How to Organize Supplies from Meet the Teacher Night

At many schools, families bring items from the school supplies list to Meet the Teacher Night.  Nowadays, most supplies are collected by the teacher to be used by the whole class.

I highly recommend that you implement a system for dealing with these goods.  If you don’t, you will spend hours dealing with school supplies.

Cubbies are ideal.  You can make quick labels saying things like “paper,” “Kleenex” or “pencils” and families will sort the supplies for you.  The kids really enjoy it, and parents are happy to help.  Set aside ample room for bulky supplies like tissue, reams of copy paper, and Clorox wipes.

If you don’t have cubbies, designate bins, countertops, bookshelves, student desks, tables, or just patches on the floor for various supplies.  You’ll be glad that the supplies are at least sorted.

You can put the supplies away before school starts—or not.  If school starts the day after Meet the Teacher Night, don’t deal with the supplies after families leave.  Just go home and get some sleep!  The kids can help you put them away.  It’s a fun team-building activity.  Really.

Veteran teachers: showing new teachers how to do this is probably the number one thing you can do to help short of assisting in actual classroom setup.  Last year I showed our new kindergarten teachers how to do this, and they all said I saved them hours.


Meet the Teacher Night: A Guide for Families

Many schools hold Meet the Teacher Night a day or two before school starts.  If your school offers this, be sure to attend.  The event can allay many back-to-school jitters for parents and for students.

Meet the Teacher Night is just that—a chance to meet the teacher.  Don’t plan on having a parent-teacher conference of any length.  The classroom will be full of other families and the teacher’s attention is divided.

If you have an important message that the teacher must know on Day 1, give it in two forms: oral and written.  Introduce yourself and your child, then give your important message.  Stress that it’s important.  It’s also a good idea to leave a short note on your child’s desk, or the teacher’s desk.  Only do this for something truly critical, like a health issue.

Don’t get too worked up about who is or isn’t in your child’s new class.  These things tend to work out.  One exception is if your child is placed with a student who bullied him or her last year.  Alert the teacher in private, but you really need to talk with the principal that night, and tell the teacher you are doing so.

Some schools have a tradition of families bringing in school supplies for Meet the Teacher Night.  If so, be sure to participate because you can lighten your child’s load on the first day of school.

Posted in Back to School by Corey Green @ Aug 25, 2011


The Edible Schoolyard from Chez Panisse Foundation

bookAlice Waters, the famous chef who pioneered the fresh food and local food movement, is ready to change how students think about food.

Many schools like to plant a garden.  Even better: an edible schoolyard!

The Edible Schoolyard is a one-acre garden and kitchen classroom at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California. It is a project of the Chez Panisse Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by chef and author Alice Waters.

The Edible Schoolyard is different from other school gardens, and not just because of the partnership with a world-famous chef.  The Edible Schoolyard began as a cover crop with once-monthly student participation, but now it is a whole acre, and each student participates in 12-30 sessions, depending on grade level.  Students enjoy eating from the Edible Schoolyard, but the project does not aim to supply the entire school with lunch each day.  For that, look to Alice Waters’ School Lunch Initiative.

In 2004, the Chez Panisse Foundation partnered with Berkeley Unified School District to change what the students eat at school and how they learn about food.  After three years, they have transformed the school lunch program.  The students now enjoy fresh, healthy, local foods made from scratch, with seasonal ingredients.  You can read about their success at School Lunch Reform. Be sure to click and read about their accomplishments and lessons learned.

Edible Schoolyard has an affiliate program with a few model Edible Schoolyards around the country.  You can read about the program and maybe even sign up for a workshop.

If you are ever in Berkeley, visit Chez Panisse and the lunch eatery, Chez Panisse Café.  It’s best if you can make a reservation—people book a month in advance.

During summer vacation, my family and I realized we were “in the neighborhood,” so to speak. We walked in to Chez Panisse and the place was packed.  The most gracious manager in the world, Renee, invited us to wait for a cancellation.  Lunch was worth the wait!  The ingredients were fresh and flavorful, the recipes inventive.  I had a strawberry sherbet packed with more strawberry flavor than I ever thought possible.

You can bring Alice Waters to your home with her cookbooks:

The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution
Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea
…and many titles with recipes from Chez Panisse

Celebrate Chez Panisse’s 40th anniversary the weekend of August 26 and 27thThere will be multiple events in the Berkeley area, mostly fundraisers aimed at increasing awareness of Edible Schoolyard.  If you can’t make it to Berkeley, perhaps you can attend one of the Eating for Education dinners at restaurants around the country.

Posted in Education Policy and Reform,Food by Corey Green @ Aug 22, 2011


Back to School Catch-up for Families: Write Something!

Assessments abound at back to school time, and one test your child will face is the “Writing Sample.” Shortly after spending a summer goofing off, your child will be tasked with spending several hours (over a few days) to write an essay.

It’s pretty obvious to most teachers that many students never even hold a pencil during summer break. Imagine your child dealing with that on top of the stress of having to write an essay. The results aren’t pretty.

You can help your child by encouraging him to write something—even a paragraph—before school starts. It will make a difference. By the way, this is a good time to have the “what is a paragraph?” talk with your child. I can’t tell you how many children ask me that question during the writing sample. It’s a good thing that last year’s teacher can’t hear them.

Note: I don’t want to cause stress to you and your child about these back-to-school assessments. I merely want to show you how to help your child brush up skills so her work reflects their actual ability, not the results of summer slide.

Posted in Back to School,Tips for Parents,Writing by Corey Green @ Aug 19, 2011


Back to School Catch-up for Families: Practice Reading Aloud

How is your child at reading aloud? Did you know that this one skill is the main reading diagnostic test for many schools?*

As you prepare for back to school, I strongly suggest that you have your child practice reading aloud. This skill often takes a big hit during summer slide; nevertheless, students usually are evaluated on reading aloud within the first week of school. Have your child practice with appropriate grade-level books if you can, but use easier books if your child is not a strong reader. Check for fluency: a natural cadence, automatic word decoding, good pronunciation and accuracy.

Ten minutes a day is plenty for a child who already reads at grade level (or did at the end of last school year.) If your child was just barely making it last school year, this summer practice is essential and should be longer. You’ll probably want to break it into two fifteen minute chunks a day, more if the child is motivated. For struggling readers, you might want to read the material aloud before the child reads it. Another trick is to read aloud with your child, pulling him along. This is better than having the child stumble through the text.

*One common test is DIBELS, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. It measures how many words your child accurately reads from a grade-level passage in a minute. Schools use this test to quickly identify struggling readers. Teachers often use it to form reading groups.

Note: I don’t want to cause stress to you and your child about these back-to-school assessments. I merely want to show you how to help your child brush up skills so her work reflects actual ability, not the effects of summer slide.

Posted in Back to School,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Aug 16, 2011


Back to School Catch-up for Families: Read a Chapter Book

Many students have nervous jitters at back to school time. It helps to brush up on skills before returning to the classroom.

Ideally, you encouraged your child to read all summer. Regardless, reading a chapter book the week before school starts can make a difference. Besides the obvious benefits of improving skills, reading a chapter book puts your child back in an academic frame of mind. The experience of reading reawakens the child’s vocabulary, important for tests like Star Reading.

I think the most important benefit of reading a chapter book before school starts is extending the child’s attention span. Reading a chapter book (or listening to a parent read aloud) helps avoid this problem for your child.

I know a teacher who distributes a short chapter book to each entering sixth grader at Meet the Teacher Night, two days before school starts. Each child is given homework: finish the book and be ready to take an AR (Accelerated Reader) test on the first day of school. This exercise shows the students and families that sixth grade is serious and provides all the benefits I just described.

Note: I don’t want to cause stress to you and your child about these back-to-school assessments. I merely want to show you how to help your child brush up skills so her work reflects actual ability, not the effects of summer slide.

Posted in Back to School,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Aug 11, 2011


Back to School Catch-up for Families: Review basic facts

Kids and teachers know: back to school is the real New Year. Kids are full of nervous jitters at this exciting time. You can really help by reviewing key concepts before the first day of school.

Ideally, you followed some sort of program to combat summer slide, that significant decline in skills over the prolonged time off. Regardless, a concerted effort the week before school starts can make a difference.

Review basic math facts! I can’t stress this enough. Your child needs to get the same (correct) answer every time. Quick test: ask your child what 5+8 is. If your child doesn’t answer immediately, she needs to study. If your child was super-slow to solve 5+8, back up with easier problems like 3+2, and, last ditch, 3+1. The results might horrify surprise you.

Use flash cards, math games, drill worksheets from Dad’s Worksheets, or my free software: Best Times Tables Practice EVER! and Best Addition Practice EVER!

Posted in Back to School,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Aug 8, 2011


Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: Speak Now

This is Part 5 of a series about Fun with Literacy: Taylor Swift lyrics

My students enjoy applying sometimes stuffy reading vocabulary lessons to decidedly un-stuffy contexts.  Analyzing how Taylor Swift uses figurative language and storytelling techniques to make her hit song “Speak Now” so catchy has been a nice way to spice up our lessons.

By now, my students know that Taylor won’t be stopping by to help us study her songs, but that hasn’t dampened their enthusiasm for noting similes, rhyme schemes, point of view, and imagery in her songs.

I hope you enjoy my literary analysis of the song “Speak Now” by Taylor Swift, a song about Taylor’s fantasy of interrupting a wedding to declare her love (from her album Speak Now).

For Taylor’s story behind the song, click here.

Posted in Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Aug 5, 2011


Chill Music for the Classroom

Lately, I’ve been really into the Soundscapes channel on my cable TV.  The background music helps me focus while I write, and this keeps me from getting up and making snacks.  (A really good one: Frozen Banana Boppers, courtesy of my prankster character Chris.)

I have developed criteria for evaluating music to listen to while you study.  The perfect background music has a calm, steady beat, is written in mostly major keys (too much minor is just depressing), has no lyrics, and isn’t too peppy or catchy.  (No Eine Kleine Nachtmusik while you study.)

Following these principles, I have found some CDs that work like magic with my students.  We all focus much better with these CDs, and when I deviate from them, we tend to have problems.  Here are some recommendations:

Feng Shui Harmony Balance Energy: This CD is magic!  It has mysterious child-calming properties.  The class always falls silent when I play this CD.  I use it sparingly so the effect doesn’t wear off.

Classical Music for Reading: This mix features some of the big names in classical composition and works very well.  Fun fact: I bought this for my class on a trip to Mexico where I also purchased two foam puzzles of the human sistema digestivo.  You can buy the album on Amazon—much easier although less fun.

Poeta by Al Conti: This is a nice calm instrumental album with a New Age sound.  It’s very soothing and is probably the disc we spin most often.  Fun fact: before Al was a composer, he was a soap opera star.

Touch the Sun: I came across composer Eric McCarl on Soundscapes.  This is soothing and pleasant piano music that everyone enjoys.

Classical Music to Study To: After stumbling across Classical Music for Reading, I started getting into pre-selected mixes.  This one is very good, too.  Several of the songs are in minor keys, and they’ll definitely slow you down a little.

Art of the Guitar: Andres Segovia and John Williams: This is a soporific collection of Bach preludes.  I remember I used to play one of them on the piano and if I didn’t watch the sheet music, I’d lull myself into a stupor and just keep looping the song.  It was good background music, though.  This CD is good for calming students to the extreme; not so good for inducing critical thinking.  Still, there is a time and place for this album.

Touched By the Sea: Uplifting Piano Solos: Silvard is another artist I discovered on Soundscapes.  His original compositions are just perfect for background music.  My students and I find it calming and pleasant.

Posted in Classroom Management,Classroom setup,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Aug 2, 2011