Blog Archives

Wk 3: Using Table Folders

mtbos-sunfun-logoOk, so I’ve wanted to do this for years, but never got my act together. For years, I’ve read blog posts about them, printed the blog posts to highlight/scrutinize the details and asked questions on Twitter, so I knew I needed to incorporate this strategy. This summer I resolved that I. MUST. DO. THIS!

Where did I get my inspiration?

How did I organize?

I took little bits from each of the above blog and wove my own version. Since I wasn’t sure I was going to stick to this idea (such a pessimist!!), I purchased cheap, on sale, two pocket with prong folders from Wallmart. I put large and small group numbers from the Dollar Store on the front of the folders. I also put plastic labels, purchased at Targets Dollar bins, so my students could list their names. Inside the folder, I added the IN and OUT labels with clear packing tape. Finally I inserted a plastic page protector in the prongs to hold the learning targets for the unit….always visible to the group.

I tried to use magazine holders, but the folders didn’t fit in them. Luckily I had some metal library file holders I rescued from the waste bin many years ago (knew they’d come in handy some day!! Such a pack-rat). I spring-clipped them together and added index cards on popsicle sticks taped to the back of the holders. Everything is color-coded by class.

What’s Working?

My students are doing such a great job of picking up their folders daily and using the IN-OUT pockets to turn in items and late work.

The OUT pocket for handing OUT items to students, such as daily handouts, daily formative assessments, exit slips, graded work. I also have instituted that the Recorder of the group paper clips any handouts and work for absent students…time-saver!! Now students immediately get what they need without the line in front of the room at the start of class – Bonus!! It has also been a great way to get work back to them the next day. Of course, if I forget or miss putting something in the pockets, I can still use the Resource Managers to pick up what is needed for their group. Although I don’t put assessments into the OUT pocket, I use the RM to pick up the assessments for the group: I fold the papers over so only the name shows and the score is hidden – takes a little longer, but privacy is preserved.

The IN pocket is great for collecting work in an organized way. Students simply place their completed work in the IN pocket. If a student is absent, they can place their absent work in the IN folder and I get it immediately that day. Also, since I don’t record assessment scores until students look at them and then return to me, this IN pocket works beautifully. Students can write me a note if they need me to look at a problem before putting the grade into the grade book. The table group also reminds each other to return the assessments before they leave for the day and students fold over their own paper to preserve privacy.


I also like having the learning targets in front of them. I can instantly refer to them and so can the students (although they are also on the unit tab in their Interactive Notebooks…for another post).

Lessons Learned

Stuffing the folders daily is challenging!! It is best to have a student helper do this if you can; otherwise, it takes about 10 minutes per class to insert materials. I think this is the biggest drawback if you don’t have students to help. Perhaps I could utilize the RM to pick up papers at the beginning of class, but that causes a loss of valuable class time as students wait to get their materials. I am lucky that I have a colleague that is willing to share her student helpers with me – YAY!!

It takes another 10-15 minutes to go through the IN materials. I do daily HW checks on which students complete a couple quick problems, discuss with their group, then check with the key and complete a short self-reflection. These take a little more time to look at because I need to open each folder instead of leafing through a stack of papers. But then students get them back immediately the next day. I think its a good trade-off.

Lastly, I think I would use plastic folders next time instead of the paper folders. The time it took to create the folders could be saved in subsequent years if I didn’t have to repeat the process.

As you read through my procedures, do you have any suggestions that would make this process even smoother?

Week -2: Classroom Management – Create a positive, well-managed classroom environment

This post is my contribution to this week’s  #MTBoS Sunday Funday challenge: Classroom Management.  I wouldn’t call it a “challenge” but rather an “invitation to blog” every week on a pre-selected topic.  You then submit your blog post using this Google Form.  On Sunday, Julie  @jreulbach  will post the week’s list of amazing blogs to go read! I can’t wait to read all of the goodness my peers have to offer!!

This week’s challenge is “Classroom Mangagement.”  This stymied me because I have awesome kiddos every year, and the “typical” management issues just aren’t in my room.  Not bragging except about how amazing my students are….they are in my room to learn, to experience new things and to have fun!

As I reflect, thought, I do believe these three things are critical for a smooth running classroom: be organized, be positive and authentic, keep students cognitively engaged.  I find if my students understand expectations, feel safe, and have engaging experiences, the management issues usually don’t arise.  So I’ll share some of my “management” strategies with you.

Be Organized

Know where you are going – so your kids will follow

I use an Excel spreadsheet to map out the year for each course.  I used to use paper copies of this, but now I’ve gone electronic; easier to copy from year to year, easy to edit and easy to share with course colleagues.  I can also color code….just love the colors!  I love to plan out my year in detail (with the mental permission to change at will – you know, when a great idea shows up on a blog or Twitter or Pinterest or wherever) so I know I’ve got time for critical content and engagement activities.  I used to hate when teachers took their time early in the year but then crammed so much in the last 3 weeks of a semester “because we got behind.”  I purposely budget a couple of blank days later in each semester as “buffers” for unanticipated time needs.

Excel Planning

Know what you want your kids to know, so they can show you.

I have learning targets for my course posted on my daily agendas (more info below) but after reading about #SBG and various blogs by @druinok, @mathequalslove, @samshah, @lisa_tilmon, among others, I decided to create ones I can share at the beginning of the year with students:


Share daily agendas

I learned this early in my career.  If I I had a daily plan but didn’t share it with my students, we more often than not got derailed.  Let students in on your plans for the day. We use a Learning Management System (LMS) at our school called Schoology, so I post the week’s agendas by Monday.  One of the nice things is shared agendas actually build buy in; we all know what the learning and experiences for the day and work towards completing it.  However, I also make adjustment right in front of the class if the agenda was too ambitious or an unexpected event (sing happy birthday, important school-wide announcement, xerox machine crashed, etc.) caused a loss of time.  And the agendas are based on student feedback (see below for exit slips information).  Attached to the agenda for the day are the required materials in electronic form; student simply download to Notability or Evernote. A great spin-off is that as students become accustomed to the procedure, when they are absent, they still check the daily agendas for what happened in class; they know it is the most up-to-date account of the class experience.

Be Positive and Authentic

Know how you want the classroom to run, so kids can embrace your vision

This is so, so important!  Spend time thinking and envisioning what you truly want your classroom environment to look like, to sound like, and to be.  It is important that you have a clear and solid vision so you can communicate to your charges through your words, actions, learning experiences and expectations.  Remember, some of your students may never have experienced what you believe are characteristics of a perfect classroom environment. So dream away, read a lot and write it down. Be willing to try things, give yourself permission to make mistakes, listen to your students.  Be careful, thought!  Your classroom MUST FIT YOUR PERSONALITY not your classroom neighbor, your mentor teacher, your favorite blog author  or whomever.  Then, condense your vision into succinct words/phrases that embody your vision.  Finally, think about how to foster those ideals in your classroom.

Know how your kids are doing, so let them tell you

Students need a way to voice how they are doing in class.  Be aware, if you do this well, as students feel safe in your classroom, they will give you unsolicited feedback.  This is really good (and a bit scary) so you need to be flexible and willing to listen and respond in an authentic way while also honoring what is important to you.  Tricky stuff.

I use daily exit slips to take the pulse of my students’ academic, emotional and physical well-being.  There are many places to collect great question and unique ways to elicit authentic feedback.  Research supports that giving students time and space to reflect and self-assess their progress is a critical part of the learning.  Eventually, you will be able to read your classes and create prompts that really work for them.

This year I plan to use the learning targets more purposefully.  In the table folders (more next week), students will track for me where they believe they are in attaining the learning targets for the unit: NY = Not Yet, P = Proficient, M = Mastered. Each student will self-assess/communicate daily progress on the various critical learning targets for the unit.I will see these every day and this will also help me make timely adjustment to instruction and experiences.

Keep Students Cognitively Engaged

Openers/Bell Ringers/Starters…or whatever you call them!

There are so many ways to begin class, but my students know that they are to work on a task as soon as they walk in the door.  The class procedure is to open your iPad, pull up the agenda and begin the Opener.  To help students initially embrace this procedure, I use blatant bribery to reward those who get right to it.  I covertly lay a piece of penny candy next students who immediately follow these three steps. Students in the group who don’t get the candy start asking immediately why they didn’t get one.  I simply say, “you can figure it out,” and they usually do (or their peers fill them in).  If, in good conscience, you can’t give students candy, find some other low stakes reward: raisins, pack of carrots, stickers.

My openers do one of three main things for the day:

  1. Recall yesterday’s learnings to gauge level of understanding
  2. Review foundational skills/concepts for today’s experiences,
  3. Set up today’s lesson with an exploration or data collection opportunity

Use Table Groups

My students are in table groups of 4 for most days (except assessment times) and this strategy is one of the most efficient yet effective management strategy I employ.   I use group roles (team captain, facilitator, reporter, resource manager) and found the roles help with behavior management and student accountability too.  I couldn’t imagine my class without the table group benefits of student talk, shared supplies, and peer support.  There is so much information and support ideas on the web about using table groups!  Just begin exploring.

By having students in groups it is very easy to use active engagement experiences because students are already used to working together.   I use things like Desmos or Geogebra explorations, 15 minute posters and gallery walks, Musical chairs practice, Review Stations, etc. to use the power of group collaboration and problem-solving.

I didn’t expect this post to go on so long!  And I have so much more to say!!!  But maybe for a post later this year.

What are some management strategies you use that you couldn’t live without in your classroom?  Would love to hear from you!





Week -4: Goals and Dreams for 2017-18

It has been a while since I blogged.  I think my type-A, perfectionist over-exuberance at wanting to blog at what I envisioned was “top-level” just burned me out.  But since getting back to Twitter (and getting in on the flurry of conversations about TMC, #MTBoS, and #PushSend ) I’ve realized that the reflective nature of blogging feeds my teacher soul.

Last year I dropped blogging early in the school year because I was doing too much. And writing doesn’t come easy to me so my blogs were taking 1-2 hours to complete – I so admire those who type fast and write succinctly…can you school me?? Everything in my life was suffering and so blogging was the first (but not the last) thing to be purged.  Now as I look back at the year this summer I realize the rest of my school year lost its glitter.  Without the daily reflecting in writing via blogging and taking pictures of my kiddos while they were learning, the excitement fizzled and “Killer Routine” took over.  Now don’t get me wrong, I did reflect but it tended to be quick, on the fly and lacked depth;  I didn’t have a running commentary to look back on to review my progress, to relive the successes and to reminiscence about the changes that worked.

But I also realize I can’t keep up with blogging for each of the 180 days of the school year. So Blog 180 was out for me! As luck would have it, I learned through Twitter that during TMC17, Carl Oliver gave a keynote, Hitting the Darn ‘Send’ Button at TMC (Twitter Math Camp). He said just #PushSend; what you write doesn’t have to be perfect and what you have to say will resonate with someone. Most importantly for me I realized, the act of putting my thoughts to paper is an amazing growth experience.  All of this talk about blogging inspired me. So I gave myself permission to blog once a week. In my mind I call it my new initiative: Blog 36+… I’ll blog once a week (but maybe more).

The stars aligned because soon after TMC, the #MTBoS got busy, spearheaded by Julie @jreulbach to revive the #MTBoS Sunday Funday challenge . I wouldn’t call it a “challenge” but rather an “invitation to blog” every week on a pre-selected topic; this week’s is Goals. You then submit your blog post using this Google Form.  On Sunday, Julie will post the week’s list of amazing blogs to go read! I can’t wait to read all of the goodness my peers have to offer!!  But I also realize I need to contribute….so my blogging life begins anew!

2017-2018 Goals and Dreams – at least planning for Goals

We don’t start school until August 30th, so my school brain is still on vacation!  And I’m not sure I’m ready to have my goals set in “electronic stone” yet.  So instead, I’ll share my first steps in creating goals for a new school year.

Here’s how I’ve done my goal-setting for many, many years.  In early June, when I begin to get twinges of frustration and end-of-year-itis, I start my “Beginning of Year ‘##” folder.  I’ve been doing this now for over 25 years and I really love to see how some things have come and gone, while others have become my pedagogical “rocks.”


*Wish I could get into my room to take a photo of all of my previous folders!!

On the inside left flap I have lots of categories: Goals, Keep-Change-Try, Theme/Focus. These help me think through the big picture for my classroom.  Still adding thoughts as I read tweets and the many awesome blog posts shared this week!

  • Goals include student, professional and personal goals for the year…these are actually the final culmination of the other things.
  • Keep-Change-Try is just that, a running list of what I want to keep from my past practices, change or revise for the next year, and new things to try because they sound so promising.
  • Theme/Focus is the catch phrase that encapsulates all of the above thinking, especially the goal.  Usually a word or phrase that I post in big letters.

On the inside right flap I have lots of focuses that support the Goals and Theme: Engagement, Climate-Relationships, Retention, SBG, Technology, and Procedures.

  • Engagement helps me think through authentic engagement experiences rather than “fun” activities that don’t move students’ learning forward.
  • Climate-Relationships is a new focus for me this year.  Although student evaluations say I do a great job at this, my personal perspective is that I need to work at this better to connect with EVERY student.
  • Retention includes thoughts about how to insure long-term retention. This became a goal for our department last year (which I was so happy about – cartwheels in the aisles) so there was so much more collaboration around retention and how to help students with it.
  • Standards Based Grading (SBG) is also a new addition, although I have been reading and thinking about it for a few years. I’ve found some good resources online, but don’t have any face-to-face colleague to share and reflect with…yay for Twitter.  I am getting some help there.
  • Technology has been an ongoing focus since I can remember!  It is so fun to see how much technology has evolved over the years as well as how my practice in including it has changed so dramatically.  And the use of technology has grown from just a tool to a learning-enhancing opportunity for students if used thoughtfully.
  • Procedures is the last focus this year. I have been at this a long time, but every year some procedures need to change, mostly to keep my sanity and to make my classroom more studentcentric (is that even a word?!). Things that “bug” me in June are procedures crying out to be changed in August.

Already today, because of tweeting and reading blogs, my lists are expanding and evolving.  So what are your goals and dreams for 2017-2018? Can’t wait to hear about them (and maybe revise mine based on your amazing thoughts) so just #pushsend!!

Day 4: Getting to Know You


One of the hardest things for me to do is learn my students’ names.  I eventually do, but I’m just not good at it.  So a couple of years ago, I was surfing the web via Pinterest and came across foldables as a way to engage students in key ideas using visual and tactile strategies.  And during my journey I found a Name Tag Foldable over at Purple Pronto Pups blogspot.  I used the ideas and have expanded to include both an opener question (usually a math problem that is a prereq for what we’ll do that day, a check to see if a skill learned earlier is still intact, a practice of a recently learned new skill, etc.)  and an exit question (usually a more personal check about the students’ progress).

So this year, I decided to use the 4-flap idea with the openers on the outside flap and the exit slips on the inside.  In my Precalculus class the openers for this week were : draw a sketch or icon that represents your summer, what would be your theme song and why, what activities are you involved in, solve the equation  3-2|2k-1|>-31.  Exit slips included: ask any question or comment, 3-2-1 format (3 key things about today, 2 questions, and 1 connection to previous learning), tweet about today and rate your understanding of the Prerequisite and Review of Algebra 2 problems so far.  Each night I read and commented on their submission.  Next week, they will continue to post their name tag so I can (hopefully) learn their names.  What do you do to learn your students’ names quickly?

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