Elf on the Shelf Classroom Alternative

Ahhh…December 1st…when it’s finally acceptable to blast Christmas music, decorate with as many twinkly lights as possible, and eat your weight in decorated cookies (even though, my Christmas music has been blasting since November 1st)! It’s such a magical time…with one exception…that damn elf.

You all know which elf I’m talking about.

Now, I am totally on board and am in awe of people that have the elf in their house. The creative things you all come up with and where you put him is genius. In some houses he gets his own little outfits or even brings extravagant little gifts for the kids. It’s fun to watch other people do it. I’m definitely not creative enough to do that, and more realistically, I’d consistently forget to move him each night…resulting in tears in the morning. And honestly….our mornings are chaotic enough, I don’t need to add to it.

However, I do think there is one place that the elf doesn’t belong: the classroom. I know, I know…I’m sure that’s an unpopular opinion, but I’m ok with that. Now that December is here, my instagram feed is filled with teachers introducing the elf to their class in some elaborate way letting them know that he’s reporting back to Santa each night. And yes, I’m sure the majority of the students in the class celebrate Christmas and are totally loving it. But as I see the pictures of the elf, I can’t help but think about all the kids that don’t celebrate Christmas or all the families that have their own special traditions at home with the elf.

In a world where we are working so hard to unite different cultures and backgrounds, it seems so divisive to bring in such a strong Christmas tradition, especially for the entire month of December, when there are other holidays that deserve equal celebration. Yes, I’m sure that teachers have also dedicated a couple of read alouds in honor of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but the majority of the month will focus on Christmas and the elf.

If you’re someone that typically brings an elf into the classroom, I challenge you to reflect on the reason why you feel you need it. Is it so you have an additional “behavior management” tactic for the month? Is it for you to celebrate Christmas? Is it because you have one at home with your own kids?

If you’re still feeling like you want to bring in a little “holiday magic” to your classroom, try incorporating a “kindness penguin” or “kindness polar bear”. Each day he could hide and suggest random acts of kindness that your class could participate in. For example, coloring pictures for a nursing home, thank you notes to the custodians, etc. Keep in mind, the holiday magic doesn’t come from a little elf; it comes from the excitement and joy that YOU bring into your classroom!!

5 Books I’m Thankful For…

Every once in a while I read a book that stays with me long after I finish it. The characters’ journeys stay with me and I feel thankful to that author for writing such an incredibly powerful story.

As we’re all giving thanks this season, I’m especially thankful for these 5 books. They’ve all stayed with me and I continue recommending to students and staff. Each book offers thought-provoking events that will allow for rich and engaging discussions year after year.

Refugee by Alan Gratz

In this book three different children are seeking refuge from different periods in history: the Nazi invasion, the riots in Cuba, and the war in Syria. There are no words as you read through the harrowing journeys they all go through throughout the book. Gratz does an unbelievable job of weaving their stories together, even though they all take place in very different decades. It’s hard to imagine children going through these events; which makes it my number one book I’m thankful for.

Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen

This was a incredibly well-written story about the work of Jewish resistance fighters during the Holocaust. There was no sugar-coating any of the horrible events that happened, but it also had some uplifting messages of hope and friendship. The story follows Chaya as she hides her Jewish background in order to smuggle food and information through the ghettos of Poland to help save as many people as she can. I’m thankful everyday for the heroes throughout history that stood up during the worst times….people like Chaya.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Don’t let the light-hearted cover fool you. Kelly Yang tackles some big issues as we follow 10 year old Mia, a Chinese immigrant and her parents as they run a motel in Cali in the 90’s. All the characters are so well-written and present such deep stories that reveal what life in America in the 1990s for persons of color was like. The sequel, Three Keys, was recently released and picks up Mia’s story. I’m so thankful that Yang was brave enough to use her own life story to write this book; many adults and children are now able to get a glimpse into the life of an immigrant.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal is a 12 year old girl who dreams of being a teacher. Her dream is cut short when she accidentally insults a member of her Pakistani village’s ruling family. As punishment, she is forced to leave her family behind and go work at their estate as a servant. As she’s in the house, she realizes just how terrifying things get in order for the Khan family to stay in control. I’m thankful for this book and the light it sheds on some of the terrible things that happen in countries most of us never experience.

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg

This is the first book I’ve ever read that’s written in verse. Matt is a boy who is saved and airlifted out of Vietnam during the war, then adopted by a caring family in America. He’s now is forced to face the memories of what happened: his war-torn country, dropping bombs, and a secret. I’m thankful for this book, and all of the families out there that have adopted or fostering kids just like Matt. This book proves just how powerful a family’s love can be, even if not related by blood.

Remote Learning Tools

I am so excited to share with you all about a new collaboration that I’ve been a part of!

Introducing a new collaborative series….

Literacy Chattin’ with Liz!! I’ve paired up with an INCREDIBLE educator from Vermont and founder of Vocabulicious blog, Liz Siracusa!

Liz Siracusa currently coaches teachers how to integrate technology into their curriculum. Previous to working in the world of ed tech, she taught 4th and 5th grade for 7 years. Her passion is creating, sharing and teaching lessons themed around vocabulary instruction. Liz is the founder of the blog Vocabulicious, a teacher’s guide to creating a word conscious classroom. You can follow Liz on her blog, on Twitter at @vocabLiz and on Instagram at @vocabulicious.readalouds . She shares weekly read aloud recommendations and easy ways to engage students in word learning.

We plan on joining forces to bring relevant, and useful, literacy resources to educators across the country! For our first collaboration, we’ve put together a Remote Learning Tools guide to help navigate this pivotal time in the educational world!

With so many incredible learning platforms out there, it can get overwhelming to decide which ones would best fit your needs, and the needs of your students. We’ve rounded up our favorite platforms and included descriptions to help you plan for successful and engaging lessons. Click the image below for the full 3 page, FREE printable download!

Teachers are the most incredible people in the world, and if we can create something that will make their jobs a little bit easier, we’re here for it!

Stay tuned for our next collaboration!

Liz & Liz

Top Amazon Finds for Remote Teaching

Amazon finds are always my most popular posts…and lucky for you all…I’m back with my top 10 items to help make remote teaching a little easier!!!

Fair warning…none of these are like “couldn’t teach without” type of finds; however, they all bring a smile to my face and make the time sitting in front of my screen a little better. And some are just fun…..and pink!

What makes your remote teaching days a little brighter?? Let me know so I can add it to my cart!

Adjustable Desk Shelf

We’re in the process of getting ready to move across the country (more on that later) and I have been eyeing this desk shelf FOREVER!! My current desk is too small, so I’m waiting and hoping to finally have a home office in our new house so I can buy this beauty to decorate with all my planner supplies! The best part?! It’s totally adjustable and you can reposition it into different ways! And less than $25!!

Mildliner Markers/Highlighters

My very favorite markers/highlighters!!

Wireless Earbuds

I don’t have an iPhone, so AirPods aren’t an option for me. I would be so jealous when I would see people on my Zoom calls, using their AirPods and drinking their coffee without getting tangled up in a cord…after my 9,000,000th time knocking something down with my headphone cord, I hopped on Amazon and found these for only $30! Worth every penny!!

Wireless Mouse

I always use a mouse with my Macbook and I bring it everywhere with me. Seriously, I would try to go without using one and my wrist would hurt at the end of the day! Yeah, I hear that sentence….I sound like I’m about 97 years old. Anyways, I found this beauty and it comes in other colors like gold, white, silver…love!

Computer Ring Light

I bought this for when I’m online at home for my grad school classes. My desk doesn’t have a lot of light around it and I thought this would help. It’s so easy…just pop it right on top of my screen and makes everything seem brighter, especially after a looong day at school.

Insulated Tumblers

These are cheaper than their name brand alternatives and hold your coffee just as well. It also holds wine after school hours. Just saying.

Coffee Warmer

For those of you that know me, know I love iced coffee…even during a below zero day. Hot coffee just isn’t my jam. However, I do like to have a cup of hot chocolate every once in a while during the winter. I also happen to be the slowest drinker in the world, resulting in my hot chocolate turning cold quickly. This thing just plugs right in and I can set it to a temperature I want and keep my drink warm while I take forever to finish it!

Laptop Stand

My macbook sits low on my desk, which leads to more hunching and unfortunate camera angles during zoom meetings. This stand brings my laptop to eye level. Plus, it’s portable, so I can easily work comfortably anywhere. Plus it’s got a little holder for your phone that flips out.

Desk Fan

I’ve mentioned multiple times how hot I get throughout the day…no joke. I’ve had this fan blowing on me all day, everyday for the past three years. It’s one my top Amazon finds ever. It’s still works great and more importantly, it comes in a ton of colors to choose from!

Oil Diffuser

I don’t have this in my office at school, but I have one at home and I love it!! I was lured into the oil life through another blog and I haven’t looked back. I love this diffuser; it’s inexpensive and can either diffuse in 30 second intervals or continually.

Note: This blog post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I may earn a commission (at no cost to you) should you make a purchase using my link.

Has leveling gone too far?

I recently came across this article from the School Library Journal and to hear Fountas and Pinnell themselves confirm some of the thoughts I’ve had about leveling recently, was reaffirming to me.

If any of you know me in real life, you know how big a proponent I am of Fountas and Pinnell and their benchmark assessment system. I still am. I think it’s an incredible assessment tool that can give teachers detailed and authentic information about their students as readers. Paired with their Literacy Continuum, I think teachers are armed with powerful tools that will help them deliver targeted instruction for their students.

On the other hand, I do believe that the “leveling” has gotten out of control. Fountas and Pinnell go on to say that the goal was never for children to become “labeled” with their reading levels. The goal was to teach about the characteristics of each level to help guide teachers to make informed decisions about their instruction – how to discuss a book, how to help students problem-solve as they process books, etc.

Classroom libraries should NOT be centered around leveled buckets. Try organizing your library in a different way. Group books by genre instead, or simply place them in alphabetical order and allow students to browse through like they would in a real bookstore. Students shouldn’t feel like they can’t explore books at a higher or lower level, just because they’re only at a certain level.

When the creators of the maybe the most influential leveling system even admit that the leveling of students has become out of hand, we as educators need to listen to that and shift our thinking.

Easy Reading Formatives?!

Giving and/or creating formative assessments should be a painless task for teachers; however, that’s not always the case. As teachers, we have a tendency to overanalyze things….at least, I do.

I was reading Jennifer Serravallo’s book Understanding Texts and Readers and I was inspired with how easy it can be to administer a formative assessment to your entire class at once, all while gaining insightful data that we can use immediately after for further instruction.

For this specific type of formative, the only thing that needs to be prepped ahead of time, is the piece of text that will be used. You will just have to find which text you would want to give to your class. You could choose to do it in a whole group scenario where everyone gets the same text, or you could pick different texts for each of your small groups. Whatever method you choose, the questions don’t change.

I’ve come up with 8 questions that can be used for any text you pick (4 for fiction and 4 for non-fiction). These questions were created with the purpose of being able to determine different areas of need for your students. They will be assessing all the core components of comprehension: characters, theme, plot, and author’s craft. (Click on the picture to download your FREE copy!)

Click on the picture to download your own FREE copy!
Click on the picture to download your own FREE copy!

After they read the text, have them answer the 4 questions and turn it in. Then, while you’re binging the latest Netflix show, read through their responses and start grouping them based off of how they answered. Maybe you’ll have three piles: students that nailed it, students who are on their way, and students that missed it completely. I would also suggest just focusing on one question at a time when you’re sorting them.

The data you gathered from reading your student’s responses helps you easily form small groups that you can then provide targeted, intentional instruction with. I would suggest using Serravallo’s Reading Strategies book to find ideas and anchor charts that will help provide the scaffolding, or enrichment, your students need.

Hopefully, this will provide some direction and clarity to reading formatives for you. Remember what the purpose of a formative assessment is: to check-in on your students progress with the content. Don’t overthink it!!

Keep Those Books Out!

The other day we celebrated Indigenous People Day, formally Columbus Day. I think rebranding that day is a small step in the direction we need to be heading: honoring and respecting people from all backgrounds.

Back when I was in the classroom, I was one of those teachers that has bins and bins of picture books all neatly labeled and organized by different themes and holidays (if you know me, that shouldn’t surprise you). I was also fortunate enough to have a large closet in my classroom where I housed all of those seasonal and holiday books. They would live in my closet until the specific holiday rolled around. Then, I would pull my bucket of themed books out and proudly display them for my students to read.

As soon as the specific holiday or remembrance day ended, I neatly packed my books up and put them right back into the closet for the next 365 days. I felt like such a great teacher. I was exposing my students to different holidays and cultures, all while recognizing the many great leaders that paved the way for others. There was no way I was ever going to stop sharing my different themed books with students….

However, looking back at that practice now, I find myself cringing with embarrassment. Walking into classrooms, or seeing teachers online that have buckets they pull out for certain days, makes my heart ache. Over the past few months, I’ve done some deep reflecting on myself as an educator and one of my biggest realizations has been why are we only displaying these books for a couple days, or at most, a month?” What a disservice we’re doing to our students, especially the ones that identify with these holidays. What do they think when they see their teachers putting the “black history books” away? That they only get to celebrate their background during February?? That was my privilege before; I had never stopped and thought about what the message was to our students, both black and white.

Indigenous People Day

Black History Month

PRIDE Month

Civil Rights Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Women’s History Month

Students deserve to be able to read and learn about people from different cultures and races all year long. Why should black history books only be displayed for the month of February? Why should only LGBTQ books be out in June? Why can’t we read books about indigenous people, or written by indigenous authors, on days other than October 12th? These books should be a permanent part of classroom libraries where students can read them anytime and they help foster a sense of inclusion within the classroom.

If I ever end up back in the classroom, I’ve already thought about how I’m arranging my books. I will have all of my books, featuring characters from all different races, mixed together. Each day, I’ll pick new ones to display that feature great people in history or different cultures around the world. And, this time when black history month rolls around, I won’t have to pull a tub from the closet…they’ll already be out and part of our classroom culture.

Spooky Middle Grade Novels

Middle grade novels are my favorite! I’ve blogged about this before so it’s not a surprise. The length is perfect and they’re always so well written. One of my favorite things though, is just how many different genres there are for our intermediate readers! My favorite is historical fiction, but every once in a while, I add a “spooky” book into the mix.

Last year I read Serafina and the Black Cloak and LOVED it! I wouldn’t say it was necessarily spooky, but it was definitely creepy. The setting is the famous Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. Knowing the setting is a real place, made it even creepier. I haven’t read the next two books in the series….yet, but they are on my list.

In honor of Halloween, I’ve rounded up 8 of my all time favorite “spooky” books for our intermediate students. Some are more more fun, than spooky, but all would be perfect for the season!

*This post contains affiliate links

Serafina and the Black Cloak

A brave and unusual girl named Serafina lives secretly in the basement of the grand Biltmore Estate amidst the splendor of the Gilded Age. Serafina’s pa, the estate’s maintenance man, has warned her to keep herself hidden from the fancy folk who live on the floors above, but when children at the estate start disappearing, Serafina and her friend Braeden Vanderbilt must work together to solve a dark and dangerous mystery.

The Haunting of Henry Davis

When Henry Davis moves into the neighborhood, Barbara Anne and her classmates at Washington Carver Elementary don’t know what to make of him. He’s pale, small, odd. For curious Barbara Anne, Henry’s also a riddle–a boy who sits alone at recess sketching in a mysterious notebook, a boy, she soon learns, who’s being haunted by a ghost named Edgar.

A Small Zombie Problem

August DuPont has spent his whole life inside an old house with his aunt Hydrangea. His lonely existence ends abruptly with the arrival of an invitation to meet an aunt–and cousins–he didn’t even know existed. When Aunt Orchid suggests that August attend school with his cousins, it’s a dream come true. But August has scarcely begun to celebrate his reversal of fortune when he is confronted by a small problem on his way home. 8

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

When she arrives at school, she finds the strange symbols from the medallions etched into walls and books, which leads Emmy and her new friends, Jack and Lola, to Wellsworth’s secret society: The Order of Black Hollow Lane. Emmy can’t help but think that the society had something to do with her dad’s disappearance, and that there may be more than just dark secrets in the halls of Wellsworth…

A Festival of Ghosts

Rosa Diaz has her hands full of ghosts. She saved the town of Ingot by unleashing all the ghosts who were previously banished. Now, like the rest of the world, Ingot is filled with spirits and poltergeists. But unlike the rest of the world, the town’s living residents have no idea how to cope, and some of the ghosts are holding century-old grudges.

Babysitting Nightmares

Tanya has always been the unflappably cool and collected one in her friend group. So when she begins babysitting for her neighbor’s great-niece, she’s surprised to find herself super freaked out by the doll collection in the house. They’re just toys right? But when her babysitting charge becomes a little too attached to the doll, Tanya realizes the doll might be the incarnation of a supernatural threat Tanya and her friends have faced before.

The Curse of the Werepenguin

All orphan Bolt Wattle has ever wanted was to find his true family. When a mysterious baron in far-off Brugaria sends for Bolt, he wonders if he’s getting closer to finding his long-lost parents. But Baron Chordata appears to be a twelve-year-old boy who wears tuxedos all the time, shouts at everyone, and forbids Bolt from asking questions. Things couldn’t get any worse . . . until midnight, when the Baron bites Bolt and turns him into a half boy, half penguin. Then things really couldn’t get worse– nope, wait, they get a lot worse.

The Bone Garden

Irréelle fears she’s not quite real. Only the finest magical thread tethers her to life―and to Miss Vesper. But for all her efforts to please her cruel creator, the thread is unraveling. Irréelle is forgetful as she gathers bone dust. She is slow returning from the dark passages beneath the cemetery. Worst of all, she is unmindful of her crooked bones.

Starting Storywalks

We’ve had students back in our building for about 3 weeks now, and even with all of our new procedures and safety routines, it’s been going really well!!! We’re all getting used to staying 6 feet away from each other and making sure we’re not working one on one with a student for longer than a 15 minute period….just in case.

Another thing that we’ve all gotten used to are the multiple mask breaks that we need to take throughout the day. Our students are 8, 9, and 10 years old so our incredible principal has built in time to everyone’s schedules so teachers can bring their class outside multiple times a day to take their mask off. Even as adults, we need these breaks, especially after teaching all day with a mask!

With our playground equipment currently closed, there’s only so many things teachers can do to pass the time and entertain our students, while maintaining distance from each other. After watching everyone just walk up and down our sidewalks day after day, I started to think about opportunities that would engage our students and give our teachers a break from planning something else.

And with that….our Storywalk was created!

I found blank yard signs from Amazon, borrowed lots of packing tape from co-workers, and was ready to begin! I took a couple of my very favorite picture books and shrunk down the pages so I could get 4 on to one sign. Rather than taping each page separately, I put two copies in a sheet protector, and just taped the outsides.

After I had all the pages taped onto my signs, I walked down the sidewalk while evenly spacing them out. I quickly sent out an email to my building to let them know that the story was out and they could begin using it as a mask break.

Within a couple of hours, I saw teachers and students outside on their mask break while incorporating a picture book. Students maintained social distance and traveled from sign to sign reading the story. I also was able to put another story on the other side of the building in order to maximize the number of students that could be enjoying our storywalk!

At the end of each story, I also put a few discussion questions up for students to engage in as they made their way back into the building.

I’ve only done three stories so far, and I hope to continue switching them out before the weather gets too cold to enjoy them! The stories that I have used so far are:

Click on any of the books above to purchase them for yourself!

*This post contains affiliate links

Halloween Picture Books

In my crazy mind, I fully believe the holidays begin on October 1st with Halloween season!! The decorations come out of storage, the stores are decked out for every holiday between now and January, and the themed picture books are amazing!!

I’ve rounded up some of my favorite Halloween picture books just in time; my 5 year old recently asked me for some “spooky books” for bedtime. The first book I added to my cart was Creepy Carrots. We had previously read Creepy Pair of Underwear and my son requested it every night for two weeks!! When I saw the carrot book, I knew we had to have it.

My daughter has also recently found the cute Room on the Broom cartoon on Netflix and LOVES it! I added that book to my cart so we could read it after watching the show. Maybe compare and contrast the cartoon and book???……just kidding!!

However you celebrate Halloween, I hope you find some time to get into a great book! Enjoy!

**The post contains affiliate links**

Creepy Carrots: Jasper Rabbit loves carrots—especially Crackenhopper Field carrots.
He eats them on the way to school.
He eats them going to Little League.
He eats them walking home.
Until the day the carrots start following him…or are they?

It’s Halloween Little Monster: Little Monster is going trick-or-treating for the very first time. There are going to be all kinds of creatures about, like witches and vampires and zombies. And lots of spooky noises too! As Little Monster makes his way around the neighborhood, Papa is there to help guide him through his fears as they encounter one scary thing after another…until they reach the last house of the night. It’s the spookiest house of all, and—YIKES!—there might be a surprise waiting for them. Will Little Monster be brave?

Skeletons Are NOT Spooky: For everything that skeletons do for us, why do they have such a bad reputation for being spooky? Maybe they are just like us and want to have a little bit of fun. The creative children’s book duo of Kaine & Duds tries to set the record straight in this entertaining tale for everybody.

Room On The Broom: The witch and her cat are happily flying through the sky on a broomstick when the wind picks up and blows away the witch’s hat, then her bow, and then her wand!  Luckily, three helpful animals find the missing items, and all they want in return is a ride on the broom.  But is there room on the broom for so many friends?  And when disaster strikes, will they be able to save the witch from a hungry dragon?

Pumpkin Jack: The first pumpkin Tim ever carved was fierce and funny, and he named it Jack. When Halloween was over and the pumpkin was beginning to rot, Tim set it out in the garden and throughout the weeks he watched it change.

Creepy Pair of Underwear: Jasper Rabbit is NOT a little bunny anymore. He’s not afraid of the dark, and he’s definitely not afraid of something as silly as underwear. But when the lights go out, suddenly his new big rabbit underwear glows in the dark. A ghoulish, greenish glow. If Jasper didn’t know any better he’d say his undies were a little, well, creepy.

Snowmen at Halloween: After an early snowfall, a few kids build some snowmen before going trick-or-treating. And when the kids go off to bed, the snowmen have their own Halloween festival! There’s candy and apple-bobbing and costume contests and all sorts of autumn activities. When the kids wake up the next morning, the snowmen are gone… but they’ve left a very special message behind.