How do YOU teach?

Park Troopers

Some of you may not know that I come from a family of teachers. Not my immediate family, but there’s a few extended family members floating around that work in both the primary and secondary sector, in various forms from retired to currently teaching to studying. It always makes family get-togethers interesting, because no matter how hard we try to avoid it, there’s always a bit of shop-talk (that quite often involves the non-teaching members of our families to roll their eyes!).

Today we went out to celebrate my Nonno’s 85th birthday, and it’s always a lot of fun.

I had an interesting conversation with one of my aunts, who retired a few years back after nearly 30 years in the classroom. It didn’t start out as school related – we were talking about science-fiction movies, and how the future is often depicted as quite bleak – when she asked me:

How do you teach your kids about the world?

This may seem innocuous enough, but it was really about how I address the issues in the present day world that kids (and adults) find distressing. We live in a world where there are a lot of things happening that our students are confronted with.

My answer?

Conversation

I have a class that loves to chat – about anything, at anytime and to anyone – so it should come to noone’s surprise that we have a lot of good conversations about things. And I’m not just talking about conversations about what we’re learning.

I’ve been known to lose who sessions of pre-planned lessons because some thoughtful soul in my class asked a provocative questions and we’ve gone down the rabbit hole trying to find an answer, or debating an answer… or found more questions we wanted to unpack.

In this day and age of teaching, where lesson planning is deemed a crucial part of daily life and documentation MUST be had, it may sound a bit flippant when I admit to losing ‘lessons’ of ‘preplanned curriculum’ to chat, but the reality is that my students (no matter their home circumstances) don’t have the opportunity to sit and explore their thoughts and ideas on topics of their choice with a big group of people very often.

And it’s SO important.

I learn more about my students in these conversations than I do in something that’s been carefully prepared. Why? Undoubtably there’s an element of ‘well you haven’t got pre-prepared answers floating in your head’ there, but also, when you allow students’ licence to just talk, they show you what they really know – more than a worksheet or game might ever tell you.

What have I learnt from this:

Every child learns from it – not just the ones talking. Often those students who don’t participate are absorbing all the information their peers are sharing, and they’ll join in when a topic is more closely aligned to their understanding.

Young children need an outlet to talk about the ‘bad’ things happening in life. Not just the things concerning them, but also the things they might see on the news or overhear the grown-ups in their lives talking about. I’ve had incredible conversations with 6 and 7 year olds this year on why lockdowns are important to practice (because even though our gun violence in Australia is really low, we still prepare and practise). We’ve talked about the reasons why we are respectful during Anzac Day preparations and services. We’ve wondered about why different parts of the world have seasons, what an axis is and why Earth has one and why some parts of the world have minimal daylight hours during the year and how does this affect living things.

6 and 7 year olds want to know this stuff.

And yes, it’s important to be sensitive about some of the more hard-hitting things – it breaks my heart that my young students are aware that oversees some schools witness gun violence (it breaks my heart that it even occurs) – but school is a safe place for them to discuss these things with adults who can help them understand in kid friendly language.

If nothing else, I want my students to know that their questions and thoughts and opinions matter. They’re worthy of discussion. These are the people who will one day shape the future and being able to take turns, acknowledge other people’s opinions respectfully and to clarify will stand them in good stead.

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Monsters book review

Last month I was fortunate to review a review copy of Monsters by Anna Fienberg for review from Allen and Unwin. I wrote a review of it on my book review blog, but given that it is a children’s book and I haven’t posted here for ages, I thought it might be fun to share some ways this wonderful children’s book could be used in the classroom.

Monsters tells the story of a young girl, Tildy, who is afraid of monsters that appear once the sun sets each night. She seeks the help of the adults in her life, only to be met with disbelief and dismissal. It’s not until she makes a new friend at school that she begins to overcome her fear and find compassion for her monsters.

So how could you use it in the classroom?

Fears

People often find it difficult or confronting to talk about the fears, but most children can be quite open – often because they’re trying to find ways to overcome them. (Obviously, you know your students or child and if this kind of conversation might be triggering for them, frame it in a way that would meet the needs of the children you’re working with.)

Discuss fears. Whether they’re the fears that students have or fears that they know other people have, make a list. Have students choose a fear and write or draw a picture about how they might overcome the fear they have chosen.

Friendship

Discuss a time when a friend helped you overcome something that was bothering you. Whether it’s a fear, a difficult situation or a time when you were sad, what did your friend do to help you feel better?

Monsters

Make monsters!

Choose an art style you’re comfortable with (or better yet, one you’re NOT comfortable with) and work with your students to make monsters. Use pencils, markers, paint, glitter, paper… the sky is the limit.

I’m partial to the method of adding blobs of paint and folding the paper in half and creating a squished-paint monster, because there’s a satisfying sensory experience for students squishing the paint.

Alternatively, I’ve made ‘Happiness Monsters’ using food dye and straws and blowing the food dye around the page then adding googly eyes and black markers to make the monster’s features.

Or, you could do as Tildy and Henrik do in the book – pair students up and have one child describe a monster and the other draw it. Then students swap roles.

 

I hope this gives you some ideas for how to incorporate books into your classroom for both resilience, friendship and fun.

Little Bookish Teacher 

 

Monsters is written by Anna Fienberg and illustrated by Kim Gamble and Stephen Axelsen. It was published in May 2018 by Allen and Unwin and retails for $24.99 AUD. This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Seesaw Ambassador

I’m so excited to share that I am now a Seesaw Ambassador!

Seesaw is one of my favourite apps to use with students, because of it’s versatility, ease of use (for students AND teachers) and because it helps students create a record of their learning. I’ve used it for nearly 3 and half years now, and I keep finding new and interesting ways to incorporate it into the classroom.

The training course for ambassador’s really inspired me and I’m going to putting some new practices into place and I’ll definitely be sharing them on the blog with all of you in the upcoming months.

Do you use Seesaw in your classroom? What is your favourite way to use it?

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#betterthanchocolate TPT Sale

Easter is nearly upon us and in celebration, some wonderful teacher-creators are sharing some eggcelent deals on TPT this weekend! Lots of fabulous resources are just $1 for three days!

You can click the banner above to be taken to the TPT search (or simply type in #betterthanchocolate in the search bar) or scroll down for a list of my resources that are included in the weekend sale!

Easter-themed?

Looking for some Easter and Easter-themed resources? I got your covered:

Chicks Build Words (CVC)

Alphabet Hop (Print) and Alphabet Hop (Victorian Modern Cursive)

Sight Word Crash

Bunnies Love Jellybeans (0-20)

Mother’s Day-themed

Love in a Box Craft

Mother’s Day Activities on the Run

Other Resources

Bump Dice Games

Teacher Top 3 Organisation

Word Wall Display Alphabet

Love Bird Alphabet Match

Interesting Word Journal

Student Alphabet Posters

I’m sure there’s something there for every body!

I hope you all have a marvellous weekend!

Sunday Afternoon Thoughts

It’s a strange feeling when you realise that you’ve over half-way through the first term of the year.

For me, I start panicking about what I’ve taught (or not taught) and what I’ve got to fit in before the start of second term because report-writing is now officially around the corner, and honestly it’s completely exhausting.

Schools are intensely busy places – we’re forever fitting in special events, guest speakers, updated timetables, buddy activities, curriculum and just about anything else you can think of. It requires a certain amount of flexibility and I know that I am (currently) a much more relaxed teacher when it comes to accomodating these, often last minute, changes.

I wasn’t always, though, and it’s something that takes time, patience -and possible a few tears every now and then – to understand that leadership is actually very understanding of the interruptions and that if something slips, the world won’t end. It’s often OURSELVES who are the ones putting pressure on our own selves when everyone else is willing to give us a break.

As such, it’s obviously been a completely nutty term for me, hence my absence in posting. So many things have been happening:

  • Starting back in a classroom
  • Parent information nights
  • Leading the Literacy team
  • Leading the Graduate Liaison Program at my school
  • Expanding the Graduate Liaison Program (with a colleague) to incorporate graduates from local schools
  • Swimming lessons
  • House Athletics Carnival
  • And… oh, yeah, teaching!

I haven’t had a chance to create more video content for my teaching youtube channel because I just haven’t had the time, and I’ve come to terms with it. (Mostly. It’s hard when you want to do a good job at something and yet find it difficult to actually find the time.) That said, it’s still on the agenda.

The most important thing is that my class is fantastic and they’re doing so much work and doing it so well. They’re an awesome bunch of little learners and I’m so lucky to do what I do, and be surrounding by such great kids, and colleagues.

Now it’s only a few short weeks (filled with public holidays, professional development days, professional learning days and planning days – go figure!) until the end of the first time and I’m exhausted, but loving my job.

How are YOU doing? What’s been happening in your classroom this term?

My 2018 Classroom Tour!

Welcome to my 2018 classroom tour!

This year I went for a full-on theme, which is not something I’ve done in the past. (Usually I’ve just opted for lots of bright colours!) But this year my school has a focus on developing curious learners so I opted to go with an Alice in Wonderland theme and I love  how it turned out, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

I have a video tour, which I’m going to include in this blog post, where you can see and hear me walk you through my classroom and the different areas and features. I’ve also got some photos below for you to check out.

If there is anything you would like more information on, let me know in the comments and I will happily do specific blog posts to answer your questions.

Do you have a classroom theme? Let me know in the comments what you do to set your classroom up at the start of a new year!

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Elizabeth Richards Teacher Diary 2018

Over the years I’ve used various teacher planners – Erin Condren, bullet journals, generic teacher planners, printed planners from TPT, a Kikki.K binder planner. I love planners. I love trialling new ones. I’m honest with myself when they don’t work, and when they do. I also know I need to switch it up now and then because change reinvigorates the way I interact with them.

I’m going to share a few thoughts on the planner I’m going to begin 2018 using – I’ve also got a video flip through of it, so you can scroll down and hear my thoughts if you like!

This year I decided to trial the Elizabeth Richards Teacher Diary, and bought myself one just to see how it goes.

It’s very similar to an Erin Condren planner – it’s A4 size, and quite thick and thus heavy. However, depending on how you plan to use this, it may not be a problem. I intend to use this as a bit of a classroom ‘bible’ and it will stay at work during the week, and come home on weekends so I can map out my week. (If this is something you’d be interested in seeing as a video, let me know in the comments.)

Let’s talk about a few of the features:

  • The front cover is actually a plastic pocket that you can slip covers in and out of easily.
  • It comes with 2 sturdy covers, with 2 designs on each (total of 4)
  • The back cover is a thick/sturdy plastic with an elastic strap

It has:

  • A yearly planner
  • Note pages
  • Dividers for each month
  • Undated monthly layouts
  • Undated weekly spreads
  • Lesson review space
  • Password lists
  • Student contact details
  • Health information
  • Parent communication logs
  • Classroom expense tracker
  • Professional Development log
  • Assessment Checklists

It is very colourful and well laid out. For my intended purpose, which is weekly overviews and on-the-go notes, it’s going to do exactly what I need it to do as a desk planner.

The paper is about the same thickness as general copy paper, so it’s not a planner to be using permanent markers in, but that’s easy to work with.

I’ll be very honest and say I don’t know if I’ll use this one planner for the whole year (I’ve yet to manage an entire year in a single planner), but I want to give it a good go. My detailed lesson plans are all electronic, so this is purely for ensuring that I have a clear visual overview each week and that system works pretty well for me.

Do you use a physical planner? Which one do you love to use?

Cleaning Scissors | A Cleaner Classroom

Back to school inevitably means a lot of cleaning up – tables need to be wiped down, dust needs to be cleared and everything needs to be ready for the first day.

I have to say, one of the jobs I hate the most is cleaning scissors. In my school, scissors are a communal resource in the classroom, and working with little kids means that they get all sorts of glue and gunk on them during the year. It’s gross.

While I was doing a few jobs in the classroom today, I figured I’d collect my new room’s scissors and take them home to clean them. Now, it’s a mixed collection of scissors, but I’ll go with it (and I’d rather spend budget money on better resources than replacing scissors that don’t need replacing!).

Here’s my scissor cleaning tip:

Place all the scissors (open) in a  bucket of hot water – as hot as you can get it – with a scoop of washing powder.

Leave the bucket to sit somewhere for a few hours. I left mine for about 3.5 hours, you could leave it longer or a little shorter, depending on how much time you have. The water will go cold, and that’s fine.

When the time is up, grab a sponge and wipe down the scissors to remove any remaining gunk. You may need a tiny bit of elbow grease, depending on how dirty the scissors were, but it probably took me 15 seconds per pair of scissors, plus rinsing time.

Lay your scissors out to dry completely.

That’s how easy it is!

Do you have a preferred method for cleaning scissors? Share it – or another cleaning tip – in the comments below!

My Classroom BEFORE!

There’s just under two weeks left until the school year officially begins here in Victoria.

So far I’ve kept my holidays pretty much that: holidays. It’s really important to recharge, and what I’ve learnt over the last few years is to take that time to not worry about my classroom. It will still be there when the year begins, and if it’s not 100% done, the world will not end.

Today I had to drop off things I had in storage into my classroom and I took this before photo of my room (mostly because I know I’ll forget to take a before photo next time I’m in!). Most of this stuff is mine, although there are some things that belong to last year’s teacher – it’s always hectic to move things at the end of the year, so we’re pretty accomodating.

Later this week I’ll be going in for the first of two preparation days that my team has organised. We plan on going in together to make it more of a positive experience and to ensure everyone’s on track with what’s going on. I may go in one extra day – it just depends if I’m happy with the amount of work I get done.

I’m super excited about my classroom theme for 2018, which I’ll hopefully reveal to you late next week. What I can say is that it’s based off an idea from a whole school initiate we’ve been rolling out over the last 12 months and I can’t wait to show you the bits and pieces I’ve made to put up.

Do you have a theme for your classroom that you’d like to share?

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Back to School: Teacher Essentials Gift

Whether you’re a parent or a fellow teacher, sometimes we all need to find a quick, thoughtful gift for the teachers in our lives.

One of my favourite things to make for my fellow team members has always been a ‘survival kit’ gift. Now, there are plenty of ideas on Pinterest for those of you who want to do a search and see what’s available for those. They came with cute little tags, usually with puns or phrases that match the items included.

While what I’m sharing with you is similar, I also wanted to keep it pretty practical. My good friend, Shanyn, from Classroom Chit Chat, recently shared a post for Graduate Teachers all about Classroom Essentials (it’s a great post, you should definitely go check it out), with lists of items that every teacher should consider keeping in their classroom to make everything run a bit smoother.

I’m piggy-backing off her ideas and creating a Teacher Essentials Gift that would make a great present to give a colleague, or to give to your child’s teacher. And the best thing? You probably have most of these things lying around your house!

In just two steps, you can create your own personalised teacher gift!

Step 1. Choose your container.
This could be a mug, a travel mug or even a small make-up purse/pouch.
A pro-tip, a travel mug is probably preferable to a mug, because it has a sealable lid, which means it can be carried safely to and from the classroom, minimising the risk of spilling hot liquid, but you’ll know your recipient better than I do, so go with something you think they’ll like.
You can pick up mugs and pouches all over the place for very reasonable prices, so just keep an eye out for something you like.

Step 2. Fill your container!
Be creative with this – there are so many different items you could include that will always be gratefully accepted by your teacher friend. Try and personalise it to their personality or preferences. These might range from treats to emergency essentials – remember, it’s the thought that counts!

You might like to include:

  • Hot chocolate sachets
  • Coffee sachets
  • Tea/tea bags
  • Tissues
  • Wet wipes
  • Handcream
  • Perfume
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Dry shampoo (travel size)
  • Body mist
  • Glasses wipes (if they wear glasses)
  • Lip balm
  • Colourful pens
  • Permanent markers
  • Fold-back clips
  • Rubber bands
  • Paperclips
  • Pushpins
  • Small chocolates
  • Mints
  • Safety pins
  • Stickers
  • Stamps

You can really customise this in any way you see fit, and that’s what makes it such a wonderful treat for any teacher to receive (because, believe me, every little bit of stationary helps and treats are always well-received!).

I hope that this inspires you to create your own teacher essentials gift for a teacher in your life!

What ‘essentials’ would YOU include?

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