Category Archives: education

This Week’s Feature: Organization

This week’s feature comes from one of my colleagues and I have been excited to share it with you all week. I frequently visit Ann’s classroom before the school day starts and in those visits I am constantly picking up tricks from her about ways to keep the kids and myself organized. She is really good at this! She gives her students a lot of ownership and responsibility in this area too which I love because at the end of the day our job is to help children learn to be functioning adults. I will stop now and let Ann explain some of her methods…

Grade 4
Worcester, MA

Tell us about what is working in your classroom?

Organization is a key component in my classroom. It starts at the end of the school year for students. Yes! I said end of the school year for students! At our school, we are fortunate enough to have a day in June to meet and greet our upcoming class. During this time, students are given a list of things to bring with them on the first day of school. I’m not going to kid you; it’s a long list of supplies. Some of the main components on this list include color specific folders and notebooks. I think this is key for many reasons. First, I decide on colors that match their textbooks (if they have them for a specific subject – ex. purple math textbook = purple folder, purple notebook.) To the best of our ability, every subject taught gets color coded. It is a great visual for students as well as for me.

We all teach and implement transitions and the importance of them in the classroom. We want to make the most out of our teaching time and time on learning. Students get to know the routines in the first few weeks of school and know what time is math, etc. If they happen to forget, all they have to do is look at their neighbor and see what color is out on their desk. Along with a color coded system, I purchase labels at the beginning of the school year and each student receives their own sheet with their names already printed on them. I model where the label goes on each folder and each notebook, in case I need to collect them for any reason during the year. Then I am not searching to see whose things I have during correcting, etc. My motto when it comes to any papers students have in their possession, “Every paper has a home.”

Why do you think this practice is working?

Class organization is a key factor for students. During the first few weeks of school, I show students where work is for the week – labeled Monday through Friday, where graphic organizers are kept for guided reading, and where class lists are, etc. I tell them I expect them to help run this class smoothly, with or without me there. I try to create an atmosphere where the students can freely move about and can gain access to things that can help them succeed. I once saw a video at school that believed in teachers not having to say the routines and procedures over and over in the middle of the year, but to be able to walk into a classroom, and say to the class, what are your procedures?

Having taught sixth grade for a number of years also helped my perspective on transitions. Realizing that students will have to switch classes, go to their lockers in a specific time frame, made me realize that I could help ease that transition into middle school, by helping color code their subjects. I know it works, because a number of former students have stopped by for a visit, letting me know that it was a big deal to continue that system in middle school.

How did you set this practice up in your classroom?

​Class lists – Go to Microsoft word and make a two column list with every student name on it. Leave a line before each name, to enable you to check off their name. I make one at the beginning of the school year, save a copy and print it. Then I copy it around 50 times to start me off. These lists are accessible for students and me. They come in great in the first two weeks of school especially, when you receive form after form, back from parents.

​Graphic organizers – After using every graphic organizer known (exaggeration), I decided that I would only use the ones from Time for Kids website. Here they have a wonderful collection for reading and writing, covering all genres. Again, I make 30 – 50 copies at the beginning of the school year of each organizer. They are kept in one file cabinet drawer where the students can have access to. I might use one on a whim, or in writing, but I also find that my guided reading groups may make a decision to use one with the book they are reading. They seem very comfortable going into the file and choosing one that best suits their needs.

Color coded folders – Give students a supply list as soon as possible, including color coded folders and notebooks to match their textbook colors.

Can you suggest any resources (links/books/articles) that would help someone else set this practice up?

​Time for Kids website (Go to graphic organizers)



Check It Out: Guided Reading

Hello all! I am deep into vacation over here. I hope those of you who have vacation this week are enjoying it.

If you are like me there is no way to turn off your teacher-brain and vacation is just a time to plan and brainstorm. So here’s a great guided reading video that will hopefully spark some excitement for you…

(As always this is not my video and in no way belongs to me)

Make sure to come back later this week for “This Moment” and a wonderful feature from one of my very talented coworkers.

This Weeks Feature: Morning Meeting

A big thank you to Jen for writing about her morning meeting this week. Jen is my neighbor at school so we chat at the end of the day while she writes her morning message. I love the way her morning meeting runs and I thought it would definitely be something worth sharing with all of you in blog land!

Jennifer Conlon
2nd Grade
Worcester, Ma

Tell us about what is working in your classroom?

Morning Meeting is a central part of my classroom. We begin every day with Morning Meeting. It is based on the work of the Responsive Classroom. Responsive Classroom was developed by the Northeast Foundation for Children. I certainly did not develop this process but can’t say enough about how effective it is. The meeting is a way to bring students together each morning and set the stage for them to be ready to learn. It is a central routine that students become so familiar with they could run it themselves. The meeting is essential to building community and becomes the stage where daily expectations are communicated and students practice taking turns, listening, responding and a myriad of other essential academic and social skills. The meeting has four components: greeting, game, news and announcements and share.
In the greeting students greet each other by name. There are many greetings that students learn. Examples are the handshake greeting in which students take turns going around the circle shaking hands and saying “Good morning____”, or the ball toss greeting in which children toss a soft ball to each other saying “ Good morning___.” There are many different greetings and we vary them each day. At the outset we practice a greeting for several days. We model aspects such as shaking hands, saying the person’s name, and how to ask if you don’t remember a name. The latter is only necessary in the first weeks of school. Everyone gets to know each other’s names very quickly. Through this process every child is greeted by name every day.
The second component is game. The game is cooperative and not competitive. It is meant to again build community. The games we play include detective, where a student leaves the room and then comes in and figures out the mystery person by asking yes or no questions. Another game is Earth, Air, Fire. A student goes into the center of the circle and tosses a ball, we use an inflatable globe. The student says earth, air, water or fire. For earth the student that gets the ball says an animal that lives on the earth, for water the student needs to say an animal that lives in water, air is an animal that flies, for fire the student has ten seconds to make the other student laugh. Just as with the greeting the games are many and we vary them after students have learned them. Any game works as long as it is relatively short and not overly competitive.
The third component is news and announcements. I do mine on a white board. I write a message each morning. It starts with something like “Good morning super students!” or “Good morning awesome authors!” The date and what we are having that day follows. The next part is usually questions related to something we are learning. The end is something like, “Have a fantastic day!” I make my message interactive so as students are coming in and doing morning work they are filling in the board. I might also use this space for reminders of rules or to reinforce expectations.
Finally we have a share. Students sign up to share each day. At the beginning of the year we decide as a group how many sharers we will have a day and how many questions or comments there will be. This year my class decided to do 3 shares a day with 5 questions or comments each. Share is not show and tell. Students are not allowed to bring in toys to share. I encourage them to tell about whatever it is they want to share. They should be relatively brief. Questions or comments need to be about the share not a story about the student commenting. All of this is taught and modeled at the outset.

Why do you think this practice is working?

​This practice works because students become a community of learners. Quickly they come to know each other and the expectations of the classroom. During Morning Meeting we learn about each other as learners and as people. The routines of Morning Meeting set the students up to succeed. They know what to expect, they know how to behave and how to be a contributing member of the group. In our classroom students know and care about each other and Morning Meeting is an important part of that. The meeting connects us to each other, prepares students for the coming day, defines rules and expectations for learning activities and starts the day in a calm, productive, purposeful way.

How did you set this practice up in your classroom?

​We begin Morning Meeting on day one. At the outset there is much time devoted to developing the routines that will be in place throughout the year. As I mentioned earlier we spend time each day modeling things like a handshake or making your voice audible or smiling when you say good morning. It takes several weeks to get all of the components down but it is time well spent. I begin with only two components. They are greeting and news and announcements. We practice daily and make sure we have it before adding something new. Slowly as students become more proficient we add in game and lastly sharing. The students thrive on the consistency of Morning Meeting and also on this chance to be in a group where their voice is heard and is important to the community. The time spent in the beginning to establish this practice is worth it and what you and your students gain is invaluable.

Can you suggest any resources (links/books/articles) that would help someone else set this practice up?

The Responsive Classroom and Northeast Foundation for Children have many resources that are completely devoted to Morning Meeting as well as others that detail the entire approach.

This Week’s Feature: Differentiated Math Groups

This week I bring you a write up from Mandy who is a really amazing, super organized, teacher at my school. Her classroom is remarkable to walk into because there is evidence everywhere that she has a procedure and routine in place for everything. This gives her students a safe environment to build independence because they know exactly what is expected of them. When I first heard about how she and the other 6th grade teacher are running math groups I was overwhelmed by the idea of two groups running on totally different lessons at the same time, but as Mandy will explain she has a system for that! I am so happy to share this with you all because I feel that it is so important for every student to experience mastery of a concept.

I hope you read and enjoy this as much as I did!

Mandy Purcell
6th grade
Worcester Massachusetts

Tell us about what is working in your classroom?

This year we began a new math program called EnVisions Math. Aligned with the Common Core Standards and far more student-centered, the EnVisions program struck me as a program that would work for our students. Although the program embeds many opportunities for differentiation, it was not enough for the students in my classroom. The program begins with number sense; building the foundation for their yearlong (and lifelong) study of mathematics. Throughout the unit it became clear to me that a handful of my students were not grasping these critically important concepts.

These observations along with formative and summative assessment led me to create two math groups in my classroom. One group consists of the students who are on grade level or above grade level (Group A). The other group consists of students who are currently performing below grade level in mathematics (Group B). During each math block we are simultaneously running two lessons, with two groups, on two different topics. Both groups will eventually cover the same content; however the speed and teaching techniques are different. While students in Group A may take one day to cover a particular lesson, it is feasible that students in Group B may need to spend two to three days covering the material. By splitting the class into two groups students are given the opportunity to master the material without being forced along by the momentum of their classmates. As a teacher, this form of differentiation also allows me to teach my students in ways that work better for them. My students in Group B respond well to visuals and manipulatives, while those in Group A can grasp material in different ways. This year, Group B is a small group of only six students. This allows us to give them more one-on-one attention and support.

Why do you think this practice is working?

​I believe this practice is working because of my classroom community. I put in a lot of work at the beginning of the year laying the groundwork for how I expect my students to treat one another. We discuss, model, and practice what it means to be a member of our classroom family. It is my belief that this practice helps students to feel comfortable in the classroom and feel as though they are respected and supported by their classmates.

​I also believe this practice is effective because the students are seeing and understanding math in a more complete way. Since students are grouped by ability, they don’t move on until they have developed mastery over a concept. This is increasing their confidence in mathematics and allowing them to experience the feeling of a true and complete understanding.

How did you set this practice up in your classroom?

​I set this practice up in my classroom toward the middle/end of September. I wanted to give my students time to adjust to me and my classroom before making any decisions about their mathematical abilities. I also felt like I needed to gather several weeks of data before I could make an informed decision about my students. Once I determined the need for two math groups I began planning two math lessons for each day. Since my students are sixth graders, I wanted to be sensitive about the way I presented them with this change. I chose to pull the students slated for Group B out of the classroom and discuss my plans with them. I explained to them why I felt they needed this support and how important it was that they understand the concepts before moving on. Since I was also someone who struggled with math as a child, I was able to include a personal anecdote to help ease their minds about my decision.

​My class adjusted surprisingly well to the change. They were very supportive of each other and respectful. Although I didn’t anticipate issues, I was unsure of the response I would receive. Students now begin their day with a math message (do now problem) that is specifically for their group. They complete Minute Math (timed multiplication/division) which they progress through at their own pace. They play a quick math game with a partner whose fact knowledge is comparable to theirs. When it’s time for the math lesson the smaller group generally gathers at the front of the room or at the table outside the classroom. Sometimes I jump between groups, teaching and then giving them partner or independent work to do while I switch to the other group. At other times my student teacher will work with one group while I work with the other. The students have become so well-adjusted to the program that they’re able to handle the process. They are also assigned different homework assignments based upon their group and level.

Can you suggest any resources (links/books/articles) that would help someone else set this practice up?

​The Responsive Classroom:

Check It Out: Rethinking Math

I am in a constant struggle with teaching math… The problem is not that I hate math, in fact I really love math! I like problem solving, it’s like puzzles (which I also weirdly love). So, what is my flipping problem, you ask?

My issue is that I can’t figure out how to transmit my love of math to students. I find teaching math frustrating because I can’t find the hook for my students. So of course, I am handling this by scouring the internet and watching videos like the one below…

I hope you’re as nerdy excited about this as I am!

Leave a comment if you have any math advice for me. Also we will hopefully have some more math related content in this weeks feature!

Have a great end to your week. The expected snow here might just make our week a bit shorter than usual… Think snowy thoughts!


(Me and my mom in the last storm)