This post is a collection of thoughts and emotions I have had over the past few months, as an educator and as a mother.

There are many different ways to run a classroom, teach a skill, hold students accountable, grade, assess, and everything else we do as educators.  This is what is wonderful about education, no two classrooms or lessons are the same.  Our teaching experiences, professional development backgrounds, and life experiences are all different just like the twenty plus students in our classrooms. These experiences are what make us the teacher we are today, but are we reflecting on the practices we are using or just doing what we have always done because it's what is easiest?

Do you know why you require students to complete a Reading Log? Do you know why you are implementing Flexible Seating? Do you know why you assign that spiral review homework every night? Are you doing these practices because everyone else is, because that's how you have always done it, or because someone has mandated you do so? Is your why what is best for students or what is best for you?

In recent weeks I have had several conversations with teachers, both in person and online, and what I've noticed is that we don't always use practices that are best for our students, nor do we often ask ourselves this question. One conversation in particular we discussed the hot topic of requiring students to have their parent sign their reading log. This particular teacher takes off 5 points if a student doesn't have it signed. When I asked if she understood that not all children have supportive parents at home, she said yes and that she doesn't take points off of their reading log. To answer your question....yes, she only takes points away from students who do have supportive parents at home.

Now, I'm going to be very honest here and tell you that the "NorthernBelle" (aka. Raised as a New Yorker and living in the South for 13 years) in me did come out. I explained to this teacher that at no point is it appropriate to take points away from a child if their parent fails to sign something.  Her "why" is that she is trying to teach her children responsibility.  Is this really a best practice to use to teach responsibility? Isn't holding the child accountable for reading each night and writing a summary teaching them responsibility?

In another conversation with a few teachers we discussed grades, ELA grades to be specific. In this district Reading Comprehension, Spelling, and Writing are all combined for a student's ELA grade. Progress reports recently went out at the time of our discussion, therefor the grades reflected about 4 and half weeks of work. Below are the grades each teacher had in their grade book.

Teacher 1 had grades for 3 spelling test (40% of the grade), 2 reading logs (20%), and one writing assignment (20%).
Teacher 2 had grades for one reading comprehension (30%) and one math grade in the ELA (30%)
Teacher 3 had grades for spelling test (40%), word work (30%), and 2 Scholastic Weekly Readers (30%)

My concern as an educator and as a mother those grades truly demonstrate the children's proficiency in ELA? Other reflective questions I had were:  If you don't have any reading comprehension grades, what have you been doing for the first month of school regarding ELA? Does the practice you use to obtain grades accurately show if a student is proficient? There wasn't a single activity you did for a month of reading instruction that you could use as a reading comprehension grade?

There are many more practices used by teachers that may not always be the best practice. As an educator it is our responsibility to be life long learners and to always do what is best for students. I urge each of you to reflect on some of the practices you implement within your own classrooms. Are  these practices beneficial to your students and their ability to learn and demonstrate proficiency? Are they encouraging your students to be life long learners themselves?

The best interest of our students should always be our "why".

Do you feel a little stressed when you hear the word "centers"? Upper elementary teachers often relate the word "center" to cute, time consuming, and busy work. Although, those can be what centers are, but that's not what they should be in your classroom.

Centers or Stations should require students to focus on the domains of reading, require them to apply skills that have been taught, and quality rather than quantity should be your main focus. Once you have your Guided Reading system figured out, your next step is to determine what the rest of your class is doing while you meet with your small groups. 

When setting up your centers you need to determine if your students are going to rotate, work off of a menu/contract, how many centers are they required to complete each day, etc. Don't be afraid to try different ways of implementing centers in your classroom. What works for the teacher across the hall may not work of you or your students. Once you have determined your rotation or menu now you need to decide what your students are going to work on.

1. Silent Reading/Read to Self

As educators we know the importance of sitting down and reading a text, so why not make it an option during your centers. If your school doesn't have a set time for silent reading then this is the first center I would implement. Students can silently read a text of their choice for a set amount of time. Allowing students to have a book bin or bag full of texts ensures they have enough reading materials, providing them choice, and teaching them it's okay to abandon a book but not the center.

2. Comprehension Center

In the upper grades comprehension of the five domains of reading is one we focus on more than others. Having students complete an assignment or task related to the text you read during shared reading, or directly related to the standard you are currently teaching, makes a wonderful literacy center. Students can complete task cards, passages, and or text dependent questions.

3. Word Work

Students should work on the meaning of words and not just how to spell words during this center. Providing them with a variety of activities to keep them engaged is key. In the upper grades of elementary I suggest using the standards to help you and your students focus on what to utilize in your word work center. Example synonyms, antonyms, prefixes, root words, and suffixes are great place to start. I love the free activities Melissa from Upper Elementary Snapshots offers in her post. Kristen from Chalk & Apples has a wonderful product for Word Work and Spelling centers for upper elementary.  Please, Please, Please I beg you NOT to include "Rainbow Writing" in your spelling center. There is never an appropriate time for 3-5 students to participate in this activity.  Your center should always provide meaningful learning opportunities for your students.

4. Technology

Utilizing technology in your literacy centers is a great way to engage students. Even if you have limited technology there are some great ways to utilize what you have. If you have one or two computers or tablets you can pull up a set of task cards you have purchased or downloaded in pdf format. Students can work independently, in pairs, or in a team to solve the questions on the task cards. Students can record their answers on a sheet of paper or journal as they use the arrow keys to scroll down through the questions.  Here is a free copy of my Point of View task cards for you and your students.

Here are a few of our student's favorite websites for ELA:

 For non-fiction text National Geographic Young Explorer is a great site.

This is my boys' favorite!

Last year my son's teacher utilized Big Universe for Guided Reading Groups, Centers, and Homework!

5. Writing

I love planning for my writing center!  For me this is the easiest to plan for :)  Students can work on their independent writing assignment, journal write, work on grammar skills, conference with a peer, etc. The possibilities are endless! In this center I would keep a variety of resources for your students to access to help them with the writing process.  A mentor text, writing office, pictures or copies of Anchor charts, variety of writing utensils, writing prompts, wordless picture books, etc.

How to Implement centers the first month of school....

I hope these ideas will help you start planning for your ELA block this coming school year. When you start to implement Guided Reading and centers the key to a successful year of centers is to train your students on how to complete each center.  You should introduce ONE center a week for the whole class. During this time you will teach your expectations for their voice volume, work requirements, and how to ask and answer their classmates questions because you are not to be interrupted when you are with a group.

For example I always introduce my silent reading center first. For the first week on Monday I explain the center, students will silently read with their book bin on their desk. I explain that my expectation is for them to read silently, any book from their book bin, and to complete a written summary of what they read in their journal. I remind them that I am not to be interrupted when meeting with a student or group of students. Once I tell them to begin their Silent Reading center I sit at my Guided Reading table and will call a student over to complete a reading assessment, usually a Running Record.  After 10-20 minutes I stop my students and praise them for meeting my expectations and address any issues that may have come up.

I complete these same steps for the rest of the week, slowly increasing their silent reading time to equal the amount of time I plan for them to be in this center. If you plan to allow your students to choose where they are going to sit I suggest allowing them to do so towards the end of the week. The second week I introduce a new center. For example it might be comprehension center, again I teach my expectations and review my expectations for silent reading center. Once students have completed the new center they will then move onto silent reading. Again, I will assess students for beginning of the year data.

I continue to introduce a center a week until all centers have been taught. As I complete my one-on-one assessments I will call a small group, 3-4 students, to my GR table to read a text. By doing this I am able to teach my students my expectations for moving from their center to me and my expectations for GR groups.

Implementing centers takes about a whole month, but worth the time! Once your students understand what you expect of them and are able to meet those expectations your ELA block will run smoothly for the remainder of the year. If you introduce new centers throughout the year it will not take as long to implement because your students will have the rest of them down.

To assist students on knowing what center to complete and when many teachers use a rotation chart.

I've added a color version and a black & white version of this board as a freebie in my Teachers pay Teachers store.

I hope this has helped to get you started for planning and implementing centers in your classroom this school year.

 There is an epidemic in our upper elementary math classes...teachers are not using manipulatives! Many teachers are still stuck to the belief that our children MUST memorize their facts and no longer use hands-on experiences in math. Our students in the upper grades are still children and enjoy learning through manipulatives, play, and interaction with others. 

Using manipulatives at the beginning of a new concept or skill is vital to many students.  They need to experiment with the tools and tasks, along with conceptually see how to perform the algorithm or skill.  I still see students in the upper grades struggle with regrouping because they are still in the conceptual learning of the skill and not the abstract, and many upper grades quickly move to the abstract. 

Every year I taught 4th grade I always had a handful of students who still struggled with regrouping in addition and/or subtraction. This year I was helping out in several 3rd, 4th, and 5th  grade classrooms and saw the same struggle, a handful of students who were still in the conceptual aspect of regrouping.

I created a small set of task cards for these students, and those in your classroom too, for them to practice and hopefully move over to the abstract level of thinking with this skill.  There are eight addition and eight subtraction task cards. Each card has an equation represented by base ten blocks.  I also created a record sheet where they read and write the equation in the box and a record sheet where the equation is already written for them.  This is so you can use a record sheet that best meets the needs of your students.

These are also great for your RTI groups.

Mental Math is another important math skill for our students. Fact fluency is not determined by how fast a student can remember their facts, but if they are fluent with manipulating numbers. Utilizing mental math to compose and decompose numbers is fundamental for students development of fact fluency.

I created these task cards to help students build on number relationships rather than memorization procedures to solve problems. This set of task cards focuses on students ability to “make tens” to solve addition problems mentally. Students look for numbers within an equation to create groups of ten.

You can grab each of these sets of task cards for $1 this week!

Happy 4th of July!  I hope you and your family have a wonderful and safe holiday today! 

Notice anything different here at I {heart} Recess? :)
Rachel from Rachel BV Designs did an amazing job on my blog makeover!  Working with her was SUPER easy, fun, and AMAZING!  She had my new design up in three days!
I'm excited to share with you my Target Dollar Banner today for #MondayMadeIt! 

 Each year our school chooses a school wide theme. This year Dr. Seuss won!  I'm pretty excited about this theme because this was my classroom for four years, and I've carried over to my office now.

I found this banner, along with many other items, in Target's Dollar Spot last week. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it until a few days ago.

We are a Leader In Me school and I thought about labeling each piece with one of the 7 Habits and then decided to add Dr. Seuss quotes.  I can use the banner this year on a bulletin board, in my office, and in my classroom in the future if I ever decide to leave Instructional Coaching.  I planned my designs on my computer.

I cut out the quotes in vinyl, of course :), and then placed them on the banner.  Half way through this project I asked myself why I choose such fancy took forever to remove the unwanted vinyl before applying the quote to the banner.

I LOVE how the final project turned out!!! I added the Cat in the Hat hat in the middle to show who the author was for each quote since I failed to leave room for Seuss' name...oops. 

A friend and I are heading to a different Target tomorrow, I can't wait to see what I find there!

This week's Two for Tuesday is especially for you 3rd and 4th grade teachers!  If you are new to these grade levels or just looking for new ideas on how to teach Place Value these products are perfect for you!

Lesson planning always takes time, and often I felt like I was trying to pull ideas and resources from so many different places. I've done the work for you when it comes to teaching 3.NBT.1 and 4.NBT.1

This product includes FIVE days of detailed lesson plans and everything needed for each lesson.  The lessons build upon one another and include interactive notebook pages, games, cooperative learning, exit tickets, and independent/homework assignments! This is a foundational skill for your third graders and the reason I created a week's worth of plans for your.

In fourth grade this standard focuses on the value of each digit and how it's value compares to the same digit located in a different place value. This product includes ONE day's lesson plan and everything needed to teach the lesson.

I've included a detailed lesson plan, math investigation, anchor chart, interactive notebook pages, cooperative learning structure, independent practice, and a homework sheet.

You can grab your first Math standard's lesson plans this week at 50% off!

If you love these lesson plans please check out and grab similar lesson plan bundles I have created for 3rd and 4th grade at 20% off.

 I'm SUPER excited to share this week's #MondayMadeIt!  This was a week long project that turned out amazing!  We have lived on our house for six years now and as my boys are getting older I am taking my house back!  If you have little kids you know what I mean, you too are tired of the toys all over the place, the kiddie decor, and their "masterpieces" (aka writing on the walls) on every surface.

We purchased our house brand new and still have the builder grade flat paint in several rooms. This paint is not kid friendly!  It shows every dirty hand print, smudge, and food. Did I mention I have THREE BOYS! :)

 I've been busy pinning bathroom ideas for the boys' bathroom for awhile now and finally found a design my hubby also liked. I LOVE the fresh look of wainscotting!  I know your wondering why I went with white with three boys. :) In our half bath we did a white beadboard wainscotting with dark brown, it is actually easier to take a Clorox wipe or Magic Eraser and clean up than the flat paint. 

We choose a light gray paint to go with the white because this is a small bathroom with no natural light.  One day we hope to add a small window above the shower. My hubby did an amazing job with the paneling!  He did get a new nail gun out of this project, so he was pretty excited about that too.

I purchased the shower curtain and hooks first for this project, which is where we got the idea to go with a light gray since the shower curtain has silver stripes.

 Last week Hobby Lobby had all their metals, pictures, and almost everything else on sale for 50% off. We picked up the boat wall hanging, anchor towel bar (not sure what it's actual purpose is, but perfect for the hand towel), and the small blue boat.

We also purchased the frames, oar, and red hooks from Hobby Lobby. I LOVE red and have to have it in every room. Thanks to the boat wall hanging and hooks I was able to throw in some pops of red. 

I picked up navy blue towels at Target and personalized them with some heat transfer vinyl...I'm addicted to that stuff!

A lesson we learned during this project was, don't forget that adding molding will make take up space.  Last night we finally finished and starting putting up the finishing touches. Went to hang they mirror back up and discovered the the molding on the small wall cuts into the space needed for the mirror...oops!  Thankfully my hubby was able to trim down the molding above the toilet to get the mirror to fit.

While at Target I picked up these bathroom accessories. The white trim and gray center were a perfect match for the bathroom.  Since I add vinyl to anything that doesn't move I had to use them as an opportunity to add a little more red. :)

Voila!  I used the same anchor on the towels to help tie all the pieces together.

I LOVE how the boys' bathroom turned out!  During this project my hubby said to me, "How did I know that you weren't going to just relax this summer, and that you were going to start some project?'. He knows me too well.  Now to pin how to remove carpet from the stairs and how to replace the treads.

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