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For the Love of {Mrs.} May

  As Teacher Appreciation Week nears, we will see a sudden influx of Why I Became a Teacher posts. More often than not, there is a certain person behind the story, and this story is about my person.
     It was second grade. I didn't know it yet, but I was embarking on the best two years of elementary school--or perhaps all of school. Mrs. May oozed kindness from the inside out. Her warm spirit radiated from the shiny blues of her irises to the smile that stretched across her whole face. Her hair was, quite literally, the color of sunshine, and her bright face seemed to glow even on the coldest of days. Her name was as whimsical as Mary Poppins--and in hindsight, I’m sure it is no coincidence that Teacher Appreciation Week falls in her namesake month. Mrs. May’s love was like a magnet for every child who entered her classroom, and I was certainly no exception.
     That year, my love for Mrs. May grew by the day--and, thanks to her, my love for reading stretched far beyond the walls of our classroom. Mrs. May's own love for reading was almost as evident as her love for teaching, and it didn't take me long to see why. Read-alouds were a staple in our classroom and as Mrs. May shared her precious stories with us daily, I was immediately smitten; Boxcar Children, Judy Blume books, and--perhaps my favorite--Charlotte’s Web. The words of these books tumbled over Mrs. May’s lips and I couldn’t catch them fast enough. Mrs. May was contagious in everything she did, and reading was the best bug I ever caught.
     Mrs. May was a teacher who loved teaching, and I was a student who loved being a student. It was a match made in Heaven, and I couldn't believe my great fortune.
     Then came the reading contest. The day she announced it, I knew I had to win.
     Read Your Way to a Chocolate Kiss, the bulletin board read. Stapled to the board were fat, brown, paper chocolate kisses, our names inscribed on each one. The deal was simple: read a book, earn a kiss.
     This was a dream come true. Not only did it combine two of my favorite things--chocolate and reading--but it was a chance to show Mrs. May what I could do with my love for something she had given me. On my own, I began reading feverishly, morning and night; I read short books, long books, and books in between. I read under the dining room table, in the car, and in waiting rooms. I have a vivid memory of tucking a book in my lap for quick glances between words on our oral spelling test, and although this move earned me a stern look from Mrs. May, nothing would stand between me and my kisses.
     By the time the contest came to an end, I had not only read my way to a chocolate kiss, but I had earned myself the distinction of far surpassing any number of books read that year in Mrs. May's classroom. Words can’t describe my excitement when she presented me with an entire BAG of Hershey’s chocolate kisses. At my young age, I had hit the trifecta--I'd won the contest, spent time doing what I loved, and--perhaps the greatest of all--earned admiration from the teacher whom I loved so dearly.
     I was fortunate enough to have Mrs. May again for 3rd grade as she looped with a small group of us. Mrs. May was there for me through trivial conflicts with friends, more serious body image insecurities that were starting to surface at a frighteningly young age, the day I wore pigtails and was teased endlessly, and so many more of life’s hurdles at the fragile age of eight. Of course, she was there for the happy times, too--always a cheerleader, always a ray of sunshine. Through good times or bad, there was one constant: when I grew up, I wanted to be a teacher. More importantly, I wanted to be a teacher like Mrs. May.
     After third grade, Mrs. May stuck with me--not only figuratively, but literally. Lunch dates, a few weeks spent in her classroom for my high school senior year job shadowing, exchanged Facebook messages, and attendance at all the major events in my life: baby showers, graduation parties, and wedding events. Over those 20 years, she never lost that glow. Mrs. May was magic.
     When I was due to expect my first child, Mrs. May gifted me with a copy of Charlotte’s Web-- obviously special in its own rite, but made even more special by its inscription. The lilting handwriting hadn’t changed a bit, and neither had the effect Mrs. May’s words had on me:
     This was the first book I read aloud to Teddy as I watched him sleep, only weeks old in his crib during the hours that seemed to stretch on for days. Of course, I understood at the time that this shared story was more for me than him; passing that lonely time during the day with a comfort that only an old friend could bring.
     When I became comfortable in my own teaching career and decided to start a teaching blog, I planned to interview Mrs. May for an upcoming Teacher Appreciation post. I had passed casual thank-you’s her way over the years, and it was obvious we held a special place in each other’s hearts, but I couldn’t think of a more perfect tribute than this: a way to finally show the world the woman who had built me as a teacher! I sent her a message on Facebook to see if she’d be interested (she was, of course), and promised her I’d send the questions along for her to answer.
     As it so often happens, time got away: days passed, and then weeks, and the project slipped from my mind. No questions were sent, none answered, and the post was left unwritten. No big deal, I thought, as the deadline crept closer--there’s always next year!
     Except, there wasn’t.
     We were visiting my mom. She met me at the door with a grim face. Mrs. May was gone. She and her husband had passed away suddenly the night before in a car accident while vacationing in Florida.
     I was devastated and instantly filled with regret. While the longevity and deepness of our relationship spoke volumes, I had never gotten the chance to truly tell Mrs. May what she had done for me.
     I returned home at the end of that sad weekend. My heart was heavy, and there was a sadness tinged with regret that I just couldn’t shake. As I returned to work that week, my time in the classroom with my students felt very different; my every action carried a weight, and my every word was heavy with meaning. More than ever before, I was acutely aware of my teaching and what it meant to my students. I also was keenly aware of Mrs. May's presence in every step of my day. I knew Mrs. May was with me, she was watching, and--just like old times--I wanted to make her proud.
     As if to prove this feeling, weeks later, I received a gift straight from Heaven.  In late Spring, this appeared on my desk one morning:

     I think my whole body stopped the minute I laid eyes on the gift: Hershey's Chocolate Kisses. Not a whole bag, but a whole jar. Not earned, but this time, gifted. One of my students, Charity, had brought in a belated Teacher Appreciation surprise that could not have been any more timely. I'm not sure I can ever tell Charity how much this moment meant to me, but I know her first grade heart was in just the right place that week I so desperately needed it. This moment is stamped on my own heart forever, and this jar has earned a permanent place on my classroom shelf--forever unopened, and always a reminder.
     Just as in Charlotte’s Web, there is a lesson to this story: don’t wait before it’s too late to tell somebody how much you appreciate them. More specifically, if there is a teacher out there that is your Mrs. May--tell them. A designated week out of the year is a nice way to shower our teachers with love and gratitude, but sometimes it pays to stray from the schedule. It might be too late for me, but this is a message of inspiration, not sadness. While I would have preferred her to read this belated blog post, I'm pretty sure she came to me that Spring day in a little jar of candy kisses. And that is the sweetest message of all.

My Little Lookout: A Pint-Sized Substitute Solution

Sick happens. Meetings are inevitable. And it is the honest-to-God truth that teaching is one of the professions where it is harder to stay home (ahem, sub plans) than it is to just come in and teach 24 6-year-olds despite the fact that it feels like you've swallowed a handful of thumbtacks. Alas, days out of the classroom are inevitable, and we have to be prepared!

When planning to be out of the classroom, we think first about our students. Our students who thrive on routine and predictability. Our little darlings are creatures of habit, and our routine is the golden rule in our classroom.

It's also important to think about the substitute. Substitute teachers are responsible for managing and teaching a group of enthusiastic learners who are thrown off their routine and missing their teacher. I'm not sure if you've ever seen a child thrown off a routine, but spoiler alert: it's not pretty.

So, the subs. You guys, I view it as my personal mission in life to make the day as easy as possible for these saints. Of course the day's success lies largely in the sub plans, but we all know a perfectly laid plan can sometimes be stopped dead in its tracks by other factors. And by other factors, I mean behavior.

Behaviorally speaking, there are different types of students.

Type A: Student Could Lead Class By Himself, Sometimes Better Than Me: this student loves any chance to help, and the sub is no exception. This student probably has a * next to his name as the go-to student for any and all questions.
Type B: The Middle of the Line Student: An overall good choice-maker with an edge, she knows things are going to be a little cray cray without her teacher; will toe the line, trying to decide if it is worth it to act a fool or just save energy and go with the flow.
Type C: The Just. Cannot. Student: This student probably also has an asterisk next to his name in the sub plans, but for a whole different reason. You know who I'm talking about.

I am super lucky this year and could honestly see all of my students as Type A's, but I know this isn't always the norm. Luckily, My Little Lookout is for all Type students.

In short: My Little Lookout is a miniature teacher meets espionage meets tattletale (in a good way). My Little Lookout is designed to encourage positive behavior while serve as a constant reminder that your teacher WILL find out about your choices.

The Introduction
In Room 65, MLL arrives one day with grandiose (AKA in a pile of glitter, because glitter=magic). She arrives on a day I am NOT absent, and we read the My Little Lookout book together to get to know this intriguing little creature. The book can be printed hardcover or shown electronically, which is my preferred way.

The book will prompt kids to name their MLL, so we always have a ball with that. In the past, my kids have named her to rhyme with my name, but this past year, our MLL was named "Mrs. Mini." You can turn this into a voting event, a graphing activity, whatever---but the name that is chosen is the name that is there to stay. It is written on MLL's name tag (which can be detached if you prefer only the doll and not the name tag).

The Implementation
The premise of My Little Lookout is this: when a teacher is out, he or she calls My Little Lookout.
My Little Lookout then comes to the classroom overnight and finds a nice spot to settle where she can see all of the goings on of the classroom (I'm a big fan of the projector or beside the clock: a focal point where kids can't touch her.) The next day, kids will spot her and she will spend her day watching over the classroom and making notes about what choices the students are making in their teacher's absence. [When, in reality, the substitute teacher will leave a note for the classroom teacher with mention of students making good choices, poor choices, and choices in between]

When the teacher returns, she receives a note from My Little Lookout and is able to reward the students making great choices and handle the not so great choice-makers how she chooses. My Little Lookout comes with 3 note formats: 1 for a "good list," 1 with a "not so good list," and 1 for a whole class WOW day.  If we get a whole class good report or the sub mentions a few Star Students, I share these with the whole class during our morning meeting the next day. It's a great way to show students that their choices matter, even when I am gone. I will typically award the class with a class point or two, and individuals get a certificate to take home (sometimes, I even throw in a surprise reward like lunch with the teacher---gotta keep them on their toes :) ).

Any negative feedback is shared privately with the students mentioned, and the consequence is often a note explaining the choices they made and the choices they SHOULD have made. Sometimes, I send these notes home to parents and other times, I simply use them as a reflection piece.

Another thing I enjoy doing when we have a sub in the classroom is for my students to write notes either to me or Mrs. Mini. These notes are a great peek into the day when you are unable to be there. It is also a great option for the writing activity or center for your sub plans! Students are always so honest--it is both heart-warming and amusing to read these notes upon your return!

And that's a wrap, ladies & gents! Magical, miniature, and mighty...what more could you ask for?! For more details on what My Little Lookout includes, visit my TPT store to view the full product description

#PrimaryProbs: A {Free} Shoe-Tying Solution!

Welcome to my first installment of #PrimaryProbs, a series of blog posts that will make you laugh, cry, and every other emotion under the sun as we explore some of our greatest classroom challenges. But first, let's get one thing straight: I am no Negative Nancy. In fact, I'd say I find 99% of #PrimaryProbs quite humorous. So this is not a whining session by any stretch of the imagination. Also. I'm a nice person. So not only will I bring a common problem to the forefront, but I will also come bearing a SOLUTION. Because who likes an empty-handed complainer? If you ask my students what I like to do best, they will most definitely say I am a problem-solver. It's true!

I'd also like to preface this post by saying I SUPER love my job and am fairly certain I am the luckiest lady on earth to have a job that brings me so much happiness. It's just not even fair to non-teachers how lucky we are.

HOWEVER. We all know that teaching is not always rainbows and butterflies. Sure, we have those toothy smiles, the endless supply of hugs, and a barrel of constant laughs. That's the stuff elementary classrooms are made of! But, truth be told, there is an ugly side to teaching. A germy, dirty, ugly side. I'm talking SHOES. Specifically, the tying of said shoes.

People. I'm half tempted to quit writing this post and get to work inventing a shoe-tying machine. But I won't! Instead, I am here with a solution to tide us over until a much smarter somebody else invents that machine. But I digress.

To put things nicely, let's just say I'm not a huge fan of tying shoes. Am I concerned for the safety of my untied friends? Of course! (I've seen the damage a rogue lace can cause!). Will I tie a shoe for one of my little friends? Yes! (except not after December)...Will I enjoy it? Probably not. But that's okay! It's nothing personal. My mind just can't help but wander as I tie those laces; Where have you been today, little laces? What have you seen? Touched? THE HORROR. I can imagine the journey of a first grade lace is a tad...messy.

OKAY but it's fine! Because you know what kind of people LOVE tying shoes? First graders who know how to tie shoes. That's who. Learning to tie shoes in elementary school is like crossing over into a sunshiney, flower-filled field. Life is grand when you can tie shoes. It's pretty much the coolest thing to happen to you in all of K-6.

As it turns out, these shoe-tying students are going to be your shoe saviors this year. Or, as we're going to call them: Shoe Specialists.

Once a student can tie shoes, they officially become a Shoe Specialist: Licensed to Lace. This means that they get this super colorful, official-looking tag on their desk:

Along with this GREAT POWER comes GREAT SHOE-TYING RESPONSIBILITY. Looking out for an official tag, my untied friends can simply locate the desk of a Shoe Specialist and---voila! Our shoelaces are happy, our friends are happy, the teacher is THRILLED.

I also like to present the newly-minted shoe-tyer with a fancy pair of laces. Because shoelaces are fun when you're 7!

This whole shoelace celebration produces a wonderful classroom system. Student A sees Student B get a fancy job and a set of laces. Student A wants to be like Student B. Student A learns to tie shoes too! Talk about a WIN-WIN. Try this out and let me know if you have a single untied lace left by the end of the year! (Spoiler alert--you probably won't!).

Click on any photo in this post to download your own {Free} Shoe Specialist stickers! Or, click here!

P.S. Dear People Who Thought This Post Was About How to Teach Shoe-Tying,
Sorry. It's not. Tips? Suggestions? Magic Spell? Please share in comments. Thanks!

Why I'm Quitting Homework {And What I'm Doing Instead}

Times they are a changin', am I right? In technology, fashion, politics, you name it! Change is the name of the game--especially in education. As teachers, we are breaking the mold, questioning tradition, and hurtling into a horizon of endless possibilities. Change is hard, but progress is better. And I like progress. I also like news:

I, Erin Waters, am no longer assigning homework. You heard me correctly. The homework that has been in my life since my very own schooling began, is out. I. Am. DONE. As the cool kids say these days, I just CANNOT with the homework anymore. And before I tell you why, you better sit down. Because it's shocking. And it might hurt a little:

I've always thought that sending homework home with my students was helping them, and me, to reinforce topics we've learned in the classroom. HOWEVER; recent studies have shown that the correlation between homework and achievement in the elementary grades is very minimal, if not nonexistent.  I know, right?

In fact, studies have shown that too much homework in the elementary grades actually has a negative impact on students. Take a look:

And here's another thing: the National Educator's Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association recommend 10 minutes of homework per grade level per night. See how that works out for your classroom:

BUT then--there's this:

THREE times too much. That is so much time that is unnecessarily spent. And it turns out, kids don't have much free time to begin with:

The average 8-year-old has one crazy busy life! To top it off, K-5 students receive an average of 40 minutes of homework per day. Ain't nobody got time for that!

Alsooooo, as if 3x too much homework isn't bad enough, studies show there is a severe lack of time available to spend as a family. Due to busy schedules with working parents and school-aged children, the average family spends 2.5 hours per day together. 

That's all, folks.

And 40 minutes of homework is almost 1/3 of "family time" being spent on homework.

Not only does homework encroach on what little family time is available, but this schedule also leaves very little room for play. Kids need to play, but spend a lot of this time hunched over a table with a pencil and frustration.

This is bad. This is really bad.

Now, I've thought a LOT about doing away with traditional homework. This is no willy nilly decision on my part. I've done my research. And once I did my research, I thought about my own experience with homework in my classroom. I've come to realize that, in addition to the statistics, we face the following problems with homework. First of all, homework is: 

Homework doesn't offer much choice. It is assigned, and it has a due date. Elementary students are expected to learn autonomy, responsibility and making the right choices; yet we are not giving them a chance to choose their own learning path!

Also (the worst in my opinion), a lot of times homework is:

OMG. This one just hurts my heart. In classrooms and schools that assign homework, it is common practice to punish the kids when homework isn't turned in on time or done correctly. I'm talking loss of recess*, notes home, deduction of Dojo** points if that's your thing--and more often than not, these kids are being punished for something that is out of their control:

I am a total cheerleader for accepting responsibility for one's actions, but there are a few factors regarding homework in the primary grades that make this a little tricky:
  • These are children. With ages in the single digits. Sounds crazy, but at this age, most kids do this weird thing called following the schedule given to them by their parents. In busy households, homework is sometimes put on the back burner---many times understandably so, given the busy-ness. This is an adult choice, and students should not be punished for a decision made by their parents.
  • Resources vary from home to home. Many families do not possess the same amount of time, education, language skills, or basic supplies to complete homework assignments. A class of students should not be held to the same set of standards when their home lives most likely vary drastically.
*I also must reiterate that I am SO against taking recess from a child, but that's a post for another time.
**I also must reiterate that I am SO in love with Class Dojo. But that's also a post for another time.

Also, I totally get that things of this nature establish a work ethic. But we do TONS of work ethic establishing during the school day. It's time we make some exceptions.

If you are totally a homework person and this is super depressing, I've got news for you: It's going to be okay. I've lost actual sleep over these stats, and realized I (we) needed a solution. Are you ready for the good news, my friends? I have a solution that will save YOU sleep. And time. And lots more:

Friends, I am please to introduce to you...

This little guy has been brewing for MONTHS. Un-Homework is my answer to the woes of traditional homework. Homework as a thing is still physically there, it just looks--and feels!-- a whole lot better. 

Unlike traditional homework, Un-Homework contains:

That's right. Students make a choice: They either do it or they don't. 

Every week, a list of choices goes home with the student. Students can choose 1-5 choices from the list. 

Once it is completed, the student colors in the circle next to the choice.

Also, Un-Homework has:

Yes-prizes! Once the week is over, students fill out one raffle ticket for each choice completed. Raffle tickets are brought in every Monday and entered into our Learning Lotto for a chance to win a prize! It quickly becomes apparent that, in order to have the best shot at winning the lotto, one must turn in as many raffle tickets as possible:

Prizes are easy, simple, and interchangeable. I have 20 prize cards that I switch out weekly depending on how much money is in my bank account  current student interest. Most are cost-free. The ebb and flow of prize excitement is an ever-changing entity from year to year and even month to month. Some classes FLIP for picking their own jobs, others go nuts over lunch with the teacher, whereas other kids are all.about.that.CAAAANDY, yo.

I randomly select 3-4 Learning Lotto winners from the box, and they each roll a die. The number rolled corresponds to their prize. It's a pretty exciting time in Room 65, y'all, and it's a GREAT way to celebrate the students choosing to continue their learning at home. 

Also---did I mention no punishments? If you complete some choices, great--you might win a prize. If you complete zero choices, great---you definitely won't win a prize, but you also won't be sitting inside staring out the window hating your life as your friends have a ball at recess.

This part is better than the prize, in my opinion. The choices given weekly are so dang flexible! Students can complete 1 choice per night, all 5 the first night, or none at all! Giving the students choices seriously empowers them and makes them the director of their own learning. Students who don't typically dig the homework scene might find some thrill in choosing certain tasks and saying adios to others. 

I don't know about you, but I totally prefer to choose my own way rather than being told what to do. I mean, I knooooooow I have to schedule a dentist appointment every 6 months, but it's totally more satisfying to do it on my own accord rather than my husband nagging lovingly reminding me to do it. And these kids---they are all just mini-adults, so I think this making our own choices thing is pretty universal.

In addition, the actual format of Un-Homework is designed to let parents to keep the choice sheet even after turning in the tickets. Once the tickets are cut off, parents stockpile choices throughout the year, so there are always extra tasks on hand if the parent desires something a little extra for his or her little learner.

Also? Most tasks can be done in any amount of time. Because there is no final check-in or grade, tasks can be accomplished at one's own pace. While this will save time on extra busy nights, this will more often result in a child choosing to do a task longer because they chose it and they are having fun.

Okay, this actually might be my favorite part. Gone are the days of PPT (paper, pencil, & tears) homework. No sirree. Un-Homework encompasses all sorts of fun arenas of learning that will really encourage students to exercise their creativity, physical prowess, and *gasp* embrace their kidness. 

We've got playing, singing, dancing, games-you name it. Un-Homework is the life of the party.

Is Un-Homework for you? I encourage you to check it out in my store. Upon purchasing, you'll receive an entire year's worth of Un-Homework*, prize cards, a PowerPoint presentation you can use at Back-to-School Night to break the no-homework-news to parents gently & informatively, plus some more valuable Un-Homework resources. 

*In addition, the UnHomework is fully editable for you to adjust based on your classroom's needs, interests, and desires. The one offered in the pack is geared toward first grade, but you can use a lot of my choices as jumping off points to create your own!

I really hope you'll join me on this no homework train! It's going to be a great ride :)

A Footnote: I've been so touched by the outpouring of feedback on this issue that I am so greatly passionate about. I value opinions of all variations. One of the themes/questions that keeps arising is the importance of reading at home. While I chose not to touch on this issue in this post, I want to clarify my stance on it since it goes hand in hand with the homework. I believe it is extremely important to encourage nightly reading at home. I don't assign it, I don't check it, and I don't log it. A Book Before Bedtime is my stance; if every student can read at least one book before bedtime every night, I hope that it will foster a love of reading that isn't forced upon them. I'm feeling another post on this! Thanks again for your feedback---it has been invigorating and thought-provoking to hear from such amazing educators!

The Blog Formerly Known As The Watering Hole: A Reveal With Erin Waters

WELCOME to my newly re-modeled space! I am so excited you are here! Same blog, same author, just a new look, feel, & name!

(Special shout-out to my sister, Carly, for the ridiculously awesome logos & web design graphics!)

Why the Change?
Most of you know my blog as The Watering Hole---while this was cute and catchy, it didn't even begin to scratch the surface of who I am as a teacher. I outgrew it. Sorry, TWH---it's not you. It's me.

What's In a Name? 
I chose Beyond the Beanstalk because it encompasses a few of my favorite things: the growth mindset, a fun tale, and a little bit of whimsy & magic.

Let's Talk GROWTH!
Above all, I believe in the power of positive thinking and its impact on our success. When I think of my students, I think of them as little Jacks, planting their magical beans in August and climbing further and further up the first grade stalk as their little minds expand beyond what they thought possible come May! 

I truly believe that students are in control of their success. If students believe, they can accomplish anything they put their little minds to. It is my mission to develop this mindset and instill in my students a love of learning and a resilience that will catapult them beyond the farthest reaches of their expectations---beyond the beanstalk, if you will!

It takes perseverance, bravery, and a fierce confidence to foster this growth in our classroom. Together, we push ourselves up the beanstalk and beyond what we thought possible...and you know what? The results are purely magical.

About Me: Erin Waters 2.0
Teaching & creating for teachers was my life before my family came along.  My first priority now is my sweet Theodore and my ever-supportive husband, although, my teaching and creating career still remains one of my biggest passions. My favorite hobby these days is juggling it ALL. My heart feels so big it could burst sometimes, as I had no idea I could love so many people and so many jobs at one time!

I am happiest when I am busy! I love going to work every day to spend time with my school “kids” and I love coming home to my real kid even more! I think it’s safe to say I live a wonderful life.

Aside from my family and career, there is nothing I love more than connecting with other teachers & teacherpreneurs!  Also---coffee, Target, tacos, & Amazon Prime---and not necessarily in that order. On that note, feel free to drop me a present via Amazon line if you’d like to connect!

Speaking of favorites, I am hosting a SUPER special giveaway to celebrate my new blog! ONE lucky winner will earn a $25 Target gift card, a $25 Amazon gift card, AND a $25 Teachers Pay Teachers gift card!

You can earn limitless entries by choosing to do the following:

1. Follow Beyond the Beanstalk on Instagram.
2. Like this post on Instagram
3. Tag a friend (as many as you want!) on this IG post--each tag is an entry!
4. Follow Beyond the Beanstalk on Facebook.
5. Like this post on Facebook.
6. Tag a friend on this Facebook post--each tag is an entry!

Winners will be announced Wednesday, July 6th!

Thank you for visiting my little blog. I hope you come back again and we can be friends J

Thinking Outside the Box(es)

I usually save these kinds of posts for New Year's, when I'm turning over a new leaf and my need for organization is at an all-time high, but I've come to realize there is no bad time to talk about being organized.

I follow a lot of home organization blogs, which my husband would argue seems kind of oxy-moronic since our house could use a tad bit more, ahem, order, BUT---the crazy thing is, these blogs are actually helping! Over the past year, I've taken quite a liking to organizing and dare I say, enjoy it, usually. 

So this here today is my attempt at an organization blog entry. First though, I feel the need to warn you, my version is going to be a little less this:

And a little more this:

Fancy, huh?

Today, it's all about the copy paper boxes in the classroom. Now, let me start off by saying that I feel like I have tried every organizational system in the BOOK. Filing cabinets, cute baskets sorted by subject, you get the idea. But nothing has worked. Until copy paper boxes.

Friends, it is as simple as it looks: Every month has a box and every box has a pile of materials inside. At the beginning of every month, I dump that sucker out and begin piecing together my month. Honestly, it's that simple. 

Once I get those piles together (usually by week, so 4 piles to be exact), I sort them into these top of the line organizational drawers:
If I'm feeling extra organized, I'll even have file folders labeled Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, and Week 4---just depends on the month. Down below, I'll file things for the next 2 months that I don't want to forget about once it comes time to implement.

This has been a super system for me, yet it's so easy, a caveman could do it.

**Sidenote---this obviously applies to all hard copies of materials I have. An increasing number of my materials are stored digitally since I have made them or bought them from Teachers Pay Teachers, so these are organized on my computer. HOWEVER, in each monthly box of hard materials, I also include a growing list of digital materials I own that I don't want to forget to use with each month! 

How do you organize materials in your classroom? Please share!

Our Furry Reading Friends

How do you encourage your students to practice reading aloud without feeling silly, getting off-task, or feeling shy?
Perhaps one of my favorite additions ever to the classroom, is the solution to this everlasting problem. Beanie Babies. Yes, those ridiculously overpriced, lovable plush animals have brought such a ray of light to our literacy time in the classroom.

A few months ago, my mom was moving out of our childhood home, and I was tasked with going through and sorting all of the remnants of my childhood bedroom. This resulted in HOURS of reminiscing, took entirely way too long, but was well worth it--for many reasons, but really because of this glorious find----

Immediately, I knew these had to come to school with me. For what? Not sure. Why? I'd figure that out later.

And thus, reading buddies were formed. During stations, I leave a basket of these suckers out and my only rules are these:
1. 1 buddy per student
2. If you have a buddy, its only job is to listen to reading. This is crucial--no somersaults across the carpet, no puppet shows with other buddies (although this will come later for reader's theater--shhh, don't tell them!) get the idea.
3. Treat the buddy kindly. I'm not a hoarder anymore, but I do want these little guys to last!

These are most often used in conjunction with our author station, but can also be used for free reading. The opportunities are endless!

What simple addition has been a pleasant surprise in your classroom?

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