Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tech Tips for Teachers Ebook

Looking for new ways to integrate or manage technology in your classroom? Based on what I learned at a convention earlier in the year, I decided to work with other TpT Teacher-Authors to compile a book to help make this task easier, even for the tech-challenged teacher! Check out our new FREE Tech Tips for Teachers Ebook. Regardless of your level, it has 47 great tips from Tech Savvy TpT Teacher-Authors for managing the devices in your classroom or integrating technology into your lessons.

Embrace technology and grab your copy today. You'll be on your way to setting up your 21st century classroom!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What is Augmented Reality?

I'm generally a pretty techie person- I've been using computers pretty much all my life. Since I became a teacher, I've always looked for meaningful and engaging ways to integrate technology into my classroom. Now that I'm a coach, it falls on me to help my teachers find meaningful ways to integrate the new technologies available to them into their instruction.

I recently went to the Ohio Educational Technology Conference where I learned many awesome things. But the most awesome thing I learned about was Augmented Reality (AR). When I came home so thrilled, my husband mentioned that he'd seen the same thing on a TED talk. Here's a video that will explain it better than I ever can:

But, how can we use this technology in our classrooms? Many classrooms are getting iPads or Android tablets, other schools are adopting bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. Fortunately for us budget-strapped-teachers, Aurasma is a free app!

This technology can allow you to enhance your teaching materials by adding Auras that lead to images, videos, 3-D models and webpages. I'm so thrilled about the potential applications that I almost can't sleep.

I hear some of you thinking "I don't have time to learn how to do this!". That's ok!! That's one of the great things- if you find items where someone else has already integrated the technology, all you need is the app and to follow their channel. Then their auras will show up for you!

If you're interested in trying it out for yourself, try out my FREE Augmented Reality Flash Cards: The Butterfly Life Cycle. Just click the image below to download your copy! To figure out how to set everything up, check out this quick tutorial on How to Use my Augmented Reality Items.

If you want to learn how to add AR to your own materials (I see so many applications here that I want to add AR to everything!!), then I suggest you check out Two Guys and Some iPads. They have some AWESOME tutorials on how to add AR to just about anything. They also have a whole section linking to other apps that use AR. 

How exciting is this technology?!?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Common Core Read-and-Write Activities: A Review

As many of you know, I recently moved from the classroom to a coaching position. As such, I don't often get to try out my own products with my own students. So, I've had to get creative. Recently I shared my new Common Core Read-and-Write Activities with Mallory, a third grade teacher in Ohio, so that she could use them in her classroom. Here's what she wrote:

I was thrilled to recently receive two Common Core products from Tools for Teachers by Laurah J! I got to use both the January version and February version of her Common Core Read-and-Write Activities in my classroom. I teach third grade students in a low-income district located on the outer-ring suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. I have students reading at a variety of reading levels in my classroom and I have quite a few struggling readers, along with two students with reading IEPs.

One of our goals as a classroom this year is to become better readers so my students can pass the Reading OAA (state test in Ohio; if they don’t pass, they must repeat third grade). It has been tricky trying to find some resources that are leveled for my students, without putting too much work on me as the teacher in finding the resources. I wanted resources that would be on the same topic, but varied for the students’ ability levels, and that is exactly what Laurah has created. If you have a classroom full of nine year olds who read anywhere from a first grade to fifth grade level, these Common Core resources will be perfect for you. I like how the products are labeled appropriate for grades 3-5, which is absolutely true. I was afraid to use the stories with my lowest readers, for fear that they would get discouraged by the length of the passages or the tough vocabulary, but when they read along with me, they were fine! I let my higher readers read the passages on their own, or partner-read the passages, which worked well, too.

My favorite aspect of the product, besides the wonderful leveled stories, is the fact that they come with activities that are Common Core aligned. Learning about the structure of text, for example, is a Common Core skill that all students need to learn. The Saint Valentine story was excellent for this because Laurah provided key words that the students should look for while they are reading. I encouraged my students to highlight any words as we re-read the passage, and they were very good at finding the “sequencing” words. I would have never expected this from my lowest readers, but they did an amazing job and were even able to start to answer the questions that came with that story on their own. The questions provided a word bank to help the students with their answers, which was very helpful.

In addition to the Saint Valentine story, I also really liked the Martin Luther King, Jr. story. This non-fiction text aligns with reading and social studies curriculum for my grade level. It is also a great story to keep in your teacher binder (I have a holiday binder in which I organize stories and activities by month so they are easy to find) for when January rolls around and you say to yourself, “What am I going to do for the MLK holiday this year?” My students loved connecting this text to other stories we read about Martin Luther King, Jr. in our class during the past few weeks. I had each of my leveled groups complete the biographic poem, which came along with the story, and I displayed my students’ work in the hallway. The other teachers in my grade level loved the idea of a biographic poem. It is a great way for students to go back and re-read the text to find details, as well as it is a great way for them to learn about adjectives when they are describing MLK and his life.

I am so excited to use the rest of the stories that came along with the January and February common core activities! The stories are well written, the activities are thoughtful and meaningful, and using these resources in my classroom has promoted higher level thinking among my students.
-Mallory R., Ohio 3rd Grade Teacher

Thanks so much to Mallory for taking the time to try out these products with your kiddos!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Strategy of the Week

Strategy of the Week: 

Mark It

One of the big focuses in Common Core is having students do "close reading". Close reading involves students analyze a high-quality text and glean understanding from it. It involves the ability to identify key points and evidence included by the author.

One of the ways that I like to start out close reading, especially with my ESOL students, is to use what I call the Mark It strategy. As students read, they mark the reading with a set of standard symbols (each with a different meaning) given by the teacher. Here are some of the symbols I use below:

You can use these symbols or introduce your own symbols with their own meanings. This gives students a way to easily and quickly annotate the text, as well as with monitoring and thinking critically about what they are reading WHILE they are reading it. It makes it easy to find important places in the text when they are answering questions, looking for evidence or participating in a classroom discussion.

If you are using a reading that students can't actually mark on, such as a textbook, you can give each student an overhead marker and a transparency that they can lay over the textbook page. If you are using a magazine or a class set of readings, the can be placed in clear page protectors that students can mark on with overhead pens or dry erase markers.

I found that when my students used this strategy consistently, their reading comprehension improved vastly. I even noticed my students doing it on the state test at the end of the year! I hope you find this strategy as useful for your students as I do for mine.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why I believe in Common Core

There seems to be a lot of controversy over the implementation of the Common Core Standards, both from teachers and parents alike. Most of what I hear from teachers involves the extra work involved- but that is to be expected with any new set of standards or initiative implementation. I'm not arguing that the implementation has been rocky and less than ideal. But that's not the issue I'm here to address.

What I want to address is the parent concerns I've been hearing, which seem to be coming chiefly because they don't understand what Common Core is and what it means for their students. As a teacher, let me explain why I fully support common core.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) produced a generation of students who do not have basic skills they need to get jobs.

You may laugh at the video, but it is sad and true. I'm lucky and I graduated just before NCLB was implemented. Here's what happened with NCLB- students in grades 3-8 began to be required to take yearly tests in math and reading, while students in certain secondary courses were also tested. Many teachers performance scores were suddenly tied to their students standardized test scores. Standardized tests under the NCLB only tested student's ability to choose a correct answer, not their ability for critical thinking or problem solving. Even further, skills like writing, science and social studies were not tested, so teachers, especially at the elementary level where students are still in self-contained classes, began to spend less time on these subjects to focus in on reading and writing and choosing correct answers. Therefore, we produced a generation of students unable to think independently, write simple essays, and unable to function in a world that is not multiple choice. Those are the students who are going to college and entering the work force now- and they're nowhere near prepared.

Common Core focuses on quality rather than quantity.

Common core requires teachers to cram fewer topics and standards into each year, giving them more time to focus on each topic and standard in depth- time to take students beyond a basic, superficial understanding to a deeper, more enduring understanding. It encompasses many areas of mathematics and language arts, as well as content literacy in other subject areas.

In addition, Common Core has a much more balanced focus on non-fiction texts AND literature- where as many early standards focused heavily on fiction. This additional focus on non-fiction text gives teachers the opportunity to infuse their language arts classes with articles about other content, while teaching students the reading skills that they need to be successful in content areas as well as in life.

More importantly, perhaps most importantly- Common Core brings back the focus to the connection between reading and writing and returns writing instruction to the classroom- in all subject areas. Students are expected to write for a variety of purposes and grade level subjects. They're expected to write in math, write in science, write in social studies and write in language arts. They are required to produce writing that is more than personal narratives and poems.

"Science and Social Studies have been dropped and schools are only teaching math and reading under Common Core". 

I can't believe how many times I've heard this- and just how untrue it is. What is true: Common Core only has math and language arts standards. However, this does not mean that other subject areas have been "dropped- just the opposite in fact. States are generally still using the same science and social studies curriculum they were using before Common Core. But, there's one new difference- when teaching content like math, science and social studies, elementary teachers are generally required to align those lessons not only with the content curriculum, but also with an information reading or a writing standard from Common Core. Secondary teachers are often required to align their lessons with both the content curriculum and the 6-12 content literacy standards from Common Core. This means that not only are we teaching students the content, but we're teaching them how to read the content for comprehension and write about what they've read- important skills for college and the real world.

Common Core is not one-size fits all.

Common Core is all about best practices in education- meeting the needs of all students. Common Core requires that students have opportunities for hands-on activities, exploratory learning, problem solving, interaction and critical thinking. These are all important skills that were sadly lost to our students and our teaching under NCLB. Common Core offers opportunities for students to learn in a variety of ways that fit their needs.

In summary....
I believe that Common Core is a step in the right direction to getting all of our students- regardless of their ability level- where they need to go. Implementation is rocky, I'm not gonna lie. But I believe we need to stick with it for a few years and give the standards a chance to do their job and improve our students.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Working with an interpreter

This is a continuation of the series that I started earlier this school year called, "Putting the Pieces Together for Effective ESOL". This post addresses how to work with an interpreter.

Today was parent-teacher conference day in our district. Since our district has over 17,000 ESOL students, interpreters were in high demand today! Our Office of Interpreting and Translating did not have enough Spanish interpreters to cover all of the requests. Being in the central ESOL office and not having to conduct conferences of my own, I was asked to step in and interpret at one of the schools I work with. While there, I realized that many teachers do not know how to work with an interpreter!

Schedule the interpreter ahead of time.
Especially if you live in a district with a limited number of interpreters or a high ELL population, be sure to put your request in with the interpreter's office as soon as you know the dates of conferences. This will ensure that you will be at the top of the list to receive an interpreter. Do not assume that your ESOL teacher will schedule an interpreter unless the two of you have discussed and agreed upon this. The ultimate responsibility for scheduling the interpreter lies with the classroom teacher.

Speak slowly, be succinct, and chunk your speech.
I want to interpret for the parent what you are saying as quickly as possible. If you talk for 10 minutes about Hector before stopping, I'm not going to remember and be able to communicate everything that you've said. Instead, slow down, and break your thoughts or ideas down into chunks of speech no longer than 6-8 sentences at a time. Similarly, be succinct in what you want to say- limit extraneous information, communicate only the most important ideas and expound only when necessary.

Look at the parent you are conversing with, not the interpreter.
As the interpreter, I will be looking at you because I am listening and interpreting what you say. However, you are not talking to ME, you are talking to the parent and that is who you should be looking at. Many parents who do not speak English still feel left out after leaving a conference with the teacher because the teacher talked to the interpreter, rather than to them.

Be sure to ask the parents if they have any questions.
Even teachers who do this in every other conference, often forget to do this when there is an interpreter present. The interpreter is there to translate what you say, and may not add extra information or ask if the parent has questions- that is YOUR job, so do not assume that the interpreter will do it.

I hope these tips for working with interpreters help you to lead successful, inclusive parent-teacher conferences!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Strategy of the Week: Personal Word Walls

As teachers, we know that every student is different with different strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, we know that when it comes to acquiring vocabulary, especially academic vocabulary, every student has different needs. Some need help understanding the meanings of academic words, others need help using them correctly in context, and some students need practice with words longer than others.

With all this in mind, when I was in the classroom, I helped students create their personal word walls. The idea was for them to have their own personal word wall for each subject that they could carry with them all the time. The great thing about personal word walls is that they can be differentiated for students at different levels.

So, how does one construct these personal word walls? All you need is two manilla file folders, a three hole punch, and some sticky notes. Slip one folder right inside the other, and punch your holes. I let the kids decorate the outside, and then on the inside, we label the pages with the subjects they study at school. When it is time to add a new word, kids take three sticky notes.  For newcomers, a picture, word, and simple sentence frame is often sufficient. For more advanced learners, the word, a definition, and a sentence frame or example sentence is great.

Put the sticky notes on the correct subject page, and voila- word wall. The kids can even use the holes punched to keep it inside their binder so that they always have it. Since the ids are adding the words themselves, it gives them practice with the words and ownership of their word wall. Here are some photos:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Published in the paper!

I'm so excited that my letter to the editor, sent to my parents' hometown paper, was published on Sunday! Here's the clip!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dear Ms. Cepeda....

Recently, I read an article that was reprinted in The Roanoke Times from The Washington Post. The article was titled "Short-timers may teach us something" by Esther J. Cepeda. The article can be found on the Post's syndication website.

This article bothered me for a number of reasons, and I felt compelled to write to Ms. Cepeda. I wanted to publicly share my response to this article for all of my readers.

“Short-timers may teach us” is highly insulting to educators. While I agree that many new teachers bring enthusiasm and a fresh outlook to the classroom, enthusiasm and a fresh-outlook are not all that it takes to be a good teacher, Ms. Cepeda. Those who come into the classroom and leave after two years to move on to bigger and better things see teaching our children as resume padding. Do you want your children to be a stepping-stone? Even you turned teaching our children as a stepping-stone for your career- that’s not dedication or enthusiasm, that’s using our children to better yourself, which is despicable. Now you’re publicly berating and disparaging those teachers who COULD stick it out and make a difference in the lives of our children. It looks a lot like sour grapes, to me.

The assertion that teaching, especially in high-poverty areas, requires dedication and sacrifice that “no lifer would purposely undertake” is insulting to myself and to every veteran teacher who has sacrificed family time, personal health, and a high-paying career in a respected profession to undertake the noble goal of educating our next generation. 

I posit that the veteran teachers- who devote their lives to education knowing that they are going into a demanding, high-stress career with little pay and in which most of the rewards are intrinsic- are the true heroes. They’re not in it for themselves but rather because they care about children and America’s future.

Teaching is a craft that takes many years to hone, and I know that I am a far better teacher than I was during my first two years of teaching. Furthermore, every student and every class is different than the last, so a professional teacher must constantly be researching and learning and adjusting their professional practice. Most veteran teachers will readily admit that they're lifelong learners and still haven't mastered the fine art of teaching- even after 20+ years in the classroom.

Come spend a week with me or any veteran teacher, and I'll be happy to show you the level of dedication that goes into my job and the hundreds of countless hours I spend outside the classroom doing things for my students. Every year of teaching in my career has been spent teaching students from other countries English as a Second Language in schools and areas where 90% or more of the students are below the poverty line. I pour my heart and soul into my job, just like I have every day since the first day I walked into a classroom as a student teacher. That's what "living the American life" is about- not writing ignorant opinions  about subjects you're clueless on as filler to go between the real news stories. 

I thank my lucky stars that you are not in the classroom anymore since you are clearly clueless. You should thank your lucky stars that the teachers you had were clearly more dedicated to the profession than you- I sincerely hope none of your past teachers see this article as it would break their hearts. Without teachers like myself, as the child of an immigrant, you could have easily fallen through the cracks as well. Thanks to the dedication of the teachers who taught you, you are now able to publicly disparage their profession and have it published all over the country.

I have a degree in Journalism and two years experience interning, and even I know how to do some basic research (or maybe since I'm a newbie, I’m more dedicated to and enthusiastic about journalistic ideals than you, since you’re seasoned- if I follow your logic). Next time, before denigrating an entire profession- do some research (I’ll be happy to help you if you need). Talk to some people IN that profession before you make blanket assumptions and perpetuate stereotypes, look for some valid statistics.  That’s what a REAL journalist does. 

Again, if you'd like to find out what a REAL teacher does, let me know. Until then, stick to writing about what you know.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

How to collaborate effectively with your ESOL Specialist

Most schools in the United States these days have an ESOL Specialist. I talked in my last post in this series about what an ESOL specialist is and what they do. This post is centered on how to effectively collaborate with your ESOL Specialist to ensure that your students are receiving the best possible education.

Plan together.
This can take on many forms, but your ESOL specialist can't support the students properly if she doesn't know exactly what you're working on. This means more than telling the specialist "We'll be working on equivalent fractions this week." If you do daily plans, share these with the ESOL specialist as soon as you finish the plan. Additionally, since ESOL specialists often work with more than one grade and content area, you might consider give him/her a list of important vocabulary words and phrases associated with the topic. This way the ESOL specialist can determine the best way to offer language support that is tailored to your lesson.

Invite the ESOL specialist to your grade-level planning meetings. Sit down personally one-on-one with the specialist. Use Skype or Google Docs to collaborate remotely if you don't have time during school and don't want to stay after.

Do remember that your ESOL Specialist is there to help support the language of the content, not the content itself. However, your ESOL teacher is uniquely trained on how to infuse language learning into content learning. They are not there to help your kids "finish this worksheet" or whatever else you're doing in class. They have their own standards relating to language development which must be met. Often, the activities done in the mainstream do not focus on or support language development, so the ESOL teacher usually plans specific activities to complement your lesson that are designed boost academic language acquisition. Please do not treat your ESOL specialist like a para-pro and ask them to finish whatever you were doing.

Keep the ESOL specialist in the loop.
Often, mainstream teachers and other school personnel forget to keep the mainstream teacher in the loop on what is happening in the school or classroom. I can't tell you how often I've shown up at a class with all my materials and a lesson that took a long time to put together, only to hear "Oh, I guess I forgot to mention, the kids have art/an assembly/a class party today".

Please communicate with your ESOL specialist and give him/her the same professional respect you hope to receive!

Learn exactly what your ESOL specialist does.
Many teachers don't utilize or work with an ESOL specialist correctly because they don't know what one does. My last post touches on that, but it can often vary from school to school, so get to know your ESOL specialist and find out exactly what responsibilities they have at your school. This will build a bridge to successful collaboration with your ESOL specialist. If you're not sure what to ask, here's a few to start:
  • How many students do you have on your caseload?
  • What instructional duties do you have besides teaching? (testing accommodations, etc)
  • What non-instructional duties do you perform?
  • Do you have your own set of English language development standards?
  • What is your preferred teaching style?
  • How many grade levels do you service?

Treat your ESOL specialist like the professional educator he or she is.
Most often, your ESOL specialist has achieved the same level of education as you have, or higher, and is a certified teacher. Many ESOL Education programs are graduate programs resulting in a Master's or higher.

However, ESOL Specialists, especially those that "plug-in" to the classroom rather than offer pull-out service, are relegated to the duties of a para-pro in the classrooms where they plug-in. Or, they are given a table where they can work with their students, which is still really "pull-out" education. Rather, in order to make your plug-in truly successful, offer your ESOL specialist the opportunity to design an activity or teach a lesson or mini-lesson to the whole class. Treat the situation as having two teachers in the room (because you do) rather than a teacher and a para-pro (because that is not the case).

Ask for help or resources.
Don't be afraid to ask your ESOL specialist or help with reaching your ELLs, understanding their needs or for resources. ESOL specialists often have great ideas and a variety of resources they can provide you to help meet the needs of your students. But, don't expect them to do all the work for you. I've many times had a teacher come and tell me, "YOU need to find ____ for this student because I don't have time." Remember, your ESOL specialist has as many responsibilities as you do. Work together!

I hope these tips will help you as you work with your ESOL specialist this year!