Sunday, August 2, 2015

Back-to-School Details & a GIVEAWAY!

Our teachers started back to school last Wednesday, so the past few days have been a bit crazy. Kids start back to school this Wednesday, so I feel like I'm in overdrive at the moment. Naturally.

I plan to share a classroom tour, complete with small-group management ideas, in the near future, but I am saving those specifics for a later date... Mainly because everything isn't that ready yet. I have until Wednesday. ;) However, I have managed to capture a few new details to share now.

  • I created a new business card design for this school year. Previously, I designed and printed my own. While I love the originality of making my own, it requires a bit more time that I really had to spare this time around. So I went with good ole' Vistaprint and spent a fraction of the time on these...

  • I have set up a coffee station in one corner. No more"afternoon slumps" without any coffee to grab from the teacher's lounge (or time to get there to grab it). I can have caffeine at a moment's notice. I've always envied those teachers who had coffee ready in their room. It's a sweet little luxury that is going to be a real treat for me (and my neighboring teachers!) this year. :)

  • I've had a little crafting fun over the course of the past couple of weeks. I needed a new sign for my classroom door. This one turned out larger than I originally planned, but I do love it. I may decide to hang it beside the door; I would love to see it survive with all parts in tact at least until Christmas! ;) I am actually going to use the banner on this sign as part of my class management system. I'll explain more about that later...  

  • Also, in case you didn't know already, the TPT Back-to-School Sitewide Sale begins tomorrow. It will run through Tuesday, and all Tally Tales TPT products will be 20% off. It will be a great time to stock up on back-to-school goodies! :)

  • Before you go, make sure you enter to win my Back to School Packet! The giveaway is now open, and I will announce the winner on Wednesday August 5th, in honor of my first "official" day of school. Enter to win below!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Monthly Newsletter FREEBIE!

Recently, I shared a post about my newsletter design and goals for the upcoming school year. If you missed it, you can check it out here. I received so much helpful feedback about my design, and I am going to use that advice as I continue to prepare these newsletters throughout the school year. Thank you SO MUCH to those of you who have taken the time to give me some recommendations about the design!

Several people also expressed interest in using the newsletter for their own classrooms. I have no problem sharing this design; however, I wasn't sure how to make the template editable. Again, thanks to advice from others, I think I have it figured out!

If you would like to use this newsletter template for your own classroom, you can access it for free through Google Docs here. The template will look like this...
As a reminder, this is my original design for my own newsletter. In the free template, I have included editable text boxes. However, I will warn you ahead of time: the font for the text boxes on the freebie is not identical to my version. Some of the fonts I used are ones I have downloaded or purchased, and unless you have downloaded them as well, the template would not work for you. So the font will look slightly different for you, but the sections and graphics are all there, ready to use!

As I described in my original post, I will revise this newsletter template each month. Sooooooo that means I will also make this a monthly freebie, available here at the beginning of each month! 

I hope this will be helpful for you in your classroom. Newsletters can be tedious and time-consuming, so maybe this design will shave a few precious minutes off of your planning time. Be sure to check back here each month for the latest template design. At the end of the year, I intend to bundle all of the newsletters into one package on TPT, but this is the time to grab them for free! :)

Note: Some clipart on the newsletter is provided by Krista Wallden at Creative Clips. She has an amazing selection in her store! For some reason, I can't get her graphic to export correctly into the credits page of the final powerpoint document.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Resources for Teaching the Sounds of C and G

As previously described, I am gradually developing a variety of phonics-based resources within The Tally Tales TPT store. You are welcome to peruse the product listings within the store. However, I often find it to be helpful to see a bit more detail/description of the products, rather than the snippets provided within the TPT listing. Blog posts about products are always helpful to me. You may not find this post to be helpful, but if you are looking for resources to support this particular skill, then I hope you will gain something from descriptions of my new product here.

With this product, I have focused on providing resources that support instruction and practice with the hard and soft sounds of the letters C and G
You may or may not be completely familiar with the differing sounds that can be expressed using C and G. Hopefully, this explanation will be helpful…

The Letter C The letter C makes two sounds—the /k/ sound and the /s/ sound. The sound of C is primarily determined by the letter following it, and vowels are particularly vital for altering the letter sound. When C is followed by a consonant (except h), it makes the /k/ sound. 

Vowels, however, change things a bit. When followed by the vowels a, o, or u, the letter C still makes the /k/ sound. However, when followed by the vowels e, i, or y, it makes the /s/ sound. When C makes the /k/ sound, that is often referred to as the hard sound.  The /s/ sound, however, is referred to as the soft sound for the letter C. 

This can be such a complicated concept for many of our struggling young readers and spellers, and it helps to have a visual reference for support. In a recent LETRS training, our instructor shared with us the idea of a train track illustration. The "C Train" changes it's direction (and sound) whenever it encounters the letters e, i, or y.  She sketched her own train on tracks and signal light with a letter on each light. I absolutely loved this concept, so I created my own rule posters and resources to use with my students. (This resource is available in the Tally Tales TPT store.)

As you can see, this product includes the explanatory rule poster, complete with examples. I have also included the "C Train" illustration in which the sound of C transitions from /k/ (its hard sound) to /s/ (its soft sound) any time it encounters the letters e, i, or y.

Also included is a sort activity, which students can use to practice distinguishing between the sounds of C within words.

The Letter G The letter G is similar to the letter C.  When followed by the vowels a, o, or u, G still makes the hard sound /g/. However, when followed by the vowels e, i, or y, it makes the soft sound /j/.   

G is a bit trickier to deal with, because it doesn't follow the rule as often as C. In fact, you can really only trust G to follow the rules approximately 60% of the time. (Don't you just love the English language?!?) Some notable exceptions include get, girl, give, gift.  I have included both examples and exceptions on the explanatory rule poster within this product. In addition, I have created the "G Train" poster, which demonstrates the transition from /g/ (its hard sound) to /j/ (its soft sound) any time it encounters the letters e, i, or y. Again, exceptions are included on the illustration to help students gain familiarity with those as well. 
As with the letter c, I also included a sort activity for the letter G, which students can use to practice distinguishing between the sounds of G within words.
If interested, you can access this entire product here in the Tally Tales TPT store. I hope this post is helpful to you! Please feel free to share any resources, ideas, or questions you may have related to this concept. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Newsletters (and goals) for the School Year Ahead

I know newsletters aren't exactly the hot-topic in education right now. There are far more exciting innovations out there. However, sending home a newsletter is a really big deal for me this year.

Let me explain… 

I don't teach one class; I teach seven. Seven reading classes, for a variety of age groups and developmental levels, ranging from kindergarten through fifth grade. My students come from different classrooms within each grade level, and I work with them for a 45-minute class session each day. I love what I do. I love my class, my students, and the content I teach. 

However, due to the nature of my classroom and instruction, parent communication is a challenge. I don't manage lunch money, weekly tests, or homework assignments. The results of my assessments do not appear on report cards. I am not the "classroom teacher" for my students. I am their Reaching Reading Success teacher, and while our program has grown tremendously in recent years, it's no secret that the instructional concepts of my class are a bit foreign for most parents. On average, most parents have very little knowledge of multisensory teaching techniques, and "Orton Gillingham" sounds like fancy educational jargon that holds no personal relevance for them. I get that; I wouldn't know much about it if I didn't teach it!

We have done a lot to help parents feel more informed about our techniques and methodology (parent day in which they can actually join their child's class time to learn more; parent conferences; sending home letters and assessment results; parent night to share specific information and techniques to use at home; etc.) but I still feel as though parent communication is a weakness for me. When I was a first grade teacher, it came easy; I often felt as though I talked with parents as much as the kids at times. That's not a bad thing; it's just a strong contrast with my current reality. I want  need that to change.

I explain all of that to reiterate the significance, for me, of sending home newsletters. Now, on to the good stuff… :)

Below, you will see the first of my monthly newsletters, to be sent home in August. Before you lament the dull black-and-white design, I will readily admit that, yes, it would be much "cuter" in color. I could have easily designed it with colorful clipart, but in reality, what are parents going to see? The black-and-white version. We don't have a color copier, so the copies sent home would be printed in a grayscale version anyway. For this reason, a colorful version would probably produce less-polished copies for parents. So I abandoned my teacher-need to make it "cuter" and based my decision on practicality. I may, however, print it on colored paper to spice things up a bit! ;) 
Here's a look that the bare "bones" of the newsletter. Basically, these are the components each newsletter will contain.
Now, take a closer look at the August newsletter, which is an almost-complete version of the template, lacking specific details I will add later…
You can see which parts (graphics, quotes) will change each month to give the newsletter a more seasonal appearance. The only part that will stay completely the same on each newsletter is my contact information. If you notice, I have included my blog address and Twitter ID so parents can follow me online as well. Using social media more for parent communication is also a goal of mine this year. (If you want some GREAT advice for using social media in the classroom, visit Ashley over at Teach Create Motivate.)

The part about which I am most excited is the "Spotlight on Students." This section will be completed by my students each month!
As you can see from the above image, part of my goal in having this section is to motivate students to share more about our class at home. If they have invested in even one part of this newsletter, then they are naturally more likely to show it to someone at home. I want these newsletters to actually make it to the hands and eyes of parents -not just get shoved to the bottom of the backpack… you know what I'm talking about.

So, in this part, I will let students choose what they want to share with their friends and family at home. They provide the information here. By the end of the year, I want students to design the whole newsletter as a type of "wrap-up and reflect" project for each class. I am hoping this little snippet each month will help them feel more comfortable with that project by the time May comes along. 

What do you think about my newsletter design? Likes, dislikes, suggestions? Please feel free to share it all… I welcome the feedback! :)

Note: Clipart on the newsletter is provided by Krista Wallden at Creative Clips. She has an amazing selection in her store!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Up Next: National Board Certification

I'm really excited (and a little nervous) to share some exciting news. This year,  I am going to begin pursuing National Board Certification. 


I know; It's a big step and a major commitment, especially since the certification process now extends over a three-year period. 

I've given this a lot of thought, though, and after attending a Standards Study workshop last week, I am pretty excited about this new endeavor. You may be a NBC teacher and know exactly how I feel at this moment. At the very least, you have probably heard so many things about NBC; I have as well. I've heard the ugly details; the scary, slightly scarier, and practically terrifying details. The thing is, I've also heard the good stuff… the really, really good stuff… about how it can transform your identity as a professional… About how it can make you the teacher you were truly meant to be … About how it can be the best thing you've ever done professionally. Well, I'm choosing to embrace those versions of this experience. The truth is that after spending some time learning more about this process, the standards, and the expectations, I really do believe this is what I need to push myself to become better

I have already identified areas in which I now feel the weakest, and I am targeting those as opportunities for the most growth. But who knows? As I learn more about myself, a few surprises may emerge as areas of even greater improvement! Either way, I am fully convinced that I need this, and if I'm honest with myself, I'm enough of a teacher nerd to be deeply energized by it. 

Still, I will admit: clicking submit on that final registration page made my heart race just a little...
I have selected Literacy: Reading-Language Arts as my certificate area. I feel that this area is most relevant to what I do now, as well as transferrable to other grade levels/classrooms, should my teaching situation change at any point in the future. The fact that literacy is truly my passion in the field of education made this part a relatively easy decision for me.

Obviously, the first thing I need to do is start studying, but I also already have several goals for my classroom and instruction that will gradually unfold as I work my way through this process. I still hope to showcase a variety of content here at The Tally Tales blog, but I wouldn't be surprised if educational posts were prevalent among my publishing. I may still have a do-it-yourself project along the way (I can't resist a little creative experiment every now and then!), and I'll try to keep you updated on baby girl's milestones; but for the most part, much of the information I have to share will probably be related to things I am studying, learning, and creating for my classroom.

I hope you will follow along with me in this journey. If you have already obtained national board certification, I would very much welcome the opportunity to connect with -and learn from- you! :)