August 2, 2015

10 Tips for Creating a Useful Classroom Website

Hey everyone! I hope you had a nice weekend. I meant to get this post out this morning but in typical 3 month old baby world, I am just getting around to the finishing touches on it tonight. Can you believe it's August? It's very bittersweet for me. I miss teaching and am excited to go back to work, but I also wish I could stay home with my baby all the time! We have had such a special summer. I went into my classroom this week to get a little bit done and I feel a lot better now. Since I was on maternity leave last year I did not get to pack up my classroom or do my usual end-of-the-year list of things to make my summer easier. I still need to go in and send copies out, get prepped and organized for my new class. At least my classroom is mostly set up now.

Tonight I'm talking about making a classroom website that works! Does your school require a classroom website? Do you get to choose what is on it? In my school we are required to have one but the minimum requirements are pretty minimum, meaning we have lots of room to make it our own. Here is a look at what I feature on my classroom website and how it works for my class and my parents. Since I am a kindergarten and first grade teacher, my classroom website is a tool for parents.



1. Homepage with Important Info At-a-Glance

When you enter my classroom webpage I include all information that a parent may be looking for. Telephone number, email, social media and a link to my "What's New?" page.



2. What's New?

In place of a traditional newsletter, I include the What's New page on my classroom website. It has our text reminders embedded into it, our Instagram photos streaming on it, and a list of upcoming events, themes and important information for parents to know. 


3. Meet Mrs. Hornung

I include a biography of me that helps families to get to know me better!






4. Meet My Team!

My students spend a lot of time with my paraprofessionals. I think it is important for families to be able to contact them and get to know them a little better too.



5. Important Documents

I love having important documents like this on my classroom webpage for anyone to be able to access. When I have families tour my classroom I always direct them to my website so they can read more about the way that I run my program.







6. Academic Information

I post links to curriculum information, our homework and grading policy and tips for parents. I also include suggestions for apps, websites and materials.


7. Classroom Wish List

Enough said!


8. Classroom Job Descriptions



9. Our Favorite Books

After we read theme related books I like to post the most popular ones on our website. I often have parents ask me what books their child enjoyed or if I have suggestions for books. 


10. Frequently Asked Questions

Having a FAQ section is a great way to answer a lot of questions or include a lot of information in one page. 





July 31, 2015

Cannoli Dip

Last weekend we had our son's baptism party at our house and I made this delicious cannoli dip as an appetizer. In a world full of taco dips, cannoli dip is a breath of fresh air. Easy and delicious, it has become one of my standard go-to recipes thanks to my sweet friend Sarah who introduced me to cannoli dip a few years ago! I've played around with different combinations of cheeses and think I finally got my proportions right. It is a great dip to serve to mix up the appetizers at a book club meeting or it can be a great dessert to serve on a dessert bar after dinner. 


Yields 3 cups

Ingredients

8 oz. mascarpone cheese
15 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

1. Strain the ricotta cheese with a cheese cloth or absorbent paper towels by squeezing the moisture out. The ricotta will hold it's shape when it is strained. Here's a great tutorial with photos on how to properly strain ricotta!
2. In a standing mixer, whip heavy cream and vanilla extract with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. 
3. In a bowl, combine mascarpone cheese and ricotta cheese. 
4. Fold in the confectioner's sugar until combined. 
5. Fold in the whipped cream and the chocolate chips. 
6. Garnish with mini chocolate chips or chopped pistachios.

I use graham crackers but you can use broken up waffle cones, animal crackers, Nilla wafers or fresh fruit for dipping! Sometimes I even just use a spoon. Enjoy! 




July 29, 2015

Easy Like Wednesday Morning

Happy Wednesday to you my friends! Today I'm talking about morning routines. Like it or not, back-to-school is just around the corner- some of my friends are already back in session this week! I start to get that back-to-school jones around the first week of August. There really is nothing like a new year, a clean and organized classroom and a fresh group of kiddos who have no routines in place!

So how do you set the tone for success when you are still developing routines in September?!

Mornings in every classroom can be hectic, especially during the first month. Any teacher will tell you that the more independence that happens in the morning, the better the day goes. I am a firm believer that good routines in the morning set the tone for a smooth and successful day. Here are a few ways that I keep our mornings smooth right from day one.

1. Morning Business


In my classroom the kids have to take care of their morning business before they can begin morning work. Morning business includes:
-hang up your coat
-hang up your backpack
-change into sneakers (during the winter)
(Nobody is allowed inside the classroom until these three items are completed.)

Once you enter the classroom:
-put your folder in the basket
-sign up for lunch
-drop off library books (on library day)
-get started on your morning work

2. Morning Work


I LOVE morning work and it works really well for my students. One of the biggest challenges with morning work is choosing work that the students can be mostly independent with. When you are trying to take attendance, submit your lunch count and check folders, it is hard to help a student who is struggling. In September my morning work is easy-peasy (especially because I still don't have a grasp on how much my students know!) Most of the work involves tracing, coloring and following simple directions.


3. Me Time


I swear this is one of the secrets to productivity in my classroom. After students complete morning work I give them "me time". Me Time isn't free time and it's not computer time. It is time when the students have three choices:
-Scrap Monster
-Puzzles
-Books

I'm very specific with them about these three choices so that they understand Me Time is different than free choice time.

Our Scrap Monster is our glorified recycling bin which my kids have free reign over. I throw everything in there from envelopes to old sheets of stickers. They love to dig around and find new items and use them to draw pictures, make crafts or just play with paper (fine motor!).

Me Time is great because it gives the students something to work for in the morning and it also gives them some self-directed independent time in a mostly teacher-directed workday. For many of my students on the Autism spectrum, it provides a lot of self-soothing time for them to be able to sit quietly and complete a puzzle or draw a picture without being disrupted.

Selfish teacher bonus...it also keeps them busy while I am running around the classroom doing my own morning business!

4. Let's Get Visual!


Using visuals can really help your students to become more independent in their morning routines. I have a visual checklist in the hallway that my students can look at before they enter the room and pictures of their Me Time choices so there is no question about what they are allowed to do. One of my favorite visuals in my classroom is my lunch choice visuals. Thanks to these I don't have to repeat the lunch choices 1000 times before 9:00am! As if you need another reason to go out for Froyo, I keep the spoons from Froyo places and use them as our lunch choice sticks. They come in all different fun colors and they are durable so they last the whole year. You can grab these lunch choice visuals on sale TODAY only! There are 90 lunch choices included. Worried that your school's specialty choice isn't included? No problem. Each purchase comes with 6 custom choices!










July 22, 2015

Quinoa Fried Rice


Quinoa Fried Rice

Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main dish

Ingredients

3 cups of cooked, cold quinoa
3-4 tablespoons of soy sauce or Bragg's liquid aminos
2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil
1 cup of frozen edamame (or peas)
1 cup of diced onions
1 cup of diced carrots
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
green onions for garnish
salt & pepper, to taste
Optional: scrambled egg

Cook quinoa in advance. I cook a pot of quinoa at the beginning of each week so I have it on hand for easy, healthy meals all week.

A little tip about cooking quinoa: I always soak quinoa for 10-15 minutes before cooking and rinse it well to get rid of the chalky-ness that it can sometimes have. I cook it like pasta by putting it in water, boiling it and removing after it has reached its desired texture, then I drain it. This prevents it from getting mushy and overcooked.

To make the fried quinoa:
Sauté carrots and onions in the olive oil until the carrots become slightly tender and the onions soften. Add shallots, garlic and edamame. Add the quinoa and soy sauce and stir until everything is mixed together and coated. The quinoa will stick to the bottom of the pan so keep stirring until it is heated. Add the sesame oil, stir, and remove from heat. Garnish with green onion. YUM! How easy is that?

We had it as a side dish with grilled teriyaki shrimp and salmon but since quinoa is high in protein you can have this as a meal by itself! It's an easy-peasy weeknight meal. My husband liked it so much that it might just become part of our weekly menu. Enjoy!




July 20, 2015

FREE Back-to-School E-Book (25+ Freebies & Giveaways!)

Happy Monday! Yes teachers- it is Monday. I know it's hard to keep track during summer vacation! The ladies of #weteachsped and I have been planning this e-book for months now and we are excited to finally share it with all of you. It's packed with back-to-school tips and lots and lots of freebies! You may even find some new teachers to follow while you are perusing through the book! 

After you download the e-book, make sure you cruise through all of the links below because each and every blogger is hosting a different giveaway. So many chances to win some really awesome stuff! I'm giving away $15 PayPal cash and my best-selling Call the Cops Writing Pack. We hope you enjoy this back-to-school extravaganza!


Click on the book cover to download!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

July 18, 2015

Paraprofessionals & Aides (Summer Blog Hop Week 4)

Welcome back to Week 4 of our Special Education Summer Blog Hop! It's crazy how fast this summer is going by! This week we are talking about paraprofessionals and aides.



My key to success with paras is having a weekly, monthly or quarterly meeting. Each year your paras will have a different chemistry with the kids and the other paras/adults in your room. Some years you might find it necessary to only have a quarterly meeting and other years it might be necessary to have a weekly meeting. It all depends on the kiddos in your room and the paras that are assigned to you.

Here is an example of an agenda for my monthly aide meeting. This is a very informal write up of the key points I would discuss in a monthly meeting.




Three things to remember about your paras:


1. They didn't go to college for special education. Everything they know about working with students they learned by working with students. They don't get extensive formal training like teachers so you cannot expect them to do things the way you do unless you teach them and set an example.

2. Some things are above their pay grade. I had a friend who worked as an aide and the teacher she worked with expected her to write the IEP! Don't have unrealistic expectations for your aides- they certainly don't get paid to grade your papers at home at night or plan your reading groups on their lunch break. 

3. Paras get burned out too. We know teachers can get burned out but paras can too! Sometimes even more than teachers. Watch for this throughout the school year and if you sense that a para and a child are starting to really get under each other's skin, mix things up so they can have a break. Never let a para get so burned out from a child that it interferes with their ability to help the child.


Bounce on over to Julie at Superheroes in Sped to see what she has to say about paraprofessionals!


Can't wait for our last and final week so we can talk about every teacher's favorite thing.... the first week of school! YIKES!


ALSO make sure you come back on Monday for our FREE Back-to-School E-Book that is loaded with freebies! I'll be hosting a giveaway this week- you won't want to miss this!




July 13, 2015

Landing the Job: 6 Tips & 40 Questions to Help You Land a Teaching Job


It's July and you know what that means! It's interview season for any teacher who is searching for a job. Whether you just graduated from college or you've been substituting for years, everyone gets nervous about interviewing. 

I am by no means an interview expert or a career counselor, but I do have a lot of experience in teaching interviews. When I graduated from college it was nearly impossible to get a permanent teaching job in New York State. I went on dozens (yes, dozens) of interviews for many years until I finally got my dream job. I was a long-term substitute for 3 years and a teaching assistant for 1 year before I was hired. 

It can be extremely frustrating to find a job and it can be heartbreaking to be told "We are going to go with someone with a little more experience." I remember thinking, "How am I ever going to be the person who has 'a little more experience' if you won't give me a chance to get experience!" But somehow it all works out. 

I've put together a list of tips and questions to help you feel confident and prepared for any interview that may come your way this summer. Good luck!


This seems like a no-brainer, but you would be amazed at how many candidates wear dress pants and a dress top to an interview. An interview is not the time to play down your professional appearance. Err on the side of caution and wear a suit for every interview. I wore a suit even when I was interviewing in the schools that I had been subbing in for years. Avoid jewelry, heavy makeup, perfume, open toe shoes and revealing clothes. Be as conservative and professional as possible. Oscar Wilde said it best, "You can never be overdressed or overeducated." 


I can't tell you how many interviews I went on and never opened my portfolio! I spent weeks creating it and then never used it. As technology changes, teaching portfolios aren't necessarily in a leather binder anymore. I always brought my iPad with screenshots of my blog or other activities that I had done on the internet. An iPad is a great way to display photos of things you've done or demonstrate how you use technology. My advice for remembering to use your portfolio is open it as soon as you sit down in the interview. Once you start answering questions you will get too nervous and forget!

This is SO important. Good manners go a long way and a thank you note is absolutely necessary after an interview. 

If you interview with a group of people, send a thank you note to every single person. If you can't remember who was on the interview committee, call the main office and ask the secretary to tell you or stop on your way out and ask. Your thank you note should help them to remember you, so if there is anything personal that you can add, go for it. A thank you note should be handwritten and mailed using the good old-fashioned USPS. Skip the emails and Facebook messages here. 

Here is an example:



Writing a thank you note should be the first thing you do when you get home from an interview. Get it in the mail THAT DAY. Even if they make a decision that day and they don't hire you, still send the thank you note because you know what will happen next time they are hiring? They will remember that you were the candidate with good manners.


There's nothing worse than jumping into an answer before you have even digested the question. It is OKAY to ask the person interviewing you to repeat the question or to simply say, "Let me think about that for a moment." You aren't Siri...you shouldn't be able to answer every question thoroughly as soon as it is asked. The interviewer will respect your choice to answer sincerely and you will have a better response if you take your time.

Every school is different. You might have seven years of experience but have no experience with Reading Workshop. If you are asked a question that you simply can't answer, BE HONEST. You can say, "Although I don't have experience with that particular program, I do have a lot of experience teaching reading to small groups." You can also ask them to tell you more about the particular program. "I'm not familiar with The Daily Five. Can you tell me more about it?" After you hear a little more about it, you can probably find something in your experience that makes you a good candidate to learn said program.

I always made folders for interview committees and left them there. Inside the folder I had a copy of my resume, a sample lesson plan and a bookmark with my picture and my philosophy of teaching on it. Once I started this blog, I also had a note that invited them to visit my teaching blog. Don't feel like putting together folders? Simply bringing a copy of your most up-to-date resume and philosophy of teaching shows that you are prepared, even if they never read it.  



1. Tell us about yourself.
2. What can you tell us about your background to bring your resume to life?
3. Why teach?
4. If I walked into your classroom, what would I see?
5. What would your literacy block look like?
6. Tell us about The Common Core.
7. How do you teach reading?
8. How do you teach writing?
9. How do you deal with difficult parents? Tell us about a specific scenario when you dealt with a difficult parent.
10. What is your classroom management style/plan?
11. How do you motivate a reluctant learner? Give us an example of a time you made a breakthrough with a reluctant learner.
12. How do you engage a child?
13. How would you handle a parent that challenged your teaching?
14. Why should we hire you?
15. What type of professional development do you partake in?
16. How do you incorporate technology in the classroom?
17. How do you incorporate technology in your own professional development?
18. Tell us about an experience in which you worked with an aide in your classroom?
19. What does co-teaching mean to you?
20. What experience do you have with diversity?
21. What experience do you have with Students with Disabilities?
22. How have you modified instruction to meet the needs of students?
23. How have you challenged students and raised the rigor in your teaching?
24. How would your coworkers describe you?
25. What part of this job would be a challenge for you?
26. Tell us about a time you had a conflict with a colleague and how you resolved it.
27. How do you work with others in a team setting?
28. How would you describe yourself?
29. What types of formal and informal assessment do you use?
30. What is your experience with data in teaching?
31. What are the most important elements of a lesson?
32. Why do you want to work in our school? 
33. What can you bring to our district that nobody else can offer?
34. Describe how you handle a child having an outburst or meltdown?
35. Tell us about your literacy approach.
36. How do you use assessments?
37. Describe how you handle a child who refuses to work?
38. This position involves paraprofessionals/aides. How would you manage adults in your classroom?
39. What experience do you have with [specific programs/assessments]?
40. Do you have any questions?



July 12, 2015

Back to School Forms (Summer Blog Hop Week 3)




Hi everyone! Glad to have you back for week 3 of our Special Education Summer Blog Hop. If you're just stumbling across this blog hop, you can catch up by reading my previous posts:

Week 1: Scheduling
Week 2: Classroom Set-Up

This week it's all about back to school forms! In the coming weeks I will be starting to get my welcome forms and letters together so that I am not scrambling to get them done when the calendar turns to August.



Although my school sends home a letter to inform the families of teacher assignments, I always send home a welcome letter from me. It puts the families at ease to learn a little bit more about the teacher and to feel as if they've been reached out to before the school year begins. Here is a look at what I send home!

My welcome letter includes:

  • A brief biography and background of me
  • A brief overview of my philosophy of teaching and parent communication
  • A request for a letter back from the parents (this wonderful portion of the letter comes from Beth Newingham's opening letter)
  • A supply list
  • One sheet of Avery labels with the student's name on them (I like everything labeled and this way I know it is labeled to my liking and it also helps the parents out!)
  • An invitation to Meet the Teacher Day (This is optional, but since I teach a K-1 self-contained room, it is helpful for the families and students to be able to come visit the classroom and meet me before the first day of school. This is also a good idea if you have students who have recently began receiving special education services or are transitioning to a new building or special education setting.)
  • A to-do list for the parents to complete before the school year begins. This includes:
    • Joining my Remind text notifications
    • Checking out my classroom website (TONS of information here)
    • Choosing a family photo to send in for our classroom (I ask my families to send a photo in each year and I keep them framed on our windowsill throughout the year)

Here are some samples of the letters in my welcome packet:


Welcome Letter for Parents & Meet the Teacher Day:





Supply List



For suggestions on creating a great supply list, check out my 9 Supply List Must Haves.

Avery Labels for Labeling Supplies





Hop on over to Julie at Superheroes in Sped to read about her back to school forms! See you next week for some fun with paraprofessionals!



July 5, 2015

Classroom Set-Up (Summer Blog Hop Week 2)




Welcome back to our Special Education Summer Blog Hop! This week you can take a tour of some great special education classrooms and get ideas for your own classroom set-up or some fresh ideas for the new school year! Disclaimer: I was on maternity leave this spring so I have not had a chance to update my classroom tour photos. This classroom tour is somewhat outdated but still relevant! Come back in August and I will give you an updated tour of my 2015-2016 classroom.





When you first walk in to my room, you will see our behavior chart and our transportation chart. I chose this for transportation because there are always a lot of adults in and out of my room, and I like to be able to see where everyone is going at a glance. You can read all about my behavior system by clicking here. 

This is our "business center" if you will. The kids come in and take care of business in the morning. They drop off their folders in the blue basket, choose their lunch and sign their name. My lunch count pictures stop me from having to repeat what the lunch choices are a million different times! They are stuck on with velcro and I have pictures for every choice of lunch that my school offers so I can change them each day. I am working on polishing these up for TPT and they should be available in my store this summer.

Have you been to a frozen yogurt place with those great sturdy spoons? I save them and use them as the name sticks for our lunch count. They are durable and cute!

My classroom jobs are also displayed here and I change those weekly. Next to my student mailboxes I store construction paper by color for quick access and easy organizing.





My birthday wall is one of my favorite parts of my classroom! I got the gift bags at Target for .69 cents each, and then I used the birthday set from Erica Bohrer. Since I have a small class, we also include our principal, secretaries, custodian and nurse on our birthday wall so we don't forget about the special people that help us each day!



At the end of this countertop is my shrine to Dr. Seuss because I have such a special place in my heart for him. The Lorax has always been my favorite children's book. I made these truffula trees out of pom pom flowers. Some of my happiest childhood memories are my dad reading me Dr. Seuss books! The small trash can is used for a word family of the week. The kids will put a word in to the trash can if it belongs in the word family and then I will draw them out like tickets each week to pick a winner.




Our next stop is my play area. This is where my kids have free time. It is also our sensory table during centers every day. That rectangular table is a sensory tub with a cover, so underneath it is where I put different sensory tubs. Above the sensory table is our Scrap Monster. It is where we throw any scraps and extra papers. The kids use it for crafts, free drawing and scrap paper when they need it. Who knew a recycling bin would become more popular than toys?! If you don't have a Scrap Monster in your room you need to get one!

Since I last photographed my classroom I have added a grocery store play area. You can read all about it by clicking here. 


This is one part of my library and my workbook storage area. The baskets on the bookshelves hold leveled reading books for guided reading. The top four bins are: Theme books for the month, Magazines, "Fun Stuff" (like Angry Bird books and popular books that the kids go crazy for) and Eye-Spy Books. On the book display I have all of our theme books for the month that I read to my kids. In the colored bins I store all of my student workbooks. 

Since I teach two grade levels, I have 2 sets of workbooks for reading, writing, handwriting and math. This is the only way to keep it all straight! I also have scissors and glue sticks here for quick access because my students don't store those things in their supply boxes. Along the white side of the shelf are my students' photos in the order that our line goes for the week. This visual is helpful for all of my students because they always want to be the line leader and they start fighting over who they stand next to. Having the line order on display settles all disputes about getting in line. I change this weekly. Next to the line order is our supply box basket. You can read an entire post about my visuals by clicking here.


Along this wall is my children's book library and some other miscellaneous supplies. These books are organized by theme. Below them from left to right is a basket full of flash cards for quick access by the students and teachers, clipboards, boxed puzzles, musical instruments, tangrams, math legos and small wooden blocks. On the very bottom are my crate stools, and you can read my tutorial by clicking here!




This is my calendar center and teacher chair. This whole corner has changed since I last took photos of my room- specifically those shelves behind the chair! Now those are home to all of my center tubs which are pictured below in the photo of me reading to my class on Read Across America Day.






Below the monthly calendar is our weather graph, with our morning meeting activities and greetings hanging next to it. All of the pieces of our calendar are velcro so we can easily change things each day.



Inside that four square jewelry organizer are my calendar pieces for the upcoming months. The polka dot bucket has our brain break sticks in it. The tall clear container is our "party puff jar"- the kids earn puffs for being good as a whole class. When we fill up the jar we will have a special party! In the pink magazine holder are additional morning meeting ideas, as well as "minute filler" books for extra minutes here and there.


The next stop is that back wall below the windows. On the bottom shelves I have all of my supplies in bins. These are supplies and materials that we use frequently.


Along my window sill I have family photos of all of my students. In August when I send home a welcome packet I ask my families to send in a photo for our classroom. I love making our classroom a comfortable and happy place and I think this helps! The kids can read to their families and share the photos with their classmates throughout the year. Below the photos I have some community supplies hanging in buckets from Ikea.



Behind my guided reading horseshoe table are all of the materials that I use with my kiddos during direct instruction and centers. This STAR crate is the home to all of my data collection and student information.



The blue crate has all of my teacher manuals for the direct instruction programs I use, as well as my guided reading materials.


Each of my students has a skill basket that has materials specific for them. The things that I put in these baskets are directly related to their IEP goals. It is also where I store books that they are working in. They have flash cards, letter and sound cards, picture sorts, sound tubs, etc. The things that are in their skill basket also get sent home for additional practice in my students' "skill bags".  I like this system because there is always something to grab to work on with a student and they are accessible to my aides as well.


Next to my skill baskets is my sub tub which holds materials for substitutes. Next to that is my drawers full of daily materials and things for centers.


These are my daily bins and the bins where I organize what we need for centers each day.


These drawers are perfect for months of the year because there are 10 for September-June. Inside of each one is where I store copies that I will need each month. It is only where I store monthly specific things that I send out for copies in August and get for the whole year. For example, monthly behavior calendars, morning work for each month and calendar math for each month. 


This corner of the room tends to get a little disastrous, especially by Friday! Please excuse the piles of stuff everywhere!!




This is a teacher station, which means it is a computer the kids don't use. It has mailboxes for my aides and our teacher projects basket. Our teacher projects basket holds projects for when there is downtime in the classroom, like lamination that needs cutting out or copies that need to be made. My aides are sooooo unbelievably helpful!! 



This is Alaska, which is our sensory time out area. The kids use Alaska when they need a break and during rest time. They can color, play with the sensory toys and bottles, take some jumps on the trampoline and bounce on the ball. 





This is the tech table! The tech table is used during centers when the kids use the Chromebooks, iPad and iPods for audio books.


Last but not least, this is a command center of sorts. It is right by the door and it holds all of our daily schedules. My kids leave for a lot of different services and therapies during the day, so this is where I keep our master schedule on display. There is a sign out sheet for therapists because they come in and out while I am teaching. This whole area is good for some of my students that thrive on schedules and routines. They always know what to expect and are learning how to find out if they have somewhere to go that day!


If you have any questions about any of the things in my room, I would be happy to tell you where I got them!

Next up on your tour of special education classrooms is Julie from Laughing and Little Learners. Click below to see how she sets up her classroom. 

Laughing and Little Learners

Make sure you come back next Sunday for week 3!