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Monday, July 30, 2012

Orientation and Back to School Night Information and Ideas

Orientation and Back to School Night are the two times of year you can count on quite a bit of parent involvement.  Where I live, Orientation is when students and parents meet the teacher and drop off school supplies the Friday before school begins.  Back to School Night takes place about a month to six weeks after the school year begins.  Parents are invited back to see what their child has been learning in school.

When planning for these special events, you need to keep in mind that the child is the focal point.  In my mind, Orientation is about alleviating fears about the first day and Back to School night is for the child to share about his/her school experience.  When I plan for these events, I always to remember it is not about me.  With that said, here are some tips to make the experience memorable.

Remember Orientation is when everybody meets the first time so first impressions are important.  This is the first time that the parent comes into contact with you and the student gets an idea of where he/she will be spending his/her day.  If you are a Kindergarten teacher, this is one of their first school experiences.  Many families are sentimental about their baby going off to school, so it is very important that you have a positive first impression.  These early experiences can shape the child and family's view towards education.  (No pressure!)

Being positive is paramount!  No matter what is going on in your personal life (you just got in a fight with your teenage daughter or you found out that your car insurance tripled, etc.) when you enter that classroom, you need to focus on the children.  You have to leave everything else at home.  If you are grumpy or irritable you will find that your students are grumpy and irritable.  How you behave directly impacts their little lives.  I am speaking from a K-2 perspective when children are incredibly impressionable.  One of your goals should be for them to enjoy learning.  That does not mean that you need to jump through hoops to be an entertainer or that every activity has to be fun, fun, fun.  It just means that school should be a pleasant place where the kids feel comfortable to be themselves, safe to make mistakes, and not be afraid of you.  Oh I make a long story short, at Orientation have a happy upbeat positive attitude to make a memorable first impression and to set the school year off in the right direction.

When you meet the family, be genuine.  It is important to make eye contact, smile, shake their hand, and ask questions.  I found that introducing myself and giving a little background alleviates some fears/concerns.  I usually walk up to the family instead of waiting for them to approach me.  I say something like, "Hi, I am so happy you could come today!  My name is Mrs. Lowery.  What is your name?  (wait for response)  Hi (student name).  It is so good to meet you.  I hope you like animals (most children do but here is a place you can interject your theme ...stars. cars, frogs whatever it may be).  We are going to have a great year!  Do you have any questions about school?  (Wait for answer) Guess what?  On the first day we are going to (fill in a fun activity to get them excited about coming the first day)."  After I have introduced myself to the student, I then introduce myself to the parent by letting them know how long I've been teaching, what grades I've taught, or some other tidbit so that they know that their child is in good hands.  For example:  "Thanks again for coming today.  I look forward to getting to know both you and your child this year.  In case you were wondering about me I have been teaching for ___ years.  I enjoy teaching ___ grade.  If you ever have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to let me know.  School should be a positive learning experience and I want your child to benefit from being here.  Please take some time to look around and familiarize yourself with the classroom.  Before you leave remember to stop by the green table and sign in."

The "green" table is a table set up in the room with all the pertinent information.  I usually put a bright and colorful table cloth on the table so it will be easy to direct parents over to in.  On the table I have a sign in sheet, a volunteer sign up sheet, question box with index cards, cookies, wish fish and a how we go home sheet.  I also have a sizable note to remind them to check the list on how their child goes home and to let me know if there are any changes. 

In front of each item I place a sign (a piece of card stock folded in half).  I have multiple pens set out on the table and a pen cup.  This table usually has several people surrounding it at once.  If you have one or two pens, it slows down the process considerably and it can be irritating if the family is in a hurry because they have four classrooms to visit for their four children.

Wish fish are fish dye cuts with wish list items written on each one.  The sign says, "If you wish to donate something for our classroom, please take a fish."  On the fish I have a variety of items from hand sanitizer to headphones.  Anything that you may need during the year that you usually spend your own money on is something you can include.  I never expect the family to pick up a fish.  I just place them out there because this is the time of year that parents are super involved and want to help out.  Some of the working parents that want to help out but cannot volunteer in the classroom feel good by donating an item to help out.

I place the question box out with index cards because some people might have to leave in a hurry but want to know something about the classroom.  It opens another line of communication and shows I am accessible and I care.

For the volunteer sign up sheet I have a place for their name and phone number.  If they sign up, I send home a survey to find out when they are available and what type of volunteering they are interested in.  This year I am thinking of setting out the survey with a note to return it on the first day. This is the time of year that it is important to send home anything you want read or filled out because the family will look at it. 

Orientation Basics

Be positive!

Have a table set up with sign up sheets and cookies.

On each student desk have a little welcome treat for the child (e.g. bookmark, eraser, pencil, etc.), any information you want them to take home that day or to fill out specifically about their child.

On the board/projector have directions to sign in, visit the child's desk, put school supplies in the desk, and meet the teacher. 

Have signage around the room on what to do.  I save these cute signs and use them from year to year.  I learned to make a file for signs!

Back to School Night Basics

Be positive!

Have the table set up with sign in sheets and cookies.

Include directions on the board/projector

Have information set out on student desks and directions for the scavenger hunt.

 Remember that this night is about the student so instead of me doing a long presentation, I have the children show their parents around the room.  If they complete the scavenger hunt, at the end they see me to get a prize. This year I might give them a book since I have been saving up the Scholastic dollar books and getting free books with my points. For the scavenger hunt I include:  having the children show their parents inside their desks, their textbooks/workbooks, journals, artwork, job charts, centers, classroom library, and then I have a few activities set up.  One activity is the estimation jar with candy or math manipulatives.  I have everyone in the family make an estimate.  The next day we count the objects and do a math lesson with the estimates...Whoever is closest gets to take home the contents of the jar.  One year I had the children do a self portrait and the parents had to guess which one was their child.

The scavenger hunt should not be super long but it should include key highlights about the room and what the children have been doing this year.

In the comments section or on the groovy teacher facebook or twitter accounts, please share what you do that is special for orientation or back to school night.

In the future, I plan to post pictures and examples of the items mentioned in this post.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Beginning of the Year Activity: Hellen Keller

Every year I begin the year by reading Hellen Keller's biography to my students.  Her story is about overcoming adversity.  It was not her fault that she lost her abilities to both see and hear.  It was not her fault that she could not talk.  This book is a springboard for teaching tolerance.  Over the next month the class and I have several deep discussions about how it is important treat others the way we want to be treated.  We talk about how we do not know what other life experiences have shaped the other person.  We discuss how our experiences change us and how to reach out to others.  We learn to stand up for other people and how to handle bullies.  We also learn that there are NO EXCUSES why we cannot learn.  If Hellen Keller can learn to talk without being able to hear and learn to read without being able to see, there is absolutely no excuse why you cannot learn to read.  We discuss how everyone learns at his or her own pace it may just take some people a little longer and that's okay.  The key is to never give up and to surround yourself by people who care about you.

As you can see, this book is a springboard for deep conversations (even amongst first graders).  The key is to check frequently for understanding and present examples that the children can relate to.  I tell my class we are a class family for the year so we need to learn how to get along.  Everyday we work towards that goal.  Everyday there is a mini lesson in tolerance or conflict resolution.  Everyday I refer back to Hellen Keller.

I also like to teach the children the alphabet in sign language.  This is an amazing transitional tool.  When we are standing in line to go to lunch or we have to wait patiently for an extended period of time, we practice the alphabet silently in sign language.  Once everyone knows all the signs, we practice spelling each others' names, high frequency words, and words we see around the school.  In the classroom, the children can practice signing their spelling words or words posted around the room when they finish their work early.  At the beginning of the year, I have a poster with a picture of the signs at the front of the room.  When the children come to circle time, they practice quietly.  This is a great activity for the kinesthetic learner.  You would be amazed at how engaged the children become in this activity.

Click on the book image to link up to, if you want to read more about this book.  They have it set up where you can look inside the book and read some of the pages.  I really feel it is a powerful teaching tool.  It is worth finding time to squeeze it in to your schedule.  I usually read an excerpt before lunch, recess, or the end of the day.  The conversations we have are short but frequent.  They get deeper over time as the children build understanding.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Back to School To Do List

It is getting close to the beginning of a new school year.  New ideas flood my brain about this time every year.  I always like to change things up.  In order to organize my thoughts I write lists.  Usually I write my beginning of the year to do list on a piece of scratch paper.  This year I am adding it to my blog so that I can refer back to it in years to come.  Right now this list includes a lot of items that I need to think about and decide upon before jumping into action.  I'll probably be adding to it in the days to come.

Room Arrangement (Think about the placement of the following)
  • desks
  • circle time/calendar area
  • teacher area
  • supplies (storage and accessibility)
  • writing station
  • reading station
  • listening station
  • inside recess toys
  • bulletin boards
  • reading table
  • technology (computers, projector, document camera)
  • lunch boxes
  • homework box
  • where the children will turn in their work

  • pencil cups (sharp/need to be sharpened)
  • pencils (have several sharpened in advance)
  • paper (writing paper, copy paper, construction paper)
  • writing center supplies (markers, envelopes, crayons, colored pencils, special paper, drawing books, idea lists, etc.)
  • books (book bins on desks, classroom library, big books, school library books)
  • manipulatives
  • sticker books (I like to make a little book with blank pages and a construction paper cover for the children to keep the stickers they receive throughout the year)
  • journals
  • reading books and workbooks
  • science workbooks
  • math workbooks
  • white boards, dry erase markers or erasable crayons, erasers or have children bring in a sock
  • possibly an activity box of what they can do when they finish early
  • mailboxes
  • homework folders
  • desk folders
  • center materials
  • hand sanitizer
  • tissues
  • band aids
  • recess equipment
  • reading pointer sticks
  • clipboards
  • student number
  • hall passes
  • place for lunch money
  • box for missing pieces/lost and found
  • possibly an anonymous note box for children to put questions, concerns, or suggestions

Organizational Items
  • post it notes
  • determine where to put the extra student supplies and print out list to record what items each child brought
  •  have extra plastic bags, ziploc gallon bags, and sandwich bags for storing or sending home extra supplies.
  • have extra pencil boxes and scissors available for students who may not have them.
  • remember sharpie marker to write names on student supplies
  • parent contact folder/notebook document calls, notes sent home, notes received
  • reflection notebook to write down concerns or notes on behavior as documentation
  • files with student names (assign each student a number)-Mrs. Farish, a first grade teacher at my school told me about assigning each student a number 1-18 to use for collecting papers and filing.  The students always write their number by their name and this makes filing go so smoothly.  Helpers are able to help with filing as well.  It is much easier to order numbers 1-18 than it is to put names in ABC order.
  • write student name and number on name tags, files (citizenship/behavior, writing, noteworthy work/assessment), lunch money containers, behavior sticks, helper cards, library cards, lunch cards, homework folders, owl cards (for students to be able to sign in on the computer)
  • have extra filler activities printed
  • velcro name tags to desk
  • address welcome letter or post cards to be mailed before orientation
  •  welcome letter for first day of school-include rules and procedures, lunch time, recess time, behavior management system, how to reach me, homework procedures, attendance policy, about me
  • student information cards copied and set out on desks for parents to fill out at orientation (include how child goes home, allergies, medications, anything I should know, favorite subject, hobby, thing to do, any talents, best time to call, best number to be reached at, emergency contact, birthday)
  • determine newsletter format for the year - Will it be the "Moos" paper again?
  • have desk folders ready for students to put work to save and work in progress...put red dot sticker and green dot sticker on pockets)
  • put color dot stickers on name tags...students are in groups of four each child has a different color sticker...this helps with passing out materials, collecting materials, forming other groups/partners (Mr. Sublett shared this idea.  I believe he learned it from a Kagan workshop)
  • determine management system (citizenship folders, behavior chart, class rewards, class incentives)
  • birthday chart
  • helper chart
  • lunch boxes/money system
  • where should children turn in their work, homework, notes from home, items for office, etc.
  • have first week activities ready (independent and whole group)
  • wish fish (have them set out for orientation for parents to pick up if they wish to donate anything for the classroom)
  • volunteer notebook and sign in scheet
  • orientation sign in sheet
  • think about what kind of volunteer help I need this year
  • what signals will I use for the students this year
  • must have bulletin boards-Daily 5, Word Wall, Calendar, Rules, Spelling, Helpers, Accelerated Reader, Student Work, etc)
  • clipboard for how we go home
  • while you were out folders for students who were absent
  • think about how will I pass back papers (mail boxes, desk, daily, weekly?)
  • grading system

Procedures to Introduce
  • morning routine
  • where to put backpacks, homework, notes from home, lunch box, pencils, supplies, missing pieces, etc.
  • create rule chart with children and post in, review, review
  • Give Me 5 listening chart
  • bathroom signal and how to keep it clean, how to use the sign in sheet, and go/stop sign
  • washing hands/sneezing into sleeve/hand sanitizer
  • classroom tour
  • raising hand and inside voices expectations (play soft instrumental music to keep volume down)
  • pencil cups
  • do a tour of the classroom and the school so children know where everything is
  • lunch behavior (get tray to model and practice in classroom before going to lunch)
  • attendance
  • morning announcements
  • how to handle a book/turn pages from the top/putting back where they found it
  • behavior, behavior, behavior (I like a well managed room where everyone gets along)
  • keeping desk tidy and neat
  • getting supplies
  • taking care of the classroom library
  • going to the library, office, clinic
  • helper chart
  • calendar
  • what to do when finished
  • how to use a computer (go over basics like being gentle, do not touch the cords/screen, etc)
  • water/water bottles only on tiled area
  • snack routine
  • recess rules
  • lining up/walking in the hall (hands by your side, bubble in your mouth, eyes straight ahead signs)
  • name tags (address velcro)
  • walking with scissors
  • putting things back
  • signals (bathroom, attention, help, etc)
  • listening center
  • spelling notebook
  • sticker book
  • Accelerated Reader reading log

 Other Things To Do
  • get emergency sub plans ready 
  • how we go home list
  • birthdays on calendar
  • lost tooth chart
  • caterpillar for keeping track of days
  • website and technology info for parents
  • laminate anything that needs to be done
  • get word work center ready
  • input student information in to programs to get username and password to pass out to students
  • beginning of the year assessments (FAIR, Beginning of the Year Math Test, Sight Word Lists (K and 1), Color Words, Number Words, Letter Names and Sounds, Words Their Way Primary Spelling Inventory, Running Record) 
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Monday, July 23, 2012

Facebook Share Sessions

I created a facebook page for "groovy" ideas.  I would love for you to share,
any tips and tricks that work in your classroom.  Also please share any awesome apps, websites, or resources you use regularly.


"Must Have" Books

Here are some books that are based on best practices.  I feel every teacher would benefit from reading this research. Click on the book image for more information on the website.   I have also included a link to the researcher's/author's website..

These books are basically how to manuals for implementing a reading workshop and a writer's workshop in your classroom.
Leveled books enable more differentiation in small group instruction.  Fountas and Pinnell also wrote this helpful resource on guided reading.  


Jan Richardson

This book is fantastic.  The appendix at the end gives suggestions on how small group instruction should progress.  I especially like how she has specific skills that should be mastered at each reading level.  This facilitates lesson planning and how to effectively differentiate instruction. 

Donald R. Bear, Marcia Invernizzi, Shane Templeton 

and Francine Johnston  

This book contains a spelling inventory which is extremely helpful in determining small groups at the beginning of the year.  It also is an invaluable resource for learning how to teach word work.  This is one of the best books I have every owned!

Product Details


Kathy Ganske

 Product Details

Kathy Ganske's book delves deeper into word sorts. 
 It provides more assessments and analysis.

Darrell Morris
Darrell Morris puts everything in perspective.  He focuses on helping struggling readers.  The Howard Street Tutoring Manual is full of great ideas for implementing a tutoring program at a school utilizing a group of volunteers.  I have tried some of the techniques in the book during my graduate coursework and found it to be highly effective.  

Every year I review this book just to get my creativity flowing again.  A friend let me borrow Spaces and Places and I fell in love with it.  It will soon become one of my beginning of the year review books to get back in the groove.  Every year a couple of weeks before school starts, I pull out all my favorite teaching resources and a spiral notebook.  As I flip through each book, I make notes and wish lists in my spiral notebook.  It really helps me organize my thoughts before returning and start the year fresh with new ideas.  Now with all this wonderful technology, I will add cruising pinterest and favorite blogs to this yearly ritual.

Essential Readings on Fluency
This book is a collection of articles by several different authors.  Of the authors, Rasinski is the expert on fluency.  In the first article/introduction, I love how he defines fluency.  I think oftentimes there is too much emphasis placed on trying to get children to read faster rather than read for meaning.  I would rather a child read with prosidy (expression) at an appropriate rate rather than try to reach a specific number of words per minute by reading as fast as possible in a monotone voice.  Please review his wonderful suggestions on how you can build fluency in your classroom.

Boushey and Moser (the2sisters)

This is a must have book in every classroom.  It offers great techniques in building stamina, reading with a buddy, and guidelines for independent reading.  The best part is the IPICK chart.  You will have to read to find out!  When I did my action research on how to help children self select good fit books, this resource was invaluable!

The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher
Over a decade ago, I read this book and EVERY year, I review it.  It is an absolute must for new teachers.  Veteran teachers can get re-energized by this dynamic man.  Harry Wong is a genius!