Sunday, July 25, 2021

Cut Back on Grading and Paper Clutter NOW!

If you've got stacks of ungraded papers piling up (or shoved in drawers), this post is for you!

Let’s be real, you have enough on your plate and don’t need to be grading unnecessary amounts of stuff. It’s time to think about what really matters and let’s get rid of some of that paper clutter AND grading.

Tip #1: Stop assigning tons of homework

Re-assess what you are currently assigning for homework. Ask yourself these questions:

1. What is the purpose of this assignment?

2. Is the purpose of this assignment being met?

When I first started teaching, I viewed homework as an opportunity for students to get the extra practice and support needed to gain mastery. When I reflected on the questions above, I realized that the students needing the most support were the most were very ones NOT DOING THEIR HOMEWORK!

It was a constant battle chasing down assignments (and trying to keep track of who did or did not do each assignment).

When I truly thought about it, most of my homework assignments weren’t even truly serving the main purpose. So, I stopped.

I stopped assigning math homework (because parents tried to undo what I was teaching anyway) and stopped any type of spelling homework (because I didn’t want my students memorizing words).

Instead, I only assigned quick and easy assignments that truly supported my students’ learning. It was something I knew they could do independently (which is what I wanted). 

You can read about my nightly homework routine here. The type of assignments that I did assign, for the most part, I was able to do a quick spot check, mark my grade book, give it a star then return it back to students. 

Tip #2: Use Task Cards

I love task cards because you’re able to provide your students with LOTS of practice and you only use up 1 sheet of paper!

Teaching math using the math workshop approach allows you to differentiate work, differentiate instruction, and provide lots of practice with little paper clutter.

One of my stations would be ‘hands on’ where my students would be doing a scavenger hunt around the room solving task cards. Since my rotation blocks were short, they would work on completing that 1 set of task cards throughout the week. I would also typically assign 1 worksheet to check up on how students’ understood the small group lesson for the day. 

For the entire math block, I would only be collecting 1 piece of paper for every student (and the task card sheet at the end of the week). 

For more ideas on how to use task cards in the classroom, you might enjoy this post.

Tip #3: Grade Right Away!

My last tip is to grade whatever assignments you need to right away! This one probably seems like a no-brainer, but might be one of the most difficult because you'll need to get yourself into the HABIT of doing this.

Find some time during recess, at lunch, or after school. Make it a rule to yourself that while you're grading, you won't get distracted by anything (no scrolling social media or checking emails).

Not letting the grading pile up will be a tremendous help later. Plus, grading along the way will provide you with valuable information about what your students know and/or need extra support with. 

Tip #4: Create a System for Grading

Grading multi-page reading assessments used to take forever, until I came up with a system! Grading 1 page at a time for all students makes the grading 10x faster (this is especially easy with multiple-choice questions).

I then write how many points the student earned on the bottom right-hand corner of the page. That way, when I’m done, I can add up all the points then record them on the front of the assessment. 

Until next time!

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Using the CPA Approach to Teach Math

Do your students struggle to retain the concepts that you are teaching? Do you often find yourself asking "Why don't my kids get it?!".

If this sounds like you and your students, this post is exactly what you need to transform your math instruction!

What is the CPA Approach? 

The CPA Approach was created by psychologist Jerome Bruner and stands for concrete, pictorial, and abstract learning. Jerome Bruner proposed this approach as a means of scaffolding learning. The CPA Approach builds on a child's existing knowledge by introducing abstract concepts in a concrete and tangible way. It’s learning that transitions from concrete materials, to pictorial representations, to abstract symbols and problems.

Concrete: Using physical objects to solve math problems. This is a ‘hands-on' approach using real objects and it is the basis for understanding math concepts. 

Pictorial: Using drawings to solve math problems. It is sometimes referred to as the “seeing” stage. 

Abstract: Solving math problems using only numbers. It is sometimes called the “symbolic” stage. 

Why should I use the CPA Approach? 

Math is abstract and can be confusing for students! That's why providing concrete learning is so important in teaching elementary math. By using concrete materials students are able to ‘see’  the math, and make sense of what is happening. The CPA Approach makes learning math accessible to all students, including those with math learning disabilities. 

There is a common misconception that older students do not need to use manipulatives and that they are just for the younger grades. However, concrete learning is equally important with older learners as it is with younger learners! ALL students benefit from learning math concepts in a concrete way, as opposed to just memorizing a procedure. 


Concrete Learning

One benefit of concrete learning is it promotes discussion, which allows students to talk through and explain math concepts. As students work through math problems using manipulatives, teachers are able to observe and gain a greater understanding of misconceptions and to analyze students' depth of understanding. 


In the 3rd Grade, many of the math standards are NEW to our students. It’s their first experience with these concepts and they have a difficult time jumping into the math workbooks because the math is so abstract. Over the years, I have found that when I’ve used manipulatives to let students truly understand what they were doing and make connections, this helps them learn the standards the best. 


Pictorial Learning

Once students feel confident in concrete learning they can move to pictorial learning. Pictorial learning involves drawing pictorial representations or sketches. Students are no longer using the manipulatives but still are supported by the drawing. 

Some teachers choose to skip over this step, but it is an important bridge between concrete learning and abstract learning. Without this step, students can find visualizing a problem very difficult. 

Abstract Learning

Once students have grasped an understanding of the concept through concrete materials and pictorial representations they can progress to abstract learning. In this stage, students are using numbers to solve problems. 

Although the CPA Approach has three distinct stages, teachers should be using all stages within one lesson. This allows students to make strong links between each stage. 

Applying the CPA Approach

One of the greatest struggles I hear that other 3rd grade teachers have is with problem-solving. Using the CPA Approach to teaching students how to problem-solve will be a game-changer. Let me walk you through some examples of what that might look like.

Concrete: Have a discussion with students about what it means to add. When students explain that it means putting two amounts of something together and getting a new total or amount, ask them how they might show that using unfix cubes. Go through several examples of having students add (you can give word problems) and have them demonstrate it with their unifix cubes.

Pictorial: Now make the connection for students of what a pictorial representation would look like. Draw out what you see in front of you. Ask students if that picture represents what they have in front of them.

I usually ask students how I might show a larger number. Would I draw each individual unifix cube? No! That's when you transition that understanding they just built to bar model drawings.

Abstract: Now that students have been walked through this process, they can see that this bar model drawing now represents an addition problem or equation. They should be able to determine equations by looking at different bar model drawings.

I go through this process with all 4 operations. Getting students to truly grasp what it means to add, subtract, multiply and divide helps them to be able to solve problems. When they read word problems, they are able to draw a pictorial representation and from that, can determine what equation (what operation to use) without relying on keywords.

What do you think of the CPA Approach? What questions do you still have? Leave them for me in the comments below and I'm happy to answer them for you!

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Ideas for Welcoming Students Back to School

In Hawai'i, teachers go back to work on July 28 and students return on August 3. July has always signaled Back to School Mode for me as setting up a classroom is NO JOKE. Since I'm not in the classroom this year, I figured I'd get you started with some ideas (that you can save for later) for Welcoming Students Back to School!

Send a Personalized Postcard Introducing Yourself

I wrote a post about Building Relationships with Students Before the Year Starts and shared about sending postcards to students to introduce yourself.

When I first began, I just used to handwrite each postcard. However, technology has enhanced the possibilities. Here are variations on how to personalize your welcome/introductions.

For each of the ideas listed below, you will need to create a QR code with a link for students to scan with a smart device. 

  1. Simply introduce yourself via video and let them know how excited you are to meet them.
  2. Record a classroom tour and attach it to the postcard that you mail out to students.
  3. Read a book to help ease those first-day jitters. Another variation could be to read half of the book and let students know that you’ll finish the rest on day 1. 
  4. Ask students to bring something special to them and be ready to share about it on the first day.
Here's a tutorial on how to add a Voice Recording to a QR Code. The steps for creating the QR code will be similar for video as it was for audio. 

Assign Seats Ahead of Time

This is something that I always did so that no student felt left out. I work at a school that has about a 50% military population so we have new students all the time. You never want a student to be told that they can't sit somewhere because the seat is being saved for a friend. To avoid this (and unnecessary chattering between students) I would pre-assign seats. 

Send Students Home with a Little Welcome Gift

Giving gifts to your students are totally unnecessary, but it’s something extra that I always loved doing. I LOVE a good pun and can’t help myself from sharing them with my students. I always gave a little treat to those students who showed up for our Meet and Greet! 

For gift ideas and already made tags, I've got you covered!

Share Advice From Your Former Students

This idea will take advanced planning from the previous school year, but I like to have my former students create brochures or Google Slides presentations giving my new students advice on how to be successful in the 3rd Grade. During the year of COVID- I needed to adjust and turn my brochures into Google Slides presentation. I decided to then add a QR code link to a bookmark which would then be shared with incoming students. 

Here are some photos of what the student bookmarks look like. You can hand these out to kids on the first day or Meet the Teacher Night!

What other ideas do you have for Welcoming Students Back to School?! I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Until next time. Aloha,

Sunday, June 20, 2021

11 Must Have Chapter Book Series in YOUR 3rd Grade Classroom

One of the best things about being a teacher is being able to stock your classroom up with great books for kids to read. In the early days of my career, I spent the weekends hunting down good deals to grow my class library. When I left my classroom, I easily had over 1,000 books in my class library! You can check this post out for ideas on how to grow your class library on a teacher budget!

Today I'll be sharing 11 Chapter Book Series that will surely be a hit in your 3rd Grade Classroom Library! 
**This post contains affiliate links

I Survived Series

If you're also interested in a list of Popular 3rd Grade Read Aloud Books, you can get that here

Sunday, June 13, 2021

What New Teachers Can Do to Prepare for the School Year

If you’re here reading this post, you must be a new teacher that is eager to start planning for the school year. First of all, let me Congratulate you on landing your first teaching job!!
Bitmoji Image

I wish you the best school year ever :)

Since you’re here, I’m also assuming that you are a planner! Most people will tell you to relax and enjoy your summer (I will, too) but if you’re like me, I wouldn’t be able to because I would always be thinking ‘what can I be doing to plan’. LOL, so I’ve got you covered with 5 things you can start working on now! 

The best thing you can do to start preparing for a successful school year is to start familiarizing yourself with your grade level standards. If your state uses Common Core, this site has great resources for unpacking the standards to help you better understand them!

Select the
2017 unpacked content ‘your grade’ math standards. This resource will help you to know exactly WHAT your students need to know and be able to do, you’ll also see visual examples. 

Now that it’s summer and you have the time (and you’ve familiarized yourself with your grade level standards) start creating and organizing your Pinterest Boards or Instagram Collections. There are SO MANY ideas and resources readily available. I remember when I first started teaching, I spent hours scouring the internet trying to find different ideas on how to teach certain topics. Save yourself time by doing the searching NOW rather than later.

Be sure to label your boards (Ideas for teaching Fractions, Beginning of Year Activities). It’d be a good idea to look through the resources you’re pinning, and only pin what you know you want to try or use. This will help you to be able to go directly to your board and pick something to use. It’ll save you a tremendous amount of time later. 

IG is such a great place to gain new ideas from fellow teachers. Search hashtags to find other teachers in your grade that you can learn from. Be sure to only follow accounts that lift you up and motivate you. As you get into your year, always remember that the teachers you are following have all started in a similar place as you. 

General hashtags like #iteachthird or #thirdgradetribe can be searched and similar hashtags will pop up. You can follow the hashtag on IG, then when you see posts you like, click on the profile, check it out and follow if you're into their feed! :)

You can find me on IG @teachinginparadise

Having clear and specific routines and expectations for everything will help to set your students up for success. Students should know what to do and how they should be conducting themselves for literally anything you might ask them to do.

This may seem tedious, but it will truly help with your classroom management and eliminating transition times or student issues with one another.

Some examples of things you could plan for are:
  • How will students enter your classroom
  • Where and how will they submit work?
  • How will you collect important papers and/or notes from parents
  • What supplies will students keep in their desks?
  • How will you dismiss students to get things from their cubby?
  • How will the use the classroom sink?
  • What will your bathroom procedures be?
  • How will you handle student supplies? Sharpening of pencils?

The more you can plan for, the better you’ll be. You can access a copy of the planning template that I use and also see the things that I create procedures/routines for here

Last but not least, RELAX and enjoy your summer!
happy stroll in meadow
The year will be here before you know it. You’ll have a never-ending to-do list once the year starts, so enjoy your summer while you can!
Find the time to take care of yourself, relax, and have fun!!

You may also be interested in this post: 5 Tips for New Teachers


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

5 Tips for Writing Sub Plans

1. Be Explicit

Be very clear about what the sub should be doing and what the students should be doing. As the teacher, YOU expect that your students know what is expected of them and that they will follow those expectations when you’re not there……but this isn't always the case.
I’ve done my fair share of subbing in classrooms, luckily I know the teachers and their procedures. Too often than not, kids try to bend the rules and get away with things. It’s helpful to clearly outline all expectations so that the substitute knows exactly HOW students should be working (quietly at their desks? No walking around, etc).

2. Label and Organize 

Label all of your worksheets and assignments with post-it notes so that your sub. knows EXACTLY what to give out when. Be sure to use the same language in your plans as your labels, this helps to avoid any confusion. If you have several different assignments for one subject, you could use color-coded post-it notes and designate which color to hand out when. (Send home math homework-(blue post-it). 
Click here for a tutorial on how to print on sticky notes.

In addition to labeling everything, organizing all of your papers in the order that they are to be handed out is helpful for your substitute teacher. This takes out the guesswork and sets them up to avoid any confusion.

3. Student Transitions

Make it easy for your substitute to keep track of when students need to leave for special classes or services. In the designated time block, write out who needs to go where (and at what time). Use a different colored font so that it stands out. 
*Bonus tip: leave a note on the board so that older students can watch the clock and remind themselves. 

4. Plan for Quick Finishers

Provide your substitute with a checklist to keep track of which students finished what assignment. I always advised the sub to collect work back at the end of the block so that he/she could keep track of who is finished and/or who needs additional time.

Let the sub know what students should do when they are done with their work. It's helpful to include a list of activities your early finishers can do.
Since the sub already has a list of students who need additional time to complete assignments, there won't be any issues for them to direct the quick finishers to the extra assignments.

*I also like to include a page in my sub plans that help the substitute come up with activities or things to do with the class with extra time. Sometimes lessons will finish earlier than expected, so providing them with a backup plan is always helpful! I include a one-pager with different activities and instructions as well as the estimated amount of time the activity will take, that way subs can choose which ones will work for them! If you'd like to take a look at that, it's included in my Emergency Sub Plans.

5. Be Concise

Too often than not, substitutes come to school right before the bell and often don’t have time to read through your entire set of plans. Be as clear and concise as possible. Include enough information so that they are clear on what to do, but don't add TOO MUCH wording/instructions as it may get glossed over as they are rushing to read through plans as students are coming in.

It helps to break up the text and blocks so that the subs can read through the information in chunks. 

Last but definitely not least, plan for emergencies! You never know when a bug will hit you hard or you find a dead car battery when you're already running late to work. Having a set of Emergency Sub Plans for those last-minute, unplanned situations that occur will save you A TON of stress! 

Set your plans up in an Emergency Sub tub or Binder. 

If you're a 3rd-grade teacher, I've got you covered with an already written and ready to assemble set of Emergency Sub Plans! All you need to do is add specific information to your class, students, and schedule using the editable pages! You can find that set here


Saturday, April 10, 2021

8 Letter Recognition Activities for Toddlers

I began exposing my son to his letters at around 2.5 years old. He isn't the biggest fan of "learning" so I try to make it fun for him so that he doesn't realize he's learning. Today I’m sharing 8 fun toddler-approved activities that helped my son with learning and identifying his letters. The best thing about them are that they are all easy to do and very low prep!

In the very beginning, we just worked on letter matching. This process is important in allowing toddlers to differentiate that letters look different from one another, some have curved shapes and some have straight lines. As he got the hang of matching letters, I began telling him the name for each letter and had him repeat it back to me. For every match he makes, he is now required to say the letter name. We use this same structure for most of the activities below. 

Materials Needed: 

Magnetic dry erase board

Magnetic Letters

Dry erase marker

For this one, just write random letters on the dry erase board. Place magnetic letters along the bottom of the board. As your toddler chooses a letter, tell them the letter name and encourage them to find the matching letter on the board. Have them place the magnetic letter over the written letters.

*Try to stay away from using letters that look the same in the beginning (b/d, p/q).

Once your kiddo is done, you can start all over with new letters :)


My son is obsessed with dinosaurs, so I created this printable to encourage him to work on learning his letters. 

Materials Needed:

Flat dish

Rice (you could substitute with oatmeal)
Dinosaur letter cards
Dinosaur letter mat

I had my son dig through the rice to uncover letters. He pulled the letter out, I told him the letter name, had him repeat, then he found the match on the board. We continued this process. We’ve also switched it up by letting him use a paintbrush to brush away the rice. 

This one was definitely a hit! I stocked up on a TON of Easter Eggs one year after Easter was done and got them for like 10 cents a bag (or something crazy cheap like that). So I have eggs on hand all the time and use them for tons of activities.

I filled the eggs up with the dino letter cards (same as the above activity) and hid them around the house. Little man went hunting for one egg at a time, opened it, then placed it on the letter board.

As always, as he opened the egg,  he was required to say the letter name and then place it on the board.  For the letters he wasn't sure of, or if he made a mistake, I would just tell him. 

Grab a paper towel roll, write letters randomly throughout the roll. Get the dot stickers (purchased here from Amazon) and write the corresponding letter. Have them match it up by placing the sticker over the letter on the roll. You could also extend this (and all other activities) by having them match the lower case with upper case letters. As you can see- this is one our earlier activities.

It's also great for their fine motor skills, peeling off those stickers can be tricky!

This specific one was to help him learn the letters in his name. I just printed out giant letters on cardstock paper and taped them to the wall.

I used letter stickers that I already had and also hand wrote a bunch of the letters for his name on the dot sticker sheets. I cut off a section of the dot stickers and hand them to him, he uses what he has and matches up the letters on the stickers to the letters in his name.

In this video, we were practicing the letters in his name but it could be used to work on any letter of the alphabet! Whatever you choose to work on, us sidewalk chalk to write the letters out. Call out a letter and have your child shoot the letter with a water gun. 

I also showed my son how to shuffle, so had him practice that as well lol.

Another obsession of my little on is CARS. He has a million little cars and can play with them for hours. I used the same Amazon dot stickers and wrote letters on each car. I picked up this painting roll paper from TJ Maxx, but they have them here on Amazon, too. I drew out little rectangular garages and wrote the letters of the alphabet. I used construction paper to make little roads. 

I threw all of the cars into a bin and left this out for him to discover. As soon as he laid his eyes on it he immediately ran over. He picked up his cars, noticed the letters on them and began looking at the mat. I told him that they were "letter garages" and he had to find the right garage for each car and park the car in there.

Little man had a total blast driving his cars down the road and parking them in the garage.

I have my son trace the letters on each sheet before starting. Then, I read him the "secret mission". I remind him that he will be looking for the big and little letters.

My son is working on coloring in the lines, so I have him color in the squares. If your child is a little younger, they could also use stickers to cover each letter.

As he finds the letter, he will color it and say the letter name out loud. This helps him to remember what each letter looks like as well as the name associated with that letter.

Once my son has completed the mission, we will take out a toy animal (if we have it) or he will use his fingers and walk along the path he just colored. We do this to make sure that it is a "complete" path and that he has successfully completed the mission.

Finally, I will have him count how many "steps" it took to get the animal to where it needed to go.

If you want to follow along on my little man's learning journey, be sure to follow me on Instagram! I'm always posting stories about the learning activities my son and I do together. You can also catch old activities on my highlight reel #teachatoddler!

I hope that you were able to find something fun for your little one to help them learn their letters. If you try any of these activities, I'd love if you share with me by tagging me on Instagram @teachinginparadise

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