March 14, 2015

Three Ways to Look at Messy Handwriting

Oh handwriting.

I’m kind of a handwriting fanatic.  A friend of mine once said that good manners and good handwriting will get you halfway through life.  The other half is hard work.  What’s so hard about neat handwriting?

Handwriting has gotten shoved to the side in the last 5-10 years.  There’s no time for it now that we have to start test prep in first grade.  Handwriting does matter though-whether it’s because you simply can’t read your students work, or there’s something deeper going on.

Bad Habits

Easily half of the students I work with simply have some really bad habits.  Either their grip is terrible or their letter formation is incorrect.

Why does it matter though?  First, writing is a means of communication.  If you can’t write legibly, you can’t communicate.  Second, when I taught fourth grade language arts we did a ton of writing.  Many of my students held their pencils incorrectly, so their hands got tired well before the work was done.  They hated writing because after awhile it hurt.

It’s easy to make the leap that since there’s so little time to teach handwriting, kids’ poor handwriting is a result of this.  And most of the time that’s true, but sometimes there’s more going on.

Fine Motor Skills

But maybe some of those kids don’t have bad habits, they actually have fine motor issues.  I have used Stetro grips for a long time, and I loved them.  However, I worked with a few kids this year who honestly could not get their fingers to work with them.  That’s why I’m loving these Grotto Grips.  They were designed by an occupational therapist.  They don’t just help kids hold their pencils correctly, they help build hand strength, too.
Here’s a glowing review: One of my students (about 12 seconds before I was going to share these new grips with the group) made a comment about how much she hated pencil grips and that using them was torture (her exact word).  You can imagine how excited she was to see my new grips.  By the end of the group, she was begging to take the grip back to class with her.  These kiddos are asking me where they can buy them.

Vision Issues

No, we’re not talking about Little Sally needing reading glasses.  This is a whole new area of learning for me.  Honestly, as a reading specialist, I’m kind of mad that this never really came up in my 60 hours of graduate courses.  Instead, I learned about it as a mom.

My younger daughter has messy handwriting.  No matter how much I worked with her, made her rewrite, or what grip I found, her handwriting was still messy.  She was also making a lot of careless errors in math.  Flipping the places of numbers when recording her answer, leaving out steps, etc.  She is a now a very strong reader but had gotten of to a slow start.

This teacher momma was beside herself.  My own child couldn’t be bothered to write neatly or check her math work carefully.

Finally, one of her teachers (and now our hero) talked to me about seeing a vision specialist.  Turns out her eye muscles aren’t balanced and don’t converge correctly (come together when focused on text).

Why this matters:

Reading-Her eyes weren’t sweeping across the page together.  There was a lot of backing up and rereading for both eyes to catch up together.  While she’s smart enough to compensate for it, it can definitely interfere with comprehension and most certainly fluency.  For kids with very jumpy vision, you might see kids that never “read" punctuation because they’re eyes aren’t catching it.

Handwriting-Your eyes, brain, and hand are working together.  When these aren’t working together smoothly, handwriting doesn’t flow smoothly either.

Math-When the problems have so much text and so many steps work on, pieces get lost visually.  When your eyes are sweeping across the numbers correctly, the numbers don’t get seen correctly.

Among other tests, the doctor took used a special set of goggles that tracked her eyes as she read.
It was fascinating to watch the screen to see what was happening with her eyes.  Imagine a heart monitor, but the lines represented the movement of her eyes.  None of her yearly eye checks had caught this.  It was such a relief to find out what was going on with this girlie who is so smart but didn’t always look it on paper.

What can you do?  I certainly can’t justify pulling kids from their classroom to work on handwriting, but I do work it in wherever I can.  When were working on phonics skills in isolation, I can work with a kiddo on letter formation.  If we have two minutes left at the end of a group, we might grab some dry erase markers and practice them on the table.  It’s important to see if things can get a little better.  If their not, maybe there’s something bigger going on.

And now it’s spring break for me, so I’m off to spend some quality time with a few projects I pinned on Pinterest!

March 2, 2015

EDexpo 2015 Top 10 and I Geek Out

Hey hey everybody! I had the UH-MAZING opportunity last month to attend EDexpo 2015 in Atlanta.  I wasn’t even sure what it exactly was.  I knew it was an expo that retailers would attend to meet with vendors.  When offered the chance to go, I said yes because:

1.  I’m nosy as heck, and I wanted to know what it would be like.

2.  I would get to meet up with some ladies that I love like these three gals.  Bonus? Peter the Cat was there.  We were a little star struck.
Dana from Prepping the Primary Grid Iron, Deirdre from A Burst of First, PETE THE CAT!!!!, Molly from Lucky to be in First, and me.  Not sure what’s up with my neck angle.  I might need to see a chiropractor if I look like this in real life.

I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I was worried I wouldn’t like 10 things.  Um, yeah.  Not a problem.  At the end of the day, after seeing a ton of amazing products, we each turned in our Top 10 lists.  Those list were compiled to make THE Top 10 list.

Check out these pictures below.  Many of these products are only available through retailers, so you’ll want to check out your teacher supply store.  Click here for a list of retailers from EDexpo.
So, back to the I might not like 10 things.  That didn’t happen.  It was actually pretty amazing because it is usually frowned upon to open packages in stores and start playing with the products.  This was great because the products were out on display, you could really see what was included, how you would use them, and talk to the company selling them.

Here are some of the products that I completely geeked out over:

Right before attending this, I had a conversation with our tech gal about all the “educational" iPad apps that are out there just for the sake of existing.  This product is amazing and what education apps should be.  I’m not going to say much more because I have a whole post half written on how amazing these are.  

We got to meet the amazing creator of this company.  To say we lost our minds would be an understatement.  He gave us each a set of Touchtronic letters.  It may have been because we frightened him, and he wanted us to go away.  We were that enthusiastic.

Here we are with Art.
We liked this so much we went back and took a picture with the very nice sales rep.  Again, not going to say too much about this because I have a post coming on it also, but let’s just say goodbye to those stupid binding combs that are a nightmare, okay?  Heat binding is your new friend.

Fadeless paper in patterns???? I may be willing to give up fabric on my bulletin board for this.

Creative Teaching Press had some beauuuuutiful things.  Okay.  Not some.  A million beautiful things.

Eureka has the CUTEST photo booth sets.

TimeTimer for life.  These things are awesome.  Kids have no concept of time, but they can see red fading away.  Also, it keeps me on track for reading groups.

Mavalous Tape
Yep, tape.  
About 10 years ago we had “Tapegate” at my old school.  We had just built a beautiful new building and a mandate came out that we couldn’t put anything on the walls because it would mess up the paint.


It was a real thing.  Thankfully, this product came to the rescue.  It doesn’t mess up the walls.  Bonus?  It peels nicely off the paper, so you don’t destroy the kids work, and you can reuse it a time or two.

Okay.  Whew! These are just some of the amazing things I saw at EDexpo.  It was such an awesome experience to get up close and personal with all these products and they companies that sell them.  I could kick myself for not getting a selfie with Pete the Cat, though!

February 24, 2015

New Mini Sets, a Sale, and a Freebie

Hi there everyone! I’m back from visiting EDExpo in Atlanta.  I can’t wait to tell you all about it.  But first, I wanted to share a few new sets with you and a little freebie.

I love the colors of this first set.  It’s a St. Patrick’s Day set without the leprechaun green overload.  Not that I don’t love me some green, but sometimes you need something a little more subtle.  This set is a Shop for Shriners set, so all of the proceeds are donated to Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia where my daughter had surgery last summer.  We are so LUCKY to have Shriners in our life.

I loved the colors so much, I wanted to keep playing with them.  Here’s a little freebie for you to download:

I also added these two mini sets to my store:

And, of course, I’ll be participating in the TPT site wide sale! My store will be on sale for two days.  Use TPT code HEROES for an additional 10% off.

February 18, 2015

Peek Inside a Small Group Reading Lesson

This year has been a bit of a whirlwind.  I am teaching 30 minute small reading groups with 1st-4th graders this year--which I am completely in love with.


Holy moly.  The planning.  While I might have multiple groups in a grade, they don't all have the same needs.  So, four grades, multiple needs in each grade, and you've got a lot of planning.  This has also led to an astronomical increase in my TPT spending because with all the planning, I sure don't have time to make a bunch of resources for my lessons.
Here's a peek inside of a third grade lesson using one of my favorite resources.  I always start my lessons with a quick phonics review.  We usually complete a page or two from this book.  It says 4th-6th but easily works with 3rd.
I love these sets from Lakeshore.  (This is not a post for Lakeshore-just me writing about a resource I use.)   I often use articles from other sources, but I like these because they involve less planning/prep on my part.  Each box comes with four different folders. A folder contains teaching points, 6 copies of the story, and a comprehension activity.

Here's a close up of the set we're using this week:
First, we go through the vocabulary words.  While I do talk about the meaning of the word, I use this time to also talk about how to break words apart, any on the go phonics instruction I can sneak in, and what part of speech it is.  We then try to use the vocabulary words to talk about what is happening in the pictures.  It's fast and meaningful, then it's time to move on.  

Then, they read the article using a whisper phone.  (Also known as my favorite resource ever.)  I grabbed these half off at the beginning of the year sale from Lakeshore.
I also keeps a container of Clorox wipes at my table because these six whisper phones get used allllllll day long by lots of kiddos.

After that, we read through the article together.  Sometimes I read parts, but we usually work through one paragraph at a time.  Stopping to discuss along the way whatever is works with the section we've read:


•word solving strategies


•what the author meant

•text structure


•any good fix ups a reader made

Don't try to talk about more than one or two things when you stop though, or you'll take away from meaning plus it's just plain overwhelming for your kiddos.

We'll follow up the second and third day with rereads both silently and aloud to work on comprehension and fluency.  We'll continue to discuss the article and usually have some written response and multiple choice questions (can't escape standardized testing.)

I love Jen Jones' Common Core RIT: Reading Comprehension Sheets resource for quick written responses that require deeper thinking.  And what kid doesn't want to write a text message or hashtag to show what they've learned?  This resource is jam packed with engaging but higher level responses that work for any text.

Got any time saving tips for me for planning small group lessons?

February 8, 2015

I Finished Whole30: 10 Tips That Helped Me Survive

I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself around here.  Earlier this week, I completed Whole30.  If you don’t know what that is, it’s not a typical diet.  It’s a way of eating that is healthier and helps you “reset” your body.  What are we talking here?

•No grains

•No sugar

•No legumes

•No dairy

Did I lose weight?  Sure did.  Seven stubborn pounds and happy with that considering I didn’t exercise (I know, I know, that’s next).  One reason that this worked for me is that I was never hungry.  I ate three meals a day and had a snack every once in awhile.  This girl does not do hungry.


It’s a lot more than a way to lose weight.  My allergies have disappeared (think the seasonal, sniffy kind.  I live in Houston, so all year is allergy season.)  My skin is a million times better.  My energy level is even, so no wanting to fall asleep at school at 2:00 but being wide awake at 10:30.  My intestines are happier.  I won’t go into that, but you can make any conclusions you want there.  It’s also the first time in my entire adulthood I’ve eaten guiltlessly.

If you’re looking for a Whole30 guru, I am not your gal.  You will want to read the book, It Starts with Food (do it or fail).  You’ll also want to check out this post, How Not to Suck at Whole30, from Rachelle at For Blogness’ Sake.

Here are some things I learned along the way:

Read the Book

Read it, read it, read it.  It’s the only way you’re going to make this work.  Otherwise you’re just saying no to all the things you like.  The book is a brain switch to start saying no to all the things that make you feel bad.  And they are making you feel bad.  You don’t even realize it.  How bad?  My Whole30 is finished, but I’m staying 95% compliant because of how good I feel.  I don’t want to lose that.

Join Instagram

Even if you do nothing else with it, the hashtag #whole30 was is a great go to for inspiration.  I saw yummy food, inspirational before and afters, compliant brands of food, basically a whole lot of good to keep me going.  Posting something?  Include the hashtag #teachersofwhole30, so that we can find and support each other.

p.s.  If you do this, do not take a picture of cupcakes or pizza that you’re not eating because of Whole30.  I did NOT enjoy it when I was scrolling through those pictures, feeling all good about my choices.  You don’t want to sabotage someone else in a weak moment.

Meal Plan

Next to not reading the book, not planning meals is going to be the biggest thing to derail you.  I made this cute little planning sheet to motivate me.  You’re welcome to download and use it.  My husband and I sit down ever Sunday and meal plan for the week before going grocery shopping.  Which leads me to my next tip . . .


Go to Pinterest.  Search Whole30.  Pin every food that looks good to you.  When we meal plan, we sit down at the computer with Pinterest pulled up.  We just keep scrolling until we find enough yummy looking food for the week.  Otherwise, we just stare at each other and have this conversation:

Me: “What do you want to eat this week?”
Him: “I don’t know. What do you want to eat this week?”
(This continues back and forth about 12 million more times.)

Here's my Whole30 board if you want to check it out.

Lettuce Scoops Are Your Best Friend

Yep.  Lettuce Scoops.  It’s how you can still eat tacos, chicken salad sandwiches, hot dogs, etc.  Pretty much anything can go on a lettuce scoop.  You’re welcome.

Up Your Data Plan

Grocery trips in the beginning take a looooot longer.  Mainly because you will spend half of your time googling things like “Guar Gum Whole30”.  This doesn’t really bother me.  It’s like being on a mission.  I don’t want anything to sneak past my “I Feel Good Barrier”.  It annoys the heck out of my husband though.

Quit Drinking Cokes Early

This is a big change for your body.  You have trained your body to like certain things.  Did you know sugar effects the same part of your body as heroine and cocaine?  Your first week is not going to be easy.  A lot of people have headaches the first week.  I think that has as much to do with caffeine as it does sugar/carbs.  I gave up drinking Cokes while I was still in the book reading stage because I knew everything else I was going to do was going to be hard, and I didn’t want to do all the hard things while seizing on the ground begging my family for a can of Coke Zero.

“I could never give up my Diet Coke.”  Yep.  Meth heads say the same thing.  Guess what?  You can.  You need it because you’re addicted.  After a few days or a week, you’ll be fine.  This is coming from the girl that drank three cans of Coke Zero/Diet Coke a day for nearly two decades.

Get a Nice Family and Some Good Friends

You need some support here.  My husband was very supportive.  Possibly because he agreed to do it with me then only lasted 3 days.  (FYI-He didn’t read the book.)  He helped me meal plan, shop, and cook.  He’s a good guy.
If your family is not supportive, ask them why they’re being turds.  Basically, you’re trying to make life changes so you can be healthier, live longer, be happier (food does CUH-RAZY things to your hormones), have more energy, and look sassier.  Can they not help you with that for 30 days?  I’m not saying my kids ate spaghetti squash, but we all had meatballs in tomato sauce.  Mine was on spaghetti squash, their’s was on pasta.

I had a lot of support from some blogging friends who were starting Whole30 also.  Find a tribe.  We shared successes and places to find compliant bacon.  That’s right, bacon.  Any diet that includes bacon is doable.

Like Eggs

If you don’t like eggs, breakfast is going to be hard.  Start liking eggs right now.  Search a million different ways to eat them on Pinterest.  There are going to be a lot of eggs.

Cook Too Much

Cook more than you need.  Enough for lunch the next day and hopefully a serving to freeze.    It’s nice to have those extra meals to grab when you end up without enough for lunch or a new recipe is an epic fail.

Was it hard? Yep.  I am I glad I did it?  Yep a million times over.  Because my family is supportive but not to the point of listening to me obsessively discuss how great Whole30 is and whether I will ever find compliant breakfast sausage or not, I started another blog to ramble on about this stuff.  If you want to follow along with me, I started another blog, Clean Eating • Messy Kitchen.  {I was originally going to call it Clean Eating • Dirty Kitchen.  I think it sounds catchier, but I was concerned the Dirty Kitchen part was going to give people Hoarders visions.}

Are you trying Whole30?  Thinking about it?  Or just think I’m crazy?

January 31, 2015

New Jumbo Set and a Freebie!

Hey hey everyone! I just finished up a new jumbo set.

And I’m kind of in love with it.  Let’s look at this loveliness.
Do you see those arrow papers?  Swoon. Expect to see all kind of arrow papers.  I’m going to go back and add arrow and doodle loop papers to all of my Basic Bundle sets.  I hope you like arrows.  They’re going to be everywhere in my store because I’m obsessed.  The arrow in this pattern is from the KG Arrows font.  The super sweet Kimberly Geswein was nice enough to let me use it for my pattern.  Let’s take a closer look:
And then I didn’t want to stop making papers when I was finished with the set.  Also, if I’m going to blog about a product, you should at least benefit from reading about it, right?  So, here’s a little freebie for you.  Thanks for sticking around!

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