Tuesday, July 30, 2013


If you are anything like me, you spend the whole summer thinking about exactly how you want your classroom to look in the upcoming school year...Theme? Color Scheme? The list goes on!
(Especially for me.  This is where my OCD kicks in)

So, I have picked my theme for the upcoming year:

It is a concept called "Studentville."  

With this theme, behavior management, classroom work areas and expectations are all incorporated.  Since it is "student-centered" every student's primary job is to be a student, then they can apply for an additional classroom job (Postal Worker, CAFE Owner, Studentville Store Manager, etc) and receive pay according to how efficiently they complete both their primary and secondary jobs.  Although it may sound complicated, it is really NOT.  If you wish to learn more about this classroom theme, click here.

My color scheme is based on brain research.

I chose gray, navy blue and white with minimal accents of green throughout (the green I am using is more of a lime green..not like the tennis ball color below)

But of course no classroom ever feels complete until EVERY area is coordinated with matching posters and area displays.

(Remember the OCD I was telling you about?!  Yeah, I know!)  Here are a few versions of the Daily 5 signs I will have posted in my room this year.  They are a nice tie in with my gray chevron fabric without being too matchy matchy!

Set 1: Blue Chevron
Set 2: Green Chevron

Set 3: Pink Chevron

Set 4: Yellow Chevron

Set 5: Orange Chevron

If you are anything like me...and I know I am NOT alone...follow by entering your email in the right column of my blog and I will email you the link to these FREE Daily 5 Chevron posters in pink, blue, green, yellow and orange.  Each color includes all Daily 5 rotations (Read to Self, Read to Someone, Work on Writing, Word Work, Listen to Reading) and you will get ALL 5 sets for FREE.  Enjoy!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Daily 5 and CAFE + Digital Check In

As a wife, mother and educator, I have no choice but to find ways to work "Smarter Not Harder."  So naturally when brainstorming ways to increase "time on task" behaviors within my classroom, it was a no brainer to start with my Reading Block/Literacy Time.

A couple of years ago, I started integrating The Daily 5 and CAFE Strategies by "The Two Sisters" into my classroom and boy am I glad I did.  Not only is it exciting (and effective) for me...my kids absolutely LOVE it!  

For those of you who are not familiar with Daily 5 and Cafe, they are simply a framework for Literacy that helps to create a "Common Core-Like"student(yes...I just created a term!).

The reason I say this is because Daily 5 is the phrase they use to describe the 5 rotations students should participate in daily in order to become better readers and writers...basically a Literacy Block vs. Reading Block.  As we all know the Common Core was created to improve college and career readiness, so cross curricular approaches to education are the only way to fit in all the expectations and reach mastery. 

  The 5 Dailies include:
  1.  Read to Self (Students build reading stamina...saw a major difference during state testing because of this 1 Daily alone!)
  2.  Read to Someone (Fluency practice)
  3.  Word Work (Word Study and other Word Strategies)
  4.  Work on Writing (Practice a variety of writing techniques and styles)
  5.  Listening to Reading (Listening Center and Read Alouds)
Now, CAFE on the other hand,  is NOT Daily 5 because it is NOT a system of rotations. However, CAFE is, what I like to think of as the curriculum itself.

CAFE is an acronym that stands for 

C- Comprehension
A- Accuracy
F- Fluency
E- Expand Vocabulary

Each letter or part of CAFE comes with a complete list of strategies to strengthen a particular area of student need.  These strategies are individually taught during teacher-student daily conferences where students receive completely individualized instruction. RTI anyone?  Differentiated instruction? Hmmmmmmm pretty amazing!

In their AWESOME books, "The Two Sisters" explain (in plain understandable teacher talk) their incredible program with step by step tutorials, comprehensive Data CD, and offer complete access to printable documents related to Daily 5 and CAFE implementation and continuation.  It truly is a game changer.

But I digress...what I really wanted to discuss today (besides how The Two Sisters have changed my life) is one way I upgraded my Daily 5 rotations, was by making my "Check In" digital.

My digital check in using Activinspire on the Promethean

Don't get me wrong...clearly I LOVE Daily 5 and CAFE, but it was such a mind shift for me that at times I just couldn't wrap my mind around the amount of time it takes to individually "Check In" every student BETWEEN rotations...not exactly the "Smarter Not Harder" approach!

Once again, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the program, the way they teach whole group is in the form of mini lessons embedded strategically between rotations.  So each time students came to the rug, I did my mini lesson and they would then prepare for their next rotation.  I would grab my trusty rusty clipboard and spreadsheet and proceed to call each of my 26 students by name and they would enthusiastically reply with the Daily 5 rotation they wished to attend.  I would check off the respected column and move on to the next.  After my first week of "Checking In," I knew I had to do something different.    There was no way my mini lesson and check in should be the same length. Soooooo I did what any sanity seeking educator would do...I made it digital :)

I quickly created a flipchart using Activinspire for the Promethean Board that served as my template from that day forward.  Here I am 3 years later and the only thing on the flipchart that has changed are the faces of my students.  The way it works is that before each rotation my kids would line up and drag their picture  to the rotation they wished to attend during that round and report immediately to their work area.  OF COURSE this takes modeling and practice but by the end of the first week, my check in for 26 students took a mere 2 minutes.  Talk about effective!  Now I truly feel like I can maximize my "time on task" with such a simple tool.

Digital Check In Video

If you are interested in creating a digital check in for your Daily 5 rotations, visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store and purchase the Digital Download Guide.

If you just want to get your feet wet and dive into DAILY 5 and CAFE then click here.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Top Ten Amazon Finds for Summer Simplicity

As summer begins to wind down and the initial excitement has turned to more of a "how are we going to engage and entertain our oh so curious 2 year old until nap time," conundrum...My husband and I found ourselves, once again on Amazon searching for new products to push his growth, promote family time and not break the bank all while simultaneously attempting to simplify life!

So we read, compared, purchased and tested a few recommended products and this is what we found!

Visit our Smarter Not Harder SNH Associate Store to view the "Top 10" products we used to create our first family camping trip all in the comfort of our own backyard.  From outdoor movie screens to campfire pie makers, I wouldn't be surprised if "camping" becomes a regular affair at our house. Let's face it, who really wants to risk a potty-training toddler in the great outdoors when  the backyard is great in its own right. Besides...it is our backyard of "firsts," first steps, first birthday and now first camping experience! Can't wait to see what other memories the final weeks of summer have in store for us!  

 Stay tuned and enjoy!  Hope your backyard camping trip is as successful as ours.  

PS.  The bedtime story (Just Me and My Dad) between daddy and son next to lil' man's first toddler lantern (pictured below) is a memory I will cherish forever.  Until next time, be sure to find ways to live and work "Smarter Not Harder" so you can enjoy the things that matter most!
CLICK HERE to view the remaining camping products we HAD to have!