Friday, October 24, 2014

A Cozy Chat and Some Monstrous Ideas

Hello Everybody! I hear some of the hardest weeks in school are these that we're in right now-- the honeymoon period is over, so much stuff is going on with parent-teacher conferences and assessments, and Thanksgiving break is still only a far away speck on the calendar. I'm busy, but loving my class and taking each day as it comes. Thanks to Kacey at Doodle Bugs for her Five for Friday link-up to share with you what I hope are some helpful ideas.

1.  I'm gearing up for the bulk of my parent-teacher conferences next week. A photo might not be the first way a teacher thinks of to share about parent-teacher conferences, but for me, the details of the setting are the first important detail.

Let's have a little chat!
I very much want parents to feel the conference is a conversation, so a comfortable setting is crucial. We meet in front of my "fireplace" looking at each other. I have a small side table available to hold my notes and handouts. There is space for parents to sit together on the couch, if both parents come to the conference.  And just as crucial there is a third chair to form a triangle when separated parents come to the conference as the couch might be too cozy in some cases. And yes, I pretty much insist that separated parents come for one conference. It's not twice the time that I must give for two conferences that is my concern, but that both parents hear the same information from me.

On that little table, I always have some handouts for parents to go away with. Tips for practicing math concepts or letters, sight, or rhyming words. I also suggest a good read– Lucy Calkins' Raising Lifelong Learners. This is not a "parenting" book, per se, but one that talks about how parents can support their child's learning from pre-K through high school. It is a fantastic book that I recommend all teachers and parents read. I copy the chapter on raising readers to give to parents as a tease. (Copying one chapter of a book for educational purposes is allowed.) Many parents end up buying the book, and I have a few copies to loan out as well.

Another important detail of my conferences is my opening line. "I have lots to share about your child, but we'll start with what you most want to know about. Don't worry, I'll fit all I have to share around that." I think it is important to share control of this meeting– parents and I are partners in the education of their child, after all. Sometimes parents respond by saying their preference is for me to start with what I have. Sometimes parents think a minute and give me an answer. Sometimes they know immediately what they want to hear about. Another reason my opening line is important to a good parent-teacher conference is because I know people have a hard time listening when they have a pressing question in mind. Much better to satisfy that so we can move on to cover everything else. And how horrible is it to come to the end of a conference, with the next parent waiting in the wings, and be asked a question that could have been easily discussed if you had known that was important to the parents!

Teachers sometimes ask me if I can still get in all I need to say if I allow the parent to begin. My answer is yes. I basically structure my conferences into two equally important parts– academics and social/learning behaviors.  I start with student strengths in these areas, then move on to concerns, though I do not see the standard parent-teacher conference as the time to discuss these fully.  I usually share what I see, giving examples, and then talk about the ways I work with the student on these points. I always tell parents I will follow up further, usually after the first report card comes out.

What elements of parent-teacher conferences are important to you?

2.  Oh, how I hate the clean up that happens at the end of the school year! WHY am I thinking of that NOW? Because this last year, for some reason, I lost so much stuff! Among the items that still haven't resurfaced is a very neat laser pointer. It was also a clicker, allowing me to click on my computer remotely when using it with a projector. I used the laser all the time in class to point out resources in the room to kids. It is important that kids remember to use the word wall, or our anchor charts posted around the room. When I'm working with a child that needs to look at something specifically, it is so useful to be able to use a laser pointer to show them where to look, so neither one of us has to get up to see it. I finally couldn't stand being without a pointer any more and decided to buy another. They are surprisingly pricey at office supply stores, but our trusty ACE Hardware store had a BARGAIN! A laser pointer that is also a LED flashlight AND a pen for only $3.50. At just an ordinary pen size, it is really portable as well. Yippee!

It looks like an ordinary pen but it's a laser pointer!

3. Well, aren't I crafty! I made a moveable number line! I took a meter/yard stick (a little longer than a regular yard stick to give more number room) and covered it with bright green masking tape. I wrote numbers every 1.5 inches, as every inch made the numbers too close together to be easily read. I then ran a strip of press-on magnetic tape on the back  Voila!

Number lines are important tools in math and we learn about numbers, number order, counting, addition, subtraction, etc.  And I can move it into and out of prime student viewing space on the white board as needed. So much easier than drawing or using masking tape for the line on the board. WHY didn't I think of it before?? I put a bit of magnet on the back of a little car, some little animals and lego guys, and of course, some monsters, to use as place holders when I move around on the line. "If the monster made three hops, and then he made two more, how many hops did he make?" Always keep it fun!

4. Do you use Phone-a-Friend in class? I find it helps kids control blurting and gives think time when playing learning games. We started with parent centers this week and parents are teaching it to the kids. Eventually they'll be able to do it on their own with lots of different games.

If one student turns over a card or lands on a spot, and can't do the task- say, read the sight word- they can "phone-a-friend." They hold their hand up to their cheek and says "Ring-ring, Sam" or whoever they choose.
Like my model child? I was too busy at schools to get a photo!
The stumped child knows who to call on because the kids who know the answer put their hand on the table in the "phone position."

It those kids do any blurting, like "me, me, me!" they can't be called on for help. This ability to signal that they know the answer keeps all the kids engaged through everybody's turn. Sam holds her "phone" to her ear and says the answer. The child who didn't know, then learns and gets to go on playing. The kids really like to use this element in games, and I love that it gives everyone think time, keeps kids engaged, and teaches the ones who need to know what we're working on. It also deemphasizes competition and puts a positive spin on helping everyone get the answer.

5. Tis the season for monsters... well, for me it is always the season for little monsters, as I've posted about numerous times before. I have a monster pin board that has everything from food, to art, to clothes, to toys, to learning activities-- and all MONSTER! You want to check it out, especially with Halloween just a week away.  Click on the Pin Board pic here.

And I'll leave you with this little video– I think it was around when I was a kid, so we can call it a classic. It will have you all bopping around the room for some Halloween brain breaks.

Scooch on back to Five for Friday for lots more fun!

Here's to a great week-before-Halloween, Everybody!

The post A Cozy Chat and Some Monstrous Ideas first appeared on


  1. Wow! What a warm and inviting environment for parent teacher conferences. I had a couch in my room at one point but had to get rid of it because of a lice outbreak in my classroom...or so said my administrator. You have a great voice in your blog. I'm just starting with blogging so this is something I am working on. Your number line is genius! Going to see if we have colored masking tape in the Bahamas or I am ordering some. My daughter uses a number line to help her and I think my 3 year old could even join in. Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend!

    1. Ah, what a lovely thing to hear! Thanks! Hope the number line works for you. I'm going to go check out your blog now, too. I'd love it if you'd follow! I'm really trying to reach 200!! See you around! Kathleen

  2. I love your fireplace and that you can have the cozy seating! Teacher envy!! :)

    1. Hi Kacie! Nice to hear from you! Remember, that fireplace is just a doctored up mantle. Keep your eyes out for one because they're around. The only drawback to it is that it takes up wall space... but if it's in your library area, it's so worth it. I don't think I could teach without it now! My classroom is my second home! Thanks for stopping by! Kathleen

  3. I absolutely love that cosy space for your parent conferences - it's amazing!
    I've nominated you for the Liebster Award - find out more here:

    1. Whoa! Wow! Yippee! and Yay! Thanks, Pixie Anne! So happy to be offered the Liebster. Guess I know what I'll be posting soon :) THANKS! Kathleen

  4. Love the fireplace! This post has so many great ideas. So glad I found you!

    1. Thanks so much, Bren. This was an especially good Friday link-up because I found lots of bloggers I didn't know about yet, as well. Kathleen

  5. So I am completely in LOVE with the environment that you have set up for parent conferences!!! I want my own "fireplace" now!
    I too let the parent start the conference and I have never had a problem getting in what I needed to say - it is so helpful letting them start with any questions they may have, rather than waiting until the end when, like you mentioned, there may be parents waiting!

    1. Thanks, Alex! Glad to hear you start with parents, too. I enjoy hearing how others do conferences as there are lots of ways to think about them. Thanks for stopping by! Kathleen


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