Dude, Where's My Shelfwork?


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What’s YOUR motto?

While mindlessly scrolling down my Facebook feed today, I came across this post on Edutopia about having a teaching motto.  I guess that my personal motto also is very much a part of my teaching methods, and I hear my students repeat it to each other from time to time, “Smarter, not harder”.  My desktop publishing teacher, Nan Kolbinger, used this as a mantra in our graphics class where we learned to make the computer and software do the magic of designing for the school’s production shop, and it perfectly summed up the lessons my grandfather taught while we were doing ANY project.  He was all about optimizing your efforts to get the best product whether it was what HE called a “5-minute” job *cough-3 hour job-cough* or a larger woodworking project.  He had spent a lifetime figuring out the BEST way to use a hammer, the best angle to use the least force for splitting wood, you get my drift here.

These two are some of the most influential people in my life, and the idea of doing things well, and efficiently, so that you don’t have to waste time or energy has become my personal philosophy.  I use it with work, with my own learning, and even with baking/crafting in my free time (what’s that? lol).

smarter not harder

Smarter, Not Harder!


I have arranged my classroom so that the students have all of the materials that they need in designated spaces.  All of the shelfwork for the week, and any recording sheets and controls, is on the front bookcase under the classroom TV.  Once we have moved on, it gets relocated to the drawer files on the counter and they will all be there for the remainder of the grading term.  All handouts are kept in the Sorry We Missed You bin and are labeled with the name of the activity and the week of the cycle.  You can see a picture of this bin at the top of the page.

Table jobs have been such a time saver for me! Now the students are more involved, and I have less to get done on my own.  This also took care of my problem with a handful of students always asking for the same job.  Now, everyone gets a chance at it and I don’t have to remember which student I said could do it next.

Shelfwork and worksheets are mainly done on students’ iPads now.  I have 2 apps that I like for these activities that kill a large chunk of forest.  I will either make a worksheet/answer sheet and use a great app called Handouts to take a picture and distribute to my students, or students will use the app Skitch to take a picture of their shelfwork and email it to me. I am saving trees and the amount of paperwork I have to lug home on the weekends!  Both of these are free apps, and although Handouts claims there is a 3 month free trial, I have never been asked to pay and I have been using it for 6 months.  Incidentally, Skitch is part of the Evernote suite, which I need to spend more time exploring since it seems to be a great way to work even smarter!

Planning and collaboration is done in my department through Google Drive.  All of our documents are saved where we can ALL access them.  We can all type on the same document or work on the same presentation (like we just did for the History of Writing Great Lesson), and we can make copies of it and tweak it to fit our specific classes. Our school uses Google Forms to keep track of our Home Communication Log, and my PLC group uses Sheets to monitor which students can participate in enrichment activities.  Through the use of Doctopus, a Google Extension, my students are able to revise and edit with the help of their peers (as limited or unrestricted as I choose), and with Goobric, another extension, I can put the rubric right on the assignment and it records the scores on a spreadsheet. Amazing, RIGHT?!

Parent communication is something I am still working on optimizing.  I am using traditional means such as phone calls and emails, but I am also maintaining a classroom website and blog with explanations and links to pretty much EVERYTHING we do in class.  I’m trying to make it so there are no excuses for not having what you need to succeed in my class.

What is YOUR motto, and how does it influence your teaching…life?

*Check out the blog that I found this picture on! I found the Safety Hacks post to be great information about doing some things better for my own blog, AND I wasn’t even looking for that!


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Classroom Grouping

In one of my earlier posts, I talked about table jobs and folders. First, I will introduce the inspiration for our table “mascots”.  We have two fish tanks is our classroom, post on those later, and the tables have a species of fish pictured on them.  I have found that having a “mascot” has more of a team building effect than numbering the tables.  It also helps us organize for other things in the room such as the table jobs and folders.  The signs are cut in half so that when tables get rearranged in the room they can get reunited correctly when we restore the environment.

Table Sign

Table Sign

Fish signs we have are: Endler Guppies, Neon Tetras, Long-fin Blue Danios, Ramshorn Snails, Giant Khuli Loaches, Celestial Pearl Danios (CPDs), and Rachovii Killifish.

Most of the fish that I use for table “mascots” are ones that are in our classroom tanks, or that I have at home.  I have the CPDs at home, they are too expensive to have at school and they are skittish so not as much fun to watch.

There is only one fish that I don’t have either place because they only live for about 3 months, so if you can’t get them to reproduce, they are very heartbreaking.  We tried, unsuccessfully, to hatch some rachovii at home last year. Frustrating. They are very beautiful and colorful, so they seemed appropriate for a Montessori classroom table.

Bins with the table folders for each class period in them.

Bins with the table folders for each class period in them.

To coordinate with the tables, each class period has a color of folder and each table has a folder that matches their fish.  I can’t rave about this enough. ALL work that is turned in to me on paper goes in the table folder where students sit.  Post on this to come.

Flexible Grouping Assignments

Flexible Grouping Assignments

Another way that I group students for just the day, or alternative activities such as Literature Circles, is to create signs with students’ names on them.  I just laminated different colors of printer paper and use either a dry erase marker or overhead marker to write the names of the students on the sheets.  I intend to remake some so that each is a different color, these just happened to be the colors in the copy room the day that I needed to make them. I still have students turn in work to their original table folders to save confusion for all of us.

This allows for flexible grouping (big buzz phrase right now), which is great for Montessori classrooms since we are 6-8th grades mixed in one class.  Since the ability ranges in my students have nothing to do with their grade level, and students might have different levels depending on the skill (great at main idea, bad at compare/contrast), this allows me to regroup depending on the activity or skill we are working on.

Do you have great ways to group students? Please share in the comments!


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We Are Doing It TOGETHER…

Classroom jobs are very important to helping students be responsible to the community of the class.  My classroom jobs are by table so that students work together as small teams to help our class time run smoothly and make sure our environment is clean and inviting.

Classroom jobs

Classroom Jobs help students be responsible to the community.

 

 

This is our classroom jobs chart.  Each of the jobs has a card with an explanation of what is expected. There is a picture that matches the fish picture on each table so that students can be reminded of which job they are to do.

  • Materials Managers -check art supply caddies and refill glue bottles
  • Agenda -in charge of reading the Goals/Guiding Questions and list of activities for the day.  This is always interesting to watch when the students are deciding who will read it out loud to the class.
  • Time Keepers -in charge of setting the timer for our 15/20 minute reading time. THey are also in charge of letting us know it is time to do jobs before the end of class.
  • Folder Friends -pass out and collect the table folders at the beginning and end of class time.
  • Grounds Keepers -make sure all of the tables are back in position and have 4 chairs/stools to sit on. Also, they make sure the floor is picked up.
  • Paper Patrol -pass out checklists on Mondays and any other handouts needed.
  • Center Inspectors -check to make sure shelfwork is put away properly and all of the pieces are there for each activity.

Background for the cards is designed by Kindergarten Printables.

You will notice that one of the large explanation cards is askew. This is because it this table’s job to host Morning Meeting during our Foundations class. There is no Center Work, so they don’t have a double duty, and don’t get out of having a duty that week. The card itself doesn’t fit very well in the pocket, but it just seemed to belong there.

The bottom 3 on the blue pocket chart are jobs that need to be done daily, or weekly, but not for every class. This includes:

  • Ichthyologist -feeds fish and monitors water levels in the aquarium as well as letting me know if anything seems out of place…or we lose one of our finned friends.
  • Botanist -waters the plants and refills the watering can when necessary.
  • Librarian -it is their job to put books away that are turned in to the bin and repair any books that need attention. There is a different bin for those.

Is this a perfect system? No, no it is not.  However, the only real issue we have is the students need to be reminded to check their job changes on Mondays.  Occasionally, the folder friends need reminding to pass out folders, they are usually very good at getting them back.  My co-taught Special Education class need time to decide which student at the table is going to read, and sometimes a moment to practice/confer to make sure they know all of the words.  That being said, my class knows reality, and is very patient with mistakes. None of us is perfect, but we are all better together.

 

 

 


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The Laminate Debate

There is a great laminate debate between “true” Montessorians and those of us that feel the need to plasticize our manipulatives. While I see the point that things that are laminated take much longer to decompose in landfills, I think that re-making the same manipulatives over and over is a waste of my limited resources.  I can’t afford to keep printing these beautiful, colorful, engaging activities only to have them ruined in a week or two’s time due to my 90 students handling them.  Grease and grime, turns out middle schoolers’ hands are gross, make the task cards and sorts look dingy and then none of the students want to use them.  There is something else to be said about being able to get them clean before putting them away for the next year.

There is also the reality that time is a limited resource.  I teach Language Arts, which means grading lengthy stories and essays. I really am trying to make a conscious effort to spend less time working and more time with my family and actually taking time for myself to do fun projects, this also means having fewer things to create, saves me time. You can see some of my various projects on the desk. lol

My favorite laminator.

My favorite laminator.

To keep my landfill contributions down, I try to print my cards using as much of a sheet as possible so that there is very little waste from trimming.  I store my cards and sorts to be used another year so that I don’t need to recreate them.

The favorite laminator used by teachers at my school is this Scotch Thermal Laminator that I purchased at Target for $16.99 before school started. Currently, they are $19.99, which is still fairly reasonable.  I have one for home and another at school so that I don’t have to haul it around anymore.  You never know when some last minute laminating needs to be done! One of the few things I shop at Walmart for is the laminating pouches. You can get 100 ct boxes for $17.99, and I go through plenty right now so that is a good deal for me.

While I am generally fairly environmentally friendly, I do believe laminating to be a necessary evil for right now. By limiting waste and saving them for future use, I believe that I am being as environment conscious as I can.  I am looking forward to a time when ALL my manipulatives are already made and I can just pull them out to use instead of creating them.


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All Those Wonderful Manipulatives!

Grammar box word cards

Grammar box word cards

We were fortunate enough to get class sets of the official Montessori grammar boxes. The question was…where do we put all the cards so they are easily accessible?

Confession! I laminated the word cards. YEP! Laminated them.  I know that it is frowned upon to do so, but I have 90 students a day that need to use them and would like to get more than one year out of this very expensive resource.

 

Stack-On 60 drawer storage

Stack-On 60 drawer storage

One of my colleagues saw these great organizers at Fleet Farm, and realized they were just what we needed.  This particular one has 60 drawers, which was more than enough for the parts of speech cards.  I have been toying with the idea of creating some extra sentences, that are more complex, for my students that already have mastered the grammar boxes.  To be fair, there are very few students that have come to me having already done these despite two of our feeder elementary schools being Montessori focused.

While the grammar boxes are the only pre-packaged manipulatives that we have in our classrooms, my colleagues and I continue to create our own shelfwork that coordinates with and supports our Language Arts units.

After spending copious hours copying, laminating and cutting out the different root sorts, I realized that it was going to be interesting to get the box back to school without all the various drawers and contents ending up all over my car.

cling wrap

These boxes are also very helpful for the Greek/Latin root sorts that we have been doing throughout the year.  I like the 39-drawer Stack-on box for them because I can store larger task cards and sorting activities in the big drawers on the bottom.


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Getting It Put Together

The Montessori classroom has fairly specific ways in which materials are supposed to be set up. This is slightly difficult at the middle school level due to fewer manipulatives that actually go on trays/shelves for shelfwork.  When I was first setting up my classroom, I took a tour of my colleagues’ classrooms to collect ideas. Here are a few ideas that I plan to “steal” from them.

Class jobs by table

Class jobs by table

 

What to do if you don't understand

What to do if you don’t understand

Whiteboard table for minilessons

Whiteboard table for mini lessons

When you need help, or you can be helpful

When you need help, or you can be helpul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some ideas that I did actually steal and implement. I’ll go into more detail on them in a later post.

This actually works! Students stop and check to make sure I am not talking before sharpening. Or they ask.

This actually works! Students stop and check to make sure I am not talking before sharpening. Or they ask if it is okay.

Entrance Procedures

Entrance Procedures

Exit Procedures

Exit Procedures

Quiet Corner Expectations

Quiet Corner Expectations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will admit, I was a little skeptical about labeling EVERYTHING in a secondary classroom, including where the pencil jar goes. Isn’t that a little childish for my middle schoolers?  Will they feel like I am treating them like little kids?  The answer was no, the kids didn’t bat an eyelash at all of the labels, and it actually made my life easier.  My cupboard of classroom supplies is labeled with where everything goes.  The art supply caddies that I put together for each table have a label for the table they go on and what supplies should be found in them.

Supply Cupboard

Supply Cupboard

Supply Caddies

Supply Caddies

 

Supply Corner

Supply Corner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each table also has a folder with the picture of their table on it. This is where students turn in their work, stapled to their checklists on Friday.  If there is something that they are working on, or finished with and it isn’t Friday, they can put it on the right hand side (Save for Later). When they are all done and want me to look at it, they put it on the left hand side (Turn In).  Then a student from each table turns the folder in to the correct block’s bin, which is color coded and has a Northern Minnesotan animal “mascot” (I am part of the North Shore team).  I wish I had thought of this years ago!  I’ll get pictures up as soon as I figure out if they are on my camera or my iPad.