Friday, November 27, 2015

How to unwind when you're an overachiever

I love what I do, and I work...a lot.
One of the things I've had to MAKE myself do though, from time to time, is UNWIND.
When you're an overachiever...relaxing, unwinding...STOPPING...these are all concepts that you recognize, but...choose to do anything but! LOL!
During the school day, I used to really run myself ragged each moment until the end of the day.
I find now, that even 15 minutes of down time in the day helps me to recharge and relax a bit.
For me, the best time of the day to do that is at lunch.  You may find that before school, or during your planning time works better.  Try to carve out SOME time in your day to just let your mind relax.
Here are a few things that I do...not all in the same time period...but randomly as I feel that it's necessary.

Read a book.

I love to read for fun.  When I'm on vacation, there's nothing that I enjoy more than just sitting and reading a book.  This particular 'quick fix' for unwinding is one of the first to go when I feel lots of pressure to perform at work.  Finding a good book and treating myself to it at lunch has become a welcome distraction from the day's events.

Play music.

Music helps to improve my mood a lot.  Fifteen minutes of good music at some point in my lunch break can make a world of difference when I'm feeling stressed or down.  I also find that I'm a more productive cleaner and organizer when I am cleaning.  

Eat lunch with your students.

Kids are a GREAT distraction.  They get so excited to hang out and chat...they usually can help me stop worrying and stewing and focus only on them!  I love that about kids! :) The added bonus is that I get to know them much better.  The more I spend time with my kids, the more I enjoy them.  

Enjoy silence.

This one is one that I don't indulge in often.  I tend to recharge best around people.  Sometimes though, just being in my room with the lights low helps me to relax too.  I have windows in my room.  So even when I shut the blinds a bit of light leaks in--so it is never completely dark. I find that muted amount of light very calming. Sometimes, even when the KIDS are in the room I do it!  LOL!  They actually enjoy the darker room too!  I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!

Pray or read the Bible.

I saved the best relaxation option for last.  Sometimes, the Psalms or even a chapter in Proverbs works for me.  Other times, I walk myself through a study and read a few verses that relate to a specific topic.  Either way, I find that reading some scripture during the day grounds me and helps me have a positive outlook on the remainder of the day.

 I know that God made me a worker for a reason.  The world needs people who are committed and who are passionate, just like it needs people who are more laid back and easy going.  We are all here for a purpose and our strengths and weaknesses compliment each other.  As much as I enjoy working, I am learning that even a short break in the action can help me to come back stronger the second half of my day.  So, let me you guys do things mid-day to help you unwind?  Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Third Grade Fluency

3rd Grade Fluency
I've been writing fluency passages for the last four years.  I never really dreamed that it would help so many teachers across the country, but it has, and I am truly grateful.  I've been asked many times over the years to provide fluency for third grade and I've said no.  Largely because it would take time away from me creating resources for my own classroom.  Writing a fluency pack takes on average about 30 hours.  I have to research topics, align the fluency to standards, and make sure that the text is appropriate for multiple levels.  Creating for first when you teach first is tough, but manageable.  I use all of the things that I make, and I'm able to fix things as I go.  Creating for third was daunting.  First of all, I haven't taught third in five years.  Second, here in Florida, the standards have changed at least twice in that time.Initially, the first few third grade packs were much more challenging than even my largest first grade packs and I was very overwhelmed.  Over the last several weeks, I've gotten the sweetest feedback from third grade teachers about these sets.  Thank you friends for that.  It was just the encouragement I needed to keep going!  Frankly, I was strongly considering making December the last unit until the summer, but with the feedback I've gotten, I really believe that it would be best to continue forward and finish with a set in May.
3rd Grade Fluency

For those of you who are not familiar with my fluency sets, each pack has 12 passages. Three passages per topic. So, four differentiated sets per topic, basically.  The passages are numbered for ease of recording.  There are oral questions on the front page, for those of you who just need a passage for centers and want only discussion.  Students can take some quick notes in the side bar of the sheet to help them organize their recollections of the text.  Another way you could use this tool is to use the text coding features.  If you do a double sided copy, these questions would show up on the back.  Students have to mark the text with different color crayons or colored pencils.  They have to offer extended responses.  There's even a question where they have to go on the internet and do a wee bit of research.
Each page has the standards written at the top for fidelity.
The texts are aligned to three different programs, Accelerated Reader, DRA and Fountas & Pinnell.  I even include a number and question free copy of each passage that you could use to test students on their fluency.
Currently I have four sets for third grade in my store.

3rd Grade Fluency September
Click HERE to see this unit.

3rd Grade Fluency October
Click HERE to see this unit.

3rd Grade Fluency November
Click HERE to see this unit.
3rd Grade Fluency December
Click HERE to see this unit.
My goal is to have the next set up around the 15th of the month before.  So far I've been fairly successful with that. :)  I am human though, and things come up, and sometimes I will have to get it out a wee bit later.  Thanks in advance for understanding.
I will create passages until May and will not bundle them until I finish the last set.
I will probably raise the price of each individual set, right around the time where I bundle.  This is the best way to make sure that teachers who purchased individually from the very beginning are treated fairly with the pricing.  So, if you're reading this, and it is not May 2016, individual month purchases are best until then! :)
My second and first grade fluency sets are quite popular as well, so, if you need something for remediation, I will leave the links below so that you can take a look.
2nd Grade Fluency
Click HERE for this unit.

1st Grade Fluency
Click HERE for this unit.

1st Grade Fluency
Click HERE to see this unit.

Third is the highest grade I will do, unless I am moved to a higher grade level at some point in the future.  Plus, I feel like, if you're not fluent by fourth grade, you probably could benefit from some of the lower level passages I've already written.
Thanks for your support!
Look for a January set in mid-December! :)
Thanks for following my adventures!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Writing A Good Assessment

I've been writing my own assessments for a while, and I've come to find that I actually enjoy it!
I truly believe that armed with your state standards, a good computer, and a desire to see your students achieve at a high level...anyone can write a good assessment.
Here are some things that I use to help me be my best when writing a test for my own kids.

1-2-1 Approach

Every test that I create is based on this model.  One part of the test is comprised of questions that will force my students to reach.  It could be some above grade level questions, or even questions that require practical application of the fullness of the grade level standard early in the year.  Two parts of my test is on grade level content.  What ALL on grade level students should be able to approach at THIS TIME of the year.  The last part is easy questions...things that are below grade level, or a low level of complexity.  You could also think of this as 25% high complexity, 50% on grade level content, and 25% low complexity questions.

Only give enough questions to know for sure that your students grasp the content.

I am not big on long tests assessments at all.  If I can find out what I need with four questions, why do I need ten?  It stresses out the kids and makes my grading on the back end that much longer.  I'd rather four or five quality questions, than a really long test with a majority of softball questions.  I like to grade with rubrics a lot.  I use them in math and writing a ton.  There are so many ways that they can work to streamline the grading process and help students and parents understand specifically what students need help or enrichment with.  I also love the fact that creating a rubric for lessons helps me to examine my overarching goals for my students against the fullness of the standards.

Create tests that help you drive your instruction.

When you are creating an should be for the purpose of giving you more specific information about your own practice and how your instruction is helping your students make the gains you want them to make.  When you're just starting out, I advocate creating a spreadsheet to mark how many of each question students miss.  If your whole class misses question 5 out of 10, was that something you could have taught with more fidelity?  Was the question too tricky?  Was it ambiguous?  Show the kids the data.  Ask them what trends they see.  Ask them what they were thinking.  The kids LOVE to participate in this type of discussion.  You'll be surprised at how insightful they are about their own understanding!  It's pretty precious! ;)

Seek out colleagues for a different perspective.

I have some great colleagues that I turn to to help me with perspective on assessments.  It helps to hear from other teachers how they perceive the same tool.  After sharing the first draft of my first grade reading assessments with a colleague, she mentioned that the passages should be broken up into chunks and pictures should go with each paragraph.  I changed that and it really made a difference in my students' achievement!  A bloggy buddy of mine asked me to add a page with frequently used words to support her ELL and ESE students.  I did that...and it made a big difference for her kiddos!  Getting constructive critiques from peers has ALWAYS made me better, and I am so grateful for it!

I hope that these tips have made assessment writing a bit more approachable to you! :)  If you are still not feeling confident, or are currently experiencing too many demands on your time and would prefer to use some assessments that are already created, consider taking a look at some of these that I've created for different subjects in my first grade classroom.

Click HERE to see my Math Assessments for First Grade

Click HERE to see my Phonics/Spelling/Phonemic Awareness Assessments for First Grade
Click HERE to see my Reading Assessments for First Grade