Teachers are Heroes!

It’s true, teachers really are heroes! Teachers are leaders, nurses, parents, psychologists, social workers, friends, confidants, and so much more. If you’ve been waiting for the perfect time to check out Teachers Pay Teachers, it has arrived! Today (only for a few more hours!) everything on the site – in every single store! – is at least 10% off! My store has everything 28% off! That’s right! If you’ve been eyeing that perfect lesson, activity, or resource, now is the time to stop by and stock up! There probably won’t be another sale until my birthday (that’s all the way in April, people!), so get test prep, Common Core and LAFS resources, math lessons, writing resources, reading activities, and so much more! And don’t forget, there’s a TON of free stuff on the site, too – not just my store, but hundreds – thousands (literally, there are over 70K stores on TpT!) – of stores with something for everyone. So no matter what or you teach – in a classroom K-12, early childhood, college, or even homeschool, there is something for you! Head on over and check it out!

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Get your teaching resources while the getting is good!

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Testing Season!

It’s that time of year – testing season is upon us. I know that in Florida, the season starts with the Writing assessment and then moves on to the state Reading and Math assessments, and then finally the End of Course assessments and semester exams. With so many states (Florida included) tying teacher pay to student performance on standardized tests, it’s to every teacher’s advantage to make sure their students perform at the highest level on these spring assessments.

I happen to be an exceptionally good test taker. I’m not sure how that came about – I don’t remember anyone sitting down and teaching me about test-taking. I know I bought the common AP study guides and ACT/SAT prep materials, so I suppose I learned lots of it there, but even as a young child in elementary and middle school, I just seemed to have a knack for test-taking. I guess that’s why I like my current job so much (testing coordinator for a large school district – I work on all the district exams). Anyway, if I’m a GOOD test taker and I don’t know how I got there, then it should come as little surprise that POOR test takers don’t have any idea how to improve. And I would say that more students than not are in the category of at least “not good,” if not “poor” test takers. There are many reasons that students do not perform to their highest ability on standardized tests. Among these are test anxiety and just not understanding basic test-taking strategies. Basic test-taking strategies are not instinctual. In fact, many basic test-taking strategies go against instinct. The point is, they must be TAUGHT. This is why companies make millions of dollars offering test-prep courses and publishing test-prep materials. But why not make these basic strategies available to ALL your students, especially those who cannot afford professional prep?

Enter my standardized testing preparation kit. This kit has 12 printable classroom mini-posters of basic multiple choice/standardized test-taking strategies, along with how to instruct students in these strategies. It also includes a study guide for students, applicable for all types of assessments! I used this every year as part of what I termed my “bubble boot camp” and had incredible success. I had students (multiple ones, every year) jump up 2 achievement levels simply by implementing these basic test-taking strategies. This kit will not only benefit students in your classes, but will help them in other areas, too. It is applicable for students at ANY level and in ANY subject. I know February may seem like a bit early to be talking about the state tests, but they are right around the corner, and if you start now, you can get through all 12 tips in time for students to internalize them and apply them on all the tests they will be taking this spring.

This kit will be MOST beneficial to your low-achieving or under-achieving students – those “bottom quartile” kids who shut down after the first question and “Christmas tree” the entire test. However, this will also benefit your high-achieving students by giving them tools to slow down and check their work, increasing their performance as well. This truly is a must-have resource for every teacher. You owe it to your students to give them a basic crash-course in test prep. And I know – I KNOW – what you’re thinking! My students already know this stuff, I teach juniors (or seniors!) and they’ve been testing since they were in first grade! Surely they know this stuff! But they don’t. THEY DON’T. I’m telling you, I had seniors who couldn’t bubble correctly to save their lives. I had secondary students who honestly – HONESTLY – did not know they had to put their answers on the Scantron answer sheet and just marked them in their booklet. I swear to you, the tips and strategies in this kit are things that you THINK students know – that they SHOULD know – but they don’t. Not all of them. I promise you that if you have never done a basic test-taking strategies instruction workshop with your students, they will benefit from this. My students did.

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Give your students their best chance!

Common Core Practice, Anyone?

My entry this week is an explanation of my newest product: the CIM for Common Core CCSS.ELA.6.4 – the figurative language standard. This CIM (Continuous Improvement Model) takes students through an “I Do,” “We Do,” “You Do” model. It focuses on standard 4, which is “Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.” It is also appropriate for the LAFS.6.RL.2.4 (Language Arts Florida Standards).

There is a little bit of (controversy isn’t the right word) variation in how to interpret this standard. In my work with teachers, as well as curriculum specialists and other administrators, I have found that some interpret this standard as including (at the secondary level – grades 6-12) questions that ask students to identify figurative language devices. For example, “Which figurative device is used in stanza 1?” The student then answers “simile,” or whatever the appropriate device is. Others, however, do not feel that basic device identification meets the standard at the secondary level unless it is accompanied by a “Part B” question asking about what the device means. For example: “Part A: Which figurative device is used in the first stanza?” and then “Part B: What does the author mean by this figurative device?” Still others, though, contend that the identification of the figurative device does not belong with standard 4 at all, and is, instead, a “content or domain-specific” language question belonging in the Language standards (CCSS.L.6). I’m not (nor is anyone else I know of) sure exactly how the various testing companies (PARCC, Smarter Balanced, FSA, etc.) are going to interpret this standard. Therefore, I have included these styles of questions in this product. Each day students get a couple of questions, one of which asks them to identify various figurative devices. These questions are followed up with the meaning of those devices or the impact they have on the poem (in terms of tone, mood, etc.).

There are 3 lessons designed to take 5 days. Lessons one and two take roughly 15-20 minutes total, so spread over two days, each lesson lasts 7-10 minutes. All together, you get 5 days of a 7-10 minute lesson each day. This makes it perfect for a daily opener or bell work. The idea behind it is that the teacher demonstrates, guides, and assesses, and then uses the results to inform instruction and the need (or not) to reteach. It is ideal for additional practice or remediation to see how well the initial lessons or instruction has gone.

Sound intriguing? Check it out!

6th grade FCIM RL4

Cyber Monday Madness!

Happy Cyber Monday! Yes, it’s the new-age off-shoot of Black Friday (after, of course, the creation of “Small Business Saturday”); the day where everyone finds time during the work day to surf the internet for great online deals. Well, fear not, for I have Cyber Monday Madness to share with you! Teachers Pay Teachers is running their annual Cyber Monday sale today (December 1, 2014) and tomorrow (December 2, 2014). The entire site will be up to 28% off! Stop the madness! Everything in my store specifically will be 28% off the regular price. This is the perfect time to drop by and see the resources I have!

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Visit my store today!

I’ve also finished (and posted) the second CIM (Continuous Improvement Model) lesson for the grade 6 RL.2 CCSS practice. It uses Poe’s poem, “Annabel Lee” and is designed to take 3-5 days at 7-10 minutes each. It is an “I do,” “We do,” “You do,” model that teaches and assesses the three main aspects of the RL.2 standard: determining theme, finding details that convey the theme, and summarizing the text. If it sounds intriguing, I’ve got a free one for RL.1 you can check out first. I’m excited to be rolling out this line of CIMs. This one for grade 6 RL.2 is just the second of a long list of these CIM products. There will be a CIM for every standard (RL1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 and RI1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) for grades 6, 7, 8, 9-10, and 11. The line will conclude with 2 versions of a practice assessment (similar to the PARCC, Smarter-Balance, or FSA) for each grade level (6-11). I continue to appreciate feedback on the products in this line so I can tailor them to teachers’ and students’ specific needs.

6th grade FCIM RL2

6th grade FCIM RL1 freebie

Well, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving (if you’re in a country that celebrates it!) with your family (whether blood or chosen). The holiday season is in full swing, so be safe as you travel and try not to get too stressed out!

And don’t forget to cheer on the Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game this weekend against Wisconsin. With our 2nd Heisman-candidate quarterback out, we’ll need everyone to rally behind Cardale Jones!

Be Prompt; Be Prepared

I know I feel this way and I am getting the feeling that so many other teachers are feeling similarly: These new standards and unknown state assessments make us feel like we’re in a ship in a storm without a map. Or a captain. Or maybe even the ship. Whether you think it’s ethical or not (or just somewhere in the gray area), test-prep is a huge industry. Barron’s makes a gazillion dollars a year on AP prep. There is ACT and SAT prep materials. Kaplan charges people hundreds of dollars to prep for major tests at the post-secondary level (and below). State tests, in the past, have had a variety of test-prep materials. Probably the most-used (most-valuable, etc.) are the released tests. You get old versions of the assessments and you give them to your students to practice. Makes sense, right? I mean, that’s how kids study for and pass the AP tests. Many states even had targeted assessment resources – workbooks with practice items, CD-ROMS with practice tools, even whole websites with practice for students across the grades.

But what happens when the tests change? And not just a little change, either, but a change so significant and monumental that there simply aren’t any really good ways to institute formal test prep. Whether your state has adopted the PARCC, Smarter Balance, FSA (for Florida), or some other new tool to assess the CCSS, you are probably desperately looking around for resources to help prepare your students for these exams. I mean, really, all you know is that your students will be tested on how well they “master” the standards. But what does that really mean? Really? No one knows. Yes, PARCC has a nice site with a handful of sample items. Yes, FSA released item specs with context-less contextual sample questions (with no answers, I might add). And there is a sample test. But seriously, how helpful is all of that? Minimally. It’s better than nothing, yes, but it’s nowhere near what teachers need. Or what their students need. Don’t even get me started on the ambiguity of the standards themselves. The interpretations are far and wide, which makes it virtually impossible to know not only what will be asked, but how the assessments will ask it.

It’s frustrating. It’s beyond frustrating. Do I have all the answers? No. But I do work with the new standards every day (yes, I’m in Florida, and technically we have the LAFS, not the CCSS, but at the secondary [6-12] level, the LAFS are, for all intents and purposes, identical to the CCSS), and I work with people who get to go to all sorts of symposiums and trainings to learn about the new standards and rubrics. I don’t know exactly how the different companies are going to interpret and assess the standards, but I am certainly more familiar with the standards and their potential assessments than an average classroom teacher. Therefore, based on my own trainings and those I work with, I have created question stems for the standards grades 6-8 and the 9-10 and 11-12 standards. Each level (6-8) has over 200 question stems. My middle school documents are extraordinarily popular (and highly rated), and I have noticed that many teachers buy not just one level, but multiple levels of stems. In response, I have decided to bundle my 6-8 stems so teachers can get all 3 levels for a reduced price. I am also working on revising and bundling my high school stems documents, so if you haven’t become a follower of my store, go to the link and become a follower so you can get updates when I post new products.

I hope these stems are helpful for you in your classroom. You can use them as discussion starters, for traditional (multiple choice) assessments, or for extended responses. You can even give them to students and have them make their own questions from various literature. If you purchase the bundle (or any single stems documents), please be sure to review the product!

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CCSS Stem Bundle

And don’t forget to check back tomorrow for my football freebie since the Buckeyes showed Sparty who’s boss in the Big Ten!