frames.  Easy peasy.  Or you can make ten frame labels using label stickers.  Got a Sharpie?  Draw your ten frame and work those teacher art skills!

Then I used my Sharpie to make my ten frames.  Yes, I make mine up and down because it helps my 'staches with even and odd!

And then I used my marker to write numbers on my rockets.

So, $2.  I bought 2 things of shapes.  They're $1 for 36.  

And here's how I use them to differentiate math instruction...

Number recognition.  Choose a rocket, say the number, find the number and color.  

Number order.  Put the rockets in number order!

Count and color!  Count the ten frame and color the number!

Ten frames!   Count the ten frame, match the number.  Make the ten frame!

Even and odd!  I wrote EVEN and ODD on the stars.  Decide if the number is even or odd and sort.

Adding And Subtracting Rockets!  I wrote +  -  = on the stars.  Use the rockets to build and solve equations!

So with just 2 packs of cut outs I was able to create 6 math activities that help me differentiate my math instruction!   And guess what?  This could be done with literacy skills too!   

And as promised, here's a freebie for ya!

Click the picture to download all of the recording sheets!

And check out these posts for other ideas on using Dollar Tree cutouts!

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