No one likes dedicating time to an unproductive, thankless task–especially if you’re a teacher maintaining a class blog that no one checks! Here are 10 of our time-tested strategies to improve your blog, and to encourage your students and parents to visit.
Some teachers see this word and want to run for the hills–after all, the list of educational strategies with this recommendation could probably stretch for miles. However, the good news is that this doesn’t have to be a time-intensive commitment when you employ one or more of the following tips:
Maintain a regular post structure so you don’t need to design a lengthy, creative piece each day. For instance, start each post with some quick highlights from the day, followed by a list of homework, and ending with upcoming school/class events. See my old class blog for an example.
Copy and paste content from the previous day and just make changes as needed. With the above example, you can just edit the highlights section and update any homework/events.
Download the app for your blog’s platform if it’s faster or simpler for you to post from your tablet or smartphone!
Use the post scheduling feature (included on both WordPress and Blogger) to publish at an exact time each day (that way, you can prepare it whenever you have a few minutes, but you won’t have to worry about hitting “publish” at a specific time after school).
#2: Use Tags
Add a tag or two to each post to help students and parents easily navigate your archives. Be sure to remember to add the tag widget to your sidebar as well!
#3: Share Pictures
Students of every age love seeing their pictures, and parents love seeing their kids in action at school! The result: an effective way to draw in your audience. This is where your platform’s app may come in handy as well so you can post directly from the device with which you took pictures. Of course, you may find you’d prefer to microblog your pictures using Twitter, but you can always also add a Photo Gallery section to your blog for students to explore. For posts with pictures, remember to add a “pictures” tag!
Creating a few drop-down menus of organized student and parent resources is a fantastic way to increase your blog’s usefulness and traffic! If you’re an elementary school teacher, you can make one page for each subject area that’s packed with links to relevant games and tools. However, be sure to screen every link, both for safety and for quality–even young students are tech-savvy enough to see through an arbitrary list of “games” that aren’t actually fun! Check out our list of student favorites!
#6: Don’t Get Discouraged!
It may take a few months before your class blog catches on with a regular traffic flow. Just keep looking for ways to make it as useful as possible for your students, soliciting their ideas to find out what resources would help them!
#7: Layout: Go for Simple
Ask yourself: do YOU enjoy looking at busy web pages with patterned wallpapers of dogs or bright bubbles that make the words difficult to discern? Keep the colors solid behind all words, and play with fonts, sizes, and text colors to ensure easy reading.
In all the back-to-school paperwork, be sure to promote your class blog link as much as possible! Let parents know the link is in your email signature, and remind them as necessary throughout the year!
#10: Throw in Intermittent Rewards
A fun way to encourage visitors is to periodically throw in an incentive. Give students a “Secret code word” in your post every now and then, telling them to write it on a slip of paper and to covertly hand it in the next day for a treat or bonus.
Whether you are looking for games to add to your class blog or to your class computer bookmarks menu, we have compiled ranked lists based on games most visited and praised by 5th graders over several years! All the games are free and kid tested. Be sure to check out other ways to improve your classroom blog here! (All links last checked for safety and functionality on July 29, 2016).
If you are thinking of adopting Pam Allyn’s Core Ready series for teaching the Common Core English Language Arts standards, be sure to check out our review based on our experience with the program!
As teachers, we know that it’s difficult to truly evaluate a program until we’ve actually used it for a solid time-period. At the same time, we also know it’s not often practical just to try out programs, due to financial and time constraints. For this reason, I’d like to share my experience with teaching using Pam Allyn’s Core Ready books, in the hopes that it assists teachers considering their implementation. My fifth grade team decided to adopt the series this past year since we wanted a Common Core-aligned reading and writing workshop program. We had previously been using The Complete Year in Reading & Writing: Year 5 by Pam Allyn with much success, so we had high hopes for the new series. I was personally able to teach using all of the books this year except The Journey to Meaning,due to maternity leave.
Each of the four books have 1 “lesson set” or unit per grade, which includes:
10 lessons each for reading and writing (reading and writing to be taught simultaneously)
1 Language Lesson (to be taught at some point within the lesson set)
Appendix of resources, including graphic organizers and rubrics
Grades 3-5 Books (can be taught in any order you prefer):
The Power to Persuade: Opinion & Argument
Focuses on strategies on what makes writing persuasive
Main published piece for 5th grade: a persuasive text
The Road to Knowledge: Information & Research
Focuses on how to gather research, note-taking skills, and how to correctly cite others’ work
Main published piece for 5th grade: an informational text; topic chosen by students
The Journey to Meaning: Comprehension & Critique
Focuses on reading poetry & essays to analyze themes, subjects, and author point of view
Main published piece for 5th grade: analytical essay
The Shape of Story: Yesterday & Today
Focuses on various types and components of stories, including character development and conflict, with an emphasis on fantasy for the 5th grade lessons
Main published piece for 5th grade: a narrative fantasy story
Other Corresponding Resources
Be Core Ready: Powerful, Effective Steps to Implementing and Achieving the Common Core State Standards: Detailed introduction both to the Core Ready series and to the ELA Common Core Standards themselves.
PDToolKit: An online resource in which you can access additional resources for the lessons
♥Common Core-aligned, vertically and horizontally!
This is obviously a major attraction to this series. Now that the Common Core has simplified the focuses of ELA standards, it can be difficult to revise your current ELA program to be completely Common Core aligned–especially across an entire school! The beauty of the Core Ready books is that not only is it completely Common Core-aligned within your own grade level, but it masterfully builds learning between grades.
♥Simple structure in each lesson (Warm up, Teach, Try, Clarify, Practice, Wrap-up)
I enjoyed this framework both because it facilitates plenty of guided student application, and because it allowed me to easily divide up the lessons into multiple days (if we needed to break it up, we would often end with “Clarify” one day, and begin with “Practice” the next).
♥Fosters teacher authenticity
The series thoroughly embraces the 21st century view of teachers as readers and writers growing right alongside students (rather than as wizened experts or sources of knowledge). A perfect illustration of this approach lies in the fact that as students create a published piece in each lesson set, the books also encourage teachers to do the same. The benefits here are reciprocal; first, it builds in authenticity as teachers model their own warts-and-all literary process. As a result, students glimpse the true nature of literary learning: not a neat, manufactured, step-by-step process, but one that is messy, purposeful, and beautiful.
♥Student-centered –> Plenty of room for inquiry!
Rather than teachers directly pointing out literary concepts, it encourages students to discover the concepts themselves within texts. The lessons also constantly invite students to consider their own literary backgrounds, to identify their personal inspiration, and to make purposeful choices as unique readers and writers.
♥Encourages critical thinking and metacognition
The lessons are designed to continually challenge students to ask, “WHY?” For instance, any time students are asked to find examples of literary concepts in texts, they are also nearly always asked to locate text evidence that defends their reasoning. This makes for lively student discussions as they share their personal analyses. Additionally, every lesson set involves student reflection, and I definitely saw growth in my students as they regularly examined their own thinking and decision-making processes.
During a webinar early in the school year, I asked Pam Allyn and Debbie Lera whether 40 lessons would be enough to span the entire school year, as we worried this seemed like more of a supplemental program. They assured me that many lessons would likely take more than a day to teach, and they were absolutely right; particularly when students gathered research or revised, some lessons took more than a week! Additionally, our grade kept a couple small units from previous years, which we found easy to incorporate alongside the Core Ready series.
♥Encourages digital literacy
For the informational text unit, my students turned essays into multi-media blog posts. For the fantasy narrative, my students created illustrated Storybirds. The Core Ready books are packed with suggestions for engaging and natural technology integration.
This is part of the reason that each lesson can be extended well beyond a day. They include:
Ideas for both high-tech & low-tech classrooms
Suggestions to bridge concepts for English Language Learning students
Suggestions for Speaking & Listening development
Concrete ideas for formative assessments throughout the lessons.
Fantastic Appendix of resources and rubrics
♥Few anchor texts required
If you previously used the Complete Year in Reading and Writing books, you understand the financial strain of programs that require many anchor texts. While this series does recommend a few anchor texts, it more frequently gives suggestions for online-accessible texts!
Of course, dedicating time for daily reading and writing is essential. However, this program requires at least 40 minutes each for the reading and writing lessons. You will also likely want to find time to incorporate guided reading groups, and while it’s been suggested that these groups can be run during the “practice” component of each reading lesson, that simply isn’t always practical. For one thing, it keeps you from one-on-one interactions available during their practice time. Plus, that practice time doesn’t happen the same way every day since some individual lessons are stretched over multiple days, which makes it very difficult to predictably schedule guided reading within the reading/writing workshop time.
♦Language Standards not fully integrated
Throughout the 4 books for 5th grade, some of the Language standards are only covered once–and a couple, not at all (Standards 4 and 5). While a wonderful characteristic of the Core Ready books is that each lesson masterfully integrates a variety ELA standards, this can also make it difficult to keep track of which areas need to be supplemented if they aren’t included. For how time-consuming this program is, I found myself wishing that the entire ELA standards were covered so we didn’t feel we needed an additional grammar program to provide complete Language instruction and spiraling practice.
♦Teacher talk can be lengthy
Each phase of each lesson includes detailed sample teacher talk, which is positive in that it gives teachers clear ideas on the lesson’s intended direction. However, it can get quite long–the “Teach” component in particular. For this reason, the lengthy teacher talk only becomes a “con” when teachers don’t realize it’s essential to adapt it to their own timetable and student needs.
The strengths of this series clearly outweigh the few drawbacks. I would highly recommend these books to any teacher, especially if they are looking for a way to naturally build reading and writing skills in an interdependent, authentic manner!
Conflicting opinions (for and against) alert! If you do include an objective, keep these two, closely-related pointers in mind:
Tailor it to position for which you apply! Just as each company, school, and organization varies in its priorities, so should your objective reflect how you can meet their unique needs.
As Richard White points out in his article: “…It is not about how you can benefit from the company, but how the company can benefit from you.” For this reason, your objective should not say what you hope to get out of working there! We recommend starting with a brief description of yourself, followed by what you would truly contribute if hired by the company. For example: Highly enthusiastic teacher with a passion for educational technology seeks to contribute to increased technology effectiveness in the classroom.
#3: Skip your address
Donna Svei shares the risk in her article, “The Real Reason You Shouldn’t Put Your Address on Your Resume.” She cautions that if you would need to commute, employers definitely take note of the your potential burn-out liability. Instead, she recommends you put down your most recent employer’s city location.
#4: Quantify and Qualify with power verbs & nouns
Strunk and White’s tip to “write with nouns and verbs” in their book, Elements of Style, is true in resume writing, too! Beginning each accomplishment with a power verb & using specific nouns can help focus your description (ie, instead of “Helped with training new teachers,” try “Mentored 3 first-year teachers through peer observations, coaching, and co-teaching.”). However, be conscious of tip #1 as you do so–make sure these are honest and objective descriptors! This word cloud of power verbs gives you a visual of the most commonly recommended power verbs we compiled from the sources listed below.
#5: Create a proper balance between white space & text
Be sure to utilize indentations to make your resume easy to scan through!
5 Tips for 21st Century Resume Writing
#1: Recognize the need for a traditional paper resume
Many companies now have online systems in place for applicants to type in all the information from their resumes. However, it’s still valuable to have on hand a paper copy for interviews, job fairs, and other instances of personal contact.
#2: Have your resume ready for digital sharing
We’ve seen other companies that simply ask you to enter a link to your resume. Make sure you have a shareable version ready to go, such as a PDF downloaded in Google Drive!
The changes in a visual resume may be as subtle as adding blocks of color to organize your presentation, or it may be as dramatic as adding charts. This can be an eye-catching and efficient approach to your resume-writing. However, be sure to check out this article for some disadvantages to consider, too, such as the incompatibility with ATS (automatic tracking systems).
#4: Consider a creative resume
A creative tier above visual resumes is the infographic route! This is a more obvious choice for those in creative fields, such as designers, but it could also be an opportunity to stand out if you’re willing to take the risk! See some examples of Infographics resumes on Pinterest, and and excellent list on Cornerstone University’s blog.
#5: Consider your audience!
Evaluate the company’s characteristics. Is it a more established, traditional organization, or does it have more of an entrepreneurial history? Chances are that if it’s the former, you’ll want to stick with more traditional resumes and objectives. If it’s the latter, employers may appreciate your gutsiness in trying out bolder strategies.
With the relentless waves of worksheets, professional development packets, and IEP paperwork, it can seem impossible to stay ahead of the whirlwind of disorder. Here are 10 of our tried-and-true tips to make organization a reality!
#1: Get Rid of Your Desk
For one thing, we all know what inexplicable paper-magnets desks are. For another, they often serve as barriers between you and students, especially if you are tempted to grade during the day. If you have a horseshoe table you use with students, position that in the corner instead. Otherwise, keep your pens, scissors, and other such necessities in a plastic 3-drawer cart, or in pencil organizers on your mobile tech cart. Added bonus: you’ll open up the space in your classroom!
#2: Get Rid of Worksheets (as much as possible)
Moving away from worksheets has the mutual benefit of creating less clutter for you and less busy work for your students. Instead, consider displays of student understanding in the form of project-based learning and other alternatives that place the priority more on learning.
#3: Get Rid of Your Filing Cabinet
While this is a bigger project to tackle, the payoff is enormous. Think of all the time you’ve wasted digging through disheveled files to find that one resource, making copies, and then rediscovering its folder to put it away. Contrast that with performing a simple search of your computer files for the resource, and then printing it! Go ahead and start scanning items in your filing cabinet, and be sure to keep them organized in digital folders on your computer. This would be a great task for parent volunteers or the school copy aide if you have one!
#4: Get Rid of Student Portfolio Binders or Files
If you keep bulky binders of student work in your classroom, consider teaching students how to keep their work digitally on individual blogs! Some benefits of keeping portfolios digitally include: increased practicality for students to keep and access their work in the long-term, more varied options for work sample types (including voice recordings, videos, etc.), and preparation for students to utilize 21st century tools and skills. Check out our post for student blogging ideas to get started!
#5: Get Rid of CD’s & More
Make a search for the obsolete in your classroom. CD’s that can be ripped, posters that can be scanned–pare down any items that could be replaced with your smartphone or tablet.
#6: Go Mobile for Student Paperwork
Once you’ve gotten rid of your filing cabinet, there will doubtless still be a few items you need to keep on file, including confidential student paperwork and forms. Keep these instead in a space-effective accordion file folder or a small filing box. You may find the ability to move these papers around with you to be a more convenient option, as well!
#7: Adopt Apps that Will Work for You
Get rid of that giant desk calendar (which will be necessary if you did #1 anyway)! Experiment with various apps to find out what will best meet your needs. Evernote is one option for keeping notes and schedules organized, and Confer is perfect for keeping anecdotal notes from guided reading to math!
#8: Adopt Google Drive
Instead of opening multiple programs to access your files, move everything over to Google Drive! Only uploaded or synced files count against your 15 GB of free storage, too, which means anything you create in Drive is free storage! Additionally, you will be poised to more easily collaborate as you share resources with your colleagues. Tip to remember: Download the desktop version of Google Drive so you can still access your resources during offline occurrences!
#9: Enlist Student Help
Especially if you keep some kind of classroom economy or class jobs, make sure you add student jobs that will help keep up classroom organization! Some that I’ve loved have included organization experts, who dust and otherwise straighten up, and sanitation specialists, who wield Clorox wipes on every possible surface!
#10: Make a Display Wall
This can be as simple as pinning up a few strands of yarn and attaching some clothes pins, or perhaps hanging up a few clipboards. Not only is it a great way to display reminders, flyers, student drawings, and personal inspiration, but it’s perfect to keep it all off work-surfaces. If you are interested in using your wall space in an even craftier way, the ideas are pretty much endless on Pinterest!
What about you? Do you have other strategies to share that have helped you stay organized? Please share in the comments!
Class meetings are more than about discussing logistics or class management, although those are benefits, too. It’s about creating an environment where everyone can feel comfortable to speak their minds & learn from each other!
#1: Develop as Risk-Takers.
“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller
We all develop inhibitions through the years as we become fearful of failure. This kind of mentality, however, is absolutely stifling to any real learning. We must find authentic ways to show students we welcome risk-taking, rather than just telling them we do. Class meetings are a perfect way to do so! Because of their low-pressure settings, they have the capacity to help even the shyest students to slowly build their confidence over the year.
#2: Cultivate Relationships with Students.
In the blur of lunch count, P.E., and grading, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of school, neglecting personal relationships. However, most of us began teaching because of people–as it should be! Class meetings provide an appropriate, dedicated environment for sharing personal experiences–ones of celebration, loss, anticipation, anxiety, and just plain silliness. Such sharing renews and strengthens our most important priority: the students with whom we work.
#3: Social Skills.
Listening, turn-taking, appropriate responding, articulating ideas–these are just a few social skills developed in a class meeting environment. As teachers, it’s easy to react to apparent deficits in these social skills during instruction time with consequences–but what students often need more is additional practice and examples of people effectively using these skills!
#4: Opportunity for Meaningful Discussions.
This benefit is best illustrated with an example from my classroom. On my first day back at school after a week-long illness-related absence, we gathered in our circle. Students quickly began to report that behavior was not always at its best with our substitute teachers, which led to one student volunteering the statement, “Some kids think, ‘Well, I’m not going to get anything for it, so why should I be good?’” This led to one of our most animated and earnest conversations of the year. As they explored and debated this question, the class eventually came up with the following thoughtful answers, among others:
No matter how smooth your classroom management or arrangement, the fact is, issues invariably arise each year with each group of students. From desk arrangements to concerns about homework loads, students will pick up on small details teachers overlook. When you give them the opportunity to voice concerns and then to discuss them as a class during regular meetings, the classroom starts to truly become a shared, democratic environment instead of one run by one imperfect person. While a class meeting should by no means be the only opportunity for student voice, it is one helpful medium!
5 Set-Up Tips
#1: Establish rules and routines first!
No matter how old your students are, it’s essential to start by discussing expectations. To help them understand the shared nature of class meetings, make sure these are not your expectations, but what the class truly expects from one another during the meetings. Make a shared list, have students sign it as a contract, and post it in the class meeting area for a visual reminder. Have a couple of practice trials that emphasize the expectations, and model some of those skills by role-playing with students!
#2: Start With a “Talking Circle” with a “Talking Object.”
“Talking circles are more successful when the participants have trust with each other. Taking time to share stories, build relationships, explore values, and create guidelines for participation helps everyone feel physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe in the circle and creates a foundation for courageous acts of sharing.” (Winters, A.)
Have students start by sitting in a circle, and one-by-one, passing a “talking object” that declares that they have the floor for sharing. (My students have always loved using a Koosh ball for this purpose).
#3: Put out a Suggestions/Compliments Box.
Place this box in an accessible location to give students the opportunity to share compliments for the positive acts they notice from classmates, or for suggestions to help the classroom run more smoothly. We recommend making and printing your slips to provide a template that includes lines for names, solutions, etc. Remember to model to students what quality compliments and suggestions look like (which will avoid excessive “You are nice” slips, or complaints without ideas for solutions)!
#4: Establish a regular weekly meeting time.
If it matters to your students, it should matter to you! Set aside a regular weekly time, even if it’s only 15-20 minutes. If assemblies or field trips shift the schedule, discuss with students whether they’d like to reschedule that week to help them know it’s still a priority!
#5: Allow Flexibility.
During the Talking Circle, we suggest that you leave the sharing open-ended, rather than giving students a prompt. We also recommend that you give them the choice to “Pass” on their turn to keep it from becoming a stressful, pressured situation.