Too Much "Teacher Stuff"? Have a Teacher Yard Sale!

Are you bogged down with too much "Teacher Stuff"?  Teachers are often collectors of items that are "too good to throw away."  So don't!  Summer is the perfect time to have a Teacher Yard Sale!  

Wondering what to do with all your extra "teacher stuff"?  Why not have a Teacher Yard Sale!?

This is the perfect way to reduce your classroom clutter (or your collection of school items at home!)... plus you can earn a little summer spending money too!  You can free yourself of "teacher stuff" in 3 easy steps:  Sort It Out, Organize, and Advertise!

Daily 5 in Upper Elementary & Middle Schools

Find some great tips, strategies, and resources for implementing Daily 5 into an upper elementary or middle school classroom!
About 5 years ago, I was working for a district that required teachers to begin using Daily 5 for language arts. Initially, I struggled to make Daily 5 work for me. As a 4th grade teacher, at the time, I felt like some of the stations and activities were too easy for my students and not beneficial to them. Then, I had the opportunity to attend a Daily 5 conference with the authors of Daily 5, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. At the conference, I learned several strategies for implementing Daily 5 in any classroom and have since found great success using Daily 5 with my upper elementary students. Today, I would like to share some of the strategies and resources I have developed over the past 5 years for making Daily 5 work in any upper elementary or middle school classroom.

Long Range Planning in 3rd Grade

A couple of years ago I started drafting long range plans. It's something that keeps me on pace and looking at the big picture. Around this time every year, I begin to update my plans, and I thought I'd share them and how they've helped me out.

Google Apps for Education GAFE: Forms

Learn the basics of getting starting with Google Forms with this tutorial.  Ideas for use, too!

Google apps are awesome and one of my FAVES is Google Forms!  I love the ease and versatility of forms.  You can create a form for students, parents or even yourself to complete and you will end up with a spreadsheet of information and data.  You can even use the add-on Flubaroo and make the form self-grading!

Parental Involvement Perfection!

Research says that students that have involved parents do better academically! Would you like to boost parental involvement in your classroom?  Well, you already have the ability!  This post (along with an awesome book) will give you the push you need to ensure parental involvement perfection!   

Would you like to boost parental involvement in your classroom?  Well, you already have the ability!  My post (along with an awesome book) will give you the push you need to ensure parental involvement perfection!

Google Apps for Education GAFE: Slides

GAFE, google slides, google apps for education

Here we go, diving deeper into using Google Apps as teachers!  I have only recently started using Google slides in the classroom, but so far I love it.  I am able to collaborate with my peers on presentations, make notes on slides, and do a lot of the same things that I can do in Powerpoint  With this post I am just scratching the surface of all of the fun stuff that Google Slides can do.  I hope this post helps you get started. 

What's in Your Pool Bag? Recommendations for Primary Reading Teachers

Hi! I hope you are having a great summer! This is Sarah from Learning is for Superstars!

Today I am sharing what's in my pool bag this summer. 
I have taught first grade for the last six years and last year was my first year doing a first/second combination. Because of the number of students in our building, I will be teaching a first/second combo again this next school year. With that being said, I knew that I was going to need to make changes for the upcoming year. The book Reading With Meaning by Debbie Miller, is one that I had seen on Facebook posts and Instagram images and was curious about it.
A few thoughts ...
- proficient readers use prior knowledge while reading, make inferences while reading, ask and answer questions of what they have read, and synthesize what they read, just to name a few
- use a "catch and release" method of responsibility - model, model, model what you expect them to do, gradually release them to accomplish a task, and build up to applying your expectation during your guided reading time
- model just enough so the children understand what you expect from them, but don't model too much that they don't have to do any of the work because you've already given that to them
- allow time for reflection
- build relationships with your children - notice new outfits and shoes, or remember when so and so's grandparents are visiting, etc. - it shows your children that you care
- take advantage of teachable moments

What I really like about this book is how it is divided into different parts of the school year, focusing on what you need to do in each month.
I'm just going to share some of the thoughts that jumped out at me during the September section.
- How you start off the school year sets the tone for the rest of the year. If you don't immediately show and model to your children that reading is important, they will not think that it is, either. 
- Debbie Miller stated (p29) "readers read to get smarter and to learn about themselves, other people, and the world ... smart is something you get, and that through hard work, effort, and determination, they can accomplish their goals."
- learning is lifelong and vital
-learning to read should be joyful

Another part of this book that I like is how Miller has charts and tables to break down what you want the children to learn and how you, the teacher, can have your children demonstrate that understanding. Some of the ideas from these charts for September include:
- create a graph using sticky notes to show how many minutes the children can read at one time
- meet with a buddy to talk about the book they both read
- teacher driven mini lessons to model your expectations
- use poems, songs, and rhymes to build repetition, rhyme, and rhythm
- use read alouds - Miller states (p37) "Reading aloud motivates kids to want to learn to read, extends their oral language, and gives them opportunities to to connect new information to what they already know."

Yesterday I saw this blog post by Amanda Madden at Teaching Maddenness about her Top 10 Read Alouds for Second Grade. I have just made a new book list for my second graders! I can't wait to get these and dig in myself!

Happy reading!

Google Apps for Education GAFE: Classroom

How to set up Google Classroom and assign work and give grades

If you're interested in learning more about Google Apps for Education or GAFE we're here to help. This series will cover how to Set up Google Classroom and the all the "Apps": Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms and some really cool collaborative features like Hangouts! Google can transform your teaching into a more collaborative, interactive, creative, and even paperless classroom!

What's in Your Pool Bag? Setting up a Writer's Notebook for Upper Elementary Grades

So here's my take...

I have a great book recommendation 
for your pool bag this summer! 

I found this book, Notebook Know How by Aimee Buckner, about six years ago and I still have it prominently sitting 
on my shelf behind my desk. 

I refer back to it constantly! 

Here are my top 3 reasons 
it should be in your pool bag this summer!

1. Motivating:

I don't know about you, but summer time is the best time to read a professional book. I become energized and excited and can't wait to get back in the classroom to try things out.It is a quick read at only 125 pages!

2. Ready to use: 

I used to struggle with how to incorporate a writer's notebook with mini lessons, journal writing time, and grammar during my Writer's Workshop. Aimee has many practical strategies and shows you step by step how to get a notebook up and running.What is nice about the book are the quick reference charts so you don't have to waste time re-reading sections! If you are a fan of Ralph Fletcher's, Craft Lessons, then you will love this book!

3. Comprehensive:

This was the biggest selling point for me! This book helped me to understand how and why to set up a notebook, how to develop and mold the notebook so students could see the connections from our lessons to their writing, and Aimee's book explained how to assess their notebook. Aimee's approach to the notebook gave my Workshop a soul. The student's notebook's became a part of them. I loved watching their proud faces as they protectively would bring their notebooks to our easel area for a mini-lesson or their eager faces when they would scatter around the room to get started on a piece. 

Of course I need something in my pool bag this summer too! I've decided to read Aimee's book on Nonfiction! I will be teaching Science and Math next year and I already know that I want to see students writing in their Science journals. I am hoping to get great ideas from this book! I'll let you know what I find out!

Happy Learning!!!

Summer Summer Summer Time!

Today was supposed to be my last day with students, but mother nature had other plans! There were so many power outages, school was canceled on the last day... Which means that yesterday was actually my last day with students. My official last day of the year is Wednesday and it can not come fast enough. With that being said I am already in summer mode... so... cue Will Smith... and Enjoy!

Ok so, Im sure you already have your summer vacation plans together, but if you are a serious procrastinator like I am... Here are some awesome things that Virginia has to offer for you to check out this summer!

1. Virginia Aquarium: I mean who doesn't love the aquarium and checking out all the animals. Follow that up with Finding Dory and you have a whole two days of activities. Check out the link to see all of the exhibits the Virginia Aquarium has to offer.

2. Theme Parks: My personal favorite is Kings Dominion. It has the water and the rides. We go there and get the best of both worlds. and for me.. Kings Dominion is only a 40 minute ride! Busch Gardens and Water Country are also awesome!

3. I love to try to give my son learning experiences so a place like Monticello is awesome for him. He absolutely Love places where he learns new information and he asks tons of questions about what is happening and reads everything that he sees! Yes for learning!

4. If you are a nature lover I encourage you to go visit the Great Dismal Swamp with its beautiful wild life and foliage. There is tons to do there like hiking, biking, and fishing. You can also check the schedule for available educational programs.

5.This may not be family friendly, but as adults we need play time too, go visit a winery or brewery. Virginia has many wineries to choose from so just pick one and go. You could even pick several that are in the same vicinity and go check out multiple. Here is a list of the wineries/breweries in Virginia.

6. Finally, We all know that Virginia is for Lovers... So Why not go on a scavenger hunt for "LOVE" signs and take a picture with them all! Here is a list of where you can find all of the "LOVE" signs in Virginia. They also have pictures of each one so you can have them in your mind before you go. Also check out the different attractions in the places where you find the signs!

Whatever you do this summer, make sure you have fun, enjoy family and friends, and take some time to relax! We have worked hard this year so in the middle of all the planning for the upcoming school year take sometime for yourself!

What's in your pool bag? Summer Reading Recommendations for Teaching English Language Learners

Every Spring, I get a ton of emails requesting professional reading recommendations for teachers who will be working with ELLs in the coming year. Whether you've been working with ELLs for years and want fresh ideas, or are new to working with ELLs, these books are a must-read!

What's in Your Pool Bag? Recommendations for Upper Elementary

Hello all!

Today is the first official day of my summer vacation.  Last week, I spent days moving out of my 2nd grade classroom and in some really awesome PDs.  So today, I'm spending the day working on my bag of books!

When I found out that I would be moving to 4th grade next school year, I was a little excited at first, and then apprehension set in!  After all, it's been 7 years since I was in 5th grade, and only then, I taught math!!  So many changes had happened in my district- guided reading, Word Study, guided math...and not to mention, 4th grade is a testing grade!  I immediately ran to my wonderful literacy coach and begged asked for some resources that would be helpful in my transition.

What's in your Pool Bag? Summer Reading Recommendations for Instructional Technology Integration

I have to admit, I am not an avid book reader and have plenty of other things I would rather do with the little free time that I have.  I am constantly reading blogs and online articles to keep up to date, I just struggle actually choosing one book to spend an extended amount of time with.  However, the one time of the year I do enjoy reading is the summer-- next to the pool or at the beach so this series is perfect for someone like me! 

End of the Year Activities

Well we made it!   The end of the year is nigh and I know you can probably feel the warmth of the sun on your face as you open those doors and walk through them for the last time this year.  Now, before you get all wrapped up in those last day happy hour plans, you want to keep up the fun and learning until those kiddos leave your care.  Now I can already hear you saying But I don't want to...  Testing may be over and it's super tempting to find a bunch of videos to watch. Here are some great alternatives! 

What's In Your Pool Bag? Summarization Techniques That get Students Moving and FREEBIES

I just finished reading Summarization in Any Subject by Rick Wormeli.  It was a quick read because I found so many things that gave me a "light bulb moment".  It's all about different techniques to incorporate meaningful summarization activities into your lessons.

What is a Strategy Mat?

Hello.  It's Cathy from Cathy Collier's The W.I.S.E. Owl.  I had a group of kinders who needed some concrete help in using the early fix-it strategies.  So, we had a strategy mat...and you're gonna want them next year!
Creating independent readers is one of the most important steps in teaching reading.  Students can use Strategy Mats to become independent readers.  Adding picture cues to help them be independent is invaluable!

What's in Your Pool Bag? Summer Reading Recommendations for Pedagogy

Are you in need of ideas for summer reading? This post includes suggestions for books that will help you think about your educational pedagogy.

Pedagogy was a word that was thrown around a lot in all of my teacher prep courses.  Since then, I hadn't really given much thought to until I went through the National Board process and really had to reflect on my own teaching practices.

Why do we teach the way we do?  Why do we use particular methods, and what kind of teacher are we really?  Do we need to continue to transform our teaching to ensure we are using best practices, and how do we go about doing that?

Kindergartener Diagnosed with Brain Cancer - Hear her story!

Hello!  I'd like to share a story with you about one of my sweet, sweet kindergarten students (from the Richmond, VA area).  Follow her story on Facebook HERE


This is Sawyer.  She is a five year old little girl who was enjoying her time in kindergarten when her family and teachers noticed her eyes were bothering her.  She started seeing double and complained that her eyes hurt.  For a 2 week period at the end of April, Sawyer got sick at school (throwing up) and was sent home.  It wasn't until the weekend of April 22nd that Sawyer would not stop throwing up which made her mom rush to the emergency room.  


After doing some scans, doctors at the ER in Richmond found a tumor on her brain.  Sawyer was then sent to the University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville, VA for surgery to remove the tumor, additional testing and a diagnosis. The doctors there diagnosed her with Anaplastic Ependymoma, which is a stage three (very aggressive) brain cancer.  


Sawyer stayed in the hospital there for several weeks for the team of doctors to develop the best treatment plan for her.  That plan was to get her a spot at St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis, TN.

Sawyer Perkins and her father

Sawyer is now at St. Jude's where they have agreed with the diagnosis from UVA but have even added that she has one specific strand that makes this disease even more aggressive.  Because of this diagnosis and the aggressiveness of the cancer, the doctors at St. Jude have said they are not able to treat the cancer.

Jaime and Sawyer Perkins

Sawyer's parents have been given the choice to treat her with radiation which will deteriorate Sawyer's little body or they do nothing and the cancer would take continue to take over.  Sawyer's mom posted about this choice on Facebook and how hard it will be for her to choose what is best for her little girl.

I wanted to share her story for several reasons.  I am so sad for her and her family but so hopeful we can get a miracle!  But also, because her Mom and Dad are no longer earning an income in order to stay home with Sawyer.  Her mom, Jamie, is a teacher in Henrico County here in Richmond.  She has used all of her sick leave and is now on leave without pay.  Her dad, Nathan, is self employed and does not make money unless he is working.


Some of their friends have created a Go Fund Me page to help support their financial needs.  The local community here is also taking meals by their house every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

There have been many fundraising efforts here in Hanover County!
VA State Police Brian Butchyk helps raise money for iPad for girl with brain cancer. (Source: Kimberly Butchyk)

Here is just one of them

Please take a moment to visit the Prayers for Sawyer page on Facebook to keep up with her story.  You will be able to see posts from her mom about her progress as well as posts like the one from Friday where our class FaceTimed with Sawyer on her ipad!  It was so fun!

Best of luck to all of those teachers ending this school year and here's to a very relaxing summer!

What's in Your Pool Bag? Summer Reading Recommendations for Critical Thinking

A simple search on Amazon Books for "professional development in education" yielded a return of 32,396 books.

It's easy to become overwhelmed by the multitude of Professional Learning books recommended for teachers. At times, it even feels like the books we're asked to read directly contradict each other. How in the world are we as educators supposed to hone our craft, professionally grow despite the increasing demands placed on us and engage students who's attention span shrinks by the year?

Are you on the edge of your seat waiting for the answer?

Well, I don't have a magic formula for you.


I wish I did.

I do, however, have a little book that not only gives practical advice HOW to put the reading into action, it only tells you to do one thing.

Make Just One Change

Click to view on Amazon

It seems both overly simplistic and pedagogically challenging to teach students to ask their own questions. Who has time for that? The SOLs don't explicitly state that it's a necessary skill!

This book has been referenced by people I esteem who are innovating education through Ed Tech and Project Based Learning. This book is not for teachers who want to keep doing what they've been doing and getting the same results. This book is for the Dreamers of Dreams. Still with me? 

An excuse I can already hear you uttering is "this might work for upper grades but my ______ graders will NEVER get this". 

I can't speak for Pre-K and K, but after reading this book and collaborating with a FIRST GRADE teacher on a Pollution PBL Project our entire project was framed around the QFT (Question Formulation Technique) outlined in this book.  Those first graders took some prompting, but some of the questions they came up with were EXACTLY what we would have asked them. One student, Phillip, is often the class clown and tends to not be taken seriously in the class on an academic level. His question became the lynch pin the entire class rallied around. Needless to say, he was engaged in the entire process. That tiny change of using the QFT took an assignment from the teacher's hands and placed it directly in the student's. 

Now, let it be known that a lot of backward design went into this and the teacher gave the illusion of the student's complete ownership and design- she really knew where the learning would end up, but allowed the students to guide the discussion. The students used the QFT to create a "Need to Know List" that answered the driving question of  "How can we inform others about the need to conserve natural resources?"

Some of the questions they asked were:
"What are natural resources?"
"What does Conserve mean?"
"How do we tell people?"
"Where does trash go?"

These questions would all be answered in the unit this teacher and I designed, but the students had a vested interest by being the ones to ask the questions.

I could give chapter and verse on how powerful a tool this tiny change can be, but I'd really just encourage you to read the book. 

There's a decent chance it's at your local library (or online at Overdrive), but you can also get it through Amazon. I bought the Kindle version, and I wish I would've bought the paperback for notes and stickies. There are some outlines and additional resources at It's a good jumping off point, but you really should read the book! (I get no $$ by saying's just a good read)

Enjoy the read and please share out if you get it how you've made changes to your teaching practice!

You can tweet me at my school twitter: @ErinWest_ITRT

Happy Summer!
I work until 30 if you're on break...this one's for you

What an SOL Test Opt Out Means For You and Your School

Find out what happens for the school, teacher, student and parent when a student is opted out of standardized testing.  Be informed to help parents and students navigate testing refusal.

While some of us here in Virginia are ready to release for summer, many of us are still in the midst of SOL testing, remediation, and retakes.  Those scores have become more and more important over the last several years as our school accreditation and teacher evaluations are tied to passing SOL scores.  So what happens to those scores when one (or more) of your students "opt out?"

Let's start at the beginning and see what the Commonwealth of Virginia requires and how the 'opt out' option is provided for.
The Code of Virginia 8VAC20-131-30 states that:
"In kindergarten through eighth grade, where the administration of Virginia assessment program tests are required by the Board of Education, each student shall be expected to take the tests."
Virginia law does not provide for students to 'opt out' of the SOL tests.  But it does allow parents to refuse participation in SOL testing for their children.

What happens when a parent refuses SOL testing for their child?

Virginia Board of Education regulations state that the following procedures should be followed within school divisions when parents refuse participation:
  • The parents should be informed that their student’s score report will reflect a score of “0” for any test that is refused.
  • The school is strongly encouraged to request a written statement from parents indicating the specific test(s) the parents refuse to have their student complete. The document should be maintained in the student’s file as a record of the decision.
  • To account for the student, a test record for the refused test(s) is to be submitted for scoring with a Testing Status 51 coded to indicate the parent refusal.

What does this mean at the building level?

  • Parents do not have to fill out school forms to refuse testing for their children (although some school divisions are requiring that) however, they should send a written request for the refusal.
  • Parents can send in their request at any time before the test, even as late as the day of the test.  Advance notification is not required.
  • Parents can refuse one, some, or all tests.

What does the zero score mean for the school?

Typically, the student's zero score has been averaged in with all the other scores which could significantly effect an overall percentage, particularly in struggling schools.  However, a bill (SB427) just passed the General Assembly this year which allows for up to 5% of a school's testing student's to 'opt out' and their zero scores will not be included.  Any testing refusals over 5% would be included in the school average in order to meet federal guidelines requiring 95% of students are tested.
"The Board of Education shall not include in its calculation of the passage rate of a Standards of Learning assessment for the purposes of state accountability any student whose parent has decided to not have his child take such Standards of Learning assessment, unless such exclusions would result in the school's not meeting any required state or federal participation rate."

What does the zero score mean for the student?

Actually, nothing.

  • SOL scores can only be used as one of multiple criteria in the decision to retain a student.  Retention cannot be based on SOL scores alone.
  • SOL scores can not be used as part of a student's report card grade. 
  • Lack of SOL scores cannot prevent a student from participating in gifted programs, specialty centers, etc.  Also, opting out of an SOL can not prevent a student from taking the next course in that subject.
  • Students can not be required to attend summer school or weekend remediation classes solely based on failing a SOL test in science or history/social science.
  • Students can not be prevented from participating in "SOL celebration" parties because they did not take the test.
Unfortunately, many schools are telling parents otherwise and parents are taking their fight to the Virginia Board of Education.  Beware if your school is attempting to retain a student, require a remediation class instead of an elective, or refuse admission into a special program because a student refused testing.

Please note:  This changes when students reach middle and high school. Students are required to pass certain SOLs in order to graduate. For advanced students, this begins in middle school when they may take several high school credit courses.  Opting out of a high school level course that is required for graduation could result in student not receiving a diploma! 
Additionally, in middle and high school, SOL scores can be used as a part of a student's grade. However, a student's grade cannot be negatively affected if a secondary student opts out or takes an alternative assessment.  

Why do parents choose to refuse testing?

Some parents are in disagreement with the high stakes accreditation and teacher evaluation that is tied to test scores.  They feel this has led to a "teach to the test" mentality and that authentic teaching and teacher autonomy has been compromised. They feel their voices will be more readily heard when state scores are artificially deflated through refusal.  A kind of social protest to exact change.  
Some parents refuse testing because of the more direct impact of stress and worry on their children.  Some children have intense anxiety surrounding tests, especially high stakes tests.
Along those same lines, parents may opt out their special education student.  All students take the grade level tests and when the student is working far below grade level as a result of a disability, parents may refuse testing to prevent the student from taking an inappropriate assessment.
Whatever the reason, it is within a parent's right to refuse testing and the school is required to honor that request.  Please be careful about the information you share with parents concerning the consequences of opting out.  Be sure that you are sharing correct information.  Be informed!

If you have any questions concerning SOL test refusal, please feel free to contact me by email or message me on Facebook.  I will be glad to answer or point you to the right document, agency, or person to help you.

What's in Your Pool Bag? Summer Reading Recommendations for Literacy

Are you in need of ideas for summer reading? This post includes suggestions for books that will help you improve your reading instruction.

"What's in your pool bag?" How do you like the sounds of that quote?  Are you ready to start packing your pool bag? If you're not out yet, just hold on.  It won't be long! 
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