Sunday, December 8, 2013

The small things

I have come to realize that it is the small things that matter in teaching. This past Friday was the Christmas of small things for me. First my biggest trouble maker was out. You may think I'm being mean, but y'all know what a big difference that makes. Second, one of my struggling readers made a 93 on his reading test. We really celebrated this. Third, one of my special needs students who struggles with communicating his feelings had two huge breakthroughs. Twice during the day things happened that upset him and would normally send him over the edge. He was able to communicate his feelings and work through the issue. These three things truly made my day. When my kiddos succeed I succeed.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cyber Monday Sale

10% off all itmes through tomorrow. HAPPY CYBER MONDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 18, 2013

A teacher's dream

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of attending a job fair for a charter school that will be opening in my county next year. What kind of school will this be you ask? A teacher's dream school! The founders of this school believe that it should be a place where teachers teach and students learn. There will be no tolerance for behavior issues. It is basically the 3 strikes and you're out principle. Reading will be taught in grades K-8. Memorization of basic facts, rules, and principles will be necessary in the lower grades. I am so excited that I may be chosen to be a part of this amazing venture. The beauty of it is that because it is a charter school and not a private school children of all income levels will be able to attend.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Noun Projects

My students have been working on nouns for over a month now. I got an idea from a co-worker to do the ABCs of nouns. I am lucky enough to have exactly 26 students. First I have each student a piece of construction paper with a letter of the alphabet. Next, I told each student to list 5 nouns on their sheet. They had to write the plural of each noun. They then had to tell if their noun was common or proper. Here is an example of one: M milk - milks - common mom - moms - common Mike - Mikes - proper moose - moose - common man - men - common I displayed their projects on the wall outside our classroom. I decided that we are going to make a wall full of projects. I am calling it the ABCs of Parts of Speech. Once we cover verbs we will make pages of verbs. I plan to include adjectives also. Then, as a culminating project I will have my students take their papers down. They will then make as many sentences as possible from their parts of speech. I can't wait to see the final finished project.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Breast Cancer Research

I am helping my friend Lisa Stephens Rahn raise money for Breast Cancer Research. She is participating in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day For the Cure. Every dollar spent in my teachers pay teachers store for the entire month of October will be donated to this worthy cause. Please visit my store and share this with all of your teacher friends!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


In my district Special Education students are in the regular education classroom as much as possible. I have had the inclusion class room for six of the seven years I have been teaching. This year is the first year that I have had a full day co-teacher. My co-teacher is certified in special education and she handles all of the accommodations for our special education students. Over the six years I have had special ed students I have learned so much about the special education world. I have had one course in special education. I feel that one course is not sufficient. I think that teachers who have the inclusion classroom need to have more instruction in the area of special education. In my opinion, the best way to do this is through professional learning in my district. As I say all the time I'm just a teacher so what do I know. The big question in my mind is Why in the world have the administrators in my district not thought of this yet? Being the inclusion teacher I am with special education students all day long. Doesn't it just make sense for me to have extra training in this area? Please tell me if I am in left field here. This year I have 3 autistic students, a student who was diagnosed developmentally delayed (I suspect she is actually MOID) and a student with a specific learning disability in reading. How do I know and understand each of their diagnoses and how to properly accommodate them? I have taken it upon myself to learn. I ask lots of questions and do research on my own time. I imagine that not all inclusion teachers do this so how do they serve these students effectively? I'm sure that the answer is that they don't. It is time for school districts to wake up and provide, even require this training of its co-teachers. Comments/Questions? Please let me know :)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Staying current

As I'm sure most of you do I have been working in my classroom this week. As I begin to set up the furniture and organize my materials I realized that I am such a dork! I just love having the opportunity to start fresh each year. A new set of students, a new classroom set up, new lessons, etc. As I thought back I realized that this is my 3rd year in this classroom. I have rearranged my classroom every year. I started to wonder if I am the only one who does this. I know teachers at my school who keep their room exactly the same every year. There is nothing wrong with this. If you find something that works for you don't change it! For me it is not just about the way the room looks it is also about how you prepare for the school year. I truly examine everything from the previous year. Some things I keep and do exactly the same. Others I don't reuse EVER. Most of my lessons and ideas are tweaked from year to year after careful reflection. It is my hope that all teachers, whether they keep their room the same year to year, or never have it the same way twice, are always updating and tweaking their lessons and activities. This is truly the only way to stay current and reach the needs of our students. I hope all of you have a stress free time setting up your classrooms, and enjoy the last little sliver of summer!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Writing Process

When I was hired at my first school the principal told me she was placing me in 3rd grade because of how I described teaching writing. She explained that 3rd grade is the grade where writing begins to really be monitored. Back then I mostly focused on creative writing. I would tear out magazine pages, have students choose one and list adjectives to describe the picture. They would then write a descriptive piece about their picture. After moving to 2nd grade I began to realize that that I should spend more time focusing on the process of writing. Many of my students could produce a descriptive or narrative piece, but they really had no concept of the steps of writing. The new Reading series that my school is using provides teachers with fabulous resources and suggestions for teaching the writing process. At the beginning of this past school year my students were required to complete a writing assessment for the district. Most of my students did not go through all of the writing steps. Instead they drew a picture and then wrote a "final draft." After viewing the results of the assessments I decided to spend quite a bit of time modeling the process with my students. I found that having a document camera and projector was a real benefit. I started with a narrative piece because I believe that narratives are the easiest genre for students. I started with a list of possible writing topics, moved to an idea web, wrote my rough draft (intentional errors included), edited, revised and then published my piece. I spent one day on each step. Wehn I completed each step my students then worked on that same step. At first it was a huge struggle for them and for me. I would end my writing time feeling like I needed a vacation. Gradually I began to see marked improvement in their writing. As the year progressed most of my students began to enjoy writing. Out of 23 students I had about 6 or 7 who became so proficient at the process that they became student teachers to their classmates who needed help. When my students were required to take the writing assessment again in the Spring I was pleased that almost all of them went through the steps correctly. Next year my goal is to be much more deliberate with the skills we focus on during the revising process. Below I included a link to my Teachs Pay Teachers product: week long lesson plan on writing a personal narrative using the process described above. This product will be free through June 25, 2013 for those of you who would like to download it. I have also included a link to my writing prompts product. It includes 150 writing topics geared towards 2nd and 3rd graders. Prompts have students writing letters, narratives, informational pieces, opinion pieces and persuasive pieces. This product is listed at $2.00. I would appreciate any feedback (positive or negative) on these products.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Teaching Children to Think

I have been thinking about how I teach math. I always use manipulatives and hands on learning with a little bit of worksheet practice. In my centers I try to include hands on activities along with a journal topic and guided math groups. This year I tried hard to incorporate some expemplars. For those of you who are not familiar with exemplars they are word problems that encourage students to solve the problems any way they wish. They are applauded for explaining their thinking, drawing pictures, making charts, and doing calculations. Students are measured on a rubric, which they are familiar with. When I first introduced the exemplars to my students it blew their minds. I have found that students are not used to thinking of math in various ways and explaining their thinking. I think that if we start explaining our thinking about math and having students explaining theirs in Pre-K we will see a progression from year to year of students who are able to express why an answer is correct and why and how they found the answer. I was reading an article in the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) magazine recently and was encouraged by one teacher's story of having her students explain their thinking. She stated that they have a "mental math" time at her school. The students are expected to solve problems without counting on their hands or using paper and pencil. The teacher goes on to explain that she gave the students the problem 11 + 9. It was fascinating to read about how her students reasoned their answers. Her class included first and second graders. She explained that many of the first graders did not know how to solve the problem correctly because of their lack of knowledge of place value. After thinking about how much trouble my students have in explaining their mathematical thinking I am convinced that a mental math time each day is a great solution to the problem. If students get used to talking about problems and how to solve them without being able to use manipulatives or pencil and paper it will force them reason their processes. After all, we are not benefiting anyone if we teach children to simply compute problems. Teaching them to think about why things work they way they do and how they can solve problems multiple ways prepares our students for the real world. I encourage all teachers to try a mental math time next school year. I will be updating you all on how this goes in my classroom. Here is a link to site where you can download the above referenced article:

Monday, June 3, 2013

20% off sale!

I'm having a sale!!!!! To celebrate the fabulous invention we call Summer Vacation every item in my store is 20% off today through Thursday. Hurry in to get great items for your classroom. Check back next week to see new items that I will be adding daily. Enjoy your summer and relax, you deserve it!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Geometry Project

Because we only have a few days of school left I have started letting my students work on projects that review 2nd grade CCGPS and introduce them to a little 3rd grade CCGPS. Today we reviewed all of the geometry we learned this year. Then I had students complete a project to evaluate their retention of the shapes. Each student got about 35 flat tooth picks, a list of objects to make, a glue stick and a large piece of construction paper. Students glued the tooth picks to the paper to make each of the geometric shapes. They were also required to label each shape. The shapes we did on the project were line, ray, intersecting lines, parallel lines, acute angle, right angle, obtuse angle, pentagon, hexagon, octogon, and parallelogram. I was pleasantly surprised that my students worked very quietly on this project. An overwhelming majority of them did a fantastic job on the project! I have a 3-D project planned for tomorrow. I will be sure to take pictures and display them here when I tell you all about it later this week. :)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

End of the year

The last 10 days of school can be rough! I was attempting to review all of our standards and work my little kiddos to death. I realized that they were in countdown mode too, so I had to change my approach. I decided that this would be the perfect time to do all the fun stuff we didn't get a chance to do this year. We reviewed geometry and made plane shape projects using toothpicks. Next week we are going to do some arts and crafts activities with synonyms, pronouns and other parts of speech. I also plan to let them do some reviewing by playing the center games in my TPT store. It will give me another opportunity to see how well the games work and get some pictures of my students using the games. I also love to do an end of the year memory book on the last day of school every year. Do any of you have certain things that you like to do at the end of the year? Are there any traditions you carry on each year? I can always use new ideas :)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

I'm not counting ;0

Only 12 days left with students! I'm not counting or anything ;). I honestly feel like this time of year is more stressful than any other time. We have covered all of the standards, grades have to be posted in a few days, and the kids are sooooo ready for it to be summer break. I have been working hard to review all of the standards with my kiddos, but it has been a little discouraging. The majority of my students have at least 2 or 3 standards that they have forgotten completely. One thing this has taught me is that I need to continually review the standards throughout the year. I am also trying to pre teach some of the 3rd grade standards, but I wonder if they will even remember it all next year. I would love suggestions on how to keep students engaged this time of year.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What do you do when they just don't get it?

I just had a very disheartening moment when I was grading papers from this past week. We have been working on single step word problems for a week and a half. I have taught them the logic behind knowing how to solve the problems and key words. When I graded my papers the highest grade was a 73. The other 23 students failed. We have been over and over the strategies for solving the problems. We have worked more problems than I can count. Now I am just at a loss for what to do next. Why is it that our kids have such trouble with word problems? Is it that the logic skills are not there yet? Is it that they are not expected to think critically in every day life? Surely they know that if they are buying a candy bar for $1.35 and they have $5.00 to spend they will hand the clerk the $5 bill and he or she will give them change. She will calculate their change by subtracting the amount of the item from the money they gave her. I really just don't understand why it does not click in their heads. Is it just my class or my school or do all of you have this problem too? Do you have any suggestions for what I should try next? I really need advice from you guys on how to help my kiddos out. Discouraged but not giving up!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I am super excited to announce that I am the spotlight teacher in this week's post for the center based classroom. Head over to her blog to read it and to see all the other amazing stuff she has going on!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review Day

With testing and Field Day this past week we really didn't get a whole lot accomplished. Yesterday I decided that we would spend some time in centers. Every center I put out was for review to see what my kiddos had retained and what I need to go back over these last 4 weeks of school. I decided to have them do 2 of the centers I made. I was pleasantly surprised when they loved them! They couldn't believe that I had made them either. The contraction center proved easy for most of the students, which made me glad that they all remembered contractions. The other game that I made and had them play was the multiplication match from my week long multiplication unit. It was a little harder for them, but we are just finishing multiplication so I expected it. It was interesting to see the various ways that each group chose to play the game. Overall I would say it was a great day full of review and fun center games!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

What a week!

We have had quite the week! Our state's standardized test (CRCT) was administered to grades 3-5 Monday and Tuesday so we were confined to the room for most of those days. Yesterday we spent much of the day writing. I told my students that they were all going to write a letter to our principal asking her to change something they don't like about our school. I was so pleased that many of my students remembered that they needed to give reasons to persuade her to change what they wanted changed. Some of them were really good like No more dress code, Lower the price of ice cream to 75 cents and PE every day. Other were funny such as Give Mrs. Gifford a raise (I could not agree more ;)), Let us have recess all day long and fire Ms. X (a substitute we have who is very strict). At the end of the day I was impressed with most of their writing, but I realize that some of them still are not ready for 3rd grade yet. Today was our Field Day. My kiddos and I had the best time! I had a couple of awesome moms who helped me wrangle the kids, cheer us on and develop strategy to win. It is always nice when parents come to help with any aspect of the day. I am really looking forward to tomorrow because I will be using my multiplication unit's center to assess students and allow them to have some multiplication practice. I will post pictures this weekend and let you all know how it goes. Have a great weekend everyone!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Teachable moments

This past Friday God gave me yet another teachable moment. When I got to school a tree had fallen on the powerlines and the building had no power. All the students had to gather in the cafeteria while administration determined what to do. We soon discovered that some classrooms had lights so students gathered in those rooms. Within 45 minutes of school opening we had power restored and were able to carry on normally. I decided to seize the moment and have the students write about the experience. They wrote a descriptive piece about the day we had no power. We focused on using synonyms. Overall they did a wonderful job capturing how they felt when they got to school and discovered that we had no power. I was so proud of my little kiddos for using words like frightened, dim, and enjoyable. Just as with the cause and effect lesson we did a few weeks ago, the students understood better because they had a real life experience to help them. In my opinion, these are the types of lessons that students will never forget.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Flash Sale!!!!!

First off, Isn't the new blog design absolutely adorable!?! Big thanks to Megan at A Bird in the Hand Blog Designs! Secondly, to celebrate my awesome new design all items $2.00 or more are on sale for 10% off. This is a flash sale, so it ends Tuesday the 9th. Thank you for your continued support! Susan


This week we began learning multiplication.  I introduced it by explaining arrays and repeated addition.  As I progressed throughout the week reviewing these two strategies with my students I learned something new myself.  I realized that I was teaching them in a way I never had before.  In repeated addition the multiplication fact 4x3 is written as 4+4+4.  I found myself telling students "You just write 4 three times.  That is why we say 4x3.  I guess I have always know this, but I have not always thought to explain it this way.  I think that far more children understood it when I explained it this way.  We also started on our 0, 1, and 2 facts this week.  I noticed many of my students using the repeated addition and arrays to help them with the facts they didn't know.  Do any of you have tricks of the trade that I can use?

Sunday, March 31, 2013


      When I think about the field of education one thing that comes to mind is our immense amount of acronyms and buzz words.  One of the buzz words that has been around that last few years is differentiation.  I believe that most teachers, the good ones anyway, differentiate all the time wether they realize it or not.  One thing that the emphasis on differentitation has brought for me is being more intentional in my differentiation of lessons.
     For those of you who may not be familiar with differentitaition, it is the process of ensuring that all students are able to learn on their level, or in the way that they best learn.  You can differentiate the process or the product.  I try very hard to make sure that the majority of my lessons and activities are differentiated.  The reading series that my school has, Story Town, makes differentiating reading very easy.  Because we don't have math books and we teach hands-on it is also easy to differentiate math. 
      One of the things I struggle with when it comes to differentiation is determining appropriate activities for my on level group.  Creating activities for the remediation group and the acceleration group is like second nature to me.  To me there is a dine line between maintaining and accelerating.  I guess that is why I have a hard time determining appropriate tasks for those maintenance students.  Luckily, there are a ton of resources available for those of us who are still working hard to differentiate appropriately.
      If you have any ideas or suggestions on how to differentiate I would love to hear them!  You can reply to this post, or email me at

I would also like to say He is risen!  I am greatful for this gorgeous Easter morning full of hope and love.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Math the new way

   From my very first day of teaching I have always taught math using manipulatives. It has always made sense to me to teach via hands on learning.  I use a book, don't get me wrong, but the book is just for practice.  So this year when our district chose to get rid of all the math books I was not nearly as apprehensive as some of my collegues. 
   One thing I have found is that with no book at all to pull practice problems from We go through a lot more copy paper and ink.  It has been a challenge for some of our parents to help their children with homework as well.  If there is no book or example for parents to reference they often get frustrated and spend hours on homework that should only take a matter of minutes.
    The loss of text books is actually what led me to  My fellow 2nd grade teachers and I began relying on center games to help teach our students for math.  We also use math exemplars to ensure that students are learning by doing.  I can say with certainty that while we love teaching without a book, we are frustrated by the lack of materials and the extra amount of time the lessons take.
     What is the solution?  I'm sure that if they brought back text books some teachers would revert to using the book alone.  However, most of those teachers who used to do so are just using board work and worksheets now.  I truly feel that if they would bring back a book, but require that we teach the majority of our lessons hands-on, the district would see an improvement in math scores and parental happiness.  Until that happens I will continue to buy and make resources for myself.

    What are your thoughts?
     I have included a link to my teachers pay teachers store where you can get one of my math resources for free.  This is a money concentration/matching game.  It can be used in a center, in small group or as an assessment tool.  I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Formative and Summative Assessments

     This year our district adopted a new lesson plan template.  I was not happy because I dislike change.  One of the things on the template that I had never had to put in my lesson plans before was formative and summative assessments.  I honestly struggled with the difference in the two and coming up with creative formative assessments for the first few weeks.  The more I researched and read other people's plans I became more and more comfortable with these types of assessments.
    Now when I write my lesson plans I attempt to make my formative assessments as fun and creative as possible.  For example, when teaching comparing numbers I would place two numbers on the board.  Students would hold a thumbs up for greater than, sideways thumb for equal to and thumbs down for less than.  This assessment allowed  me to quickly see which students had mastered the standard, which students were getting there, and which students still did not understand at all.  As I perform my formative assessments twice per week I keep a composition notebook with the results.  I simply date the page, put the standard and the task.  Then I have my 3 groups: red (does not understand), blue (understands, but needs more work), and green (masters the skill).  I list red, blue and green in colums and put students' numbers, initials or names under the group they belong in.  This is priceless data and allows me to form my guided math and guided reading groups based on the data.
      I feel that I am much more competent in assessing math and reading than the other subjects.  For reading I usually do running records, and a guided lesson with a formative assessment once per week.  The only way I have found to improve upon this method is printing the standards and group colors on labels.  This saves a little time and also makes the notebook more organized.  I plan to work on setting up my notebook for next year this summer.
     If any of you out there have suggestions of formative assessments for Enlgish/Language Arts, Science and Social Studies I would love to hear them.  I would also appreciate any tips or suggestions on ways to improve upon my current method.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cause and Effect

Two nights ago we had horrible storms here in middle Georgia. Many people lost power, trees and parts of their roofs. I was really hoping for a storm day yesterday, but we did not lose power at school.  That morning as I began my lesson on cause and effect I realized that the storms were the perfect way to illustrate it.  We talked about the wind causing downed limbs, the lightning causing fires and the rain causing puddles in our yards.  We even had a short lesson on weather (How's that for teaching across the curriculum?).  It was one of those amazing moments in a teacher's day when the stars align and the lesson flows better than you can ever dream. At the conclusion of my lesson I was  glad we did not have a day off due to storms. I smiled to myself, thanked God for the divine intervention and shook  my head at the irritation that lessons like this one are never the ones we get observed on.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Just your average teacher

    I have been exploring other teachers' blogs and finally decided to take the plunge and start my own. I honestly have no idea what topics I will be covering with each post. I'm sure I will talk about lessons and what works. I may tell about the crazy things  that happen to me daily.  Regardless it will be real.

    I suppose I should introduce myself.  I am a wife and mother first.  I am a 2nd grade teacher next.  I have been teaching for 6 years, two of which were spent in 3rd grade  These past four years have been in 2nd.  I am an avid reader and I truly love learning. I adore my students and hold them to the same high standards I hold my son.
     I truly hope you all enjoy reading this blog.