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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What To Do AFTER Testing - Part 2

A few days ago I shared some ideas to keep your upper elementary students engaged and learning even AFTER testing is done. Today I'm sharing part two! 

It seems like students can never do enough research. It's a skill they'll need throughout life! (If you want ideas that go beyond Google, make sure to check out this blog post.)

With that being said, I also know I'm not the greatest at thoroughly covering science and social studies standards. Don't get me wrong - I cover them. However, I continuously wonder if I should have covered them more thoroughly, done more projects, or what. Neither of these subjects is my strong point. 

So I went through every science and social studies standard and made a list of them. The students were then given the list and told to rank their top five choices. I assigned a topic based on the sheets they returned. They were lucky in that everyone got their first or second choice. :)

From there we started working on lapbooks. I know you've seen these all over the internet. I gave each student a file folder and a pile of printables (all FREE!) they could use to design their finished product. I was amazed at what they did! Let me simply show you...

Make sure you check out all of the FREE lapbook printables! I was amazed by all of the great options! And - as you can see from the pictures above - the students did a great job of making these their own. It was a very worthwhile project. Each student presented their finished project to the class and we showcased them at our schools Academic Fair. Parents and other teachers were very complimentary of all the work the 6th graders put into them.

What other ideas do you have to keep students engaged after testing?

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

What To Do AFTER Testing - Part 1

Each and every year I struggle with how to keep students engaged after "the test" is over. It's like the students have a sixth sense and know that the "real" learning is already done. But that couldn't be farther from the truth! The trick is finding ways to keep them entertained while also keeping them learning.

Last year my 6th graders partnered up with some of our youngest elementary students. We had "Literacy Buddies" for the last five weeks of school. Twice a week we would meet with our buddies to read books to them and have them read to us. Once a week we worked on writing.

I had to do a little prep work with my 6th graders to make sure they would help their buddies out the best they could. We talked about some basic reading strategies to use with emergent readers - Don't just tell them the word. Ask them if it makes sense. Try that again. Does that look right? Etc. (In hindsight, I really wish I would have shown them the graphic from Lessons Learnt Journal!) 

We also discussed how their writing might look. This is the example I wrote on the board:

After some initial giggling, my students were able to read what I had written. I'm pretty sure they thought I was nuts - UNTIL they watched their buddies write. Of course there were students who were past this stage, but others were still very much sounding words out. Many of the 6th graders told me they were amazed that I used to teach Kindergarten, and they had no idea how I did it. lol

The students had a lot of fun working on Magic Square Puzzles with their buddies. This is what we did when they were finished reading 2-5 books or writing (depending on the day). 

On several occasions we went outside to complete our activities - which helped ease spring fever a little bit! 

Be watching in a few days for another idea to keep students engaged when testing is done!

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Top Five Things To Do During Student Teaching to Make Your Teacher Interview Easier

Today I am excited to welcome William A. Kresse, Ph.D. and Michael J. Vallely, Ph.D. They are the authors of The Insider’s Guide to the Teacher Interview. They wrote a previous piece here at HoJo's Teaching Adventures entitled Panicked About the Teacher Interview?: Five Areas of Focus for the Busy Teacher Candidate. Today they are here to share the "Top Five Things To Do During Student Teaching to Make Your Teacher Interview Easier!" Please sit back and enjoy! (Or better yet, forward it on to your friends and share it on your networks so more student teachers can hear this great advice!)

Student teaching represents your finest, yet most stressful, hour as a teacher candidate. You are finally in the classroom doing what you have been training for years to do. At the same time, you are completing additional coursework, taking certificate exams, and fretting about being prepared for eventual teacher interviews. So far as preparing for the teacher interview process, our advice is not to worry too much about that right now. Focus on the matters at hand. However, there are a few things you can do at this moment that will save you a great deal of time and energy when it comes time for the teacher interview. Here are the top five things you can do while student teaching to make things easier for your eventual teacher interview:

1. Collect Artifacts: A teacher portfolio is a must these days for the teacher interview and there is nothing worse than a portfolio that has a bunch of random odds and ends thrown together at the last moment.  Retain everything you can from your student teaching so you will have a rich library to choose from when you eventually assemble your portfolio.  Particularly useful are artifacts that show a progression from lesson design all the way to eventual student products. (HoJo has a blog post about how to create a portfolio here!)

2. Keep a Daily Audio Journal: No need to panic about more writing. Journals are so easy to keep these days because you just need to sit down and talk with your smartphone or computer for a few minutes before turning in each night. What’s the value in this? During interviews, you are going to be posed with a number of questions asking you to draw on your experiences and provide examples of how you managed certain scenarios. Listening to your journal will help to keep special events, students, successes and even failures fresh in your mind. There is nothing worse than not having an example ready to go for a hiring team.  The audio journal saves you from this. (just be sure to password protect your journal it so your little brother won’t get a hold of it! J)

3. Take Pictures: Members of a hiring committee interviewing an unfamiliar candidate may struggle to visualize the candidate leading a classroom, particularly if they are coming right out of teaching college and/or are very youthful. Be sure you have a clear understanding of what photography is acceptable under the student privacy procedures of your host school. Sometimes you have to get creative like only taking pics from the back of a class or sending home a release letter to parents of students pictured. However, it is worth the time and trouble. Not only will it help the hiring committee to easily envision you directing a classroom, it is the perfect touch to compliment the progression artifacts described above.

4. Clean Up Your Digital Footprint: Whether it is fair or not, hiring teams are increasingly hitting Twitter, Facebook, Google, Instagram etc. to find the ‘real you.’ When schools hire teachers for even a day, they are entering into a costly relationship that can be difficult to exit. They need to be sure the candidate at the teacher interview is the same person they will get when the classroom door closes.  As someone entering the teaching profession, you take on the burden of a higher standard out in the digital world. Privacy settings are only partially effective in keeping others from seeing your online social life. The good news is that you have a few months to get things cleaned up. Check all your, posts, pictures, user names and even outgoing voicemail messages to be sure a group of stakeholders looking to hire you would see you as a person who is ideal to work with children and worth the investment.

5. Network and Be Nice to Everyone: Everyday as a student teacher (or substitute teacher) is an interview. You should look to impress and meet more than your cooperating teacher or administrators. You can never tell who is going to put in a good word about you (or bad word) from the school secretary, to custodians to parents. So make every relationship count. Introduce yourself to all that you encounter from high to low and be sure that your interactions are more than transactional. Schools are small communities. People talk within communities and amongst school communities. Your relationships will have a ripple effect that can either help to propel you when an opening arises or quickly end your opportunity without your knowledge.

Attend to these five things for now and you will be well ahead of the game when you have less on your plate and can begin your teacher interview preparations in earnest. Thank you to our friend Heather (aka HoJo) for everything she does to make the lives of teacher and future teachers easier!

Dr. Kresse and Dr. Vallely (Bill and Mike) are the authors of the groundbreaking book, The Insider’s Guide to the Teacher Interview (2012), and founders of the which provides free resources and support for teacher interview preparation. Veteran school leaders, the authors are dedicated to studying and sharing insider information on the teacher interview in order to reduce stress among teaching candidates. Bill and Mike present at teaching colleges regularly or as much as their wives will allow them. The authors can be reached at
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Teaming Up with Educents for a BIG FREEBIE!

If you haven't heard me say it before, I'll say it now - I LOVE EDUCENTS! I've bought several items on their site before, and I always enjoy downloading freebies because I get to try new products.

Which leads me to the reason for this post - Educents is celebrating their HUGE one-year anniversary! They asked for freebies, and I donated a 15-page Magic Square sampler product.

This freebie has 15 pages of usable Magic Square puzzles! There is truly something for everyone from grades PreK all the way to 6th grade! Simply click here or on the picture above to go get your free sample! Use them in your classroom, and then stop by my Teachers Pay Teachers store to see all of the other Magic Square products I have available!

Thank you to Educents, and thanks for reading!

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Top 5 Online Fun Activities for Kids - Guest Post by Catherine Ross!

I'm so excited to have Catherine Ross guest blogging today! If you're looking for some great ways to incorporate technology into your day - these are it!

In my experience, kids learn best when they’re having fun. No matter what subject you’re teaching, if you can find a way to engage the kids, hold their interest and customize the learning experience all the while ensuring that they’re having a good time, you will have excellent results. Sounds like a tall order? It is. As long as teachers continue to use traditional methods of teaching, it will take a tremendous amount of time and effort to make every lesson meet these standards. However, if you are able to look beyond familiar teaching styles and methods, and if you can introduce the internet into your classroom, you will find a whole new world of learning waiting for you and your students.

Due to their nature, most online learning activities provide an engaging and customized user experience. In addition to this, kids take to the internet like a fish takes to water. They are familiar and comfortable with it, and enjoy spending their time online. They play kids’ games online, network with friends online and do their homework online. This is why it makes a lot of sense to use the internet in your classroom, and allow for online learning experiences. Here are five fun online activity ideas to get you started.

Photo by woodleywonderworks

1.  Online educational games– This is my particular favorite. Online games are designed to keep players engaged, motivated and having a good time. They are also designed to teach the player the skills needed to play the game, and manage to do so very effectively, making use of techniques like immediate feedback, frequent rewards and providing motivation to keep learning. Online educational games work much the same way, only they teach players educational skills in addition to game-related ones. The end result is an incredible teaching tool. Kids who play educational games learn scholastic skills a lot faster than their peers who don’t, and they have a lot more fun doing so. It’s a win-win situation, and has proven results across age groups and subjects. Some great websites for educational games are Starfall, Math Blaster and FunBrain.

2. Online educational videos – Videos have an incredible advantage when it comes to teaching kids about abstract concepts, or lessons that they cannot observe first-hand otherwise. For example, when teaching about ancient civilizations, the working of a diesel engine, or the flora and fauna of mountainous regions, videos are very effective in bringing the subject to life and providing visual and auditory learning material that kids will enjoy and remember. It is far more effective than merely showing pictures, drawing diagrams or conducting lectures. There are also many educational videos in the form of songs, designed to help kids remember names and ideas through fun lyrics and music. A few great websites for good educational videos are SchoolTube, WatchKnowLearn and BrainPOP Jr.

3. Reading online – Not every kid has a good collection of books at home, nor someone to read to them. Even schools don’t necessarily have much of a collection when it comes to books. This is a shame, because the key to getting kids to read is having books that interest them. Both problems are easily resolved by introducing kids to online reading. There are excellent websites designed solely to encourage kids to read books. Websites like Book Adventure and Raz-Kids have a great collection of e-books, with features that allow books to be read aloud to kids with highlighted words, track reading progress and monitor reading comprehension. Kids can earn prizes and rewards for reading books, which differ on each website. StorylineOnline is a website that has videos of various books being read aloud along with the illustrations, and does a great job of recreating the experience of having books being read to kids.

4. Creating Online Content – The internet has changed the way people share information, and kids have quickly caught on. It is common to find online videos, stories and blogs created by kids, catering to kids. When getting your students to create a research report, work on an assignment or write a book report, you can move from the traditional form of reporting to online reports. Kids can create book trailer videos instead of writing book reports, they can upload their creative writing assignments on children’s publishing websites and they can create blogs to record their research work.  By getting your students to create online content of their own, you are allowing them to reach out to a wider audience, which gives them a great sense of accomplishment and allows them to get feedback from other kids their age.

5. Online research – Why insist that your students use dictionaries and encyclopedias when adults no longer use them? Encourage independence and good research skills by letting your kids search for information online instead of answering their questions or asking them to use outdated research techniques.
These are just a few of the ways you can use the internet effectively in your classroom. Do you encourage your students to get online? What other ideas do you have for online learning activities?


Catherine Ross is a full-time stay-at-home-mum who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. An erstwhile elementary school teacher, Catherine loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of different subjects easily. She believes that a ‘fun factor’ can go a long way in enhancing kids’ understanding. Find Catherine at

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Whole Brain Teaching - Just Getting Started...

This year I've been trying to do more Whole Brain Teaching in my classroom. I am not a pro in any means, but I have been working at it! The first week of school I taught my students the "Class! Yes!" approach, and I love it! I always say class at least two times for the class to repeat so no one can "forget" or not hear me the first time. 

My principal was impressed when he could not get the upper elementary students quieted down after lunch one day to leave the lunchroom. I yelled "CLASS" over 52 students and they all yelled back "YES". The room was then quiet! The kiddos walked out without a word, and he just stared at me and asked what I had done. =)

One of my colleagues has started using, "Hocus Pocus!" and the students respond "Everybody Focus!" She is really loving it in her classroom as well! Here's a pin with even more attention grabbers that we are going to start using to mix things up a bit! Here's another and another!

Make sure you check out this website for further ideas - One of their tabs is called "1st Steps" and it truly lays out some steps that you can implement tomorrow if you want! 

I've also got an entire Pinterest board devoted to behaviors and classroom management strategies - check it out!

What strategies do you use in your classroom?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Meaningful Spelling Words for Elementary Students

If you're anything like me, you have trouble giving your upper level students meaningful spelling words each week. I always find the words in the basal readers are too easy for about 90% of my sixth graders. (I also found this to be true when teaching third and fourth grade!) So I've changed the way I do spelling yet again. (You can read about the way I ran my spelling program last year by going here - it includes some freebies!)

One thing I do much like last year is track which words my students are having trouble spelling. The students themselves or I will write down words they struggle with right into next week's list. That way they have less words to choose later, and it's a practical list that benefits them long term!

However, I always run into problems with the students who hardly ever spell words wrong. What should I do with them?!? This year I've started going on the internet in search of more challenging spelling words. So far this year we've gone through some medical terms and various occupations. My goal is to broaden my students' vocabulary, make them interested in topics they might not otherwise hear about until high school or later, and possibly help them find a career to pursue later in life.

I also plan to include words about educational terms, engineering terms, veterinary terms, automotive terms, agriculture terms, and any others my students show any interest. You can find some of the terms I've used so far by clicking on any of the links provided in this paragraph.

We start each Monday by the students writing ten words in their assignment notebook. These words come from whichever set of words I post for all of them to see. Typically they'll have 20-30 words to choose from, plus any that they might want to add that they've run into that past week. The notebook the words are in goes back and forth between home and school daily, so there's really no excuse that their parents don't know the words or that they didn't have the words to study. (One drawback is that some students forget their assignment books on test day! But thankfully that hasn't happened too often...)

On Tuesday and Wednesday I let the students choose which item from a spelling menu they would like to do. You can find some decent free ones by clicking here to see what is available on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Thursday we have the pretest. Any student who scores 100% is done for the week as that is the grade that is recorded. Students who did not earn a 100% can then try again on Friday. And the cycle repeats itself each week...

So there you have my spelling routine for this school year. I'm not going to try and claim that it is flawless or perfect in any way, but it's what works for me and this year's group of kiddos! I'm sure next year I'll be trying something different once again... :)

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