Motivating students to do their best

Ok, friends!  Let's be real for a second.  

Am I the only one who gets a teeny, tiny bit frustrated when you look at the work your students have done during centers while you were working with reading groups (or math groups)?   If I am, please feel free to stop reading right now.  

But like most teachers, I spend the whole first month of school teaching, modeling, practicing, reteaching, and guiding students through the process of centers in our classroom.  I don't pull groups until October.  I do pull some kids one on one to do some testing in the beginning but I take many breaks and walk around the classroom to point out the positive and redirect the negative.  After each session we have a class meeting and discuss how it went.  We review procedures.  We celebrate the students who were working hard.  By the end of September it feels like they really get it.

Then, between the time on that Friday when they "get it" to the following Monday when we actually start guided reading ----- they FORGET!!!  I don't know what happens.  They forget where to find the centers (same place as the whole month before).  They forget where to turn in finished papers (same place as before).  They forget their names on papers.  They rush to finish their work.  Ahhhhhhh!!!!!

So naturally I start to question myself.  Did I rush into this?  Did I not model enough?  But then I remember a little thing called Gradual Release of Responsibility.   I can't expect them to be 100% perfect on their own, when the previous week they were used to me monitoring and redirecting.  I needed to still take a few minutes in between reading groups to walk around and do this.  The reason they were so good was because I was right there with them.  I can't just desert them now!  

One lesson learned!

The next thing I did was find the students (in this case there were really only 3) who really tried their hardest during centers and did their best work.  They had been working quietly and followed directions.  Plus, the work they did showed great effort and just what I was looking for.  

So instead of pointing out the other 15 kids whose work was sub-par at best, I celebrated these 3 kiddos so everyone could SEE what I was looking for.  They got stickers and their papers were hung up on the board for all to see.  I also rewarded these 3 kids with an amazing thing called CHOICE!  

They earned a star on the center chart, which meant they got to do Bonus Centers after they finished their other centers.  They could choose where to go next.  I have found that choice is always motivating. 

They could choose a center card from this little bucket and place it in the center chart in front of their name.  Some bonus centers only allow for a couple people, so once it's full the other students have to choose something else.  Since there were only 3 of them doing this, they didn't fill any of the centers.  

My goal is that eventually most, if not all of the students, will earn Bonus Centers.  For those of you who do strictly Daily 5, you already know how motivating choice can be.  Although I do not follow Daily 5 at this point with my centers, these bonus centers have a twinge of Daily 5 infused in them.  The choices for Bonus Centers for now are:  Listening Center, Games (phonics and word work games), Read with a Buddy, Big Book Center, and iPads.  In case you were wondering, their normal centers are: Word Work, Writing, Spelling, and Pocket Chart.  

I've told the students that they can all EARN Bonus Centers, but they can also LOSE Bonus Centers.  They get to keep the star in the chart as long as they are doing their best work during center time.  I'm hoping this will help my kiddos stay motivated and keep thinking about trying their best.  

What do you do in your classroom to keep kids motivated to do their best work?  How do you manage centers?  I'd love to hear what works for other teachers too =)

Oh October, where did you come from?

Do you ever get to a new month and think, that can't be right?  

I could've sworn it was just the 1st of September and now October shows up unexpectedly!  As you can see from my picture I put on Instagram, I was completely surprised by the change in month and forgot to change my calendar.  Don't worry, the kids were very quick to let me know about it.  Unlike me, they do not miss a beat.  

So seeing as how I was a little confused about what month it is, it probably doesn't surprise anyone to see that I am a little late in my Apple celebrations as well!  I know a lot of other people were probably right on the ball and timed this perfectly with Johnny Appleseed's birthday last week.  Not me!  I like to build up the suspense and anticipation.  I think it adds a little extra something to the festivities (or something like that)  =)

So without further ado, here is a run down of our Apple Extravanganza!

This was how we started our day - with a little interactive morning message.  I always try to incorporate some of what we're learning in the messages, like sight words, phonics instruction, vocabulary, and grammar for the week.  

It also happened to be on Friday and every Friday we say T.G.I.F.  I say to the students, "What day is it?" They reply, "Friday!"  Then we say together, "T.G.I.F.  Thank Goodness It's Friday!!!"  I mean, who doesn't love Fridays???  You have to celebrate the little things.  

On a side note, I started a little link up on Instagram for Fridays where you tell what you're most looking forward to for the weekend.  Just use the hashtag #fridaylinkup when you post.  
I'd love to hear about all the fun teacher weekends out there.  We teachers deserve our weekends - don't you agree??  If you want me to see it, tag me @firstgradesmiles

I digress.  Back to apples. . .

For math we focused on making 10.  


This was probably the highlight of the day for most of the kids.  We started with some Apple Jacks for counting and some Zoo Pals paper plates.  

Am I seriously the last one to realize how cute and fun these plates are for math???  Where have I been?  

Each student got a plate, a bag of Apple Jacks (more than 10 for a little snack of course), and this little booklet.  


They had to count out 10 Apple Jacks (all one color to avoid confusion) and put them in the large part of the plate.  Then they split them in 2 groups and put them into the two smaller sections (for some animals it's the ears, others it's the eyes or paws).  Next they colored in the apples in the booklet to match the two groups and write a number sentence.  

I was SO impressed with my little kiddos and how they totally GOT IT!  They just went to town making new groups, coloring apples, writing number sentences, and repeat.   The final page of this booklet has some missing numbers problems.  Normally these are super hard for the kids at this point in the year, but with Zoo Pals plates and Apple Jacks - not so hard.  They were rockstars!! 

Here are two centers that will be going into math tubs next week.  

Matching the picture to the number sentences:

And this super cute MATHtivity:  

If you're interested in the making 10's book, center, and creativity - I just posted it on TpT.  

Later in the day we read this Scholastic News that had this adorable song on the cover.   Anyone else get Scholastic News?  I just love them.  Really great nonfiction resource that ties in social studies, science, and even math sometimes.  The kids love them too!

We are also doing Five Senses in Science right now, and Apples fits in perfectly with that.  Here is my amateur attempt at an anchor chart (I do try, but they never come out as cute as I want them to).  We started this earlier this week.  

Then we did this tree map.

I had the kids do a little writing about apples using our sensory images while I called kids up to do some apple tasting.  Of course we graphed our results.

And no, I don't have only 13 kids in my class.  There's a bug going around and we had a bunch absent.  I also took off one yellow because it covered the title.  I need to make a longer graph next year =)

Finally we finished our day with some homemade applesauce in the crock pot.  We actually began our day with making the applesauce, but here is the finished product.  Yummmmmmy!!!!

I just love apple day!!!  Next week we are going on a field trip to go apple picking too!  Can't wait!

Before you go - I have a few fun closing remarks:

1. When I got home I had my girls do some apple tasting as well.  Here is what they picked: 

They took the decision very seriously =)

2. Here is a picture from Bradley's Learning Paradise on Instagram showing a boy with one of my Math About Me freebies.  I just LOVE seeing other kids enjoying something I've created.  Totally makes my day!!!

3. Finally, I have to give a shout out to Laura Candler.  If you don't know who Laura Candler is then I am completely shocked.  Honestly!  Laura, to me, is a pioneer in the world of blogging and sharing resources.  When I first started teaching 12 years ago (gasp!) her site was so incredibly useful to me.  She graciously shares SO many resources!  She was kind enough to promote my Nonfiction Text Features Scavenger Hunt on her Facebook page: Laura Candler's Teaching Resources, which has over 100,000 followers!  Holy Moly!!!  I cannot say enough about how much respect I have for her and I am so honored to be a small bleep on her radar.  You need to stop over and check out all she has to offer!  You could spend HOURS (and I have) searching through her incredible sites.  

Here's her blog: Corkboard Connections.  
Corkboard Connections

I hope you'll head over to spend some time there!  You won't be sorry =)