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