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Creating a Professional Development Space

Wouldn’t it be nice if all schools had a designated space for teachers to gather together on a regular basis to learn and share ideas?  Where they could relax a bit, enjoy a cup of coffee, and consider how to improve their instruction?  I thought so too.  That’s why I really wanted to create a professional development space for teachers this year.

When I was in the classroom, creating an engaging and beautiful learning space was one of my favorite things to do.  I wanted it to be a place where students looked forward to coming to everyday and felt inspired to learn.  I used this same thinking when I set out to create our school’s professional development space. I know the current school year is coming to a close, but if you are able to create a professional development space for the next school year, here are some ideas to consider.

Don’t Go Crazy With Colors

Although it’s tempting to think the more colorful the better, it’s really not.  Too many loud colors can be distracting.  Keep it simple with one muted color on the walls and add a pop of color with borders or accent boards.

Plants and Lighting

I have one big plant in a bright green pot that sits by my desk and helps freshen the air.    I’ve also added different lighting around the room to create a more inviting space.

Work and Teaching Spaces

I chose round tables for workspace so teachers could easily collaborate and share ideas.  I added baskets on top with pens, highlighters, and sticky notes for teachers to use.

For teaching space, I have a small round table that I dressed up a bit with some fun fabric that holds my projector.  Having chart paper and markers on hand for recording agenda’s or impromptu notes from discussions is also important.

Materials Organization

It’s important to have a space to store any handouts and/or other materials you may need to support your professional development meetings.  For me, a few plastic bins from Target and a labeler make quick work of this organizational task!

 Teacher Ownership

Just as you would want students to feel ownership of their classroom, I wanted teachers to feel connected to our professional development space.  I made sure that teacher faces were seen in the room in different ways.

I made magnet name cards for each of the teachers that they use for the “check-in” questions we have in place at the start of each PD session

My colleague and I also thought it would be a great idea for teachers to make “A Bit About Me” cards. We used these for an opening activity for one of our PD sessions and then displayed them throughout the year. These gave teachers a way to learn something about others they may not have known before

Here are the question we used:

  • What is one of your passions?
  • What is a quirk of yours no one knows about?
  • What is your favorite book?

What Have We Been Working On?

It’s important that the work and learning of teachers is celebrated and displayed throughout the room.

A documentation panel I made to tell the story of our work connected to guided reading

Our work plan goal for the year

Supporting targets for the work plan goal

Continuum of reading proficiency levels

Displayed read-alouds to support student engagement. These along with the professional learning books to the left are all available for check-out

Our staff habits connected to the text, "Mindset" (seen below)

Café!

One of the best parts of our PD room is the mini coffee bar I set up.  We have professional development at the end of the day and teachers are often pretty drained.  It really helps to have a pot of fresh coffee and a few snacks waiting for them.  I also have a mini-fridge for storing small cans of soda and Emergen-C packs for those teachers who need a bit of a pick-up, but would rather not have caffeine.  Teachers have nicknamed this space “Houser’s Cafe.”

Add Some Humor!

Our science teacher made this for me and I just love it.  It is a good reminder of why we all come together every week!

And Don’t Forget…

A space for yourself.  Some instructional coaches have offices outside of their professional development space or they may not have an office at all!  If you are able to create an organized and comfortable workspace for yourself, definitely do!  I chose to put mine by the window for a little natural light and I only furnish it with what is really essential.  The last thing you want to do when you have a chance to sit down and think, is deal with a bunch of clutter!

A little extra inspiration from Coach John Wooden

There aren’t a ton of ideas out there for how to create a professional development space for teachers, so if you have any additional thinking to contribute, please let us know!

iPad for Instructional Coaches

I’m super lucky…over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to play around with one of our school’s 30 iPads.  As I started to work with it, I focused mainly on researching and testing out different apps and iBooks to support literacy instruction.  Then I began to wonder about how I might use it to support the work I do as an instructional coach…hmmm…

After a few Google searches, I found a wealth of information on how to use the iPad in the classroom.  There was very little information however (none really!) on how to use an iPad as an instructional coach.  OK, I thought, I’ll just figure it out on my own.  Well, this figuring out piece ended up taking much more time than I thought…but I thought I was on to something.  Up to this point, I had been doing my observations and debriefs with paper and pencil and keeping them all in a binder.  I like paper and pencil because it feels much less intrusive in a classroom than a laptop and it’s also what I’m used to, so I feel comfortable with it.  On the other hand, I really don’t like it.  I wasn’t doing a good job of making my notes accessible to teachers and my notes felt more like a jumbled mess than a solid record of our work together.

By using an iPad, I had the opportunity to not only improve my efficiency and effectiveness, but to also serve as a model for other teachers for how they might use an iPad.  So I persevered and finally came up with a functional system.  I’ve been test-driving my new system for the past few weeks and I like it…a lot.  In case you’re an instructional coach (or teacher) wondering how you might use an iPad to support your work, I hope the ideas below will save you some time in “figuring it out.”

Notes Plus

Notes Plus is $7.99. There are less expensive handwriting apps also available.

I knew that I didn’t want to use a big, bulky laptop to take notes when in a classroom observation, so my first task was to find an app that would support handwriting.  After some thorough review, I narrowed my choices down to “Notes Plus” and “Ghostwriter”  I tried using consumer reviews and information on each of their websites, but I couldn’t make up my mind…so I bought both.  The plus of Ghostwriter is that you can upload your notes to Evernote.  This is one plus however compared to the many pluses in my mind of Notes Plus (no pun intentended). With Notes Plus your handwriting feels super smooth and natural.   You can also easily organize your notes into “Coaching Notebooks.”

My coaching notebooks organized in Notes Plus

Once I’ve collected notes from a classroom observation, I upload them to Google Docs where I create a folder for each teacher I work with.  Without making any adjustments, you can upload your notes in a PDF format and add them to your teacher folders for later use.  I like to do some editing of my notes before I debrief with teachers however, and I prefer for these notes I share to be typed.  In comes the “convert handwriting to text” feature of Notes Plus.  Yes, it’s an extra $1.99, but it’s pretty cool and a feature I definitely use.   During the debrief, I can easily add information from our discussion to this existing document.  This is then housed in my teacher created folder, which I share with them.  In doing this, there is no need to email the teacher your notes (which I sometimes forget to do).  It also ensures that you both have an organized system for storing, accessing, and using information collected during the coaching cycle to support your work.

My teacher folders in Google Docs on my laptop

My handwritten notes using Notes Plus

My notes after converting to text

I also use Notes Plus to take notes during other school meetings.  I store these notes in a “School Notes” notebook. (see photo above)

One last cool feature of Notes Plus is that you can take pictures during a classroom visit or walkthrough and add it straight into your notes to refer to later!

GoDocs

GoDocs is $4.99

As an add-on to Google Docs, GoDocs allows you to quickly and neatly manage your Google Docs on your iPad.  You don’t need this, but GoDocs leverages the iPad interface making it easier to work with your Google Doc files.   I love how well organized my files appear and how quickly I can access my docs.

My teacher folders organized in GoDocs

Evernote

Evernote is free!

For keeping up with small chunks of information and taking more thorough notes, I turn to Evernote.  I have the Evernote app on my iPad, computer, and phone and it’s free!  I have one main “School Notebook” setup with different stacks, which allows me to organize my information more thoroughly than I can in Notes Plus.  While I still use Notes Plus as my primary teacher observation tool, I prefer Evernote for other teacher meetings, planning sessions, and jotting down quick ideas.

Evernote on my computer

Wunderlist

Wunderlist is free!

Awhile back I read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” and because I’m always looking for new ways to stay organized and on top of things, I was immediately hooked.  I tried out his system with a paper notebook, which worked for awhile.  Then I came across Wunderlist…love it!  You can sync it across all of your devices and it’s completely free.  When I’m out and about in the building and something pops into my head, I immediately pull out my iPad and record it.  When I meet with a teacher and we discuss any actionable next steps, I can create a list and share it with the teacher so that we both remain accountable.  My lists are pretty simple, but you can make them as specific as you want.  Everything in Wunderlist is considered an “actionable” item.  If something comes to mind that I don’t need to take action on right away, I store it away for later in Evernote to reflect on when I have more time. 

Wunderlist on my iPad

Diggo

Diggo is free!

Last, but not least, I would recommend adding Diggo to your collection of tools.  An easy way to think about Diggo is that it’s a smart bookmarking tool.  It allows you to highlight information on a certain web page and add personal notes.  You can the share these notes and highlights with others.  With the Diggo iPad app, you can quickly pull up your organized bookmarks to refer to when meeting with teachers.

 

 

 

Although the apps and ideas described above have worked for me, you may find an iPad system that works even better for you!  Please feel free to share how you have used the iPad to support the work you do as an instructional coach or teacher.

Manageable Monitoring Part II – Nifty Note Cards!

In my last post I wrote about one of my top two ideas for making monitoring student work and thinking more manageable.  In this post, I will describe my second manageable monitoring system.  I came across this idea while reading, “Making the Most of Small Groups: Differentiation for All” by Debbie Diller.  Being a huge fan of teacher organization tips and tricks, my attention shot straight to Debbie’s section on getting organized.  In this section she shares some of her thinking on using note cards as a monitoring tool.  I put her ideas to action in monitoring my students as readers and I also began using note cards for monitoring in writing and math.

Note Cards in Literacy

What will I need?

  • 3×5 white note cards (this helps me distinguish literacy notes from math notes), one for each student
  • 5-6 pocket dividers (different colors to indicate small groups, see below for clarification)
  • One divider for each student in your classroom (coordinate the color with their small group instruction color, see below for clarification)
  • One 1.5 inch binder (or larger if you anticipate needing more space)

How do I put it all together?
Before you put your literacy monitoring binder together, you will need to first put your students into flexible small groups for differentiated instruction.  Once you have done this, give each student a color divider and put them behind the same color pocket divider for that group.  You can put a few sheets of notebook paper behind each student’s divider tab to take running records for miscue analysis.

What do I do with the note cards?
Assign one note card to each student.  I use one side for anecdotal reading notes and the other side to jot down notes about their writing.  You can keep these note cards in the pocket of your pocket dividers.  If you decide to switch around your groups, note cards make it easy to do so.

When you meet with your students for reading groups, simply take out the note cards for students in that group and place it in front of each reader so that it is ready for recording observations.  This also makes it easy to see who you have made several observations on and who you haven’t.

Other thoughts
You can store your lesson plans for groups in or behind the pocket divider.  I also like to keep informational sheets with ideas for strategy instruction in the front of my literacy monitoring binder.

If students are involved in an expedition (long term unit of study), you can also keep your learning targets for that expedition in the front of your binder to keep your monitoring on track.

Note Cards in Math

What will I need?

  • 3×5 colored note cards (3 packs to start should get you through a couple of units)
  • Clipboard

How do I put it all together?
It’s super easy.  First, write each student’s name on the bottom of a note card tape (see below).  Next, tape them to the clipboard (start at the bottom of the clipboard and work your way up).  Try to keep them all the same color if you can.  You can use colors to help distinguish the unit you are taking monitoring notes on. I use a sticky note to jot down the look fors of that day’s lesson and put it on the clipboard.  This helps guide my focus.

You can also use these note cards to record observations you make in number talks, independent station work, small groups, or any other area of your math block.

Storing and Using Note Cards

Now that you have been busily using monitoring notes as an informal assessment in your classroom and your note cards are filling up, you want to put them somewhere safe where they’ll be easily accessible for future reference.  All you need is a 4 x 6 inch card file!  Store note cards under students first or last name.  The white note cards for literacy monitoring and colored note cards for math monitoring will help you keep things straight.

When you’re ready to do report cards or are preparing for conferences, just whip out these nifty note cards and you’ll be good to go!

 

Manageable Monitoring Part I – Portfolio Power!

Last week I had a conversation with a second grade teacher who was wondering about how to setup a manageable monitoring notes system.  This is not the first time that a teacher has come to me to inquire about this and certainly not the first time that I have wondered about it myself!  Before I continue, let’s clarify what exactly monitoring notes are.  From my perspective, I see monitoring notes as a type of informal assessment that helps to document student learning and guide further instruction.  Furthermore they are seemingly simple, yet deceivingly tricky.  I mean, all you need to do is jot something down on a sticky note and stick it on a binder or on your desk for later right?  Well, not really.  That one sticky note or piece of paper can quickly turn into several and before you know it you don’t know which is which or what is where.  Agh!  When this happens, you quickly feel frustrated and wonder what the point of this whole monitoring thing is anyway. Well it definitely has a point.  They not only serve as a documentation and planning tool, monitoring notes also play a key role when completing report cards, having high quality conferences with families, and in building a thorough body of knowledge in tracking student growth.
Each year, I have worked on revising and adjusting my monitoring system to make it more effective.   In this post and the following post I will share my top two manageable monitoring systems.

Portfolio Power!

Around my second year of teaching I began to wonder…”Wouldn’t student portfolios be cool!?  I could use them to house and organize my monitoring notes, other assessments, and even pieces students have selected themselves to show their best work!  Oh, and I could even use them for student lead conferences!”  Well while I had big dreams, putting these portfolios together seemed like too daunting of a task and I just couldn’t deal.  At least not that year.  The following year I figured out how to put it all together.  Check it out!

What will I need?

  • one 1-inch binder for each student (if students didn’t bring them in with their other back-to-school supplies, I found them for $.79 each at WalMart)
  • three dividers, one for each of the main subjects you teach (reading, writing, math) — I especially like the pocket dividers as you can use them to store other assessments
  • three pieces of construction paper, cut to size (matching the colors with the dividers keeps it even more manageable!)
  • mailing labels (I prefer the sheets that have three columns of labels)

How do I put it all together?
Label the dividers and put the corresponding construction paper folder behind them…done!

What do you do with the mailing labels?
The labels are where you will take your monitoring notes.  You will need one sheet of labels for each subject you are monitoring.  Write each student’s name on the labels for each subject (you can even use pen colors that match the construction paper color you’ve designated for each subject).  I then put these label sheets on a clipboard, dividing them with stick on tabs so that they are ready for monitoring.
What are you monitoring for? 
The majority of your monitoring notes should be based on specific look fors tied to learning targets you’ve set for the lesson.  Monitoring in this way helps to focus your attention and guides next steps. Of course, other note worthy observations not connected to the learning target you make while working with students can be recorded too.  As you continue to take notes on students, you can quickly see by looking at your monitoring sheet who you have met with and who you may need to check in with.
As your monitoring notes fill up, place them on the construction paper inside of student binders.  What will result is a growing bank of knowledge about students in each academic area that you can use to track and report progress.

At the end of the day or the week, try to set aside a time to review your monitoring notes and use them to make adjustments to your lessons.   Informed instruction = better instruction!  Take the time to make monitoring student work more manageable for yourself and I’m confident you’ll be happy that you did.

As always, let me know if you have other good ideas!

Kristin

Meaningful Language Development – Draw What You Hear!

A colleague recently asked me for a few ideas to pass on to a fellow teacher for supporting the language development of students in her classroom.  This got me thinking that the ideas I passed on may be worthy of passing on to others.  The teachers in our school work with a high number of second language learners in mainstream classrooms.  This means that content and language are taught through scaffolded instruction provided in English only.  As an Expeditionary Learning school we are able to integrate our content throughout the day in meaningful ways and connect what we teach to real world issues.  This to me is the most important and impactful way of ensuring the success for second language learners.

In addition to this general philosophy of education however, there are many concrete things you can do during your day to further support not only the language growth and development of your second language learners, but of all your students.  Throughout this school year I’ll share different ideas that have worked for me and my second language kiddos.  Let’s get started!

Language and Literature

I love finding creative ways to use books in supporting language development.  One idea I like is called “Draw What You Hear.”  This activity is appropriate for primary aged or beginning level language students and focuses on listening comprehension, a language skill that is often overlooked.  It could easily be adapted for older grades or more advanced language students by choosing a different book or you could write your own text connected to the content you’re studying or an interesting topic!  This one if especially fun during Halloween.

Text:  “Go Away Big Green Monster” by Ed Emberley

 

Materials:  Blank white paper and markers or crayons

Lesson Overview:
Start by previewing vocabulary in the text that may be new language for students.  Try keeping this strategy in mind for all texts you read with students.

Make it very clear to students that their job is to listen carefully to the descriptive language being used in the story so that they will be successful in making their Big Green Monster.  Now you are ready to read the story out loud to students, but don’t show them the pictures!  As you read each page, they will use the language they hear and comprehend to create their monster.  Yes, it is perfectly acceptable (and should be encouraged!) for students to clarify understanding along the way by asking questions.  This is an important skill we want them to develop.  Below is the sequence of pictures you may see a student create.

 

When you are done with the story, you can read students the book and have fun in discovering how close their picture came to matching the one in the book!

I would love to hear any variations you may have thought of for this lesson or other creative ways you have used literature to support listening comprehension.  Also, if you have requests for other topics related to working with second language learners that you would like me to write about please let me know.

Best,
Kristin

Lesson Planning and Creating a Teacher Plan Book

Lesson planning.  Every teacher’s got to do it.  Not only do we have to do it, but it’s important that we do it well.  Well crafted lesson plans create a direction and a vision for your day.  They help you feel less stressed and more confident.  They’re there for you to grab onto when your classroom is buzzing with activity and you can’t remember what you were going to do next!  Don’t get me wrong, as teachers we should always be willing to step away from our lesson plans and steer our instruction in a different direction when our planned vision takes a turn in a different direction or our students show us they are in need of something else or something more.  However, thoughtful lesson plans set the tone for the day.

Lesson planning is a very individual process, taking on a number of different shapes and forms.  In this post, I’ll share a few of my own ideas and resources for creating daily and weekly lesson plans as well as how to organize them.

Lesson Planning Styles

Before my first year of teaching began I drove myself to the local teacher supply store and bought myself a shiny new teacher plan book with pencils and lined paper decorating the front. I had visions of myself sitting at my desk with my plan book, neatly writing in my lessons for the day and week. Well my vision didn’t manifest itself as I thought. I quickly found that the traditional teacher plan book was not going to work for me. There were too many details I wished to include in my plans that just wouldn’t fit in the tiny spaces provided. I also wanted to adjust the one size fits all boxes to fit the needs of my schedule. I wouldn’t necessarily turn and throw your teacher plan book out of the window however.  They make perfect sense when you want to jot out an outline of your week to quickly refer to. Although like I did, you may come to desire the need for more freedom and flexibility with your plans. If so, below are a couple of daily lesson plan templates I created to better fit my needs.

Download this daily plan template (.doc)

Download this weekly lesson plan template (.doc) – adapted from Beth Newingham

While some of us may prefer to use paper and pencil to plan, others may be anxious to check out ways to use technology.  I was one of those anxious teachers last year and so I tried out  Planbook by Hellman Software.  In the beginning, I spent much more time than I would have liked just figuring out how to best use this program rather than actual planning.  Once I figured it out though, I found there to be many benefits.  One being that after you create your plans you can easily print them out to have for easier reference.  I also liked how I could easily switch from a weekly to a daily view.  While I enjoyed this style of planning for awhile, I came to find that it just wasn’t for me.  It turns out that I do my best thinking and planning when using paper and pencil.

Planbook by Hellman Software

Creating a Teacher Plan Book

If you have chosen to go the paper and pencil route, you may find it useful (and fun!) to create your own teacher plan book.  Here is how I made mine:

First
Grab a three ring binder.  You might like to choose one with the plastic covering so that you can create a personalized cover.

Second
Decide what tabs or sections you would like to include.  I always include a calendar, weekly plans, daily plans, and notes section.  I also liked to have a pocket folder in the back to collect miscellaneous papers so that they don’t end up somewhere else.


Third
Add a small three ring pencil bag in the back.  This can hold sticky notes, extra pens, or note cards that you can use for planning when you are not near your desk.

Now that you have created a place to organize all of your lesson plans (whether it be online or in your own plan book), you may find that your life feels a bit more complete!  You’ll also have a book (online or off) of thoughtful and organized resources to use for reflection and hopefully even preparation for next year.

Happy Planning!
Kristin

Creating a Beautiful Classroom Space

One of the things that I loved, loved to do with the start of each new school year was to plan how I would create a beautiful classroom space.  I spent a great deal of time (okay, maybe obsessed) over how I would arrange my classroom furniture and materials so that they supported the flow of work and learning in my classroom. I got super excited when I envisioned the student work that would cover my walls and the visual resources I would display to support this work. To sum it up, I worked really hard to ensure that my classroom would be a place where both my students and I would enjoy coming to everyday.

My hope is that the pictures and thoughts below will provide you with some ideas or inspiration as you go about setting up your own classroom. You may also find that your thinking about how you use your classroom space evolves during the year and you want to change things up.  If so, you might find it helpful to refer back to this post.  Or, shoot me a note and I can share my thoughts.   And remember…creating a beautiful classroom should be fun! Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Classroom Photos

 

There is nothing more terrifying than walking into your classroom at the beginning of the year and seeing a bunch of unorganized STUFF.  Agghhh!  Where do you even begin?  Well, the best strategy I have come up with is to start with deciding what furniture will go where.  I always prefer to group tables or desks together as this arrangement is more conducive to small group work.

Once I have decided where student desks will go, I am able to think more clearly about the future of what will become the center piece of my classroom…our classroom library.  I prefer to place furniture for the library in a corner area of the classroom as I think it provides an extra bit of coziness.  Putting up a couple of shelves or rain gutters to display books is also a nice touch.

 

How and where you will house classroom supplies is another important consideration.  I have found that well organized community supplies not only help to keep your classroom a bit more orderly, it is also a great way to build community and collaboration skills within your classroom.  I housed my community supplies either directly in the center of the classroom or in an easily accessible corner.

 

Students worked on these “pillow people” at back to school night. I put them up after families left that night and they were there to welcome students the next morning!

Now I am ready to think about the use of wall space.  I have found that students are more easily able to access resources posted on the walls when information pertaining to different content areas is grouped together.  I also loved to display student writing for others to see.  Displaying quality student work on your walls helps give students ownership of the classroom and it gives them that extra bit of motivation to produce high quality work!

You’re almost there!  Now it is just time for a few finishing touches.  A few strategically placed lamps and rugs help your classroom feel more like home.  I am also a fan of plants, fun fabric, and rocking chairs.

Feel free to share your ideas and success stories!

Best,
Kristin