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Five for Friday: Back in Action!

Hello! It has been too long--really, since summer--since I last posted, and a lot has been going on. So here's a bit of what's been going on in my life this week, which will give you an idea of what's been going on these past few months.

Those are granite, backsplash tile, and grout color options. This story takes us back to September, just a couple of weeks after school started. We'd been somewhat casually (but carefully) looking for houses for quite some time--since about March, really. We had settled on and looked quite a bit in an area west of Boston (and of my school district), thinking we'd like to be out there. Around August, we shifted our search to a different area (south of Boston, and south and east of my district) based on it being a better train line for my husband's commute. In September, a house we'd favorited on Redfin dropped in price...and it went very quickly after that!

We sold our condo very quickly, and closed on both places in November. We lived with my in-laws for 5 weeks while floors got refinished and painting happened in the new house, and moved in a bit before Christmas (just in time for the slightly crazy yours truly to host Christmas Eve dinner!). The move has been a wonderful blessing for so many reasons, and we're thrilled to be in our new home.

That said, we're now embarking on phase 2 of the renovation, in which we renovate the kitchen/dining room/entry, and hopefully at least one bathroom. Ahh! So, I've spent a good chunk of my February vacation choosing appliances, lighting, and backsplash tile, which has been very productive (just maybe not as relaxing as being on a beach somewhere warm).

In other news, we're expecting a little bundle of joy in early May! We knew in August that we were expecting, and that made for a beginning of the school year that was even more exhausting than usual. Despite the first trimester tiredness, I've been very lucky to have a smooth and fairly easy pregnancy thus far. We aren't finding out whether it's a girl or boy, so that news will have to wait until May!

This is a photo of one of our Craigslist nursery finds! I've never been a big Craigslist person, but gave it a shot for the first time when looking for some nursery items. Thus far, we've gotten this beautiful glider (my mom recovered the cushions for me this week), a convertible crib, a Rock 'n Play, and a deep freezer for our basement. It's been a huge moneysaver!

This is also a photo in our nursery--please excuse the mess, it's for a good cause. Our nursery is small, and especially now that we've got more of the necessary furniture in there, we've realized that there's just not room for a bureau. Fortunately, there is a good-sized closet in the room, and my plan for maximizing that space was inspired by this photo:

Eclectic Kids

Luckily, my saint of a husband has indulged my organization compulsions and we purchased the closet system pictured above at Home Depot. He's upstairs repainting the interior of the closet right now, and hopefully I'll have a finished product picture to share sometime soon!

I do teach, and therefore figure something in this post should be related to that! Last Friday, we did one of my favorite STEAM challenges of the year. We started out by reading Snowflake Bentley during our reading block, where we were practicing asking questions and inferencing as we read. Since this is a skill we'd been previously working on in fiction stories, this is a perfect book to bridge the gap as we prepare to transfer those skills to nonfiction texts next week.

Later, during our Math block, we looked at real pictures of Wilson Bentley's, and used those snowflakes to inspire our own works of art and engineering! We started by building the 6-branched structure of the snowflake, and the students were free to choose how to decorate from there. However, they were required to apply what they'd learned about the construction of snowflakes; namely, that each branch is the same (cue a quick discussion about symmetry). They were even more adventurous than my kiddos were last year, and the finished products are just beautiful!

Last but definitely not least, this is my class' last week running the Cafe! This is our menu. Each year, each of the second grade classes at my school spends 3 weeks running a cafe out of our school's lobby. The unit teaches economics, and the hands-on nature of it is so engaging for students. We design the menu, bake and prepare the items on Wednesday, and sell them for a little while on Thursday morning to parents and teachers. It is a huge undertaking and super time-consuming, but the kids are so into it that it's totally worth it. That said, I'm looking forward to wrapping things up this week and passing the baton to the next class!

Hope you had a fantastic week, vacation or not! Don't forget to check out what others have been up to this week back over at Doodle Bugs!


Blog Hoppin's Teacher Week!

Hello Friends!'s been too long. I must say, I loved getting going on blogging this summer, but with back to school, I had to take a few weeks off. But what could be a better way to reenter the blogosphere than with a recap post for Blog Hoppin's Teacher Week 2016?!

Me Monday


This was my picture for Me Monday, which is a photo from our trip to the Grand Canyon this summer. SUCH an incredible place, and a bucket list must-do. In addition to traveling with Mr. Cronin (mostly to family homes in Maine, Prince Edward Island, and Florida...but we did get to Napa last summer for our honeymoon, and the Grand Canyon/Vegas this year!), we love golfing. It's a hobby we got into together, and it's fun to share an interest in a sport we can play for years to come.

Other things I love include cooking and baking, games (both yard and board, particularly when they get rowdy!), time with friends and family, my job (!), Boston sports, Fixer Upper, Game of Thrones, wine (my family has been making it for many years, and brought the tradition over from Italy), dark chocolate, iced coffee, the beach/ocean, and all things New England.

Teaching Tuesday


It's hard to pick one FAVORITE lesson, but this was a highlight of last year! We studied the rainforest, and it was really amazing watching the kids document their learning. We took notes in our rainforest notebooks, but we also created these rainforest posters, which have highlighter tape marking off the different layers of the forest. As the kids added each layer, they also included flaps for 2–3 plants or animals that live in that layer, and labeled them with their names and a fact about them. It was such a great unit for kids to learn to use a book's index, as they were constantly wanting to find a picture to help draw the animal they were adding in. The finished products were beautiful!

Where I Work Wednesday


Our Open House is on Thursday, so I haven't officially done a classroom reveal since I hope to put a few finishing touches on the space this week! However, this is a pretty accurate picture of what my room usually looks like. It was wonderful to be in the same space for two years in a row (this is my first time NOT switching rooms!), and gave me the opportunity to polish the space rather than completely reinvent it. I moved one of my rainbow tables and switched up my word walls, got rid of my teacher desk, and adjusted spacing, but overall things remained very similar to last year's setup. I did add some great decor items from Schoolgirl Style, and hope to make some more additions soon. :)

Threads Thursday


Well, I must admit: I'm no fashionista. With teaching, I think professional-looking comfort is paramount! For me, the easiest place to get that is Ann Taylor Loft. Great sales, lots of coupons, a teacher discount, and cute, durable clothes? I'm sold.

In terms of accessories, it's earrings and rings daily, often a necklace, and often my Alex and Ani bracelets. I'm originally from Rhode Island, which only makes me love them more! For shoes, I'm a flats gal; the wedges I'm wearing in this photo are low and super comfortable, though. I love Sperry, Cole Haan, Franco Sarto, and Golukai.

Friends Friday


I would love to post pictures of all of my wonderful friends, but I also want to respect their privacy. :) I am blessed with many amazing friends, from my childhood, high school years, college (hence the elephant—our mascot is Jumbo), and multiple teaching jobs, most recently at my current school (hence the lion). I very much struggle with change, but the quote I've included here is one that I love when I'm feeling down about not seeing my friends as often as I'd like. I've been playing phone tag with one of my very close friends who lives in New Jersey for over a week now; despite not being able to talk, it was wonderful to know she was thinking of me (and vice versa!) as we both tackled those busy first couple weeks of school. We were able to chat for a while today, and it was a timely reminder of how lucky I am to have such caring friends!

I hope you had a wonderful teacher week—hop on to meet other amazing teachers!

Happy Teaching!



Five for Friday: Birthday Bliss and Books!

Hello and Happy Friday!

I'm thrilled to join Doodle Bugs Teaching for another wonderful week of Five for Friday! Be sure to hop back over and check out the other posts!

First up this week, I should mention that it's my birthday!

This photo is from a birthday long ago; this year, I'm officially turning 29 for the third time, and I couldn't be happier. I'm so blessed to have a loving husband and family, a job that I adore, my health, a wonderful home, and I am incredibly grateful.

Next, I have a problem. A book problem.

I may have ordered several of the books recommended for teaching the 6 Traits of Writing by Vicki Spandel in Creating Young Writers, along with some new back-to-school read-alouds! Any favorites in there? Share in the comments!

I'm particularly excited for Lulu and the Brontosaurus as a read-aloud chapter book--I've heard great things! There may or may not be a few more on the way...don't tell Mr. Cronin.

I am super proud to have posted my replacement for Morning Work and Work on Writing in Daily 5 on Teachers Pay Teachers this week!

It's 20% off today, so you'll pay a whopping $2.40 for over a month of writing journal prompts! There's also a growing bundle that is pretty deeply discounted, which will include each month of the school year. Read more about changes to my schedule this year and how I plan to use this HERE.

My classroom is officially unpacked and ready for any and all decor additions/changes I want to make!

There used to be a desk over there!

This is my little check-in area--I plan to make a checklist on that whiteboard in vinyl, put our Paw Count (school-wide PBIS tool) on the little chalkboard, and all incoming notes, etc. go in those bins...all from Target, obvi. :)

We report officially on August 29, and kiddos show up the 31st. I plan to move around my word walls (getting rid of my teacher desk has freed up a lot of space, so I was able to move my standing desk!), add some vinyl to the walls and whatnot (if I can figure out my Cameo...), and finish my decor with picture #5...

I made my first official purchase from School Girl Style, which is somewhat unbelievable! I ordered just pom poms and lanterns to start, but I have a feeling this will become an addiction.

Any decor changes to your classroom this year?! Leave them in the comments!

Have a wonderful weekend!
- Lisa


Daily Schedule and Making Time for Writing Journals

Hello Friends! 

Summer is definitely winding down—ahhh! And that has left me doing some serious thinking about how I plan to change, adapt, and/or adjust things in my room this year in terms of our schedule. Our school's master schedule was released a couple of weeks ago, and the biggest change for the second grade is that we no longer have the first special and first lunch, which means MORE LEARNING IN THE MORNING! Can I get a w00t w00t?!

Another change for the whole building will be 11 more minutes at the end of the school day. Last year, we also had our students arrive by walking straight to the classrooms (instead of lining up outside), which is wonderful in that line duty was terrible, but creates an arrival scenario with students filtering in gradually.

Now that you've got a little background, here's what I came up with:

Fabulous fonts from Cara Carroll at The First Grade Parade!

Some things about this schedule are totally a departure from past practice for me, so let me fill you in on what those are.

Morning Work

I have always, always, always done morning work. It's just one of those assumed best practices; I've seen teachers blog about it, post products for it on Teachers Pay Teachers, and watched it happen in all the classrooms I've ever been in. But I found myself wondering, "Why do I do this?" more and more, and had that asked of me at I Teach Second! this summer. I don't have a real answer; I suppose it eases kids into the day. But is that what's best? I grumped and whined last year about having the first special and lunch and very little morning learning time, but somehow it didn't occur to me to scrap morning work.

Now, I mentioned above that my students filter in from 8:20–8:30. When I revisited the idea of morning work this summer, I wasn't sure what I wanted students to do who arrive right at 8:20, nor did I want to have some kids start something but others not have time to finish it. I HATE half-finished work, and I don't want to waste paper on worksheets where I don't have to! I'm going to tell you what my solution for this time was, but want to share a couple of other dilemmas first.

Morning Meeting

I've also always done a Morning Meeting, and my students love it. When contemplating how to make the most of my time, though, I wanted to find a way to keep Morning Meeting, trim it down, and put it in a place OTHER than precious morning learning time. I decided I wanted to scrap these parts of Morning Meeting:
  • Calendar (students have had this in K and first grade)
  • Weather (they know it!)
  • Schedule (they know where it's posted and how to read the words or pictures)
On the other hand, I loved these parts:
  • Greeting (practicing eye contact and handshakes makes me happy!)
  • Morning Message (shared reading *swoon* and authentic content!)
  • Activity (being silly together builds community)
  • Sharing (practicing presenter voices and speaking in complete sentences!)
  • Good News/Bad News (students have the chance to share about their world in that moment) 
  • Self-Reflection (my class was SO reflective last year, and they were honest and accurate)
So, I decided to turn Morning Meeting into Class Meeting, and put it right after lunch. Here's why:
  1. I always like to have a transition time after lunch/recess. Especially when school first starts, the weather is hot and the kids need some time to cool off and catch their breath. Sometimes, they also need a few minutes to move past whatever recess drama might have happened...
  2. This is the WORST time for learning. The way the brain works, the time right after lunch is a slump time. Peak time is obviously in the morning, with another lower peak later in the afternoon.
  3. I've used this time for Ketchup & Pickle in the past, but haven't loved how the time gets used later in the year. Kids tend not to use this time for what it's intended: to take a few minutes to themselves to catch up on any work, rest their brains, and decompress. Instead it becomes social time (despite my best efforts to nip that in the bud!). Why not make it an acceptable social time instead?
I'm not sure exactly how this will turn out; I'll likely do some teaching around greeting each other at the beginning of the year, and coach students that they will all greet me and each student they encounter as they enter the room in the morning. I may also project a Morning Message while students are coming in that they can read as they take their seats, and that we'll discuss/read together before starting the day. That would leave Sharing, Good News/Bad News, Activity, and Self Reflection for the afternoon meeting. I may test the waters to see if we can fit all of that in within 10 minutes for the first couple of weeks of the year; if not, I will alternate days with Good News/Bad News and Activities. That worked really well last year, and kept activities feeling fresh all year long!

 Writer's Workshop

There are a million things I could share about my scheduling choices, but this will be the last one for now. I have had a tenuous relationship with Writer's Workshop throughout my teaching career; this is ironic because writing is without a doubt my favorite subject. I've never fallen in love with any way that I've structured my writing time, and there are a couple of reasons:
  1. My Writer's Workshop has always been too short, but I've struggled to find time to make it longer due to a packed schedule that devoted too much time elsewhere.
  2. Daily 5 is awesome, but I've had a hard time melding Work on Writing and Writer's Workshop and making the two work together seamlessly.
  3. I have always felt that students should have more choice in what they write about, but haven't found a way to offer that freedom while still sticking to my district's writing curriculum map.
So, I give you my solutions to all of these problems, plus my morning work dilemma: Clearing the extras out of my schedule and Writing Journals! 

First, clearing out my schedule. You can probably see that it looks pretty streamlined; I set out to not waste a second. I moved Morning Meeting to after lunch and eliminated Ketchup & Pickle, eliminated Morning Work and replaced it with journaling time, and made snack a working snack as we transition to Science/Social Studies. I also backed Science/Social Studies up to Literacy on purpose; since I hope to integrate these this year, I am thinking that this transition should be both smooth and quick. Finally, we lucked out with a later lunch and special this year, which sets aside a nice time for Math, and a huge chunk of time for Writer's Workshop. Yay!

Second, Writing Journals!
These are solving multiple problems for me. First off, I plan to have students pull out their journals first thing in the morning for whatever time they have between arrival and the start of instruction. I figure this will be between 10–15 minutes total; however, I did want them to be able to devote more time to their entries. That's where I answered my Daily 5 problem. Now, during Work on Writing, students will pull out their journals again and pick up where they left off, rather than trying to continue working on something from Writer's Workshop. Finally, students will have:
  • choice (there are 7 entry options for each week),
  • guidance (reference guides for each writing style are coded on each prompt and the guides themselves are glued into the front and back of the journal to offer reminders about what each style should incorporate and eliminate questions or "I'm done!" conversations...), and
  • low paper consumption + accessibility (no copying monthly journals or students needing to get out of their seats to reference writing prompts or task cards!).
With the Reference Guides for each style on the inside of the covers, students will always have accessible reminders about what the expectations are for that style of writing and/or what they can add.

Each page has 7 options for the week, giving students choice, plus a range of styles that they can choose from!

One thing I wanted to ensure was that the prompts offered some guidance, but were still open-ended. A system I landed on for this was to offer 4 prompts each week (the top 4) that varied according to the season/month, and covered the 4 major genres (yes, I consider creative writing a major genre!). Then, the last 3 prompts rotate among 18 that appear each month, so students could see some of those several times across the course of the year. They are not themed in any way, but do rotate among all 5 genres (adding in poetry), and are VERY open-ended, in a true journaling style.

The back-to-school and growing bundle of writing journals are both on sale in my store through tomorrow! You can snatch up the back-to-school one for just $2.40 (normally $3.00), and the growing bundle for $12.00 (the price for this one will go up as months are added, but after the sale it will be $15.00).

I hope this resource is helpful in your classroom—please share how you would use it in the comments!

Happy Journaling!


Five For Friday: Five Changes to My Classroom This Year!

Hello, Friends!

All week I've been meaning to do a post about 5 changes I'm planning to make in my classroom this year...but, alas life has gotten in the way! I'm helping to write and pilot a new science curriculum to match the NGSS for our district, so I've been at school doing that a bunch, and I've been working on finishing a class that I'm taking through Learner's Edge about the 6 + 1 Traits writing model. So, since photos of me working on my computer are NOT exciting, I'll take you through 5 changes I plan to make to my teaching practice this fall. Here we go--two freebies ahead!

I'm actually using a Word Collector this year: Let's start with a little resource I put together this week. When I read the Daily 5 text for the first time a couple of years ago, I set up a giant sticky note as a word collector in my classroom. We referred to it consistently for about 3 weeks, and then...I'm not sure we ever added to it again. But I LOVED the idea, and have had it in the back of my brain these past few years to find a way to bring it back in a way that was practical. Then, when reading Vicki Spandel's text, Creating Young Writers, for this course, I got the kick in the pants that I needed to find a way to put this practice back into action. Spandel suggested having a word collector where you add interesting words as you find them while reading the multitude of rich children's books we read each year. Makes perfect sense. This is then a great word choice resource for students to refer back to in their own writing--of course! However, in my class, I have a range of writers, and I wanted to make something more personal.

So, I created this simple system:

Page 1 gets stapled to the "front" of the file folder...

...and pages 2 and 3 get stapled inside!
First off, I wanted to make sure that there was actually room for kids to write words, because, Lord knows, they don't always write small! Second, I wanted the size of the boxes to match how many words kids might add to the box. And finally, I wanted a simple format in which they could add to it, reference it, and put it away easily. I imagine that I will have a large version of this in our room, and will add to it as we encounter words that we love in the books we read throughout the day. During writing time, I'll make sure to begin at least a couple times a week with students adding any words to their word collectors from our class chart that they would like to add to their writing. Easy peasy!

Last but not least, where will it live? In their writing folders! I want them to refer to this during writing time, so I will be having students keep it in the "Ideas" pocket (which will be on the left side) of their writing folders. For that reason, I turned the file folder so that it would fit nicely in that pocket, but you could turn the folder any way you want, or even use construction paper instead. :) If you'd like this simple but hopefully practical tool, you can get it HERE.

This isn't one of our writing folders, but at least you can see how it fits!

I'm getting rid of my teacher desk: You heard me. Getting. Rid. Of. It. I don't know about yours, but mine is an oversized shelf that collects dust and junk. I don't sit at it. It's ugly. I can't push it up against a why do I have it?

Check out the upper right corner (don't mind the STEM challenge boats and smoothie toppings..)--it's a cluttered mess!
Left corner this time--the closet door behind it is what prevents me from being able to push it against the wall.
So, I emptied it this week, moved all of my office supplies into my nifty new toolbox (see last week's post), placed any filing supplies in a filing cabinet I acquired, and tossed quite a bit of junk (e.g., ancient Advil and chocolate stashes), and voila! No need for a teacher desk. Will post pictures of the happy void once I have them, but the hall outside my room got waxed on Tuesday, so I don't have pictures yet.

I plan to start our day with a song: In case you weren't aware, Hope King of Elementary Shenanigans is amazing. I saw her at the I Teach Second! conference, and was SO inspired by her energy and enthusiasm.

One thing that she does in her room is start the day with a song. Now, I've always started my day with some soothing classical music that plays while my students do their morning work with half the lights in our classroom off. Hope? High-energy students bouncing in, and drumbeats pounding out the rhythm to their class song as everyone sings along to start their day.

This year, I'm determined to give that a try (minus the drums, I'm guessing), even though it makes me uncomfortable. As teachers, if we aren't feeling uncomfortable at least once a day, we're probably not doing our jobs right. :) So, I've composed a song to the tune of Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling!," and I've got the lyrics for you right HERE! Enjoy!

I want to commend my colleagues!: Another inspiration that came out of the I Teach Second! conference was from Adam Dovico's session called Rolling Out the Red Carpet. He talked about many amazing ideas to make your school community that much more wonderful, but one thing he mentioned really struck me because of its simplicity. At faculty meetings, pass along some kind of object--a crown, a stuffed animal, a cape--and commend one of your colleagues. Pass on the good juju! The next meeting, that person will pass the object on, and commend someone else! So....

...I found this adorable guy on Etsy and snatched him up! I plan to pass him along at our first faculty meeting, and I hope he's a little morale booster for our fabulous faculty. Taking name suggestions in the comments!

No more morning work!: I don't have a picture to accompany this one, sadly, but I wanted to share it anyway. I plan to get rid of morning work this year, which is something that had been popping around in my brain for a while. For me, I couldn't really answer the question, "Why do I do this?," and knowing the answer to that is important to me. Every second in my classroom counts, and this felt like wasted time to me.

Now, my student begin entering the classroom at 8:20, but some may not arrive until 8:30, so I can't just roll right into instruction. However, I've decided to do literacy instruction first this year, so I plan to have those first 10-15 minutes be a daily journaling time. I promise to share more about this as I create the product that I plan to use for it, but the objective is to include more free writing/prompt-based writing in my day, without taking any Writer's Workshop time to do it. Will update you when I have more to share! Has anyone else gotten rid of morning work?

Happy Teaching!
- Lisa

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