Sunday, January 27, 2013

Group Leaders Keep Things Organized...

Like most teachers, I have students with a range of skills and needs in my classroom. With thirty-two sixth graders, instruction is a mix of whole group, small group, partner, and independent opportunities. I also work with a small group of English Learners four days each week. One way I have tried to work on differentiated skills in my classroom is to have students work in small groups while I work with another small group. While this is the norm in primary grades, it is not always as common in upper grade classrooms.

There are a variety of activities during our literacy block, including two rotations of small group work. Each group works on a task related to our literacy focus and/or content study. At this time, all of my students are working in small groups throughout the room (including a group sitting on bean bags on the floor) while I am working with a group of six or seven learners on a specific task or skill at another table (or on the floor... Yikes!) For example, our first rotation on a Monday in my class looks like this...

Even with eyes in the back of my head, I could not see what is happening in each small group. So, as the year progresses, I introduce the concept of Group Leaders. For each rotation, each small group has a Group Leader and they wear a Group Leader tag so that I can see from across the room who is "in charge" in each group.  In September, we created a chart together detailing what effective group work would look like. I took these ideas and translated them into a rating sheet. I explain to the students that I need to count on them to keep things running smoothly in our classroom while I work with small groups, and that the scoring sheets help us keep track of how we are doing. I bought some small clipboards at the beginning of the school year and the group scoring pages fit perfectly on them!

Each Center has a box with materials and a set of directions. The group leader has the task of explaining the activity and distributing the materials. During group time, only the group leader can be out of his/her seat, whether it is to ask for help, to get materials, or to solve any problem that arises. The group leader also has the responsibility to encourage discussions or to limit them, and to encourage polite interactions among group members. Sixth graders will do anything protect their buddies, so it can be a challenge to get honest accounts about their success during group time. In a classroom with a well-established sense of community, this is rarely a problem. In all honesty, we have had a few stumbles along the way. We have had a lot of discussions about everyone having a chance to learn together--and how much I need their help to make this happen! This is a chance for many students to develop their leadership skills--and they have a tag to allow them feel comfortable doing so.

After each rotation, we take two minutes for "Call Outs. Group Leaders stand and share their score for the group on a scale of 1 to 5. It's always fun to wait for the day, usually in October, when students figure out they can use decimals to score their group's performance. Eventually, more "precise" scores are reported, such as as 4.5 or 4.99. Group Leaders do not use individual names, instead reporting, "Some members were chatting" or "We didn't finish the assignment." If there was a specific problem, students are encouraged to leave me a note or talk to me at another time. And, completed group pages are turned in to the finished Work basket so I occasionally find little notes or comments to consider.

When they share out, they use a format that sounds something like this: "Reporting for Group 4... Our group earned a 4.9. Our task was working on Nonfiction Notes. We were all on task and everyone finished the assignment, but there was a  little bit of chatting towards the end." Group members rotate daily, so everyone gets a chance to lead and to speak. Lots of skills are practiced in the context of this little two-minute-block-of-time. Further, their comments also provide suggestions and ideas to help me adjust or modify their Center activities.

Sometimes groups are excused to recess according to their scores, so there is some built-in motivation to stay on task, to participate in discussions and to complete their work.

If you'd like to download a copy of the group scoring sheet, click on the picture above. If I uploaded it correctly, you should be able to revise it for your own small group work. And if you want the sweet font that is pictured on my recording sheets, you can go to HelloLiteracy and download it (Hello Millionaire) there from Jen Jones.

What other suggestions do you have to support successful group work? What keeps things running smoothly in your classroom. I'd love to hear your ideas too!

Wishing you a good week ahead...

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mid-Winter Mad Money Giveaway... to Spend at TpT!

It may be winter, but here's an offer to warm your heart!

I am so excited to be involved with this giveaway. There just aren't as many "big kid" blogs as there are primary ones!  Adrianne at the blog, The Tutor House, came up with a great idea: Let's offer some gift certificates to some lucky winners... And, along the way, they can discover some new upper grade blogs! We love our primary BlogPals, but it's also fun to find someone new who teaches those older kids each day.

Adrianne got us all together and then organized it all and... Look! Down there... at that lovely combination of BloggyFriends all collected together... That funny purple square says that I'm involved too! So, if you're stopping by to visit Joy in Sixth, you can enter this giveaway right here, right now!

But wait! These are not "little" gift certificates. There are two--yes TWO--gift certificates to Teachers Pay Teachers, each for $75! That's SEVENTY FIVE DOLLARS! (I just had to shout that!) Do you know how much clip art you could get for that much money?! Or... you could get common core standards posters for, ummm... every grade! Or... you could get a little something in every content area for a week! Just THINK of the possibilities!

Isn't that exciting? (Repeat after me: Yes, Kim, that's exciting!)

And since my widget line accidentally got left off the Rafflecopter at first, Adrianne is letting you get FOUR points for following my TpT store! (WOW! Soooooo nice of you, Adrianne!)

All you have to do is use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter. I hope that you'll follow all of the bloggers listed below at their stores or facebook pages (and at their blogs too!). If the widget won't work for you, please email Adrainne at: and let her know you would like to enter.

Isn't that a nice bloggy friend? She organizes this great giveaway and then lets you know how to contact her if things don't go quite right. I think that's just sweet!

Now this giveaway doesn't give you ages and ages to enter. It starts on January 18th and ends on January 21st. Think fast and enter faster!

Take a minute and visit all of these wonderful bloggers! 
I have really enjoyed getting to know all of them and I know you will too. 

Have a wonderful weekend!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I Like Blogging, Yes I Do!

Hi! Today is the first day of the rest of my blog...

Huh... What?

As part of my "It's a New Year, So Get Organized!" program, I have made a commitment to do a better job with Blogging (I gave the word a capital B to show my intent!)

Too much? I figured enthusiasm would keep me going, so I had to make a purple commitment!
And, in case you are wondering (as I often am when I see a font I love!) this is one of Jen Jones' new fonts: Hello Lori. While I don't know who Lori is, I sure like the font! You can get Jen's fonts at her blog, Hello Literacy. And the digital paper is by one of my favorite designers: Moo and Puppy (How could you not like the art with a name like that? Not to mention... Instant downloads!)

In reflecting about WHY I wanted to blog in the first place, I remembered that I wanted to share what was happening in my classroom. I wanted to chronicle our adventures and share our successes--as well as our flops and our follies. (After all, since I can't keep my plan book filled in, maybe I could look at my blog to find out what we did the day after we returned from Winter Break!)

Almost daily, I read about the amazing teaching that happens in so many classrooms. I see fabulous teacher-created materials that are used and wonderful, inspiring lessons that are implemented...  and as I meander through BlogWorld, it's quite easy to be humbled.

Too often, I feel like what I am doing is not blog-worthy. And, in reality, maybe it is not. But if I want to share what is really happening, I will have to face the facts that sometimes life in sixth grade may be just ordinary. (Actually, that may be the case more often than sometimes!) And I just need to let that be okay.

Maybe we are not doing anything earth-shattering or even newsworthy in my classroom, but it's what's happening with us. A bunch of tweenagers spending 175 days with their Starbucks-addicted teacher! (I am trying hard not to sound like the intro to so many of those shows on TLC... "It's my life... La Dee Dah...")

Whew! I feel better already. How did all of this self-reflection and realization come about?

I found an unfinished and unposted linky image in my To Do file (and I have a LOT of those!). I guess, in typical form, my News Year's post was destined to come out on January 17th (however, it IS still January!) Even though I knew the linky was late, I knew I still wanted to post it. And there it was, my blogging goal: Blog twice a week.

And though it bothers me (greatly) that the picture extends out of the column, I had two choices: too large for the column or too small and blurry to read. Have I mentioned that I need extra strength reading glasses?

The linky is still going on at Making It As A Middle School Teacher. In fact, there are thirteen days remaining. Clearly Michelle was considering people like me. And I'm sure that she would be tickled if you linked up too (Just click the picture to get there). That would also help me not be the last one in the link-up. Then, of course, you might want to have someone to link up after you...

Just posting this makes me feel accomplished! And you know what else? It reminded me that I am glad to be teaching sixth grade. It's difficult and it's exhausting, but if I can't be an archaeologist, or a CSI or a Starbucks taste-tester, at this point in my little life, this IS where I want to be.

You know what ELSE is helping me get back on track? I found a Blog Planner! Actually I tried to make one based on something I saw online. I spent four hours last Sunday afternoon trying to get the spacing just right and trying to get the colors of the circles just right... and then choosing a just-right font... The result? I have half of one page done. And my last blog post was still languishing from January first!

It looks like this...

Isn't it lovely? And here's what is really amazing: Sweet Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler is offering this planner for free at her site. Click on the picture to take you there. Isn't that so generous of her?!  She even offers two varieties, so you can differentiate your blog planner selection! However, if you only want half of an unfinished page, I'd be happy to send you mine...

It's hard to imagine (okay it's hard for ME to imagine!), but I already have three more things to talk about! That's three days of blog posts that I planned in advance! Of course, I don't know what the sixth graders are doing in science tomorrow, but I know what I am blogging about on Saturday! And it's written in my Blog Planner! The successive (maybe I meant excessive?) exclamation marks throughout this post are a clear indication that I am feeling pretty excited... a sincere WooHoo giddy feeling. I just love finding the right font, the right pen, the right shade of cardstock... or the right tool to help me organize my blogging self! And if I start planning right now, I might get my very own Blog Planner ready too... at least by the time it is 2014!

Yep, I counted:  Twenty-two exclamation points. But since I have JOY in the title of my blog, I think that's quite fine.

I am hoping that your Friday and your weekend will be filled with exclamation point-worthy events. And thanks for sharing in some of my JOY today...