7 Tips That Will Help You Effectively Implement iReady

Don't you just hate it when you finally get the hang of a reading or math program and your district (or admin) decide it's time to start using something new. I mean you'd think they'd know better than to mess with a teacher's software... (You know what I'm talking about, right?)

When that happened at my school, we were told to "trust the process". The problem is, that while the process is going on, we're in the trenches having to figure out how to make it work.

It took me a while to get the hang of iReady, but I can finally say that I have a system in place that I'm happy with. So, if you're feeling frustrated with iReady just know that YOU-ARE-NORMAL! There's nothing wrong with you, lol! Hopefully, by the end of this post you'll have a few new ideas to try out.

In order for any program to be effective, your parents have to buy-in to what you're doing. They need to understand that iReady is tailor made for their child... It's like free tutoring! If you show them where their child is at, compared to where they're supposed to be, I've found that many of them have ah-ha moments... and some even OH NOOOOO moments! THAT'S WHAT YOU WANT...

So, here's what you gotta do... once your students take the Diagnostic/ placement test, print individual Student Profiles. This report is easy enough for parents to understand and will allow them to see their child's strengths and weaknesses.

Follow these steps. They're pretty simple...

After you've printed the report and reviewed it, schedule individual parent meetings. Begin by focusing on the "overall performance" section. Explain the green "On Level" area. This is where their child should be. Either they are on level, above level, or below level. Next, explain their strengths (where they've Tested Out) and weaknesses (their lowest performing domain). This report makes it all pretty clear!

Next, set up student folders. You'll need a folder for each student,  self adhesive fasteners, printed iReady labels, and a copy of the iReady student recording sheet you see on the right.

The last thing you'll need is to print out your students' individual assignments. I'll be honest, this does take a little time, but once you get the hang of it it's not so bad.

Here are the steps to walk you through it...

You'll want to take a screenshot of this page so that you can include it in your child's folder. What's so great about this report is that it shows you the sequence of the lessons, its level, and the estimated time students should take to complete. Parents and students love that they can tell how long their lessons are going to be.

When you meet with your students to plan assignments for the week, seeing the estimated time will help you determine how many lessons to assign. Also, when you see those long close reading passages warn them and let them know to break it up over a period of a few days. Without this form your parents and students are left guessing how long each assignment is going to take.

According to iReady, students on level should receive 45 min. of instruction weekly, those 1 year below 60 min., and anyone more than a year behind 90 min. per week.

Now you're ready to assemble your folders. Here's what they should look like on the inside.

On the Diagnostic Scores form, record the date of testing, the students score on the reading and math assessment, and make a line to mark where they fall on the bar graph. (You can see the dark green line in the picture above) Do NOT shade it in. When you meet with students, have them shade in their own graphs. This helps them take ownership over their work and progress!

Mid year, when they take the diagnostic test for the second time, print out the new assignments on colored paper so you can tell the difference. Then record the date of test, score, and have students once again shade in the graph. This is the moment of truth! I love seeing my babies faces when they see that all their hard work is paying off. Their faces light up like Christmas trees :0)

Now that your parents are on board and your folders are ready to go, it's time to start working on your kiddos and getting them to buy-in to the process. Next to your parents, student involvement is key!!!

Begin by discussing the results of the diagnostic, making sure to point out the on level area and their performance. It's important to be encouraging and positive! It's your time to put on your cheerleading hat and root for your children.

If they are working way below grade level, it's time to get R.E.A.L. Don't sugar coat it! Let them know that they are behind and in order to catch up they are going to have to work hard. But it's okay because you believe in them and you're going to work together to make it happen. Help them understand that in order to improve, they have to stay focused and pass their lessons. Finally, come up with a realistic goal for the next diagnostic test.

Teach students how to check and track their own progress. Many students and parents really don't have a clue how to do this and it's a shame. It's so easy to do, but unless you show them your kiddos are not going to look. Trust me... I speak from experience #sadtruth. This is part of the reason I have them record their progress in their folders.

Make sure to explain that a green bar is good. If the bar is red it means that the student did not pass the lesson and will have to take it again.

When my students first began iReady, I found that many of them were racing through lessons and performing poorly. Not because the material was too hard, but because they weren't paying attention.

So in an effort to keep them focused and accountable, I encouraged them to take notes during the tutorial. This was very helpful especially, for the vocabulary lessons. I even told the kids that they could use their notes for the quizzes at the end of each lesson. (Since they're usually not allowed to use notes for quizzes, they thought this was the best thing ever!) #teacherwin #freemotivation

If you want your students to complete their iReady lessons, then you have to check it on a weekly basis and give them some sort of feedback. Otherwise, they're going to think that you don't even care and they'll stop trying altogether... Can you blame them?

To avoid this problem, I have weekly check-ins with my kiddos. It's quick and pretty painless...

On Mondays when they arrive to class and are busy copying homework I call on 5 students to log on to their iReady home screen. One by one, I go down the line checking their progress from the previous week. I congratulate those that have completed all their assignments and achieved passing scores (green bars). We exchange high fives... or I tell them way to go... keep it up... or I knew you could do it!

For students that fail any of their lessons, I use this opportunity to ask them what happened?  Was it lack of focus, effort, or both? I then remind them of their goal and ask them what they're going to do differently this week? The time that you spend talking with your students is crucial! It lets them know that you care, that you're going to be keeping an eye on them, and gives them a reminder that in order for them to improve they're going to have to put in the time.

After our little chat, I highlight student assignments for the coming week. For students that are on grade level, I highlight lessons equaling about 45 minutes. The exception is when they have a Close Reading passage that tends to be about 70-80 minutes long. When this happens, I only highlight the Close Reading for the week and warn them that it's going to be a doozy so NOT to complete it in one sitting. (My kiddos really hate these passages to be honest!)

Ever since I've started these weekly check-ins with my students, I feel that they have been working harder to please me and get those green bars on their progress. Kids like to be rewarded and praised... they like to know you care! I've even noticed an improvement in my strugglers. I also think that because I give them a heads up about longer lessons, they're better prepared.

I LOVE to see my students succeed! So if it's going to take bribery incentives to get them motivated and working hard, then I'm going to do it... 

This year I've decided to use a bulletin board titled "Reading Takes Us Places" to keep track of their assignments. It's not too complicated, easy to track, and doesn't involve a great financial investment on my part. It also goes with our traveling theme.

Every student is represented with a car hot glued on a push pin. Basically, as students complete their weekly iReady lessons they travel around various stops across the US. (This ties into our Social Studies lessons on the 5 Regions) They receive an incentive on every other stop. Some incentives are as easy as a sticker, a special pencil, a no homework pass, a cookie, a snack, computer time, lunch with me, etc... They never know what it's going to be so that in itself motivates them... Sometimes they even help me decide what the treats for the week should be. 

Hopefully, you're leaving here today with a few tips to help you tackle iReady! 

Do you use any of these tips or strategies? What do you do to make sure your students are using iReady effectively?  Let me know in the comments.

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The Election Process: Helping Kids Understand

With the 2016 Presidential election right around the corner, it's important to dedicate a few weeks to teaching our children about the election process.

But how does one go about teaching KIDS about a process that is even difficult for ADULTS to understand? Especially when a lot of the information that is out on the Internet is not kid friendly or goes into way too much detail.

For days I searched for resources that broke down the election process in a way that I knew my third graders could understand. After turning up empty handed, I decided to create my own election unit with mini Election Booklet, interactive notebook activities, book recommendations, mock election resources, writing prompts, etc...

My family and I  even visited the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas which had an entire room dedicated to the history of our election process. My favorite part, was an interactive exhibit where you selected a card giving you the role of a person in history such as "an African American woman from Alabama". Then you had to walk right past all these ballot boxes until you reached the year where you were allowed to vote. In my case, I wasn't able to vote in a few elections because I was not white or a male. Great way to feel the unfairness of the times!

In less than a week, my class and I will embark on our journey through the voting process. We will begin by reading Duck for President.  This book doesn't go into too much detail, so it's a perfect book to start with and help you figure out exactly how much background knowledge your students already have going into the unit.

Here's a great read a loud of the book just in case you don't have the book handy.

Next, we'll learn about our rights as US citizens to vote by reading The Right to Vote in our election booklets. Students should understand the 3 requirements to vote and what the voting process looks like. Especially since in just a few short weeks many of them will probably be going with their parents to polling stations.

For a fun activity, have your students fill out a Voter's Registration Application. Then watch their faces light up as you hand them their very own Voter's Registration Card. Remind them to store their card in a safe place so that they have it handy come election day.

This is also a great time to introduce the idea of polling stations and ballots. A great way for students to visualize the process is with this Going to the Polls cut and paste activity for their interactive notebooks.

Another story that is great to use once students have learned a little bit more about the election process is Grace for President . This story does a wonderful job of introducing students to campaigning, campaign slogans, speeches, campaign promises, and even the complicated electoral college.

What I like about Grace for President is that it's a good transition into the more complicated side of the election process.

Many students think that running for President is an easy task, when in truth it is a complicated and lengthy process that takes many months and even years to complete. To simplify the process a little for my kiddos, I've broken it down into 9 steps.

The electoral college and the idea of the popular vote vs. the electoral votes is another tricky concept. However, I think that Grace for President and the video clip below do a good job of making it kid friendly.

Once we've covered all of the basics and students have their own Voter's Registration Cards, I think it's time for them to take part in their own mock election. What better way to understand the voting process than to have to vote themselves.

For our first mock election, I plan on having my students vote for a class mascot. Every class needs a mascot, right?

On election day, they will each have to approach their polling station with their Voter's Registration Card. They will then sign their name on the list of Registered Voter's and be handed a ballot. Once they've cast their vote, they will turn in their ballot in our ballot box. All secret ballots will be counted and the winner announced. We might even incorporate some math into the lesson by having them graph the number of votes each candidate receives.
By the end of the unit, students will be begging their parents to take them to the polls in November! At least, that's what I'm hoping for...

If you'd like to take a closer look at what's included in my complete Elections Unit, simply click on any of the pictures above or here for the direct link.

Product Review: The Classroom Friendly Sharpener

Throughout the years, I've bought about a dozen brand name heavy duty pencil sharpeners for my classroom. They were all rather expensive and supposed to be durable. However, none of them ever lasted for more than a few months.

Last year, I finally gave up and simply relied on mechanical pencils and asked my students to bring a sharpener from home. However, this wasn't any better! After spending a year picking up pencil shavings from the floor, and having to remove pencil points from countless sharpeners, I decided to give a classroom sharpener one more try.

The only difference, was that this time I was going to use a pencil sharpener recommended by fellow teachers. That's how I ended up with my Classroom Friendly Sharpener. I kept seeing them on my Instagram feed and on Facebook and decided to give them a try.

Let's talk about the pro's:
*They come in a variety of colors, so you are no longer limited to blue and black... AMEN!
*Each costs $24.99 and includes free shipping. That's not too bad. Maybe a months worth of Starbucks coffee :0)
*They are simple to use and sharpen pencils in the blink of an eye. It's that quick!
*They are not noiseless, but fairly quiet.
*They sharpen pencils to a VERY sharp point EVERY single time.
*They can even handle pencils with metallic paper.

Let's talk about the con's:
*The clamp that is included with the sharpener does not do a great job of holding the sharpener in place. Over time the clamp does need to be retightened. If you'd like, for an additional $9.99 you can purchase a plate to mount them permanently. I've been making do without it and it's been working out just fine. I just tighten the clamp every few days or so.

So how does the sharpener work?
It's actually really simple. The first thing you have to do is pull the silver face forward until it locks into place like this...

Next, pinch the two black knobs together and insert your pencil completely into the sharpener...

Place one hand on top of the sharpener to secure it. Then turn the handle clockwise to begin sharpening the pencil. The handle will spin freely once the pencil is fully sharpened. While the pencil is sharpening do NOT touch the pencil. The silver face will pull the pencil in automatically so no need to push.

Pinch the two black knobs one final time to remove the pencil... All that's left now is to ooh and ahh over that point! Actually, that's exactly what my kids do... LOL!
Can you believe the point on those pencils?

So what's my verdict on Classroom Friendly Sharpeners? I think everyone should own one! They are that good!!! Not only is this sharpener quick, relatively quiet, and lightweight, but every pencil comes out perfectly sharpened time and time again.

Right now I wish I could be like a teacher version of Oprah and say, "Here's one for you and you and you!" Because you all would be loving me right now!

If you want to find out more click here.

Helping Students Become Problem Solvers

For the past few years, I've noticed that many of my 3rd graders start off the year struggling with the concept of problem solving. Not only in math class but throughout the day and in all areas. 

For example, if my kiddos have a problem with a classmate... they come to me in hopes of a solution. If they've forgotten their pencil at home... they ask what they should do. If they are stuck on a math problem rather than attempt to solve it... they shout out "I don't get it!"

Have you noticed the same thing? If so, then this post is for you because today I've decided to share a few tips that have been working for my third graders. Let's start with some basics...

This is a process in which students are encouraged to think for themselves and adapt to unfamiliar circumstances or situations. This method involves teaching students a series of steps that will help them solve problems. It encourages flexibility, perseverance, resourcefulness, and common sense rather than relying on others to tell them what to do.

The main premise behind this approach is that students need to learn to figure things out on their own. They need to learn to make hypothesis, test out their ideas, adjust their thinking if need be, collaborate with others, and take risks. 

This is usually the most difficult step for students. It involves them being able to verbalize what the problem is in their own words. In the beginning, I recommend having students work with a partner or in groups to write down a problem statement. "What's wrong? What's the problem?" It is important that they learn to write clear and specific problem statements. 
For example: How will I complete my homework on nights that I have baseball practice?

What is preventing them from reaching their goals. Identifying barriers right from the beginning, will help them when they have to come up with possible solutions.
For example: When I come home from baseball practice I have to shower and eat dinner. Then I'm too tired to do homework. These 2 factors are keeping me from finishing my homework. 

Brainstorm possible solutions. Try to have them come up with as many solutions as possible with a minimum of 2-3. Having multiple solutions allows them to have a backup plan in case their initial ideas don't work out. 

It might also be helpful to think about how others have solved similar problems. I like to encourage my students to accept every idea during a brainstorming session, even if it seems silly... If you think it, write it down I always tell them.
For example: I can start my homework on the way home, work on hw on the way to baseball practice, ask the teacher for work in advance, wake up early in the morning to complete hw...

Test out solutions and if their first idea doesn't work,  try something else. Remind them that mistakes are part of the learning process and that it's okay if they have to go through a few solutions in order to get to the one that works best. Perseverance is essential for success! Some of the best scientists test numerous theories over the course of many years before achieving the results they had been hoping for. 

This step is difficult for many. In the beginning you might see them throwing in the towel when their first idea doesn't work. This is your moment to encourage them, motivate them, and remind them that this is all part of the process. Keep in mind that mastering this step is really going to come in handy during math class.

Once students have tested possible solutions it is time for them to reflect on the results. Are they satisfied with what they have achieved? If not, then they need to consider what they should have done differently. Do NOT skip this step or rush through it! This is where much of the learning will take place. Reflection is a key life long skill. Even us as adults should remind ourselves to reflect every now and then.

If you like the posters above you can snag yourself a FREE copy by clicking on the images below.  I've also included a recording sheet that you can use with your students in the beginning as they're practicing.

Now that we understand the problem solving approach a little bit better, let's talk about those tips I promised you...
Teach problem solving skills in ALL areas! This skill can be applied in math, science, reading, social situations, etc... Help your students understand that problem solving is a life long skill. It is something that they will continue to use in the classroom, at home, in college, and in their adult lives. Do not be afraid to share stories with them about how you've been able to solve a few of your own dilemmas. Another neat idea is to have students help you come up with possible solutions to a problem you might be having in the classroom.. such as class disruptions that occur when students use a pencil sharpener during a lesson.

Model... Model... Model! Problem solving is not an easy task. It is challenging, can be time consuming, requires students to be flexible and to persevere. {It is not for the faint of heart... LOL} In your daily classroom routines show your students that you can be patient when solving problems. Share your thinking aloud with them so that they are able to make connections between your actions and each of the 5 steps previously mentioned.

In the beginning, help them verbalize and record their problems in a journal or on a sheet of paper. Make sure that their ideas are clear and concise and that they have listed some sort of goal that they have in mind. In order for students to be able to solve problems, they first must be able to identify the problem.  

In situations where 2 or more students are having issues with one another, you can have them think about the problem they're having. Ask them "What?" and "Why?" questions. Have THEM work through their issues and come up with possible solutions. Encouraging your kiddos to take an active role in the decision making process can be quite empowering.

Take your time... This is not something that will happen overnight! Students are going to need ample time to think, collaborate, come up with and test solutions, correct mistakes, and reflect. Begin with group discussions, then you can move on to small groups, peers, and eventually independent problem solving.  Don't give up! Start small...

Ask questions and make suggestions, but be careful NOT TO TAKE CONTROL! Whenever a student comes up to you with a problem don't give them the answer. (Trust me this is going to be hard at first! Instead try "What do you think?", "Do you have any suggestions?", "Tell me about this...") Try encouraging them to ASK 3 BEFORE ME.  This will promote collaboration and problem solving.

It's also important to nurture a safe learning environment where students feel their ideas are valued and respected. They should feel comfortable enough to share without fear of what others are going to think.

Now it's time to put all of this into practice...
Saving Sam

The Orange Game
Source: Pinterest 
Marshmallow Challenge
Source: Pinterest

It's your turn now, I'd love to hear about how you encourage your own kiddos to problem solve. Do you have any tips you'd like to share because I'd love to hear from you?

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