Book Talk Tuesday: Kid Picks

Over the past school year, I read aloud a lot of books. I did my best to read a book to my class every single day if possible.

On the flip side, I allowed my students a lot of independent reading time to make connections with books of their choosing. The last week of school I had students vote on their favorite book I read to them. Throughout the year, I personally observed what book was a common favorite among all of my students to read on their own.

Charlie the Ranch Dog by Ree Drummond

I am a huge fan of The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. You can find me every Saturday morning watching the newest episode of her show, shopping through her dish collection at Walmart, and obsessing over her recipes. So investing in her children’s books was an easy choice for me.

My students collectively voted that Charlie the Ranch Dog was their favorite book I read aloud to them throughout the year. They found Charlie to be quirky, humorous, and just plain cute. The illustrations by Diane DeGroat fit the book so well. They are realistic and cozy photos that make the storyline pop.

Another reason my kids decided this was one of their favorite books was due to my “Charlie voice.” Being from Texas, I naturally have a bit of a southern accent. Everyone mentions it when they notice it. Now, I felt when I read aloud this book, Charlie definitely needed one. I think I out “southerned” and “countryfied” myself when I turned into Charlie for the sake of engaging my readers. The kids would beg me to read it again and again, and I’d even hear them imitating my voice throughout the day. I love this book, I am VERY enthusiastic about my love for it, and I’m glad that enthusiasm translated over to my students in which they fell in love with the character Charlie as well. I think they ended up checking out and reading (I also was asked to read aloud) every Charlie book our school library had. It pays off to make a book exciting for kids!

 

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey

This is the book that I personally observed as the book the majority of my student chose to independently read on their own. Dog Man comes from the mind of Dav Pilkey, creator of Captain Underpants. When I was in elementary school, I read through all of the Captain Underpants books and any other Dav Pilkey book I could find. Dav Pilkey seems to have a way to be popular with such a variety of readers with all his books, and Dog Man is no different.

I knew when I heard about this book I had to add it to my classroom library because I was a fan of Dav’s. I knew my students liked to read Captain Underpants and I felt they would take to this book well. WOW! I was shocked. The day I introduced the book to my class and let them know it would now be in my classroom library, they went wild. Students were taking turns reading and finishing this book immediately. They would even go back and reread it.

I have not seen a book that a vast variety of readers with so many differences have in common like this book.

Dog Man is written in a comic book fashion. It contains colorful and bold photos that are popular with the kids. The storyline is perfect and draws a reader in with a ton of humor. Kids were laughing their way through this book and coming back for more.

I didn’t add this book to my library until the last part of the school year, but by the end of the year about half of my students from both classes I taught had completed it.

Dog Man has found a permanent place in the heart of many readers, and my classroom library to which the rest of his books will be making an appearance soon.

Happy Reading!

-Miss Layfield

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What to Remember at the End of the Year

There is no other month like the month of May for teachers. As summer approaches, student behavior begins to get a little…or a lot…out of control. Kids who never act up are restless, tired, and they’re just to plainly put it…DONE!

This wears on teachers. We go into survival mode. We stand in front of the room, trying to keep their attention. It seems like maybe three kids are listening. We end up using more time to correct behavior. Even if students have followed rules and procedures all year long, it seems that at the end of the school year they forget everything. Now this doesn’t go for every student at all. That’s not what I mean. I just mean what every other teacher knows. May is a challenging month.

It makes it hard for you not to be done too. Your effort is low because you actually are physically and mentally exhausted. More so than the rest of the year. Your energy to be ON every second of the day is lower than ever. But…does that mean we stop? No.

I know by the end of the school year a teacher is ready for summer. Probably more ready than the kids, because face it…we do deserve a break. However, it is this time that what we do is most important. It is our last little bit of time to make an impact on our kids. We have to remember that to some of these kids, summer means going home to a family and having fun. While to others, it means they may be losing the most consistent adult in their life…

You. Their teacher.

Through nine months of schooling, we as teachers become a bigger part of these kids lives than we give ourselves credit for. We are their counselor, coach, cheerleader, nurse, lawyer, disciplinarian, and oh yeah teacher. That’s not even all we do. These kids become “your kids.” You learn to care so much for them. Truth is, even if some of them don’t show it, you become that to them to…someone special.

The first time this year I put a countdown to summer on my board it got erased about 30 minutes later. Why? While to me I was celebrating the fact my second graders were becoming third graders soon, my kids saw it as the amount of days they had left with me as their teacher. They told me how sad it made them and they didn’t even want to think about leaving!

On challenging days, remember how important you are to them. Yes some days will be downright crazy and hectic. There’s no other way to put it, but try to find some little joy in the chaos. There’s always something good in every day, even if you have to look harder to find it. Try to have fun with them. Laugh, let them see you be silly (even though if you’re me, they see that all year). Try to be patient and kind. Even though you may have to try a little harder. Forgive kids when they make mistakes or when they disappoint you. We still have time to make a difference and show them we care. We still have time to teach them something else. Take time to take care of yourself so you can deal with the stresses of the end of the year. You won’t have these kids much longer and then you’ll get a new group of kids to watch grow. Face it, you’ll grow to love them too. That’s the joy of being a teacher. We have to remember that what we do matters. Even on days it seems like no child cares. They do. You make a difference. Don’t forget it.

I know for sure that this May has been a challenge for me, but I also know with certainty that on the last day of school it will break my heart a little to see them go.

Just some thoughts.

 

-Miss Layfield

How to use DonorsChoose.org

One of my favorite discoveries as a teacher is DonorsChoose.org. It’s a free site to teachers in order to raise donations for supplies or materials you need for your classroom. There is even the option for you to raise funds to attend professional development conferences if you choose.

I have successfully had two projects funded over the past year. The first one I asked for about $400 worth of new books. I received those donations very quickly. New books were important to me being a new teacher building her classroom library up.

My second project that was just completed and we just received our materials this past Friday was for six hokki stools to add to my flexible seating classroom. That project totaled over $800.

So how easy is DonorsChoose to use? That’s what I’m always asked.

The answer is VERY EASY! You simply sign up for free. Add your teaching information, a photo, a photo of your classroom. You will need parents to sign photo permission slips if they are in any photos for your page or for the thank you package upon a completed project. Your page will look like the photo below. This is a screenshot of my last project.

The essay can be intimidating at first to type for each project. However, just be honest. DonorsChoose is also good about guiding you step by step on writing your essay and what to include. It’s broken up into sections to make it simpler for you.  As teachers we know why we need these materials and how we are going to use them. So pour your heart out. Tell them about your students, what you need, why you need it, how important it is, and how it will benefit your classroom. Let your donors know why this project means so much to you. If you are invested in it, nobody will invest in it.

Watch out for matching offers too. I believe any project under $400 is eligible for a matching offer that your donors can use to have DonorsChoose donate the same amount they do. There are also several promotional offers through certain companies you will be notified of if your project meets their requirements.

Another thing I always do…I am the firs to donate to my project. Even if it’s $20 or $25. I make sure I donate. Some people may say that defeats the purpose, but I want my donors to know that the project means something to me.

Once you’ve typed your essay and find your materials you need, you submit your project. DonorsChoose will review it and let you know if it’s approved or if you need to fix anything first. Which is no big deal. It’s happened to me before.

Once your project is live….SHARE, SHARE, SHARE! I post it on my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even e-mail it to people. I ask others to share it. Get the word out as much and as often as you can. That’s the quickest way to get donations. Let everyone know how much it means to you. Share each time someone donates and thank your donors on your page.

Once your project is funded you will receive an e-mail with instructions as to what to do next. You have to approve your materials again and then they’ll be shipped to you! You will type a thank you letter to your donors that will also be posted on  your project’s page.

A thank you package is required for every project. Once you receive your materials you have a certain date to complete this by. The packages always includes an impact letter as to how the materials have impacted your classroom and how you’re using them. You also need to upload six photos of the materials in action (make sure if you have student faces to have permission slips signed). Some thank you packages require your students to make thank you letters to mail to your donors. This is not hard either if you are required to do so. They give you the names of the donors that chose to receive them, you put them in one large envelope and mail them to DonorsChoose. They do the rest to get them to your donors.

It honestly is a simple process that a lot of teachers avoid thinking it is more work than worth it. DonorsChoose is definitely worth using and using often if needed. It’s one of the most valuable resources to teachers because it allows you to give other people an opportunity to help your classroom. I know how much us teachers spend out of pocket on our classroom each year…it’s a ridiculous amount! So take the opportunity to allow others to help you when needed.

Below is a few photos from our hokki stool project the day we received our materials.

As you can see…so much joy! My heart is overwhelmed with joy and thankfulness. Your students deserve the materials they need, and believe me there are other people out there willing to donate who believe the same thing. So take a chance, make a project, and get it funded!

-Miss Layfield

First Year Teacher No More

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything on here…sorry!

I can’t believe my first full year of teaching is over. Since being hired to teach last January, I feel like time has just flown by!

I remember my first day of teaching like it was yesterday. I was scared, not knowing anything I was doing, and I went home not sure I even wanted to go back. Considering I had no teaching experience or prior want to even be in that profession, I wasn’t sure it was for me. I believe the whole first two weeks I was there I didn’t know if it was really for me. I was determined though not to give up. I don’t think teaching ever gets easier, I think you just get better and eventually I did.

Now, a year later, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything different. I have learned so much over the past year thanks to amazing colleagues and my never give up attitude.

Teaching has taught me so much patience and has made me a better person overall. I honestly feel blessed to work with kids all day…even on the tough days where I doubt myself as a teacher completely.

I have learned so much about teaching that I never knew went into this profession.

Like, how to mange 21 kids. People who don’t know better often will say things like, “Oh you’re a teacher? That’s like the easiest job ever!” or “I bet you always have fun at work.” I want to take these people and show them all the difficult moments of teaching. How you you have to learn to calm kids, deal with behavior issues, get the attention of these kids, provide engaging activities, constantly monitoring and adjusting your day, and so many other things. I promise a teacher’s mind has about a billion things going through it every minute.

Teaching is exhausting, but worth every second of it. I put so much of myself into my teaching and so much time outside of the classroom. Anyone who ever says teachers don’t work over time needs to visit a school after hours or on the weekends. They’re always there. Even in the summer. YES! Teachers still are working in their rooms, planning, doing professional development, etc. even during the summer. So no, teachers really don’t get summers off.

Teaching will break your heart. I see kids from all walks of life that come through my classroom doors or just around school everyday. I talk to these kids and get to know them. I know their stories and the life they live outside of my four purple walls. They often have difficult lives. They are faced with choices and situations I, as an adult wouldn’t even want to deal with. A kid shouldn’t have to especially, but these kids are facing these issues everyday.  I’ve even had students who want to stay at school over the weekend. School and being their teacher is often the only stability they have in their lives. To know that you may be making such an impact on the life of a child simply by being there everyday means so much to me.

Teaching is the most rewarding career. I start my day with hugs, high fives, and catching up with my kids. I see my students growth academically and watch them mature. I get to see their personalities continue to develop. I get to know that I got to play a part in their lives and hopefully make a lasting impact on them.

If you notice, everything I just mentioned has nothing to do with the CONTENT that I teach. That’s because teaching is so much more than just teaching your subjects. I teach reading, writing, phonics, and grammar. I have in fact learned so much about what I teach. I have struggled with switching to Guided Reading (which I love by the way). I have had to learn how to create engaging centers during Daily 5. I struggled to write lesson plans, and trying to constantly make lessons that kids will get the most out of. However, like I said earlier, in teaching you only get better. I honestly feel like I get better with each week that passes. I am much more confident in my teaching this year and feel like I have developed my own teaching style that I love. I love (and I want to emphasize that) the subjects I teach and I hope to make my students love them.

I still face difficult moments all the time, but I absolutely LOVE my job. I would never trade where I am for anything. I know accidentally getting into this career was a gift from God. He put me here and his plan was so much better than anything I had in mind for my life. I can’t wait to see how the rest of this school year goes and I’m ready for many, many more years!

 

-Miss Layfield

 

Flexible seating

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If you walk into my classroom at any given time during the day, you’re going to see a classroom unlike traditional classrooms. You will see kids sitting on exercise balls bouncing, sitting on crate seats, leaning on pillows on the carpet, sitting in scoop chairs, laying on mats, and even sitting on stools.

The only desk I have is a pink one seen in the above photo and it isn’t really a desk like you would find in traditional classrooms. Flexible seating has taken over my classroom.

If you’ve read my blog for any given time, you know I’ve been teaching since this past January. The other second grade teacher at my school and I started incorporating flexible seating back in March. It was successful, but our rules/expectations weren’t like they are this year because we were new to it as well.

We wondered how our year would go starting with flexible seating and how the kids would react. You don’t know how excited they were back at Meet the Teacher night. They continue to be excited every day about their seating options.

Our classroom rotates through centers the majority of the day allowing each group to sit at every option every day. This eliminates any sort of arguments like, “I want to sit there!” Everyone has the opportunity to sit every where.

“Where do they store their stuff?” This is another question I get. We have community supplies with bins around the room containing crayons, glue sticks, pencils, scissors, etc. to eliminate kids having to get up and retrieve items. Library books are stored in bins. The kids have binders that are stored in a crate unit when they enter the classroom. They take these to their other class when we switch. We have had no problem with supplies at all this year so far.

Another pro of flexible seating is the fact that my classroom is less cluttered. I couldn’t stand the amount of papers, etc. that would be kept in student desks. They just looked messy after awhile. They took up a ton of space too.

Flexible seating allows students to utilize their individual learning styles. Before with desks, there is always the unconscious mindset that the kid has to be seated at all times. If they stood up, there was something wrong. With flexible seating, if a kid prefers to stand, he can at the tall table. If a kid wants to lay down and use a clip board, GO FOR IT! It never bothers me to look up and see a kid just chilling on the floor and working away.

I know I can’t stand when I have to sit still for too long. Classwork I did for college online classes was done on my couch. I never sat at a desk, so why should we ask kids to do that ALL day long? I know for certain I feel much more tired at the end of a day where I sit all day than one I am up moving the whole time. I’m sure it’s the same for kids.

The combination of doing stations and having kids rotate with flexible seating to me is a winning combo. You’re giving them movement and comfort all day long.

The only cons that I have had with flexible seating is the initial stages of teaching rules/expectations of how to use the flexible seating. I even added where I can take a dojo point on ClassDojo if a child continues to misuse flexible seating. This has helped tremendously. I make it a point to give positive immediate reinforcement to kids who are using the seating correctly so that other kids notice and do the same. I also immediately ward off any misuse. Modeling at the beginning of the year helps as well. It takes time to make sure everyone understands the expectations on how to use flexible seating, but you also have to remember that these are kids and they will make mistakes. The pros of flexible seating outweigh the cons all day in my book.

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I can say for sure that the kids act a lot more motivated and excited to be at school. They’ve told me they feel lucky to have the seating options that we have provided for them.

In my heart I feel like flexible seating is best for kids and that’s why I’m such a big fan of it.

-Miss Layfield