What do your students need? Back to School Management Tip



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I adore pinterest for classroom arrangements and decorations.  One year, I diligently searched and figured out how to make an enormous Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Tree.  Another year I decorated in Truffula trees and Dr. Suess themes.  My fellow teachers and parents raved about the room but I eventually began to ask the question of what the students actually thought of their classroom.  Their answers surprised me and changed the way I both set up my classroom and ran it for the rest of the year.

If I just asked, “Do you like this room?” They answered, ” Yes” until one brave soul said, “It is really pretty but we didn’t make it so it doesn’t feel like our classroom.”  That is a huge statement.  I realized that even though I had strived to have a student centered classroom, I had made a beautiful-to-the-adult-eye classroom and not necessarily what my students needed.

To change the classroom, I started asking lots of questions.  “Do you like it when the walls have lots of colors?  How do you like the lights in the classroom; should we use the light from the windows only or the overhead lights? What kind of areas should we have in our classroom?”  This opened up a whole new world of information to me.  My students didn’t all have the same opinions so we would survey them and then talk about the results.  How can we make these preferences work for everyone?

Getting to know me learning edition (2)

Examples of questions to survey your students on.

What ended up happening was that the class as a whole began to develop empathy and understanding for the different preferences or needs that were in the classroom.  We also began to mix up our day, using the light from the windows for writer’s workshop and listening to background music while we did math.  It also made the discussion of how to make our classroom community the best that it could be a regular part of our classroom culture.  Kids felt free to talk about things that bothered them and then the other students would work on solutions for them.

My room may not look as pinterest ready now, though sometimes the students hit on an idea that we can go all out for, but I’ve gained a caring, peaceful class culture that I would never change.  Parents often tell me that their students feel safe and cared for by both me and their peers.  I couldn’t ask for a better learning environment than that.

You can ask your students a question a day or you can take some class sessions and let them survey their peers.  This is a freebie that lets kids tell you about their learning preferences.  It also includes some follow up activities to let them tally the results of the class as a whole and then form class agreements based on that information.  Just click on the picture below.

Back to School

Little Vikings

Follow the blog hop to get more beginning of the year classroom management and organization ideas.  Keep following through all the blogs – there are lots of brillant ideas being shared!



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Breakthrough Challange-Place Value edition!

Several weeks ago, my colleagues and I had the amazing opportunity to see James Nottingham speak on education and the importance of giving students the tools to succeed at school by promoting their growth. One of the amazing tools and ways to do such as he explained is through this idea of a ‘breakthrough’; essentially presenting something new to the students and allowing them to figure it out using their prior knowledge and problem solving skills.  I immediately thought of fun and exciting ways to implement this idea of breakthrough in my classroom!
The following week, I presented the weekly Breathrough Challenege in my class during Math Facts! Every week (mid week) the students would be given a question related to the math concept we are studying. Students would be able to use their prior knowledge to solve the question and conversely, have a breakthrough in their learning! This is a great tool to introduce new concepts as the questions that arise during the consolidation of the Challenege can lead the inquiry of the next concept.
The Breakthrough Challenge for this week surrounded the hundreds block in place value. Students were already familiar with the tens and ones blocks. The question presented to them was how many tens and ones blocks can you fit in this hundreds block? Using the chart down below, in a group they had to discuss what they thought and how they knew using the blocks provided to them as their evidence.

The consolidating of these Breakthrough Challenges are our favorite part of the experience as we all love to hear what everyone came up with and their rationale behind their answers! It’s always great to see my students so excited about their learning; especially when it is through their own discoveries!

Zahra (banner)


Freebie Student Reflections

This is a rant: Why is it when you google “student reflection sheets” the only hits you get are for behavior?  Is that truly the only thing we want kids to reflect on in school? End rant.

I believe strongly that kids need to have a say in their own learning, as well as, the classroom set-up of the place where they spend most of their day for nine months.  I want students to become active participants in forming a classroom that is fair, meets their needs and the needs of others, and feels like the kind of place that you want to be.Lower Primary Student Reflection

There are so many ways to do this.  I’m a big, big fan of Positive Discipline’s classroom meetings and the PYP’s learner centered environment, but I have to say that I’m concerned if the only times we stop to get children’s feedback is when we are disappointed in their behavior.  Perhaps our not listening to all of their other concerns might even increase the need for behavior reflections?

compass points reflection

I made these to try and create a place for students to take some time to stop and reflect about all parts of their school day and how they feel about them.  The results in anonymous form might come up in classroom meetings where we as a group try to problem solve how we can make school better for everyone.  Everyone’s voice matters and I want to create a classroom where every person’s voice is heard.How I feel about school

Little Vikings


The PYP Learner Profile and EAL

The PYP Learner Profile runs through every classroom and is part of the core of an IB education.  I love the focus they bring to the whole child and kids, in my experience, often start to live up to what the Learner Profile asks of them. However the words themselves are long and it takes some time for those words to stick. For EAL students they can simply be a mystery.

On Friday, I started training teachers new to the IB and one of the questions I head from the new 6-7 year olds teacher was, “How do I make the Learner Profile engaging and child friendly?”  I’d love any comments you want to add but here is what I suggested.

It does not have to be pre-made posters that you put up.

  • Use literature– When I taught 5-6 year olds we went through the literature we were using as read-alouds and tried to find characters that were demonstrating Learner Profile traits.  We then made signs and the kids drew pictures of these characters to remind them.  (i.e Sam from Green Eggs and Ham was a risk-taker, the Berenstain Bears were caring, Franklin the turtle was a thinker…)
    • This was probably the best for young EALs as they could at least use the picture to help define what we were talking about.


  • Let them define it– one year I simply wrote each of the Learner Profile traits on a piece of paper and as we focused on each one of them the kids brainstormed ideas of what each one would look like in action.  They wrote or drew what they thought it looked like.For EALs Google Translate is your friend.  We would often talk to parents and use Google Translate to determine the right word in the students’ home language for each word.  They would then do the same activity.


  • Let it grow– I’ve seen several colleagues have sentence strips with each Learner Profile trait written on one.  As students saw another person in their class exhibiting a Learner Profile trait they would add a sticker to the sentence strip.  I’ve also seen this with scoops of sand into a jar and puzzle pieces that go onto a tree. The bottom line is give the kids the power to reward each other and it can take on wings from there.thinkers
  • Charades – Whenever we had five minutes to fill, we used to play Learner Profile Charades.  Put the traits in a jar and let one child come up and draw a trait.  They act it out while the rest of the class guesses which Learner Profile they are demonstrating.  This was a favorite activity!caring
  • Make your own posters.  The kids started telling us when to take photos and what Learner Profile Trait they were displaying.  I would basically do something like this and quote them.  We would display in the hallway and in the classroom.  Parents loved this one!

Update: Here is my personal poster for the Teacher modeled Learner Profile Board.  The kids think it is hilarious.

lpHope your start of the year is great!  //Jenny Jenny (banner)


Freebie International School Welcome pennant

It is the middle of summer, the time of year that teachers start getting ready for the next school year.  My brain has currently only started thinking about the first week.  I know that in that week, international schools will be celebrating their diversity of languages and cultures.  I’m personally a little sick of only seeing national flags so I thought this year’s class could make a pennant.    Each child will get their own page to decorate and present the important information (i.e. how they say hello, their name, their languages and countries, and what they look like).  We will then string it together for a large class banner.  I envision it looking something like this.

Getting to Know Me International School Freebie
There is a shout-out in the banner to several important internationals, many of who may have been given the wrong age for entertainment/educational purposes.  I’m excited to see each pennant decorated and hanging together as a class.

A brillant colleague of mine introduced me to a new beginning of the year flag acitivity.  She started by putting her students into groups of four.  She then made them divide an A3 paper into four sections . They needed to create team flags that represented their backgrounds/likes/cultures.  The only rules she gave them were that 1) they needed to agree on how they would make the flag and 2) they couldn’t use their home countries’ flags as part of their team flag.  I thought it was brillant and with her permission, I added that idea to the freebie. Now it has a few ideas to help in your back to school weeks.

Getting to know me learning edition

I also made a Back to School Pennant for Learning Preferences.  Even if you’re not at an international school this one can still be great for you.  This has a pennant to decorate into a class banner but it also has a student survey that I think will be highly valuable.  You can then collate the data and share it with the students.  I put in a mini-lesson idea for how to start student discussions about how they can make their classroom a place where everyone can learn.  It is an inquiry based way to find out what students like and then make them part of finding a workable classroom management system.

They’re both free and available in my Tpt store Little Vikings.  You can click on either cover image to go directly to that product.



When Inquiry (or Pirate Ship Building) Goes Wrong

Pirate-FlagWe were so excited.  Our K-er’s had a class discussion and decided that instead of their teachers setting up an in-depth role-play station, they wanted to do it.  We let them know that  we needed the role-play to be able to work with 2D and 3D shapes, allow for science experiments, and have some form of writing.  They took our requirements and came up with the best creative idea: Pirate Scientists.  They would build a pirate ship out of 3D shapes and then do science experiments in the ship.  Brilliant.

We started collecting boxes and all manner of junk, but the K-er’s couldn’t make their ship stick together.  Ticky-tac didn’t work, so they upped their game to try glue.  Our glue sticks didn’t work, so they wanted to make cement.  We finally all came to the conclusion that we needed 1) all of our materials to be the same size – we voted on milk cartons and 2) they needed the strongest-holding-together-thing on earth – i.e. duct tape.  Once we had the right materials our pirate ship made rapid building progress and the kids did indeed role-play as pirate scientists.  They all brought costumes from home and were free to put them on and play in the ship with their “science experiments” and shapes. We had visitors coming to see our role-play area and we even got a shout-out from our colleagues at a PYP course in Vienna.  What more could we ask for?

We loved the ship so much we let it stay up over Christmas break.  We finally all decided we wanted to use the space in the classroom for something else, so we gleefully set to destroying our pirate ship.  The only problem was, we had made it out of milk cartons and despite dedicated attempts to check all cartons, some were used as building materials without being thoroughly cleaned.  We had 8 weeks of decomposing milk hidden within the building blocks of our ship.  Black moldy milk was flying across the room in beautiful, smelly arcs.  Lets just say that  the smell (“really smelly Danish cheese” was the constant yell) and the resulting discussions (why would old milk smell like cheese?) taught us more science than all of our carefully laid out experiments.  Though we are all a little leery of pirate scientists now.

(For your enjoyment, a picture of the partially dismantled pirate ship seconds before the “smell to end all smells” is revealed to the world.)

the dying pirate ship