Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas

Happy holidays to all of my friends and fellow teachers.  I hope that you haven't been too hard on yourselves this season.  Teaching, keeping the kids together and just surviving December should be an accomplishment worthy of a medal.  For those of you with teenagers, God bless you.  Try to take time every day to count your blessings and to bless someone else.  Take time every day for yourself.  I know you are cursing at me right now, but you have to find time for yourself.  No one likes a stressed out person who is always yelling.  I hope that you have an amazing new year filled with peace, happiness and tranquility. With all of my love, Amy

No Homework! Really? A few thoughts from a Teacher-Mom and a Teacher-Kid

To give or not to give homework to elementary students, that seems to be the question lately.  Apparently recent research shows that it's better not to give elementary students homework.  Do you think this could have come about because some teacher somewhere was torturing poor kids with a ton of homework? Before you make the decision to throw away your homework resources I would like to share a couple of stories with you.  I'll apologize ahead of time for not including research data, just a little common sense.

When I was in elementary/middle school teachers didn't assign a lot of homework, if any.  Schoolwork came easy to me and I was able to sail through school with all A's.  The moment I walked into high school I knew I was in trouble.  It wasn't because I didn't didn't have a quality education or the intelligence for the classes, it was because I wasn't given homework. Neither experience, necessity or teachers made me sit down on a nightly basis and study.  If our job is to ready children for college, shouldn't we teach them study skills?  Doesn't assigning meaningful, age- appropriate homework help teach these skills?

God has blessed me with three beautiful children.  Each of my children works hard in school and comes home with very good grades.  They also LOVE technology.  The girls have a  favorite How-To You Tube channel, favorite games and shows that they like to watch on their electronics.  Let's be honest with each other, kids don't willingly calculate and manage the amount of time they spend on electronics.  If yours do, please tell me your secret and I will work on my short comings.  I don't know about you, but keeping student's attention in the classroom is becoming more and more challenging for me.  Do you think this may be due to electronics? So would it be better for kids to work on meaningful age appropriate homework rather than play on electronics at home?  Please don't tell me parents will govern the amount of time their children are on electronics because it isn't happening now.

Common sense tells us that kids should read every night.  Is there a reading teacher that would say otherwise? If we aren't holding children accountable for this some (most) of them won't read every night.  I don't believe in thick homework packs that torture children and parents.  I assign reading with a reading response and one math review sheet a week.  Phonics practice is differentiated and assigned on a per student case.  That's a total of 30 minutes of homework for 4 nights.  If the parents want their child to do more homework, they can easily carry the homework over to other nights.  Homework is given out on Friday's in my class and due the next Friday, this allows families to work around their schedule.  My students and my children are learning study skills that will help them in college.  Why would we want to take this away from them?  Please don't do away with homework, just make it meaningful and age-appropriate.

A note from my daughter on homework:

Dear Teachers,
I love doing spelling homework and reading homework.  In spelling we have a sheet with 9 activities and we get to choose three to do.  One example is we can draw a picture with our spelling words.  For reading we do 3 short easy responses to questions on a page in our homework journal.  I like these because I get to choose how to practice spelling and what to read.  I like that we have Monday through Thursday to do homework.  It helps me when I have sports at night.  For math we have a few questions on a page.  It is due the next day but it's easy.  Also we practice multiplication and study our math vocabulary.  I like to practice and get faster at them.

Pinterest Pick Three

 I love the fall! The Florida heat is almost tolerable and we can go outdoors again.  I also love fall crafts.  Please don't tell anyone, but I like to sneak them into the classroom too.  One of my favorite activities comes from pin number one.  I like to have the kids make sun catchers for the window.  It's quick, looks amazing and helps the kids motor skills

My last two pins have a ton of crafts to choose from.  There's sure to be something that you can use.

A big thank you goes out to our hosts over at The Inspired Owl and Pawsitively Teaching!

Social Studies: American Symbols

We had a lot of fun in class this past week learning about American Symbols.

Some of the activities that we did:
Museum Walk- I put symbols around the classroom for the children to look at.  For some of them it was their first time seeing some of the symbols.  The kids glanced at the picture and then the name trying to create connections with their learning.
Reading:  We read lots of books to tell us the hows and whys of symbols.  Did you know that Mt. Rushmore was created to draw in tourism? I guess I learned something too.
Task cards:  Once the students were familiar with the symbols and their facts, they worked with task cards.
Video:  We found a video on youtube that showed us a few of the symbols.

This is the list of American symbols that I used:
American Bald Eagle
American Flag
The White House
The Liberty Bell
The Statue of Liberty
The Lincoln Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial
The Washington Monument
Mt. Rushmore
WW1 Memorial
Presidential Seal
Declaration of Independence
Uncle Sam
The Rose
Airforce One

Here are some of the books that we looked at.

If you click on the photo below it will take you to the video on youtube.

This pack contains more reading material and task cards that we used.

Social Studies: Teaching Immigration

I have to admit that I was a little taken a back when I saw that immigration was in our second grade social studies standards.  We are offered little to no materials for social studies so I  didn't know where to start.  After careful research I saw that the natural place to start was teaching about different cultures.  You can find information on that unit here.  After the culture unit we learned the key points below:

1.  Definition of immigration.
2.  The history of Ellis Island.
3.  The why's and how's of immigration.
4.  The influences of immigration on American culture.

Below you will find books on the topic of immigration.

The documentary below is a little boring, but it does a good job of showing why people left their countries and what they found in Ellis Island.  Just click on the picture for the link to youtube.

I developed materials and more reading material to accompany the standards for my students.  You can see those by clicking on the link below.

Teaching Partners

Could a teaching partner be the answer to your prayers or your worse nightmare?  The simple answer is that they could be either depending on how much thought and work you put into the process.  My advice to you would be to get a teaching partner.  Education has become too complex for you to do it on your own.  A lot of people wonder if the primary grades can handle teaching partners.  My answer for them is always "Absolutely, just keep the students in mind when making choices".  I have had a few teaching partners over the years and have learned that if you follow a few guidelines your teaching partner may be the answer to your prayers.

First you have to decide which collaboration will work best for your students and teaching situation.  Here are two models for a general education classroom: 
Co-Teaching:  Two teachers work together to teach in one classroom.  All academic areas are supported by both teachers simultaneously.
Departmentalize: Two teachers work separately to teach different subjects to the same students.

There are a a lot of variations that could go into either of those models.  Both models can be very beneficial.  Co-Teaching a subject like shared reading could alleviate stress of planning, allow for better grouping of students and allow students to have two different teaching perspectives.  I have worked with another teacher where we brought both of our classes together for shared reading.  We would take turns on being the lead teacher for the lesson.  After the whole group portion of the lesson students would be separated into groups for group work.  This can be a very supportive environment that decreases stress from presenting each lesson.  This is also the best way to find out if you like working with partners.

Departmentalizing could allow each teacher their own space to teach in while focusing on less subjects.  I have departmentalized with students switching out of my classroom and with me switching out of their classrooms.  The choice of who would switch was always based on the needs of that class.  Some classes do not fair well with change while others enjoy a change.  This way of teaching is most beneficial in giving you the autonomy of the classroom that you may desire.  If neither of these models will work for your school environment I encourage you to research other models

Here are some tips for making a partnership work:
1.  Let it go.  If my students are happy and being well educated, I don't dwell on what ever may bother me.  Don't sit and stew over the fact that your partner left her stuff in your area.  Who cares? Just clean it up and go on.
2.  Nurture your relationship.  I like to leave notes for my family and my teaching partner.  Quick little pick me ups reminding them of how much I love them.  It only takes a minute for you to tell someone that they are awesome on a sticky note.
3.  Get over yourself.  It takes billions of teachers to educate our world.  Your way is not better than someone else's way.  Use your partnership as a learning tool and be receptive to new ideas.
4.  Don't waste time on hashing out tasks.  When I come in to my classroom I look at the list of things to do.  I do as many as possible as quickly as possible.  If forms need to be filled out I do it for myself and my partner.  She does the same thing for me.  This divide and conquer of tasks benefits the students and cuts down on work.  Doing the tasks immediately also insures that I don't get behind on work to complete.  (Except for grading,  I haven't conquered that beast yet!!!)
5.  Make sure to look into the future a year or two before you sign on with a partner.  If they are newly married and planning on starting a family, you may not want to sign on there.  However, maybe that is where you are in life and a partner with those dreams would be a perfect fit for you.
6.  Assess your teaching goals and styles with someone before you sign on with them.  If they are OCD and you are a "hippy" go lucky teacher, you don't fit together.  You don't have to be the same, but you don't want someone driving your crazy because you are just too different.
7.  If the partnership goes south don't make the students suffer.  If you sign on to have a partner you have one school year to get through.  You need to make it work perfectly for the students no matter what.  If you want to end the partnership during the summer, so be it.

My hope for you is that you have a teaching partner as wonderful as mine.  My teaching partner is caring and always puts others firsts.  She has a no non-sense attitude that fits perfectly with mine.  I'm very lucky to have her. 

Cultures of The World Fair

Part of our social studies standards are to learn how cultures from around the world affect our culture.  There's no better way to start this standard than to learn about cultures from around the world.  The problem for me was how to teach the students about several cultures within the time that we had available.  This is when I thought of a cultural fair.  I talked my team into teaching  each of their classes about a different country and some of the different cultures within that country.
We had the students research:  food, art, music, clothing, customs, and language.  Each class put together a science board with some of the research.  We also hung other research on the walls outside of our classrooms.  This way the students had plenty of room to read about the different cultures.
 We chose to hold the fair the day before Thanksgiving break.  The cultural fair was so engaging, the students were sure to learn all the way through the end of the day.  We weren't so sure that would happen with our every day lessons.  Each class prepared one of the more popular food or drinks from their country.  Each teacher had a quick craft from their country ready inside their room.

Every student was given a passport with the countries listed inside.  The students were to record details from every country that they visited.  So we allowed students to roam the hall.  They went into the rooms to enjoy food and a craft.  They read information on the countries outside of the rooms.  Their teachers held them accountable for details by checking their passports.  We had parent volunteers to come in to assist the students in moving throughout the hall and into the appropriate rooms.

Putting together the materials for this unit took quite a while.  If you don't have time to put them together, check out the units below in my store.  Please let me know if you have any questions at:  amylabrasciano@yahoo.com.

Discriminating Teachers

Take a moment to look at this photo and reflect on your thoughts.

Be honest, did you stereotype or have negative feelings when you looked at it?  If you did, it’s o.k. Did you notice that we are a non-traditional family? It’s time that we open up and discuss racism and discrimination with one another without judgment. It's time that we grow and heal together.

Racism and discrimination is a problem that plagues the world.  I’ll be honest; I didn’t want to write this post.  I would much prefer to go about my day and ignore it.  That would be easiest for me, right?  Well, the issue with ignoring something is that it won’t go away.  You shouldn’t act on your prejudices because everyone is the same on the inside.  You should reflect on your thoughts and feelings and deal with them before they come out as racist or discriminatory actions.  The problem with me telling you this is no one wants to be told what to do or to think that they aren’t perfect, so no one will listen to this. 

Lets take a look at why you should be concerned with this topic.   Racism affects us all whether you think so or not.  Institutions are always implementing new rules and regulations to help end discrimination.  These changes affect us all in different work institutions.  As a teacher I have seen a couple of changes in the past few years.  One change is that we can’t staff minority children in contained ESE classes as readily as we used to.  This change came about because the number of minorities being staffed in ESE classes was disproportionate to other students.  We needed to impose strict rules because people were funneling the students that they didn't want to deal with in what they referred to as the "special" classes.  The result or problem that has come about for teachers and students is that we have minority students who need to be serviced outside of a mainstreamed classroom.  Some of these students suffer being in an environment that isn’t right for them.  Without staffing equality in place, we have no choice but to question the motives of people wanting to take minority students out of the mainstream classroom.  If this situation seems very confusing and not readily solved, it's because it is.  Another change that is very recent is writing office referrals for African American males.  In my state, the number of referrals that is being written for these males is disproportionate to their classmates.  Something needed to be done to protect these males from being unfairly judged.  So teachers have been told, don’t write write referrals for these males.  The problem for some of our African American males is that sometimes, just like their classmates, they need discipline and guidance to help them to be the best that they can be. If we don’t take a look inside of ourselves and at those around us, policies are going to get messy and make life much more complicated because we have no other choice but to impose rules to protect people being unfairly judged.  If we don’t change, institutions are forced to put practices into place to help right our wrongs.  It would benefit everyone to make sure that we reflect on our actions to make change.

How can we help end discrimination? We need to talk to one another and look at ourselves without judgement.  If we find that we have been hurtful with our words, discriminatory or have prejudices, it’s o.k. we just need to change our actions.  I’ll share a very personal example with you.  I have some very sweet friends that would do just about anything to help us out.  They would care for my children and speak kind and thoughtful words to them.  These same friends posted some very hurtful literature on Facebook about gay people.  What they don’t know is that my mother is a lesbian.  These words that they post are very hurtful to me, but I’m used to seeing these words so I ignore them and go about my day.  I know that these friends are good people and wouldn’t speak these unkind words to my children because it would hurt my children to have someone speak of their grandmas this way.  They would never look at my family; my mother included, and spew the hateful message that they posted. They will probably be shocked to see that lesbians can raise women to be very productive members of society.  Their thought process is that they will all raise sinful gay children who are a plight on society.  Well here I am world, I have a master’s degree, I’ve been with my husband for 20 years, I have 3 beautiful children, I pay my taxes and I’ve never been to jail.  They have been taught these prejudices throughout their lives just like we have all been taught something wrong throughout our lives.  Come together and open up the dialog.  Share your dialog with Tanesha, Amna and myself in our comments section.  Reflect on all of our stories.  Let’s make a change.

Link to our blog series with the buttons below.

Back To School Bash

I know some of you are already 'back to school' and some of us are starting soon!
The girls and guy of 'The Pack' have come together to bring you a hop filled with fabulous tips, awesome freebies and incredible giveaways!

How It Works!
Our hop is a 3…2…1… BACK TO SCHOOL BASH because each member of The Primary Pack will be giving you 3 teacher tips, 2 giveaways (one on each of our blogs and one BIG one on the Primary Pack), and 1 freebie!

To enter our BIG giveaway, you need to head over to THE PRIMARY PACK first! As you "hop" through each of our blogs, you will collect a letter from each of us… 28 total. Those letters spell out a secret code that you need to enter our BIG giveaway! You will use the secret code to enter the rafflecopter on The Primary Pack at the end of the hop.
 You need to collect the letters from us IN ORDER, so please make sure that you start from the beginning of our hop. Click on the button below to head over to THE PRIMARY PACK and start our

If you have already visited the first 6 stops along the hop, you are ready for stop 7 from me!

 On the first day of school the most important thing is that your students get home safely.  This can be a very hectic time.  Make sure that you know how every student goes home and that you assume nothing.  Put a "How I Go Home" sheet out at Meet The Teacher.  Make sure to talk to every parent about it that night.  Often times the students will go home one way the first day and a different way the rest of the year.  Ask the parents about this.  You should not be asking your students if they are young.  Keep your list in your hand on the first day.  As parents drop off kids, make sure to double and triple check.  Once everyone is in the classroom, double check your list again.  Give parents a call if you haven't seen them.  Did I mention that you shouldn't assume that they go home any one way and that you shouldn't rely on the student?

Don't compare yourself to other teachers.  We aren't all in the same place.  We don't know what else is going on with them.  Just make sure that your lessons are top notch and your student's needs are being met.  Everything else will come.
I'm a mom of three. Taking time for myself is much easier said then done.  I made sure to not over schedule myself the first week of school.  Lots of tasks went to the way side so that I could rest a bit. You will be a much better teacher and if applicable parent if you take time for yourself the first week back.  After that, everything is fair game!

I made a rag wreath for my door to welcome students.  Grab this freebie for welcome buttons that you can use to decorate your classroom projects.  You could even put them on your student's desks.

If you don't have one...you will certainly WANT ONE!
And if you do have one, you could be somebody's forever best friend and gift it to them for back to school!
You could choose your own prize from my store!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here is the letter that you need from my blog to complete the secret code: