Sunday, August 21, 2016

My Top 5 Tips for Open House Night (and a Freebie)

Open House can be stressful for teachers.  I don't know about you, but we have our Open House Night around the 5th week of school, on a Thursday. Think of it this way:  your students are still getting to know your expectations and you're still getting a feel for the group dynamic.  Your stamina is back after the beginning of the year exhaustion, but then suddenly you have to stay late in the middle of the week.  You have heard stories about "those parents" and although you're very used to speaking to a room of children, adults are a different ballgame.  Yup, stressful.

So how do you make your Open House preparation easier, and better your chances of success the evening of?  Here are my top 5 tips to a successful Open House.

1.  Think about materials that parents don't usually get to see.  Along with work on bulletin boards, think about the in-class materials students interact with regularly.  For example, there have been some years that I never send home the math textbook for homework; only the workbook.  Or maybe you hold back journals or writing folders.  If the kids are using it weekly the parents will benefit from getting to see it.  This will not only help conversations such as "What did you do in school today?" flow a little easier, it will also help parents understand later on if you refer to those items on the progress report.

2.  Organize what you want to say, and provide handouts.  I know some people like to go paperless, but I always give presenters a better grade if they provide handouts (even if it's like Whose Line and the points don't matter).  You can see how I organize my own handouts on this product description page for my Open House Packet.  This packet will be part of the Teacher's Pay Teachers 1 day sale this Monday, 8/22.  Just remember to use promo code ONEDAY at checkout!
3.  Have a blank copy of the report card to hand out.  Write "SAMPLE" across it if you like, but it's important for parents to know what is expected of their child at the very beginning.  Finding out about it after it's been assessed can feel frustrating for the person being graded as well as their parents.  

4.  Feed them.  Popcorn, mints, or other "no prep" finger foods are easy for you and is always a nice ice breaker when you "have guests over."  

5.  Have an "official" sign up sheet for parents who want to discuss their child's progress.  There's one in every crowd.  Even thought the principal reminds parents that Open House is different from Conference Night, parents are naturally more interested in THEIR CHILD than they are in YOUR CURRICULUM.  Don't try to fight it; acknowledge it, but have that sheet ready.  Adhering to the idea that Open House is not the same as a conference shows your respect for the time of other parents in the room and protect the privacy of the children.  It also shows parents that not only are you available but you've anticipated their needs if you are ready to make appointments then and there.  And honestly, when I do this, I only have around 2 per year who actually follow through with needing a conference before the first progress report comes out 2 weeks later.

Bonus Tip:

Keep it clean.  Your classroom should be as tidy and clean as you and your students can get it.  Of course, if you're working on a project that's half finished there's no shame leaving that as a "learning artifact."  But if your desk looks like mine (crazy) sort the mad piles of papers into folder and stack them.  Hide stuff in drawers if you must.  Threaten bribe remind students to clean the floor and work areas.  I don't actually make them clean their desks (I want parents to see the real deal if it's something their child needs to improve and I mention it to them later on). 

How do you prepare for Open House?

P.S.  I also want to thank everyone for their continued support (in regards to the last Teachers Pay Teacher Sale).  My gift to you during this latest sale (August 22 only) is a product I revamped over summer vacation:  Back to School Survey for Parents and Students.
This product will help you get to know your new students from their perspectives as well as their parents' perspectives.  I've found both of these surveys helpful over the years!

And if you are looking for more surveys and first week activities, I also have a new bundle of all my old favorites:

This includes the above product, a reading survey, writing survey, Multiple Intelligences inventory, and the original Figure Me Out math activity.  Figure Me Out 6-in-1 Surveys Bundle.  It's a great way to get to know your quieter students, as well as aspects of your students that you may not see in the classroom.  Enjoy!

Shut the Door and Teach
Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Top 10 Back to School Tasks to Delegate

This back to school season will present a new challenge for me.  Due to a major construction project at my school, I’ll have less time than ever to set up my classroom.  We had one day to pack things up once the kids left (obviously I pre-packed what I could prior to that day).  And we’ll have about one week to get everything set back up again, if things go according to plan.  So although that means I get to enjoy more summer vacation time, it means crunch time once the building is finished!  As a result, I have to work smarter than ever before.  I already have a Back to School to do List  in place to be as efficient as possible (It's a free, editable download if you;d like).  But this year more than ever I feel the need to recruit help. 

Do you have family, friends, or former students who come help you set up?  If not, is it something you’ve considered, but you’re not sure how to delegate?  Here are my top ten tips for delegating those back to school tasks:

  1. Clean desks.  Usually I like to do this before my vacation starts, because it’s nice to walk into a clean classroom.  But this year once they unlock the doors, my husband and I will be there.  He will scrub down the adhesive from the old name tags, Magic Eraser the surface, and Dustbuster the insides. 
  2. Staple bulletin board trim.  You’ll want to use your helper as a second pair of hands with this task; some non-teachers may feel intimidated if you ask them to do this on their own.  But you’ll still get it done in half the time with help. I have directions in this post.
  3. Sharpen pencils.  Sharpen at least 100 and hide all but 50 of them.  I’m not even joking; if you start this habit early, you will not bat an eye next time you hear "I don't have a pencil" or even "There are no more pencils in the cup." 
  4. Distribute textbooks, notebooks, folders, and so on to students’ desks.  If you’re like me, you number your students and books, and print off labels so names are already on notebooks and workbooks.  If this is the case, you will need to set out name plates and stick on name labels prior to assigning this task.  If you don’t have numbered materials, and/or you have students write their own names on items, this is even easier. 
  5. Sort the classroom library.  Now, of course, the organization of the classroom library is so individual to different teachers.  I have to take all the books out of the bins but I keep the labels on (I have my Book Bin and Basket Labels available for you).  Each book has a sticker to code which bin it goes into so the kids know where to put them, so my husband is able to sort them as well.  And of course, they are in neat piles so it’s sorting of piles as opposed to one book at a time. 
  6. Remove plastic and dust the shelves. 
  7. Wipe down the sinks and counter tops.
  8. Clean the whiteboards.  If you’ve never tried the toothpaste trick, check it out!  It really works!  Just be sure to use cheap toothpaste that is the white paste kind with NO GEL.  The gel smears and discolors, but using a damp cloth with a little toothpaste works great, smells fresh, and you have one less chemical to inhale. 
  9. Distribute supplies into caddies:  Crayons, 4 pairs of scissors, 4 glue sticks, and a box of colored pencils work for my students. 
  10. Set up the computers.  We tend to unplug, wrap cords, and cover the computer peripherals.  My husband plugs everything in and sets up everything where it belongs for use, and even checks to make sure the networks are either set, or at least lets me know that the tech guys need to be called in if it’s not working.
I’ve tried delegating a few other tasks, but it depends on the organization of your classroom as well as the comfort level of your helper:

  1. Make copies.  If your helper knows how to run the copier, be specific.  Write on a sticky note for each page the number of copies you need, and which should be double sided, stapled, and so on. 
  2. Sort crayons.  I like to have a spot in my room where “old” crayons live in tribes.  If someone needs a red crayon, they go to the cup of red crayons and grabs one quickly instead of fishing or fighting for one. 
  3. Recycle extras.  I usually end up with extra copies in my files that are meant to have a single original.  If you have a little extra time, direct your helper to go through and get rid of all but one of each. your helper starts in on these tasks, you will be free to set up and fine tune all those other things you need to do to get your classroom in order.  As you work, write down other tasks that come to mind that you can delegate once your helper is finished and asks, "Is there anything else you need?"  Prioritize your tasks.  You might find that some of the tasks that are less important could be done by your students later in the year.  If you already have this list started, you'll be able to explain your needs more clearly later on, and it will make your job easier in the future.

To get you, or more to the point, your helper(s) started, I've created a task list of the top 10 back to school tasks to delegate.  It's free and editable since everyone has different needs when it comes to back to school setup.  You can download this checklist here.  Then, while your helper is working, carry on with your own task list here.  If you need any resources, such as a job chart, polka dot student name plates, bathroom pass labels for hand sanitizer or back to school night parent handouts, Teachers Pay Teachers is having a sale tomorrow, August 1st and the 2nd.  Use promo code BESTYEAR for up to 28% off.

Shut the Door and Teach
Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

An Introverted Teacher-preneur

I’ve been reading Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in preparation for the Teachers Pay Teachers conference.  This book is not what I was expecting.  I was sort of expecting it to help me (an introvert) use my strengths when out in social settings.  So far, after 3 chapters, it’s not really about that.  But I’m still enjoying it because it makes me feel empowered.

Although the book cover tells you that it's about introverts living in a society that celebrates extroverts, it’s not just a book dedicated to building up introverts at the expense of tearing down the extroverts.  For example, it starts out explaining how a certain partnership was more powerful because it was comprised of one introvert (Rosa Parks) and one extrovert (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.).  Introverts and extroverts shine in different contexts, so both traits are valuable. 

The book goes on to talk about the history of social expectations and the rise of the “big personalities” (because loud and bold were not always socially acceptable traits).  It gives examples in colleges and churches of how introverts today feel marginalized.  How introverts have made major contributions in law, literature, art, science, math and technology, but in modern times feel in some ways lesser than their extroverted colleagues.  I could relate to feeling "guilty" about my shy feelings and difficulty in certain social settings, and it's nice to know I'm not alone; at least a third of the population in America and Europe is with me on this.  But not only will there be lots of others with the same feelings as me at the conference; these feelings might not be because of personality, but may be because of societal values that are less than 100 years old.  That's pretty freeing!   

Another thing I loved about this book is it justifies what I have long known (since at least 6th grade) to be true:  not everyone learns best by working and talking in a group.  In my experience it is expected for teachers to seat students in groups for most of the day.  Some administrators are understanding, but some believe that students need to learn how to work in groups because that will prepare them for the real world.  This book calls out those administrators.  I felt like the author was saying, “Yeah, and if the business world told you to jump off a bridge, would you do that too?”  The book shares research and examples of times when group work STIFLES CREATIVITY.  Times when the open floor concept in a business setting has LOWERED PRODUCTIVITY. 

I spend a good amount of time socializing my students.  I know that regardless of where you are on the introvert/extrovert continuum, you need to learn how to communicate with others.  You need to learn and practice good citizenship and character.  I want that for my students, absolutely.  But I also know that there comes a time during math that some kids need to think in peace.  So this year, in the second half of the year, I did exactly what this blog proclaims.  I shut the door and taught.

After the 5 minute math mini-lesson, after the 15 minute group practice time, I handed out the privacy partitions that we use for testing.  I reassured the kids that this wasn’t a pop quiz, but the rules of testing applied.  No talking.  Questions are allowed, but I would be giving minimal help because I wanted them to take the time and make the effort to try to work through the problems on their own.  The first day was rough, but I told them this too, was practice.  Tomorrow we’ll try again, and tomorrow, practice good listening during the mini-lesson.  Use the 15 minute group work time to ask a LOT of questions.  And once the partitions go up, try out those new strategies during the quiet working time. 

That second day many of the kids LOVED it.  It was classic “I do, we do, you do.”  But the “you do” wasn’t “you kids working together,” it was “each of you, try this on your own.”  And they thanked me for it.  They felt empowered being able to work on their own.  Some realized they needed extra help, and were more focused when the time came for remediation, while others mastered the concept and moved on to focus on other math activities.  Some chose to work with a partner and some asked if they could keep working alone.  They were trying out different ways to learn to find out what works best for them, and isn't that equally as valuable as learning to work in a team? 

Now, this book has not made me look forward to the conference any less.  The book doesn’t say that introverts will learn nothing from a conference, haha.  In fact, it talks about how introverts make great ONLINE COLLABORATORS even when face to face collaborating is draining for us.  It has made me feel confident that I have a lot to offer, even though I will probably feel exhausted instead of exhilarated by meeting new people.  I will need to recharge afterwards and go over my notes on my own, but still reap just as much benefit from attending. 

So if you are an introverted teacher too, and you feel as though the system isn't working for you, know, at least, there isn't something wrong with you.  And at best, look for ways to bring your style back into your classroom, even if it's for small amounts of time.  Because some of your students are going to continue to benefit from the way things have been, but some are really going to benefit from a teacher who teaches for the introverts. 

Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Growth Mindset: Why I Make Myself Uncomfortable on Purpose

March is always crunch time for fourth grade because MCAS is approaching.  It's such a stressful time for the teachers, and as much as we tell the kids not to worry, just do your best, of course they worry.  Some kids express this by shutting down.  Instead of responding to carefully tailored interventions, they use their best avoidance techniques. 

So when I start seeing these behaviors increasing, I like to keep it real for my students and have a heart to heart with them.  We've all heard some variation of, "No one is good at everything, but we're all good at something."  But we need to let them know that it's possible for them to get better at something that they feel they're not good at.  I let them know that I'm not good at everything either.  I am pretty sure I have a learning disability when it comes to sense of direction.  This affects me in various ways:
1.      I'm not fluent with left and right. 
2.      I can't find new places easily.
3.      If I do find where I'm going, I have trouble finding my way back because everything is reversed.  Even something as simple as walking around a store used to be frustrating.
4.      When I am facing someone, like in an aerobics class, I have trouble reversing the directions.

Does this mean I should avoid aerobics classes?  Should I avoid going to new places?  Do I need to go with my mom to the store so I don't get lost?  Obviously not.  So I've learned ways to compensate. 
1.      If I twitch my right hand, I can "feel" where my right is.  It might take me a second, whereas most adults know instantly, but at least I'm not helpless. 
2.      I bought a GPS.  Totally counts as adaptive technology as far as I'm concerned.
3.      If I have to find my way back from somewhere, I look back often.  I have a pretty good visual memory, so if I'm seeing something from the perspective that I'll be approaching, I can retrace my steps.
4.      If I'm watching an exercise video and direction doesn't matter, I just do the routine completely backwards and mirror the person.  I'm still getting the same benefits.  If I'm learning a dance routine and direction does matter, I either face the other way and look behind me to get the instructions, or for footwork I ask the instructor to turn around.

I have learned how to function even though my sense of direction is a weakness.  And I prove it to them in our school's Variety Show every year when I perform in the teacher's dance number.  That's right.  This introverted teacher who never had a dance lesson learned the choreography has banged out Dynamite, Beat It, Proud Mary, and Firework.  It's not easy, just like reading those MCAS passages are not easy for some people.  I've gotten pretty frustrated at myself during rehearsals, just like some people get really frustrated after a few practice math MCAS problems.  And since I don't quit, they can't quit either.

The fact is, it's worth it to make ourselves uncomfortable, because that's how we grow.  I tell them, "It keeps me involved with the other teachers, who are fun to be with.  It feels amazing when it comes together and I know I've nailed it.  And people in the audience have never said, 'You messed up that one part,' they just say, 'Wow, you all did so great!'  Because no one's looking for perfection from anyone else in this school.  But we do expect you to do your best and do a little better each time you try something." 

This is the first year the teachers will be unable to perform in the Variety Show.  I'm sad it's worked out that way.  And I've missed having this talk with my class.  But I still believe in making myself uncomfortable, on purpose, because this is how I will grow.  So I'm getting ready for a new endeavor. 

I'm flying off to the TPTOrlando16 Conference in July. the past 2 years I'd told myself, "I'm an introvert.  Face to face networking is not a good investment of my time and money.  I can learn from reading blogs and forums posts"  But last year I ended up feeling really sorry for myself that I wasn't there.  And that's when I realized I was ready to grow.  I have some work to do, but I will actively be seeking ways to compensate for my weaknesses.  I've collected some articles on how to network over on Pinterest.  Then I'm going to look for opportunities to practice prior to flying out.    

This post is a prime example of why I need help networking.  I would like to invite comments to this post.  I went back to revise it and looked for an opportunity to say, "If you were going to have a similar talk with your students, what would your weakness be?  How have you overcome that weakness?  Is there something you want to improve but need to create a plan first?  Are you an introvert going to the conference, or are you on the fence because you are an introvert?"  But I had trouble fitting it in naturally, so I've lumped it all into this paragraph.  It's not ideal.  But hopefully you're not expecting perfection either.

Shut the Door and Teach
Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Teaching Theme: Facilitating Student Discussions

I've seen two different definitions for theme floating around instructional resources, including Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, and yes, our "real" reading program. 

The first definition likens theme to the lesson the character learns in the story.  For example, "The theme of this story is to believe in yourself."

However, the counterargument I've seen is that that's the lesson, and the theme is something different.  Theme is what the story is about in one word. 

It's a lot harder to get kids to sum up the heart of the story in a single word.  For one thing, fourth graders don't usually have the vocabulary to do it.  They don't have words like innocence, ambition, optimism, or sacrifice in their productive vocabulary.  If you ask them to sum up the story in a single word, beginning theme-finders are going to mistakenly tell you the topic.  "It's about dogs."  And that's even more far removed from the objective than telling the lesson!  At least if you can get them to tell you the lesson, they're pretty much getting to the heart of the story. 

So, in the spirit of setting the bar high so that some of the kids reach it and others have something to be closer to reaching, I decided to teach theme as a single word.  I did quite a bit of research (on Pinterest as well as our reading program) until I created my anchor chart.

I taught theme in chunks, slowly unrolling the chart (it's way too much text to present all at once).  I had already taught how to summarize, so the blue questions numbers 1-4 were not new.  I was also able to refer to mentor texts from earlier in the year as I modeled how to arrive at one of the 6 themes I listed in red.   

The next day I unrolled the rest of the chart to provide more examples to choose from as they considered the theme of our current story, and then later in their own guided reading books.  This made the process more manageable.  I thought about splitting the chart in two on the first draft, but I'm glad I didn't when a student asked me a few weeks later if I'd bring the chart back out to refer to (much easier for me to find)! 

I'm not 100% sure that the 6 categories I chose are the be all and end all when it comes to theme, which is why I wrote "6 common themes are..."  And I'm not certain that each of the details fits exactly within the category, but I think I came close enough to lead my students in the right direction.   

Some of the words are still beyond them, but by putting them with related concepts, they had a lot more success with the idea of theme than any previous group has had.  Instead of being completely stuck, discussions arose, such as, "Well, I think it could be about growing up or family.  I'm not sure."  In which case I could say, "Why do you think so?"  Or when partners were "turning and talking" about the same text I was reading aloud, I'd hear, "Kevin says it's growing up but I think it's friendship," and I could say, "Hmm, I could see that.  Can you give your partner a reason to convince him why you think that?"  And viola, the kids were practicing supporting their thinking with evidence from the text!

If you're thinking of adapting this anchor chart for your own classroom, I would encourage you to consider the books your students are choosing to read independently, as well as the texts you've read earlier in the year as a whole class as you tweak the categories.  This helped give mine a point of reference as well as set them up for success when they were working independently.  There will be plenty of time as their vocabulary and reading interests develop to start thinking beyond just 6 different themes.

How do you teach theme?

Shut the Door and Teach
Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Freebies and a Sale!

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and Black Friday!  Mine were great; I had time to be productive (cooking, organizing home and school stuff, and Christmas shopping online) and time to relax and enjoy time with my family.  I even made time to create a few new resources for teaching writing, as well as updating an old favorite (more below).  All this was right in time for Teachers Pay Teachers CyberSmile Sale on Monday (and Tuesday). You can save up to 28% off of your purchases by entering promo code SMILE at checkout.  My whole store will be a full 28% off as long as you remember the promo code!  

Here are a few items from my own store that are in high demand and have kept my own students engaged in their learning each year during the second trimester:

Homophones Task Cards These task cards help students learn homophones in context.  By partnering students up, they can read aloud and hear the pronunciation of the homographs.  There are also traditional worksheets included to reinforce what students have learned.  These worksheets are perfect for homework or a formative assessment.    

Mentor Sentences: Fourth Grade Bundle and now serving fifth grade with the Mentor Sentences Fifth Grade Growing Bundle.

If you're looking to save more and elevate the level of editing in your students' writing, this is a resource you will find yourself referring to and pulling from all year round.  The fourth grade bundle includes model sentences that highlight parts of speech, transition words, verb tenses, capitals and punctuation, and effective word choice.  Students analyze the sentences and then apply what they've learned to create their own sentence with the highlighted concept.  There are also reference notes included that are perfect for students' interactive notebooks. 

Narrative Writing Unit  If you're looking for a complete narrative unit, this will end your students' writer's block as well as understand exactly what you mean when you say, "You need to add more details."  Check out my most popular writing unit, get your students ready for the big statewide writing test, and save 28%!

And finally, if you're looking for my best deal, you can save 28% on my largest bundle, my 5 US Regions Unit Plans Bundle.  Normally priced $25, it will cost just $18.75 for two days only! 

So start filling your wishlist, and come back Monday and Tuesday to save a bundle on some fun, engaging resources for your class. 

As a thank you for following along I also wanted to direct you to a few of my favorite seasonal freebies.  There are a few must-haves if you are teaching elementary, and a few if you are specifically teaching fourth. 

1.  Tissue box hygiene reminders.  I rubber-band these to each tissue box in my classroom as a not so subtle reminder!  Even if you have a sink in your classroom, the place to hang a reminder is not over the sink (where they are already washing their hands).  It's on the tissue box itself.  Slow the spread of germs this flu season!

2.  Holiday Aid for Low Income Students   I know I've posted this before, but I wanted to remind you that now is the time to find/re-download your copy!  This seasonal freebie for your class is designed to help target assistance for your lower income students.  It's perfect if you have funds from the PTO to provide them with a little something for the holiday.  I'm lucky enough to work in a school where we give to the families in need every year, and this page will help you get started with that.

3.  Homework Reminder Forms  This is a gentle reminder for kids who have forgotten their homework. They print 6 to a page in order to save paper, and can be easily glued into an assignment book to help kids and parents see what's due.

4. Synonyms and Antonyms   Many grammar tasks ask kids to find what needs to be fixed in a sentence.  As a result, kids are exposed to models of incorrect writing!  Stop reinforcing models of common grammatical errors.  Mentor sentences require them to analyze quality, model writing, then explain what makes it so.  This is a free sample of my Mentor Sentences line of grammar, usage and mechanics resources.  I've even started a fifth grade version due to popular demand!

5.  Coordinate Points and Ordered Pairs Warship Game  This is a fun, free math game to help reinforce reading ordered pairs and plotting coordinate points.  You can play whole class, put it in a math center, and even put a copy in your sub tub for a fun activity that the kids will happily return to as needed. 

5.  Context Clues Practice Page  Can your students ever have enough practice using context clues?  This free page is perfect for practice any time of year.  Teach the strategy of how to determine the meaning of words using the context of a sentence.  Your students will enjoy the silly twist on this strategy with this fun practice page.   

I hope you enjoy the freebies and save lots of money at TPT.  Do remember to enter the promo code SMILE when you shop on Monday (and Tuesday) in order to get the full 28% discount.  One new product that I launched this weekend is Mentor Sentences: Verbs {Fifth Grade}.  You can also check back on my Mentor Sentence category on Tuesday for one more Mentor Sentence resource coming out just in time to save you 28%. Happy bargain hunting!

Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

Friday, November 27, 2015

Surviving the RETELL Course Part 2: Staying Organized

At this point I am closer to the end than the beginning of my RETELL class.  I've done well so far, so I wanted to share how I've kept up with the demands of the class.  As I said in my last post, it's not as bad as I feared (once I resigned myself to having no free time for the four month duration, hah).  It's just bad trying to balance the workload with, you know, teaching full time.  Which we all have to do.  So here's how I have been keeping organized.  If you want to try it, it's a simple but effective three-pronged approach:

1.  Create a folder on your desktop for RETELL. 

In the RETELL folder, file the course rubrics so you know exactly what you're being graded on for each assignment.  The reports themselves don't always make the expectations clear.

Then, within the RETELL folder, create a subfolder for each class.  I named mine by date.  For example, the first session is "10_2 First Session."  The most recent folder is "11_19 Seventh Session."  This is important because there is more material online (you will have to register with the DESE's Blackboard portal) than in print for this course.  And personally, I don't like to print more than I have to.  So to save paper, within each class folder you should file:

  • Downloaded pdfs of all readings:  Because they are PDFs, you can highlight and make notes within the pdf. 
  • Notes:  Because you will be expected to write a response to most of the readings, as well as discuss them in class, it's important to have notes.  Since I don't print the readings, I simply type up my notes and quote small sections that I find most important.  If you want to save paper, this strategy with help you keep your printing to a page or two instead of the whole article.  You might also want to copy the addresses to the YouTube videos that are part of the online homework requirements and include them in your typed notes, just in case you want to revisit those.
  • Copies of your written responses:  You will need to post your responses to the online readings in the Blackboard forum.  You will also need to respond to two people's posts.  I copy my own post as well as my responses.  I figure this is good security just in case anything happened to Blackboard.  In fact, you should write your response in Word (or whatever word processor you use) before you post to Blackboard, since it "times out" and can lose your work.  This has happened to me on enough online platforms that I've learned my lesson.  Ctrl+A followed by Ctrl+C to highlight and copy before clicking "submit" has saved me a few times, but transferring from Word is even safer because this way I don't forget to do it.
  • Reference materials:  There are WIDA materials that don't require written responses, but you will be expected to be familiar with in relation to your current ELL student.  Having a copy of your content standards is also useful for several of the classes.  If you are an elementary school teacher in Massachusetts, the science and social studies standards are the ones you will focus on more than math and even ELA.  Obviously, if you only teach math, these are the standards you will need to refer to. 
  • Formal papers: (the bulk of which are called SIRs, or Strategy Implementation Reports).  Keep digital copies of your work in the folder for the class in which they are assigned. 

2.  Keep a binder for printed materials.

If you follow my advice above, and do NOT print out every article, a one inch binder should be all you need.  Of course, if you prefer to print out documents to read and write notes on by hand, you'll either need a bigger binder (which I can tell you after several months of physical therapy for my shoulder, is a very bad idea) or a system in which you're weeding out materials that you don't lug to the next class. 

Within your binder, keep loose leaf paper for notes you will take in class.  Although you can print the PowerPoint presentation of every class session from Blackboard, again, I like to conserve paper.  I'd rather have 1 page of the most important points than 10 pages.  You will also find that your instructor will guide you through which slides are important, and which can be glossed over (/deleted).  Your instructor will also clarify the expectations for what you will need to do before the next session, since Blackboard is not always well edited for the newest incarnation of the course.  In other words, sometimes the wrong assignments are listed as being due for the next session. 

Next, print the typed notes as well as the responses you posted online and put them in each class section of your binder.  This will provide you with talking points during your class discussions, since it will have been several days since you first read those materials.  Stick a page flag on the notes for each class to keep your RETELL binder organized the same way as your RETELL desktop folder. 

In the back of your binder, keep a folder with the hard copies of your formal papers.  Although DESE requires that these are posted on Blackboard so they can see our work as well as our instructor's comments/grades, my instructor has requested that we bring her hard copies because she prefers to read them this way.  Store the paper you're currently handing in at the beginning of class as well as your old, graded copies in your folder.  You should also keep hard copies of the WIDA reference materials in the folder, since you will refer to these regularly.

3.  Keep a separate bag just for RETELL course materials.

I keep a tote for my binder, a pen, the Participant's Manual (which we do refer to in class) and student texts, since they are referred to nearly every session.  It's not a lot of materials, but I feel like there's enough there that I don't want to mix it in with my regular school bag.  It's a smaller, lighter bag to carry, which feels much more manageable.  And that's good for your psyche after a long day of teaching. 

Using this system will help you stay organized, which will make the course feel easier to manage.  This system might not work for everyone.  I know some people like to print everything, and other people utilize their tablets for viewing online media during class.  So even if you are shaking your head at some of these suggestions, I hope this post helped get you thinking about how you will manage the materials in a way that works for you!  As long as you start with a plan in mind, you're on the right track.  Next time I'll talk more about how I manage my time to fit the course requirements with the demands of teaching.  I'll present my weekly schedule to give you an idea of what this course has in store for you.  In the meantime, if you have questions about the course, or a different organizational system, please leave a comment below. 

Shut the Door and Teach
Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

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