April 19, 2017

How to teach Montessori in a Public School

More schools are choosing Montessori programs over traditional teaching programs. Montessori programs have expanded to include public school. More than ever, parents are looking for alternative ways for their children to learn. The influx of charter schools offering innovative programs leads them to choose Montessori.

The shift to Montessori has put public schools in an odd place. Many teacher preparation programs don’t offer Montessori training as part of their program. Instead, teachers need to enroll in private Montessori training accredited through one of the two main Montessori entities: American Montessori Society (AMS) and Association Montessori International (AMI). This poses a huge problem for public schools. Ideally, a teacher would hold a Montessori credential and state certification. However, a Montessori credential is not required. At least in my state, to teach a teacher must have a teaching credential from an accredited University.

Public Montessori schools by law are held accountable to teach state standards. This is another obstacle for public Montessori schools. Montessori is a pedagogy established before standards. A Montessori curriculum surpasses state standards and at times the lessons taught do not correlate with grade level standards. Montessori programs allow the child to lead the curriculum. State standards are a guide to help teachers move the curriculum along. Due to this, there is a conflict between implementing a Montessori curriculum while teaching grade level standards. This conflict magnifies in grade levels that test; even more when teachers have a multi-age classroom. Teachers often feel the need to choose between the test and teaching. These two things alone make teachers frustrated.

The answer to teaching Montessori in public schools is multi-layered. For this reason, I decided to do a series of posts to show you how to teach Montessori in a public school. Here are key strategies, I use regardless of the grade levels I’m teaching.

Interdisciplinary Units

There are many names for interdisciplinary units. This concept is very much like thematic units. A misconception teachers think is that everything must match. Interdisciplinary units are an essential part of any Montessori program. One of Montessori’s key ideas is for children to see the world interrelated by making connections between what they learn. More of this in the next upcoming posts.

Montessori Work Plan

A Montessori program encourages independent learning. Montessori is big on teaching children to self-regulate. One way I promote independence is by establishing academic goals throughout the day. This is easily done by using a work plan. A work plan is a commitment done between the child and the teacher on a daily or weekly basis. The child with the help of the teacher pick lessons that reinforce what they are learning. Work plans are introduced as early as first grade.

Three Hour Cycle

The three-hour cycle is the block of time given to students to work on lessons. Ideally, this would be uninterrupted and it includes the child working in various settings. Within the three-hour block, children can work in a small group or independently. This is where small groups and one to one instruction happens. Many public schools have state mandates that regulate how much time is given to each subject. We will touch more on this throughout the series.


Observation is the heart of Montessori. Maria Montessori success with children came from the observations and reflections made from working with them. As a teacher, observation is key to know what’s working and what’s not. The materials found in classrooms today are Montessori’s results of careful observations and reflections. Observations play a significant role in decisions teachers makes in their classroom. Observations and reflections are part of successful Montessori classrooms. I will be sharing tips on following posts to make observations part of your teaching practice.
I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below on key practices used in your classroom.
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April 16, 2017

Retelling Strategy Twist

It is this time of the year when I like to add an element of surprise to our reading groups. I noticed that when it comes to our fiction text there’s seems to be a struggle when it’s time to retell and interpret literary devices we are encountering. From our group discussions, my kids do way better with nonfiction than fiction. The funny part is they find fiction to be easier than nonfiction. I’m still trying to process why they perceive that.

Reading skills unlike math are what I like to call recycle skills. Many of our kids will encounter again, most of the same reading skills and strategies they were once introduced to. Two of the main changes are the text’s complexity and the level in which they analyze. I decided to go back to retelling to see where the problem lies. I didn’t want to go the traditional route of just reading a story and picking on some kids to retell. 

I came across an author a couple of weeks back named Linda Hoyt through her book titled Revisit, Reflect, Retell. The title alone quickly caught my attention. One strategy that stood out was named team retelling. In team retelling, a group of children retells the story. What makes this strategy fun is the twist she puts on it.

The retelling focuses on the team sharing the responsibility of retelling various parts of the story. After reading, the different elements of the story are written down on individual cards. Here comes the twist: the cards are put faced down in front of the group and shuffled. Next, each student picks a card at random. The card chosen is the part they need to retell.

This strategy was a game changer in our group discussions. First, the kids were caught off guard. I saw a level of excitement when the cards were faced down and no one knew what they were going to get. Also, I loved how everyone got to participate. My introverts had a chance to make meaningful contributions while my extroverts were working on patiently waiting their turn.

She also suggested other variations on how to use the retelling cards. For example, students in pairs use the retelling cards to guide their retelling. One child is the listener the other is the teller. The listener holds the retelling cards and removes the card the speaker described in their retelling. After retelling, the listener can show the teller which elements they mentioned and which ones they didn’t. These retelling cards help story elements be more apparent to both the listener and teller. There’s a second set of cards that older kids can use, which steps it up a notch. These cards touch on literary devices like flashback and imagery. I highly recommend this strategy to help your readers stay on track while giving them a focus for listening.

What other strategies are you using to support students in retelling stories? I couldn’t let you leave without this freebie!

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April 10, 2017

Why We Love Integrated Units (And You Should, Too!)

As teachers, we need to help kids make the connection reading and writing go together. The analogy is simple; as peanut butter is to jelly, reading is to writing. Kids cannot afford to read without writing. Research states writing is the ultimate skill of reading. When our children write, they are showing us what they have understood, and their aptitude as readers and writers. If this is true, why do many teachers teach one subject over the other? Kids need to see the connection among subjects. The effect of teaching subjects in isolation has caused many kids to experience difficulty in reading and writing. As kids go up in grades, this gap becomes wider and more visible. So, what can we do to remediate this phenomenon? The answer is simple! One way is by integrating reading and writing into content areas such as science and social studies. Integrated units make this such a breeze!

Here is a lesson focusing on types of circuits while integrating reading and writing skills. The science goal was for my kids to understand the different types of circuits by identifying its characteristics. After doing some research on different types of circuits, I decided to compare make models to understand this abstract concept. This easily translated into the kids writing a response that would allow them to showcase what they have learned about circuits.

According to what I tell my kids, science is full of abstract concepts, they are invisible things happening all around us. To bring these invisible concepts to life, we created circuits models out of paper.We read and defined each type circuit. It’s a good practice for kids to relate new information to concepts they already understand for new knowledge to be acquired. We started the lesson by reading statements about electricity. The kids colored one of the boxes to tell if they agree or disagree. This naturally led us to discuss key science concepts.

I moved on to show the kids how light bulb turns on and off using the close and open circuit models. By making these models they understood how breaks in a circuit makes the light bulb turn off. The color coding on the models made it easy to follow the charged electrons making the light bulb turn on. Throughout the unit, we made different circuits models to explore the characteristics of each type of circuit. These models provided a visual that helped further their understanding of circuits.

As we continued learning about circuits, I wanted them to make connections with circuits and
electricity. On our previous lesson, we learned about static electricity and its characteristics. I started by introducing our reading skills. It was a great way to recap some of the highlights of static electricity. The kids also made their own interactive Venn Diagrams in their notebook. We decided to chunk the information into pieces by making comparisons after every two circuits. This was also a perfect time to introduce literature into the lesson. I couldn’t pass the opportunity to highlight Ben Franklin achievements to the science of electricity. As we read and compare Ben Franklin’s Big Ideas and discoveries to our study of electricity, this book easily extends our learning to other areas of science.

While learning about different circuits models, we stopped and look back at our predictions; It was great to see the kids ask if they can change their answers. The reflections and readings sparked discussions which paved the way to our written responses. Before starting, we learned about the types of comparisons scientist make. We discussed the difference between surface level and deep level comparisons. This quick explanation came in handy when it was time to support our answers with details. Our writing instruction began with mini-lessons on writing responses that compared two different subjects. I first modeled how to use the paragraph frames on our notes to write a model response. Throughout the lesson, I had four different checkpoints where we would work on answering each of the four statements. As the days passed, the kids gain familiarity and confidence with their writing skills. It was very handy to use the writer’s checklist at the bottom of the page to remind them of what to keep an eye out of, during the writing process.

Our unit would not be complete without making some circuits of our own. Learning about circuits inspired us to make our circuit toolbox. Based on what we learned, we used paper circuit to make different types of circuits. Each circuit toolbox had guided models and the tools necessary to make our own. The tools in the circuit toolbox were found at our local hardware stores although they can be easily purchased online. We first started with guided models and worked our way through to create our own. These paper circuits were easy and fun to make.

The kids had a blast making them. I loved how easy it was to walk them through the scientific method without them noticing. All the kids became experts in making these models quickly. You know, the lesson was a success when all the kids identified and labeled all the parts of the circuits. This activity was one way of bringing simple concepts of electricity to life.

 Don’t forget to check back on how we are continuing to integrate different subjects to make the connection between reading and writing. Grab the label to make your own circuit toolbox. Make sure to download the freebie because it's editable! If you want this whole lesson, stop by our teacherspayteachers store.

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August 21, 2016

Meet the Teacher Night Must Have

There is no other sign that summer has come to an end when its time to meet all of your parents and future students. The end of this week was meet the teacher night. It was exciting and nerve wrecking! I don't know about you all, but I was still running around to the last minute. Thank god, I have an extra pair of hands to help me. This year I will be having an intern in the class and so far she is amazing! There is no doubt in my mind that she has a successful path in front of her.

For meet the teacher night, I have found it very helpful to guide parents through the mountain of paperwork they need to fill out at the beginning of every school year. For the past couple of years, I have been doing stations that explain every step of the way. Before, I used to give them all the information they need it in one big folder. I quickly realized that many of them threw out the paper without even reading it. By doing stations, they have to collect the papers and then put them in a folder. This is an efficient way of doing it because it's organized and they know exactly what they will be getting. 

So, let me take you to a walk through of each station!

Station 1: Parent Sign In

I started the first station with a simple sign-in sheet for parents. This lets me know who showed up and who do I need to catch on the first day to give them the paperwork they missed. In addition, the sheets are in clipboards just in case I have to remove them from the table. The clipboard is also useful for parents as a support when they pick up the sheets. A couple of years back, I noticed holes on my sign in sheets and couldn't pinpoint where they were coming from until I saw a parent pick up the sheets and using his hand as a support to write. I was in shock because he could have used any of the tables to sit in. But for some odd reason, they don't sit. So clipboards were the perfect solution!

Station 2: Lend a Helping Hand 

This is one of my favorite stations! I love how it came out, the lights on the board and the black frame really made this part of the room eye catching. In this station, parents have the option to donate classroom supplies. I write the donating supply in a square and number them. If they choose one of the squares they simply match the square number to the sign in sheet and write their child's name. Then they take the square home as a reminder to bring in the supply. Next time, I'm going to add a deadline. I this manner, I can keep track of classroom donations. 

Station 3: Need to Know Now Information

This station is essential. It saves the 1st day or week of school from becoming chaotic! Here parents have to let me know two things: lunch and transportation. First, they need to circle if their child will be getting school lunch or bringing lunch from home. Next, they circle how will their child be getting home. This is important to know because you want the first day of school to go as smooth as possible. Lunch and transportation are two things that if I do not know ahead of time things might get ugly. 

Station 4: Teacher Contact Information

Throughout the year parents want to communicate with the teacher nut sometimes forget how to contact the teacher. This "business" card shows them where and how. I provide my email address and classroom website. I tape to the back a little magnet so they can put it on their refrigerator. I have many parents that tell me throughout the year how much this helps them. And for all of my high tech parents I include a QR code that automatically leads them to our classroom website. 

Station 5 : Important Information

Here parents find school information that is needed throughout the year. I place them in a folder and staple a day of the week that the each form is due by. I try to give these papers is small batches so I can keep track of them as the kids start to bring them in. The folder helps to keep all papers neat and organized. 

Station 6: Thank You For Your Involve-MINT! 

This the last stop for parents! I got this great idea from Learning in Wonderland. Basically, it's a little thank you gift for coming.   

At the end, it was all worth it. I loved how everything came together especially the stations that made those couple of hours run smoothly. If you are planning getting ready for meet and greet , come and grab this pack. Believe me when I say it will make Meet the Teacher Night  a piece of cake. The best thing about this is that you can customize the signs to fit your needs!

Do you have a day where your parents and students come to meet you? I would love to hear all about what you do! Here's a little reminder for your next Meet the Teacher Night!

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August 18, 2016

4 Tips for a Nautical Classroom Theme

Heading back to school is always an exciting time for me. One of the many things I look forward to in arranging my classroom and setting up. Even though the process never goes the way I picture it! This year I was fortunate to help my one of my friend set up her classroom and absolutely fell in love with her nautical theme.

For this nautical theme, I used Created Teaching Resource classroom resources to help pull off the theme. The are three main colors I used in her classroom : red, royal blue and cardboard brown. One of the first things I do when setting up a classroom theme is to pick and chose the color and patterns I will be working with. A couple of months, I stumbled upon some great advice about color and pattern mixing that has really helped my classroom themes have that cohesive feeling. Here are some tips:
It's important to understand a little about the different patterns available.

Types of Patterns: Movement, Geometric, Small Scale

1.Movement patterns are borders that have your theme picture.

2. Geometric patterns just like the name evoke have geometric designs.

3. Small scale patterns are any pattern that has elements that are small.

Now with that in mind, this is what I do next: 

1. Pick two to three main colors to work with.

2. Keep in mind your main three colors when choosing trim and borders. Use the different type of pattern mention above to guide you when picking patterns for your borders. I usually pick two of the patterns to incorporate into the overall theme and use them frequently in the classroom.

3. Pick two of the main colors in solid colors for your trim or borders patterns to stand out.

4. Bulletin board paper color should be your main colors.

Here are the results of the patterns and colors that I chose for this nautical theme.

This is the view once you come in the room.

This is the central focus of the room. As soon as you come in your eyes are automatically drawn to this wall. 

Here you can see the three main colors and patterns.

Another view of the room. Since her theme was nautical, we decided to do some paper lamps with the main colors.

This is the front of the room and the main teaching area. 

Here you can also see the main colors and pattern for her theme. 

What are some other great tips you have in mind when decorating your classroom?

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July 17, 2016

You, Me and TPT Orlando: The Truth

I finally made it to the TPT conference this year!And let me tell you it felt like Christmas morning all over again. After all, you are just in the same room as that blogger that you have been following since forever.  But all in all, I was just a bundle of nerves.  Seeing pictures of the conference the year before, I had some ideas of what was going to happen but the truth is I wasn't sure what to expect. Plus, it takes a while for me to break out of my shell when I meet people especially when I'm in a room with what seemed to be a never ending sea of bloggers. In any case what I got from my first experience just blew me away.

The Store Name

This first part is just a doozie! Did you know that there are more TPT stores that starts with the letter T than any other letter in the alphabet. It's true! When I went to check in, the S to Z line was out of control. It seemed like one those forever line at the supermarket. Then, I find out is because the majority of TPT stores start with the word the. So, if you are ever considering joining TPT as a seller get creative and use any other word except the. Try something that starts with a letter from A-H because that side of the room was pretty lonely. 


Moving on now to the part where reality hit me. TPTers are real people! I know it sounds weird, what else would they be? If you are just like me you follow these people in some type of social media  and interact with them either by liking or commenting on their stuff. And somehow you have made the connection that you know them and you have become the best of buddies. Let me tell you that following them on social media and having them right in front of you are two completely different things. You won't believe how silly this sounds until you go up to one of them. Nevertheless, though they are really remarkable people doing extraordinary things.  

Celebrity TPTers 

This of course leads me to tell you about those celebrity TPTers. In my world these are the people that I go to for inspiration and are rolling high in the teaching world. Here's a best kept secret they are not only willing to take a picture with you, as you can see from all my pictures but, are genuine, authentic people willing to help you. Their sense of camaraderie among each other is beyond real. I must tell you that the biggest thing I took away from this conference besides all the great tips is the power of working together.
And of course, this post wouldn't be complete if  didn't tell you about Tamara Russell over at http://tamaravrussell.com. Tamara is a long time TPTer with the kindest and natural flair to make you laugh while keeping it real. She is a Florida girl that made my experience from turning into a wreck. I recognized her from a mile away the moment I step into the Florida's Blogger Meet Up. I took her away from a crowd of other TPTers just to take a picture and in a blink of an eye we started talking. Suddenly, I realized I was in a captivating yet intriguing conversation that made me at ease. The following night, I ended up not only making a friend but capturing what made me start on this teacher author path.

Free Swag!

Another thing, I  must tell you about is all the marvelous freebies you get! From swag bags, giveaways and food is hard not to say this was one of the many stupendous things of coming to the TPT conference. I felt like it was just raining money especially at the meet ups. And the best part is that, I even won at the Blog Hopping meet up.
 I'm always fussing how I'm just not one of those lucky people like my friend Sasha over at sashacreationandthings.blospot.com,  who luck seems to find her. I have to go through all of these motions and positive thinking exercises just to recuperate from the fall of losing. But, I finally won! I got these superb bands for kids that love to wiggle when they are sitting down from www.BouncyBands.com. Aren't they amazing? 

TPT Team

There's no doubt that the magic of a TPT conference must come together by team TPT.  Amazing as team TPT might seem from your computer screen they are the real deal. I just found the whole TPT team to be phenomenal!  They are easy to approach and are always there to be a helping hand. It is delightful to know that there's a whole team cheering you on to succeed. I found it shocking how much they want to be part of this teaching world we are part of. They were involved as much as I was in every session. I absolutely admire their efforts in trying to get me in front of a camera! 

Teaching Collides with Business

My TPT conference post wouldn't be complete without telling you what I took away from these two days. A TPT conference is definitely not a teaching conference instead is an event where teaching collides with business. Just like Erin from I'm Loving Lit puts it best , winners are't born, they are self made! And that's the real meaning behind TPT conferences.  The purpose lies in making you the best teacher author there could possibly be by offering you the latest tips on social media, technology and overall product presentation. A big majority of teacher authors are not business people, we are just teachers. Teachers who love to share with the world the discoveries that we are making in our classrooms while dipping our feet in the world of TPT. And just like our students, who are learning how to apply those awesome reading strategies that will make them better readers, we  as teachers are learning how to better serve the needs of our audience. 

And so, there you have it: the real truth behind TPT conferences from a first timer. 
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