Thursday, January 16, 2020

Makes you smile!!

After 23 years of teaching, there is always several changes that you see that happen in the teaching field.  There is one thing that always stays the same and it is how you care about the children and how they touch your heart.  I have a student this year that every day she leaves me a note on my desk.  Those little notes touch my heart daily.  

I tell all the students how much I love to come to school to see their smiles.  I wanted to share just a few notes that I received from her this last week.  She told me later that she wanted me to have those smiles she drew on the weekend so when I'm missing the students I can look at the smiles and it would make me think of them and their smiles. Even as so many things change in education, the one thing that never changes is how much we love these kids!



Hope you have a great week!

Monday, January 6, 2020

A little late, but a fun Christmas idea!

I know that Christmas is over, but I wanted to share what I used in the classroom before Christmas this year.  My co-teacher saw an idea of using the Grinch to motivate the students before Christmas to be extra kind to one another.  We started by reminding the students how the Grinch's heart was small and we wanted to work really hard to make it big before Christmas.  We talked about things we could do to help make its heart grow bigger.  The kids talked about being kind to other kids, teachers, and adults.  They also talked about how following rules and keeping the classroom clean would make his heart grow.  

Each day when they came into the room I would have the heart from the day before on the wall and a new heart to show if it had grown or if it had not grown.  They were so excited to look at it every day.   During the day, I would also make comments of how some of their actions were making his heart grow bigger.  Today was our first day back from Christmas break and I put up the heart he started out with, the heart that was in the middle of the time we started and his final heart.  They were thrilled and talked all day about how much they made the Grinch's heart grow.  It was a simple thing to do, but they sure loved it!  


Hope all of you enjoyed your break or you are still enjoying it if you haven't gone back yet!




Monday, December 23, 2019

Dyslexia Workshop Highlights

Good morning! I want to say "Happy Christmas Break" but I actually saw a post by a teacher who was headed to school today! Yikes! So I'll just say, I hope you are on Christmas Break or it is in your very near future. ;-)

I don't have a lot of plans for Christmas break. Our family is local so we will get together with them to celebrate. We have Christmas Eve services at church tomorrow. Today my only goal is to get some writing done. I'm over half way done with my second Bible study...really would like to have it available in the spring. Prayers appreciated!

Okay, on to what this post is all about. I know I already shared Kid Writing that I heard about through this workshop, but I wanted to share my other biggest takeaways as well. It was just too much information for one post--especially since I'm a bit long-winded. ;-)

The workshop was called Dyslexia: Help Children Who Struggle to Successfully Read, Write, and Spell, by Mark Weakland. I was drawn specifically to this one because it was advertised as providing helpful strategies for students with dyslexia and not just the science behind it (important, but I've already learned a lot about that). Mark Weakland did not disappoint--and neither does his website! Check him out at Mark Weakland Literacy. It was a workshop geared to Tier I instruction (so applicable to all, not just reading specialists).

  • Oral Phonological/Phonemic Awareness is so important. We started using Kilpatrick's one minute activities a few years ago. This year I administered the PAST at the beginning of the year and again in December to the students that I work with and I've seen a lot of improvement! These activities are found in Equipped for Reading Success (affiliate link) by David Kilpatrick:

  • The program that we use for phonics and phonemic awareness continues to impress me. Pathways to Reading has been around for a long time, but the strategies that it uses (Segment and Write and Old Word/New Word) are some of the strategies Mr. Weakland suggested (just by another name). He did give me some ideas for Intermediate teachers to do some Word Ladder activities with morphemes (instead of sounds) which was pretty cool.
  • Handwriting is important for students with dyslexia, from proper print formation to teaching cursive. I was excited to see our new handwriting curriculum, Handwriting Without Tears, as one of the suggested resources. Whoop! Whoop! 
  • Three things to prevent and correct reading difficulties: aggressively teach phonological awareness to an advanced level (this is the Oral PA activities and Heggerty as well), directly, explicitly, and systematically teach phonic and spelling patterns to a point of mastery K-5, and provide many opportunities for children to read extended text (adapted from Kilpatrick's Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties affiliate link).

  • Read, read, read! Despite overwhelming research and evidence that children should be allowed time for independent reading while at school (Allington suggests 90 minutes spread throughout the day!!! Right...but can you at least get in 20 or 30?), the average student is only given 7 minutes a day to read independently at school. 🙁 Please, please, please make sure you are teaching students how to become independent readers and give them time do so. It can be done--even in K! Yes, you may have to get creative with one or two kiddos, but don't let that stop you from providing that time. Here's a blog post I wrote that links to a great lesson about three types of readers: pretender, dutiful, and engaged. 
  • Write, write, write! Reading, writing and spelling are all connected. Make time for independent writing as well. No sentence starters, no sentence frames. Let them write
  • Spelling is for Reading. Mr. Weakland feels very strongly about teaching spelling to help struggling readers. Abandon the test if you want, but don't abandon the daily spelling instruction. His points: daily instruction, effective sequence, teach to mastery (differentiate lists as needed), and teach spelling strategies.
  • Fluency. Repeated readings. Decodable text. Partner reading. Use poetry. Remember that for a student with dyslexia our goal is not necessarily to make them a fast reader, but an accurate reader.

And finally, I love this quote from the resource book he gave us...
"Knowing how important reading and writing are, the question then becomes "How can we program more reading and writing opportunities into our teaching day, especially opportunities that are authentic and engaging?"




Saturday, December 21, 2019

Let Them Write!

Hey there! It's official...Christmas break is here! It is hard to believe this year is half over already, but I was definitely in need of some time to rest, reflect, and get recharged for the next semester. Anybody else? 

If you've followed along with this blog for any length of time, you know that I went from teaching 1st grade to 2nd grade and then more recently into the Title I position at my school. As soon as I accepted the position, I decided to pursue my Masters Degree as a Reading Specialist (finished in August and passed the license exam--whoop! whoop!). I've also taken many opportunities to attend workshops about reading difficulties, especially dyslexia. 

I recently had the opportunity to attend a workshop, Dyslexia: Help Children Who Struggle to Successfully Read, Write, and Spell, by Mark Weakland. I was drawn specifically to this one because it was advertised as providing helpful strategies for students with dyslexia and not just the science behind it (important, but I've already learned a lot about that). Mark Weakland did not disappoint--and neither does his website! Check him out at Mark Weakland Literacy. It was a workshop geared to Tier I instruction (so applicable to all, not just reading specialists).

Anyway, one of the things that he shared was Kid Writing. WOW! I really wish I had this resource when I was setting up writing workshop in my first grade classroom years ago...


A little background for you... My first year teaching, I followed the "writing" in my basal series. As you can imagine, I did not see a lot of growth in my students' writing and I knew there had to be a better way. I spent that summer researching and found a wonderful FREE resource by Jessica Meacham. She has done a wonderful job of organizing the resources and is still sharing them for free! Her mini-lessons are fantastic for getting your writing workshop up and going in the primary grades. 

Let's get one thing out of the way. I'm talking about "free writing" where students get to choose what they write about. Copying sentences is not writing. Sentence starters and frames are not a bad thing to use occasionally or to provide scaffolding, but when I talk about teaching writing that is not what I mean. I'm talking about where we give students the opportunity to develop their own thoughts and ideas while using the sound symbol relationships we are teaching them. 

Let them write. Writing builds reading skills. Reading builds writing skills. Let them write. And read...a lot. :-)

Just look what can happen in Kindergarten when teaching kids in a writing workshop structure (this is from Kid Writing):



Some things I'm loving in the Kid Writing book that I wish I had known about when I was teaching writing workshop:

1. The magic line.
2. Teacher publishing for reading and rereading (and the way they explain it to kids).
3. Suggestions for putting high-frequency words in the room to help with spelling (and guess what? reading!). I haven't come across it in the book yet, but Mr. Weakland mentioned a "family tree" where the words that kids commonly want to use (i.e. mother, father, grandpa, grandmother, sister, etc.) are posted for reference. 
4. Assessments for identifying writing developmental phases.

If you're interested in the Kid Writing book, it is an affordable resource book. Check it out here

Hope you enjoy your Christmas break! And yes, in case you are wondering, I'm blogging a bit more lately. :-)


Monday, December 16, 2019

Work Smarter, NOT Harder

Hey there, teacher friends! We are approaching the end of the semester, a time when many are a bit frazzled and exhausted! It made me think it was the perfect time to put together a post I've been thinking about for awhile. 

We can all agree that teachers work hard. It seems that you can never get ahead. Something always comes up that demands your attention. I can remember my first couple years of teaching and how late I worked each night. My husband, a very patient man, had to encourage me to "get it together" so I could spend more time at home with my family. And he was right. Teaching can consume you to the point that you neglect your own needs and the needs of your family. 

I've now been teaching for ten years, and I continue to look for ideas to help me stay organized and on top of things. Some questions I consider...What do I spend the most time on? Is there anything I do over and over again (day after day, week after week, year after year)? Is there a way to simplify that or prepare for it better? 

Here's a few of my favorite tips:

Daily Checklist
When I was in the classroom (I'm now the Title I Reading Specialist), I used a daily checklist to keep me on track. I had my list of things I needed to do every day slipped inside a page protector. As I accomplish things on the list, I cross it off and when the week is done I can use it all over again. The best thing is that it kept me focused and allowed me to leave on time (without a bunch of things cluttering up the back of my mind). 

My checklist looks a little different now. It is monthly, but still serves the same purpose!

One of my old daily checklists.

New Student Prep

Here's another thing I learned early in my teaching career. Getting ready for a new student can be tough--or it can be simple. After the first year of scrambling to gather all the materials, label them, and be ready for a new student the night before, I stumbled on the "new student bag" idea. Every year after that, I made two new student bags while I prepped at the beginning of the year. It made getting a new student so much easier. 

This year, I'm prepared for new students to my intervention room as well. Folders with assessment forms are ready and waiting for when a new student is referred to me.


Bulletin Boards

Choose bulletin board ideas that can stay up all year, such as one where student work is swapped out frequently or where you are adding character traits all year. Your students will benefit from more time spent on preparing lessons than they will cute bulletin boards or decorations that you are swapping out. Now if decorating is your "jam" then go for it, but don't feel pressured to make your room "pinterest-worthy." 

Special Helper (instead of job chart)

And while we're at it, tie this into your assigned line! 
Skip the job chart. Choose one student to be your special helper of the week. They get to do ALL the jobs that week. No more swapping out names with a job chart that takes up space or  remembering who has which jobs. It's always the special helper. If they're absent, the next person in line fills in for the day. 

Can we talk assigned lines for a minute? Yes, please use an assigned line. It simplifies your life and everyone else's in the building who might be responsible for lining up your students. NOW THIS IS IMPORTANT--ROTATE YOUR LINE! Sorry I had to yell, but no kid wants to be at the back of the line all year. Or last to lunch every day. It's really very simple to rotate the line each week. The student at the front, goes to the back. You have a new line leader (special helper) and the order has not really changed so there is no need to learn a new assigned line.

Parent Teacher Conferences

PT conference prep was a snap once I started using data binders. Put everything in there that you will want to share with parents. Teach your kids how to add things to the binder, track their own data (which can be pretty motivational), and you won't be scrambling to get ready for conferences. 

This year, I wrote personalized letters to the parents of all my kids at conference time and again last week to update them on their child's progress. This was very time consuming, so I will definitely be looking to simplify for next year.

Lesson Planning

My lesson planning system in my classroom took several years to master, but in the end it was the best thing that I did to save myself time. Seriously.

I created an overview for the year with an estimated date to teach each unit.
I made one of these for every subject.
Then I created a page(s) like this for each unit. I would list all available resources that I had in my files (i.e. task cards, games, online videos, etc.) so that I could pull out what I needed
based on the needs of my class that given year. This was even simpler when following a curriculum (i.e. Unit 1, Week 3). I would add key pieces of information to those (i.e. vocabulary, sight words, decodables, leveled readers, etc.). I would also add a section of copies and materials needed to make prep work easier. I used these pages year after year (obviously making some changes as needed), but for the most part my planning was done at the beginning of the year!
If you want to give it a try, I set up a template for you. Feel free to download it and adapt it to fit your needs. 

Well, that's all I can think of for now. Maybe it will give you a few ideas to try. What about you? Do you have any tips for us to work smarter, not harder? If so, leave them in the comments below!



Friday, September 27, 2019

Small Group Warm-Up Activities!

Hey there! 

What are you up to on a Friday night? Here I am blogging...but hey, the house is quiet and I've had something that I've been wanting to share for awhile. 

My daughter is actually home from college, but she wanted to go to the football game. My husband is at a men's recharge (preaching services). I cannot wait to spend some time with Harley tomorrow so I figured now was a good time to hop on and show you what has me so excited.

Ever since learning more about the process of learning to read, I've been trying to find quick and easy ways to get a lot of practice into my intervention time with students. I'm pretty excited about two new things I'm using this year and want to share them with you.

First, SuperSpeed 100 for sight words. This is a FREE activity from Whole Brain Teaching. They also have SuperSpeed 1000. I am using this (along with their FREE Biffytoons for my youngest readers) to practice sight words and it literally takes only about 3 minutes of my intervention time and the kids are loving it. The best part is that I've already seen my 1st graders improving on their AimsWeb Plus Word Reading Progress Monitoring. Whoop! Whoop!

Second, is what I'm calling Phonics Warm-Up Activities. I created these to use with my students as they progress through our explicit phonics and phonemic awareness lessons. My initial thought was to have students warm-up using the boards by reading the line of words with our targeted sound, but now I see that the possibilities are endless! Here's a peek at some of my students using the boards:




The boards can be used in small groups, as a center activity, or when students have extra time in the classroom. They can be used as a warm-up activity, roll-and-read, decoding practice, fluency practice, or as an orthographic mapping activity. My latest idea is to play "Bingo" by giving students sound hints to find specific words. I'm going to try this out next week. 

Like the SuperSpeed games, these activities are simple to prep (print and go) and don't take a lot of my intervention time to get lots of practice in. The boards start with short vowels and progress through more difficult skills. You can check them out in our TPT store for a full list of skills covered if you're interested. 

Enjoy your weekend! I know I'm going to enjoy seeing Harley...miss my kiddos so much (thankfully they still text and/or call quite a bit ;-))!



Monday, September 2, 2019

Check Out My Offices...or Classrooms!

I call them offices. I guess they could be considered tiny classrooms. Either way, here is a peek at my work spaces for this year.

Before we get into that, here is my first day of school picture. A selfie--which I'm not great at--because my husband had already left for work. This is the first year I have no kids in my picture! I had just left them in Oklahoma for college on Sunday.

I wanted to take it in front of my new "inspirational" arrangement--turns out I would need those phrases!
This one too.
My first day was actually miserable. It had nothing to do with school though. Without unnecessary details, let's just say we had money stolen and feared our identities and accounts were compromised. It made for a busy week of closing accounts, opening new ones, etc. All is well now.

These pics are of my K-2 office/classroom: 


My daughter made the wall files for me out of pine 1x3's and 1x2's for the depth. I always get questions, so thought I'd try to help you out even though I'm probably not explaining it well. 

I love my brain poster. :-)

Segment and Write boards from Pathways to Reading. 


It took me all week to get this counter cleaned off! :-)

New cart...no idea yet what I will use it for. Thoughts?

Two main rules of time with Mrs. Ratcliff. 

These next few pictures are of things I helped put together in the teachers' lounge and/or office. 

A couple of other teachers and I formed a P.O.P. (Power of Prayer) group a couple of years ago. We are a small district, so we divide the entire staff and board members into a weekly prayer list and cycle through it 3 times a year. We also display a verse of the week. At each building we have a weekly prayer meeting open to any staff that wants to join us. 

Finding time to meet as a staff is a challenge, so we have this calendar in the lounge to try and keep everyone updated on what is going on.  
I put together one of these in both buildings for staff to recognize staff. These are from Staff Morale Boosters pack on TPT. The pack included some other fun things as well. Looking forward to spreading some "cheer" this year!

Everyday at 1:30, I drive 20 minutes to the 3-12 building. This is my office/classroom where I work with 3rd-5th graders. I haven't made it as homey (other than the futon), but maybe some day.  

Excuse the mess on the table. Getting ready to plan/prep for MTSS groups.

Brain poster again! I'm planning to add the words: What's Happening in your Brain while you are Reading...

I have to admit, my first full week was extra long. I'm thankful it was also revival week at my church even though it made for late nights. The services helped keep my focus on the eternal after going through that first awful day, especially this sermon: Are you fixated on the right thing? I highly recommend it!

I'm rested up and ready to get back to it tomorrow! We're hoping to finish up testing this week, so I can start working with kids next week. Woohoo!



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