Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Monthly Newsletter FREEBIE!

Recently, I shared a post about my newsletter design and goals for the upcoming school year. If you missed it, you can check it out here. I received so much helpful feedback about my design, and I am going to use that advice as I continue to prepare these newsletters throughout the school year. Thank you SO MUCH to those of you who have taken the time to give me some recommendations about the design!

Several people also expressed interest in using the newsletter for their own classrooms. I have no problem sharing this design; however, I wasn't sure how to make the template editable. Again, thanks to advice from others, I think I have it figured out!

If you would like to use this newsletter template for your own classroom, you can access it for free through Google Docs here. The template will look like this...
As a reminder, this is my original design for my own newsletter. In the free template, I have included editable text boxes. However, I will warn you ahead of time: the font for the text boxes on the freebie is not identical to my version. Some of the fonts I used are ones I have downloaded or purchased, and unless you have downloaded them as well, the template would not work for you. So the font will look slightly different for you, but the sections and graphics are all there, ready to use!

As I described in my original post, I will revise this newsletter template each month. Sooooooo that means I will also make this a monthly freebie, available here at the beginning of each month! 

I hope this will be helpful for you in your classroom. Newsletters can be tedious and time-consuming, so maybe this design will shave a few precious minutes off of your planning time. Be sure to check back here each month for the latest template design. At the end of the year, I intend to bundle all of the newsletters into one package on TPT, but this is the time to grab them for free! :)

Note: Some clipart on the newsletter is provided by Krista Wallden at Creative Clips. She has an amazing selection in her store! For some reason, I can't get her graphic to export correctly into the credits page of the final powerpoint document.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Resources for Teaching the Sounds of C and G

As previously described, I am gradually developing a variety of phonics-based resources within The Tally Tales TPT store. You are welcome to peruse the product listings within the store. However, I often find it to be helpful to see a bit more detail/description of the products, rather than the snippets provided within the TPT listing. Blog posts about products are always helpful to me. You may not find this post to be helpful, but if you are looking for resources to support this particular skill, then I hope you will gain something from descriptions of my new product here.

With this product, I have focused on providing resources that support instruction and practice with the hard and soft sounds of the letters C and G
You may or may not be completely familiar with the differing sounds that can be expressed using C and G. Hopefully, this explanation will be helpful…

The Letter C The letter C makes two sounds—the /k/ sound and the /s/ sound. The sound of C is primarily determined by the letter following it, and vowels are particularly vital for altering the letter sound. When C is followed by a consonant (except h), it makes the /k/ sound. 

Vowels, however, change things a bit. When followed by the vowels a, o, or u, the letter C still makes the /k/ sound. However, when followed by the vowels e, i, or y, it makes the /s/ sound. When C makes the /k/ sound, that is often referred to as the hard sound.  The /s/ sound, however, is referred to as the soft sound for the letter C. 

This can be such a complicated concept for many of our struggling young readers and spellers, and it helps to have a visual reference for support. In a recent LETRS training, our instructor shared with us the idea of a train track illustration. The "C Train" changes it's direction (and sound) whenever it encounters the letters e, i, or y.  She sketched her own train on tracks and signal light with a letter on each light. I absolutely loved this concept, so I created my own rule posters and resources to use with my students. (This resource is available in the Tally Tales TPT store.)

As you can see, this product includes the explanatory rule poster, complete with examples. I have also included the "C Train" illustration in which the sound of C transitions from /k/ (its hard sound) to /s/ (its soft sound) any time it encounters the letters e, i, or y.

Also included is a sort activity, which students can use to practice distinguishing between the sounds of C within words.

The Letter G The letter G is similar to the letter C.  When followed by the vowels a, o, or u, G still makes the hard sound /g/. However, when followed by the vowels e, i, or y, it makes the soft sound /j/.   

G is a bit trickier to deal with, because it doesn't follow the rule as often as C. In fact, you can really only trust G to follow the rules approximately 60% of the time. (Don't you just love the English language?!?) Some notable exceptions include get, girl, give, gift.  I have included both examples and exceptions on the explanatory rule poster within this product. In addition, I have created the "G Train" poster, which demonstrates the transition from /g/ (its hard sound) to /j/ (its soft sound) any time it encounters the letters e, i, or y. Again, exceptions are included on the illustration to help students gain familiarity with those as well. 
As with the letter c, I also included a sort activity for the letter G, which students can use to practice distinguishing between the sounds of G within words.
If interested, you can access this entire product here in the Tally Tales TPT store. I hope this post is helpful to you! Please feel free to share any resources, ideas, or questions you may have related to this concept. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Newsletters (and goals) for the School Year Ahead

I know newsletters aren't exactly the hot-topic in education right now. There are far more exciting innovations out there. However, sending home a newsletter is a really big deal for me this year.

Let me explain… 

I don't teach one class; I teach seven. Seven reading classes, for a variety of age groups and developmental levels, ranging from kindergarten through fifth grade. My students come from different classrooms within each grade level, and I work with them for a 45-minute class session each day. I love what I do. I love my class, my students, and the content I teach. 

However, due to the nature of my classroom and instruction, parent communication is a challenge. I don't manage lunch money, weekly tests, or homework assignments. The results of my assessments do not appear on report cards. I am not the "classroom teacher" for my students. I am their Reaching Reading Success teacher, and while our program has grown tremendously in recent years, it's no secret that the instructional concepts of my class are a bit foreign for most parents. On average, most parents have very little knowledge of multisensory teaching techniques, and "Orton Gillingham" sounds like fancy educational jargon that holds no personal relevance for them. I get that; I wouldn't know much about it if I didn't teach it!

We have done a lot to help parents feel more informed about our techniques and methodology (parent day in which they can actually join their child's class time to learn more; parent conferences; sending home letters and assessment results; parent night to share specific information and techniques to use at home; etc.) but I still feel as though parent communication is a weakness for me. When I was a first grade teacher, it came easy; I often felt as though I talked with parents as much as the kids at times. That's not a bad thing; it's just a strong contrast with my current reality. I want  need that to change.

I explain all of that to reiterate the significance, for me, of sending home newsletters. Now, on to the good stuff… :)

Below, you will see the first of my monthly newsletters, to be sent home in August. Before you lament the dull black-and-white design, I will readily admit that, yes, it would be much "cuter" in color. I could have easily designed it with colorful clipart, but in reality, what are parents going to see? The black-and-white version. We don't have a color copier, so the copies sent home would be printed in a grayscale version anyway. For this reason, a colorful version would probably produce less-polished copies for parents. So I abandoned my teacher-need to make it "cuter" and based my decision on practicality. I may, however, print it on colored paper to spice things up a bit! ;) 
Here's a look that the bare "bones" of the newsletter. Basically, these are the components each newsletter will contain.
Now, take a closer look at the August newsletter, which is an almost-complete version of the template, lacking specific details I will add later…
You can see which parts (graphics, quotes) will change each month to give the newsletter a more seasonal appearance. The only part that will stay completely the same on each newsletter is my contact information. If you notice, I have included my blog address and Twitter ID so parents can follow me online as well. Using social media more for parent communication is also a goal of mine this year. (If you want some GREAT advice for using social media in the classroom, visit Ashley over at Teach Create Motivate.)

The part about which I am most excited is the "Spotlight on Students." This section will be completed by my students each month!
As you can see from the above image, part of my goal in having this section is to motivate students to share more about our class at home. If they have invested in even one part of this newsletter, then they are naturally more likely to show it to someone at home. I want these newsletters to actually make it to the hands and eyes of parents -not just get shoved to the bottom of the backpack… you know what I'm talking about.

So, in this part, I will let students choose what they want to share with their friends and family at home. They provide the information here. By the end of the year, I want students to design the whole newsletter as a type of "wrap-up and reflect" project for each class. I am hoping this little snippet each month will help them feel more comfortable with that project by the time May comes along. 

What do you think about my newsletter design? Likes, dislikes, suggestions? Please feel free to share it all… I welcome the feedback! :)

Note: Clipart on the newsletter is provided by Krista Wallden at Creative Clips. She has an amazing selection in her store!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Up Next: National Board Certification

I'm really excited (and a little nervous) to share some exciting news. This year,  I am going to begin pursuing National Board Certification. 


I know; It's a big step and a major commitment, especially since the certification process now extends over a three-year period. 

I've given this a lot of thought, though, and after attending a Standards Study workshop last week, I am pretty excited about this new endeavor. You may be a NBC teacher and know exactly how I feel at this moment. At the very least, you have probably heard so many things about NBC; I have as well. I've heard the ugly details; the scary, slightly scarier, and practically terrifying details. The thing is, I've also heard the good stuff… the really, really good stuff… about how it can transform your identity as a professional… About how it can make you the teacher you were truly meant to be … About how it can be the best thing you've ever done professionally. Well, I'm choosing to embrace those versions of this experience. The truth is that after spending some time learning more about this process, the standards, and the expectations, I really do believe this is what I need to push myself to become better

I have already identified areas in which I now feel the weakest, and I am targeting those as opportunities for the most growth. But who knows? As I learn more about myself, a few surprises may emerge as areas of even greater improvement! Either way, I am fully convinced that I need this, and if I'm honest with myself, I'm enough of a teacher nerd to be deeply energized by it. 

Still, I will admit: clicking submit on that final registration page made my heart race just a little...
I have selected Literacy: Reading-Language Arts as my certificate area. I feel that this area is most relevant to what I do now, as well as transferrable to other grade levels/classrooms, should my teaching situation change at any point in the future. The fact that literacy is truly my passion in the field of education made this part a relatively easy decision for me.

Obviously, the first thing I need to do is start studying, but I also already have several goals for my classroom and instruction that will gradually unfold as I work my way through this process. I still hope to showcase a variety of content here at The Tally Tales blog, but I wouldn't be surprised if educational posts were prevalent among my publishing. I may still have a do-it-yourself project along the way (I can't resist a little creative experiment every now and then!), and I'll try to keep you updated on baby girl's milestones; but for the most part, much of the information I have to share will probably be related to things I am studying, learning, and creating for my classroom.

I hope you will follow along with me in this journey. If you have already obtained national board certification, I would very much welcome the opportunity to connect with -and learn from- you! :)

Friday, July 17, 2015

6 Months!

This baby cannot be six months old already. That's half of a year. Unbelievable. But it's true; here she is, six months old and full of energy, smiles, and an already-inquisitive nature.

The past month has been a busy one, and it seems like Ambree Kate changes or does something slightly new every day. It's hard to keep up with her at times!

She went swimming for the first time this summer. She loved her little float, and she kicked her way all over the place.

She loves being outside, and she loves the water, so I think we are in for years of fun summers ahead. :)
She went to the church nursery for the first time. She has been to church, but we just weren't quite ready for the nursery yet. By we, naturally, I mean I wasn't ready. First time mom, here; I'll admit it. I just couldn't turn her loose for the nursery time yet. By some miracle, I hit a mommy milestone, though, and finally reached the point where I thought I could handle it.

Ambree Kate was in wonderful hands there, and they already had her crib area ready just for her when we got there! I am so grateful to attend a church that provides such wonderful childcare options, and I look forward to handing our baby over to them on Sundays now. 

Did I mention that this little girl is very active???

She grabs her toes…
… and practices walking...
… and tries to sit up on her own … (she's almost there!)
… and every day is finished off with at least a couple of bedtime stories.

She did slow down just a little for her first ear infection. It was pitiful to see her feel so poorly.
On the plus side, we have enjoyed lots of nap time snuggles. I even managed to get some of my summer reading done, and it was definitely sweeter with this doll cuddled up against me. 
Eventually, that smile returned, and I am happy to report that she is feeling much better now!

Hopefully, this next month will hold just as many fun moments without any ear infections or colds! Fingers crossed for a healthy baby and a successful back-to-school transition. Where has the summer gone?!? 

Monday, July 6, 2015

"Constructive" Word Work: Sight Word Towers

You know how all of my best ideas are really just things other teachers have told me to do? Well, here's another example of a great idea I did not develop myself. This one is simple, but oh-so-much-fun and highly effective for engaging students in sight word practice. (This is also another one of those great activities for your kinesthetic learners!)                                                                                 To prepare, you just need to purchase some small paper bathroom cups. They are inexpensive, and the standard box size at my grocery store includes 200 cups. Decide which words you want your students to practice (high frequency words, sight words, spelling words, etc.) and simply write one word on each card. 

You can do this as a small group activity, or you can have students work in partner groups. The idea is simple: you hold up a card with a word written on it. If the student correctly reads the word, he/she gets to keep the cup. As the students collect cups (by reading) they get to build their own tower of words. I tell them that they can build a tower of any design they want, but once they are finished they have to reread their entire tower for me. Oh how they love it! It's a great combination of student creativity, freedom, and discipline in repetitive word practice. How often do you have those elements working together?!?

The activity can be simple, and the tower can be small, like this one...
or the tower can be rather large, like this one...
Did you notice that some of the words are written in different colors? I have several different word sets (increasing in difficulty) for my students to learn. I write each set in a different color so we can easily reorganize them, even if we use multiple sets of cups within the same activity. 
My students really do have a great time with this activity, and it's a little different from a typical "word work" exercise. I love the fact that the activity requires so little prep work and cleanup, but yet it is something that keeps students consistently engaged every time we use it. They literally cheer when I pull out a bag of word cups.

Could you use this activity in your classroom?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

TPT Seller Challenge Week 3: Rolling Out the Masterpiece

Today I'm excited to participate in Week 3 of the #TPTSellerChallenge, which is being hosted by Sparkling in Second GradePeppyZestyTeacheristaThird in Hollywood, and Teach, Create, Motivate. This week's challenge focuses on creating a new product…a "masterpiece" for your store. I want to apologize ahead of time, because this post is a bit lengthy. However, if you'll hang in there until the end, I think you'll be glad you did! (ahem, freebie ahead… )

I'm excited to share this one for several reasons. It's been somewhat of an ongoing project of mine since I first shared Word Cubes: Roll and Read Words for all Syllable Types. If you missed that one, you can read more about it here.

I have previously written about how much I love using cubes in my lessons. My instruction focuses on multisensory learning, and cubes are great for those kinesthetic learners who need that extra little chunk of motion to stay engaged in the lesson. That pretty much describes all younger students though, right? So I previously created this product, which contains word cubes for each syllable type. The instructions are the same for each cube; print them (preferably onto cardstock to make them more stable and durable), cut them out, and fold along the external tabs to shape the actual cube. I designed each cube template to be very printer-friendly, so you can easily print all of the activities within the product without worrying about depleting your ink supply. (If only ink was free…)

The fresh part to this is that, in light of this week's #TPTsellerchallenge, I have extended this idea to create four additional Roll-and-Read products, each of which focuses on a different phonics skill. Here's a brief overview of each of those. Feel free to click the link to view the full preview file in the Tally Tales TPT store for more details on each one!

* Word Cubes: Roll and Read Words with Magic E

* Word Cubes: Roll and Read CVC Words (Short Vowel Sounds)

* Word Cubes: Roll and Read Words with Consonant Digraphs (H Brothers)

* Word Cubes: Roll and Read Words with Bossy R

Now, those are the individual products, but this is the part that I consider the "masterpiece"… I compiled them all into my first bundle. That may not be a big deal to most people, but since I've never bundled any of my products before, I am fairly proud of this little milestone for my TPT store.

So you can find all five of these products in the Word Cubes: Roll and Read BUNDLE.

In all, the Bundle product contains 54 word cubes, 4 corresponding "I Can" statement posters, and a blank cube template, which teachers and/or students can customize as needed to fit their instruction.

*** In celebration of this little masterpiece, I am placing the bundle on sale as a freebie until this Friday July 3rd. So if you are interested at all in this one, go ahead and snag it for free here in the Tally Tales TPT store! ***

I tried to be thorough in providing materials that I felt would make these products applicable to a variety of age groups and instructional settings, but these simple little cubes are pretty versatile in application; I'm sure you could find unique ways to use them in your classroom. Regardless, should you choose to incorporate these into your reading instruction, I hope they will be fun, effective activities for your little readers!

So that's it; that's my "masterpiece." What do you think?