Over the years, I have tried a wide variety of ways to take notes during reading and writing workshop.  I have used a countless number of forms and labeling systems.  Last year, in my effort to convert to being as paper-free as possible, I tried using the Confer app for conferences.  I loved it, and this is the first year where I used the same recording method two years in a row.  Here is why I love it so much (besides the fact that there is no paper required).

The Confer app is an excellent option for taking notes during reading and writing conferences.

Confer is very easy to use.  First, you name a class and set up your class list.  After you do this once, you can copy the students' names into another class.  Once your class is set up, you can customize the notetaking fields.  I like to use Compliment, Teaching Point, and Strategy.  Sometimes, I fill in the teaching point and strategy ahead of time, and sometimes I fill it in during or immediately after the conference.

Using the Confer app, you are able to customize note fields for each class.

When I'm meeting with students, there are additional options for further notes.  I love how you are able to take a picture of the students' work and add it to their "file".  I use this feature every time I meet with a student for writing so I can see exactly what I was referring to in my notes.  I have also used it for reading responses and fluency passages.

The Confer app is great for taking notes and pictures of students' work.

Another great feature is that you can sort your students in a variety of ways.  I most often sort them by date so I can see who I haven't met with in a while.  I also like to sort them by compliment and teaching point when it comes time to form strategy groups.

The Confer app offers a variety of ways to sort your students.

Sometimes, it's nice to have some or all of the note fields show up on the class list.  For this, I use the view feature, and whatever I select appears below the students' names.  (The picture below shows a group that I made up for this post.  I selected to view compliments.  The view bar disappears after you make your selection.)

Select the note fields you would like to view on Confer.

At our school, we are using the Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing Workshops.  There are many times when students work in partners or small groups.  In these cases, I like to group students together.  You can place a note for the whole group as well as for individuals in the group.  I use this for partner work all the time.

Take group notes using the Confer app.

A couple of notes
*There is a free version of this app, but the paid version ( currently $14.99) is well worth the money.
*If you'd like more information about this app in a video format, you can click here
*This app is currently available only for Apple devices (iPhone & iPad).
*I wrote this post because this is one of my favorite apps for education.  I am in no way compensated.
*I'm still playing around with the best way to use this app in math workshop.  In a couple of months, I will write a post sharing several major changes I've made in math workshop. I am hoping a successful way to use this app will be included.

I would love to hear about your successes using this app or any other system for taking conference notes with your students.  Please feel free to comment below.

Confer is a great app to using for reading and writing conferences!

Thank you, and have a great week!

Over the years, I've tried many different systems for reading partners, peer editors, and math buddies.  I have had varying degrees of success, but it seems to be getting better every year.  Today, I'd like to share a few strategies that are going well right now.

My students have assigned reading partners.  This works great for "turn and talk" discussions because each student is seated by their partner on the carpet.  (If a partner is absent, students know to make a good choice and form a group of three.)  

Partners are on the same reading level.  This helps with partner reading because they can share the same "just right" book.

During share time at the end of reading workshop, we often have discussions with our reading partners.  In each partnership, there is a partner 1 and a partner 2.  We alternate days with who gets to go first.  That way, all students have equal time to practice talking about their reading as well as to listen and respond to others.

My writing partners run much the same way as my reading partners.  It's great to have a "go to" person who understands you as a writer.  My writing partners are mixed abilities.  This allows them to learn from one another.

I have run into a problem with writing partners.  Many second graders have trouble making suggestions and peer editing in general.  To address this, I decided to try something new this year.  

Post students' strengths and goals for conferencing and peer editing

I posted several target writing skills for second graders.  After thoroughly reviewing what each one means, students wrote their name on two Post-it notes.  Students placed their name that was on the blue Post-it note under the skill that they believe to be their biggest strength.  They placed the orange Post-it note under the skill that represented their goal.  After reviewing the chart, I conferred with several students to make sure their names were put in appropriate places.

When a student has a question or would like help with a particular skill, they can look at the display and find someone who has that listed as an area of strength.  Posting goals and strengths has also been very helpful for me during writing conferences.

(See below for a closer look at the goals and signs.  I couldn't quite fit everything in the above photo.)

FREE download to post students' strengths and goals for conferencing and peer editing
(Free Download here.)

For math, our partners rotate.  After a couple of weeks of trying to assign partners, things were just not working out right.  Recently, I had students select 6 people who they felt would make good partners.  Boys were required to have at least one girl partner, and girls were required to have at least one boy partner.  Students selected their partners by completing the form below.

FREE download - Students select six people for rotating partners.
(Free download here.)

After making a few small adjustments, we came up with six sets of partners.  I put them on Google Slides so students don't have to track them on their own paper.  After the math mini-lesson, I display something like what you see below.

Rotating Math Partners

This system has worked out very well.  Students seem to like the rotating partners.  I will always announce which partner they need to sit by on the carpet for our "turn and talk" discussion.

The partner systems I have in place are by no means perfect.  However, this is the best way I have found to use partners in my classroom (so far).  I would love to hear your ideas of what is working in your classroom.  

Strategies for partners in reading, writing, and math

Thank you, and have a great week!

This is my second year teaching second grade, and I couldn't be happier with my job.  However, everyone has off days from time to time.  For young children, an off day can seem particularly bad.  To help students navigate through some tough times, I created a calm down bin (with some help from our wonderful guidance counselor.)

Using a calm down bin in the classroom

The items that I placed in the bin fall into three categories: distracters, stress relievers, and visuals.  In addition, I placed a timer and this sheet for directions and other calming activities.

Free directions for a calm down bin

The deep breaths, stretching, counting, and happy thoughts were suggestions from our guidance counselor.  Students practiced these and now know when they may be the best strategies based on how they are feeling.  

I use a silent timer so the other students will not be distracted.  So far, no one has abused this.  The one in my classroom is very similar to this one.

When I was deciding what to place in the bin I wanted to address two issues.  First, there are times when students are very sensitive and tend to react strongly in different situations.  In these cases, I wanted to make sure students had something to take their minds off what was bothering them.

Distracters to add to a calm down bin

The liquid motion bubbler is the perfect distraction.  I even had a student tell me that watching to see which color would "win" helped take his mind off of what was bothering him.  

I added the Where's Waldo book to keep the student's focused on something other than what was bothering them.

The second issue I wanted to address is when students need to go to the calm down bin because they are stressed or angry.  In these cases, I wanted to make sure students had a safe outlet to relieve their stress.  I included fidgets to helps with this.

Fidgits to add to a calm down bin

The therapy putty is a gift from my guidance counselor.  I found something similar on Amazon here.  These stress balls are my favorite item in the bin.  I admit to using on an occasion or two.  The stretchy bands are also great.  Students can pull, twist and turn them to relieve their stress.

The final thing that I included are some visuals from the guidance counselor.

Visuals for a calm down bin

These charts are great for students to identify how they are feeling and make decisions on how to improve their mood.

When I first introduced the Calm Down Bin to my class, students were dying to play with the items.  I did allow for some time during the first week for students to investigate and try out the items.  For about two weeks, I had students ask me to go there fairly regularly.  However, this greatly diminished once the novelty wore off.

How to make a clam down bin
(You can download the sign and directions from my bin here.)

If you have a calm down bin, center, or corner, I would love to hear your ideas for what to include.

Thank you, and have a great week!

There are so many fabulous teaching resources out there.  Sometimes, it's hard to know where to best spend my limited teaching budget.  It's a good thing there are also a wide variety of free resources for educators.  Today I would like to share three of my favorites.

Three Fabulous and Free Teacher Resources

I absolutely love Angela Watson's Truth for Teachers podcast!  She tackles a wide variety of issues in education.  Some of my favorite topics include: becoming more efficient with lesson planning, dealing with unmotivated students, and maintaining a positive mindset despite all the lofty expectations put on teachers today.  

The podcast airs every Sunday night.  I always look forward to my Monday morning commute to listen and receive an extra bit of motivation for the week.  I have found an immediately actionable idea in every single one of her podcasts.  I can not say enough good things about it!  You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or anywhere you listen to podcasts .  (I personally love the app, Pocket Casts.)

Three Fabulous and Free Teacher Resources

I have spent a small fortune on books over my 23 years of teaching, and I don't regret any of it.  Nothing makes me happy quite like a student who finds that perfect book.  Despite my love for books, there are times when a audio book is more suitable for a student.  Whether it's a lower reading level, an auditory learner, or a student who just wants to mix it up a little, it's nice to have that option readily available.

Enter Storyline Online.  This is a fabulous resource where students can select a book and have it read to them.  There are tons of options, so there is something for everyone.  There is no need to sign up or create a password.  Just click on a book and enjoy!  My students love it!

Three Fabulous and Free Teacher Resources

I love how engaging technology is for both myself and for my students.  My biggest problem is trying to keep up with it all.  One site that I have found to be extremely helpful is the Free Technology for Teachers blog.  This site shows you step by step how to use some of the newest technology features in the classroom.  It covers everything from Google Classroom features to editing videos.  There is something for everyone from novice to experienced technologist.  I am somewhere in the middle, and a big chunk of my to do list comes from this blog.  It is awesome!

Do you have any favorite free resources?  I would love to hear some more ideas.

Thank you, and have a great week!

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer!  I am already in back to school mode, as we have only three weeks left of summer break.  I will be out of town for four days, so it's time to get back into the swing of things!

Last year, I blogged about the importance of early observations for reading behaviors, and I shared a reading inventory to track my early observations.  (You can read that post here.)  These observations were so insightful that I decided to try the same assessment strategy to monitor my students' behavior during writing workshop.

This post includes a link to a digital writing engagement inventory.

If you are unfamiliar with an engagement inventory, it is a system to monitor behaviors during workshop time.  As I walk around the room, I mark the on/off task behaviors that I notice.  This data was extremely useful last year as I planned for my first reading strategy groups and conferences.  The inventory really helped me prioritize the early needs of my young readers.  Later in the year, I used the inventory as an ongoing way to document my observations.

My inventory is adapted from the one I read about in Jennifer Serravallo's awesome book, Literacy Teacher's Playbook.   (There is also a book available for intermediate grades.)

For writing, I wanted the observation form to reflect on/off task behaviors, utilizing resources, and well, writing.  Here are the codes I decided to use.

Great suggestions to include in a writing engagement inventory!

I created the form using Google Slides so I am able to fill it out on my iPad as I walk around the room.  Here is what the form looks like.  (The codes are on the bottom.  The font is tiny because I need the space for my 25 students.)

This post includes a link to a digital writing engagement inventory.

I plan on using this form about three times throughout the school year to monitor writing behaviors.  (Possibly more or less often for some students)  Each check point is about 5-10 minutes, depending on the time of year.  That way, I can get a good feel for which students are able to maintain their stamina.

If you are interested, you can access this form here.  Once you make a copy, you should be able to edit it any way you wish, including making the codes work for your classroom.  You can print the form or use it digitally.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

One of my big projects this summer has been to update, add to, and bundle my classroom decor.  I now have six different color combinations bundled with five different decor items.  Each set includes a student number pack, word wall letters & heading, editable pennants, editable binder covers & spines, and loads of editable label and sign templates.  Items are also sold separately if you do not wish to purchase the entire bundle.  In order to celebrate the completion of this project, I have all of my decor items (including the bundles) marked at 20% off through Thursday.  To see the items, you can click here or on the image below.

Thank you!

We are in the midst of our fairy tale unit, and the students and I are having a ball discovering new versions of classic fairy tales!

Five Awesome fractured fairy tales and how to use them in your classroom

There are loads of different versions of fairy tales out there.  This year, I have really worked on familiarizing myself with new titles as well as incorporating some that I used when I taught intermediate grades.  As I am gradually adding to my stash, I'd like to share some that have stood out with me and my students.

A great fairy tale to teach the influence of setting

An excellent fairy tale to teach point of view

A great fairy tale to teach the influence of setting

A fun fairy tale that is great for character changes

An excellent fairy tale to teach point of view

Not only are these fairy tales loads of fun to read and discuss, but there are tons of great comprehension activities you can do with your class.  

*Talk about the influence of setting
*Point of view activities
*Hold "court" for the villains in the story (after hearing their side)
*Character changes
*Opinion writing
*Persuasive writing

Read Write Think offers a huge variety of activities for using fractured fairy tales.  They offer great suggestions for students in grades K-10.

In addition, I created an organizer to compare and contrast different versions of the fairy tales.

A free organizer to compare fairy tales

You can download this organizer here.

I'd love to here from you.  What is your favorite fractured fairy tale?

Thank you, and have a great week!

My students are in the process of completing student-led conferences.  We had our first round last week, and our second round is scheduled for this Thursday.  I loved doing student-led conferences when I taught fourth and fifth grade.  However, I have to admit that I was quite nervous to try this with my second graders.  So far, they are going very well.  I am extremely proud of how my students have grown to know themselves as learners.

One of our recent focuses has been reading fluency.  I wanted my students to have a way to share what they have learned with their parents.

Free fluency self-evaluation form

I had students select a favorite "just right" book that they wanted to practice for a fluency reading.  They selected a passage from the book (or in some cases the entire book).  Students were given time in class for two days to practice their reading independently and with a partner.  The job of the partner was to give the reader one compliment and one suggestion.  Students had a different partner each day.

After having some practice, I recorded the students using the Smart Recorder app on the iPad.

Using the iPad to self-evaluate fluency

This is a paid app with lots of cool features that I plan on exploring.  However, if you are looking for a free app to record and save students' reading, I recommend Voice Recorder.  You can easily save, organize and share recordings on this app.

After the students listened to their recordings (1-3 minutes), they evaluated their reading based on criteria we discussed in class.  Here is the form they completed.

Free fluency self-evaluation form

During the conference, I played a portion of the reading, and students shared their strengths and goals with parents.  Students were able to explain why they selected their goals.

If you'd like to download this form, you can grab it here.

I hope your conferences are going/went well!

Thank you, and have a great week!

I love YouTube!  I use it all the time for my classroom and when I am trying to learn a new skill.  What I don't love about it is the advertisements, other clutter, and the fact that the next video starts playing automatically.  I have found four extensions that take care of all of these issues.

(Not sure what a Chrome extension is?  Read about them here.)

One solution to these problems is to use SafeShare.  I used this site for years.  You just copy and paste the link and then submit it.  This site allows you to watch the video distraction free.

What I don't like about SafeShare is the extra step.  I know it only takes about a minute, but sometimes I need things on the fly.  Also, if I'm watching a video for myself, I don't want to have to copy and paste the link.

I am going to share four of my favorite Chrome extensions.  If you take a minute to install these extensions now, you will not have to worry about copying and pasting links ever again for school, and you won't have to look at any annoying ads when viewing YouTube for personal use.

(Click on the image to go to the Chrome store and download the extension by clicking on "Add to Chrome".)

AdBlock gets rid of YouTube advertisements.

Distraction Free Extension clears up the clutter on YouTube.

Hide Comment keeps YouTube comments out of view.

NextVid Stopper prevents the next YouTube video from starting automatically.

Once these extensions are installed, you no longer have to worry about your students seeing unintended material on the videos.  All this and no copying and pasting required.

What is your favorite Google extension?

I have just finished updating all of my writing prompts.  Each set has 30 prompts, two different styles, and a wide variety of genres.

30 Fun Writing Prompts for March
Updating these prompts took a while, so I feel the need to celebrate!  All ten sets are on sale for 20% off until this Thursday, February 23, 2017.  (June prompts are available & on sale although they are not shown.)  Just click on the image below to view.

30 Prompts, two styles, and huge variety of genres in each set.

Thank you, and have a great week!

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