The Chalk Blog

Barb Istas

Recent Posts

School Year Reflections - Notes to Self...

For many educators, summer break has begun and it’s transition time.  During the school year, our students have inspired and challenged us - often both on any given day! We’ve planned and paced, listened and learned, taught and re-taught content along with every other standard assigned to us! And now, at the beginning of the blessed summer, some teachers will reflect on what worked and what needs improvement for next year’s teaching and learning. (Or, maybe this blog post will spark an idea for next year’s transition time!) 

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Topics: Teaching Wellness & Inspiration

Teaching and Gardening

In my first years of teaching, I believed I could never do enough to support my students. I wanted spectacular outcomes for every single 6th grader on my roster. I struggled to “achieve” as a teacher, and in doing so, I unknowingly put a lot of pressure on my students and myself.

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Topics: Teaching Wellness & Inspiration

10 Tips for a Sensational Summer

It’s a wrap!  Most students and teachers have cheered for the last bell of the school year and are already sailing into summer!  Beyond the usual—family vacations, home projects, professional development, day-dreaming and downtime—you might be wishing for a surefire plan to enjoy every single day of summer. Here are 10 quick tips and links to inspire your summer success:

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Topics: Teaching Wellness & Inspiration

Parent Teacher Communication Tips

Teachers and parents team-up for education outcomes each year and play to win for the sake of their child, our student. Just as each student brings a unique set of strengths and challenges, so do the parents. It’s our job to inspire and educate all our students based on their individual needs, which means we must also inspire, educate, and tag-team with parents to ensure our combined efforts result in progress and success for their child, our student.  

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Topics: Teaching Advice

Teaching Tips to Increase Classroom Conversation

What’s the condition of conversation in your classroom today? Are students engaging with each other - exchanging ideas, building relationships, and learning together? Are you connecting in face-to-face dialogue with your students throughout the school day? Is there a buzz of talk underlying daily learning outcomes? Are students looking up from digital devices routinely and strategically to discuss new learning?  If so - congrats, keep going!  If no - keep reading for some conversation inspiration! 

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Topics: Teaching Advice

Literacy Enrichment - National Poetry Month Ideas

Welcome, awe-inspiring April!  You are my favorite month and here’s why: 

  1. Despite severe winter fatigue this year, we keep the faith that spring will appear!
  2. Your showers bring May flowers.  
  3.  You are National Poetry Month.

You don’t have to be a poetry super-fan like me or teach language arts to engage poetry in your classroom instruction. Poetry has the power to connect all of us - students and teachers alike - quickly and deeply. In celebration of April, surviving winter to welcoming spring, please allow me to offer some of National Poetry Month’s highlights from former 6th graders and me. 

How to enjoy National Poetry Month: 

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Topics: Literacy

Digital Literacy & 3 Ideas for Digging Deeper

Teaching reading is not for the faint of heart - it’s serious work that deserves constant attention, adaptation, and adjustment. And now, to ensure reading success for all students, educators have to engage and embrace a maze of digital literacy tech tools. As a veteran teacher who began teaching before personal computers were accessible in schools (please don’t do the math), keeping up with technology became a professional priority. I felt proud (and scared) of every teaching tech step, but it didn’t take long before my 6th grade students were racing ahead and I had stay in gear to keep up every single day of my teaching career.   

Even though digital literacy presents powerful teaching and learning potential, there are daunting challenges in a world exploding with screens, causing even the toughest of teachers to wonder:  

  • How does one teacher guide the ever-increasing interactions of all students and their screens during any given school day?   
  • How does one teacher evaluate and identify best apps or tools to put in the hands of each student based on specific literacy and learning needs?   
  • How does one teacher develop a trust for tech tools that expand or expire by the day?   
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Topics: 21st Century Learning

Spring Break Reading List & Tips

The feeling of relief that comes with spring break is high on the list of teacher “perks,” don’t you agree? Surviving winter with report cards and parent-conferences requires professional superpowers. And looming standardized testing dates strain most teachers with anxiety and apprehension. If it weren’t for a precious little spring break slotted right in between these two teacher stress-points, we might all just go hide in a cave and hibernate. But never fear, spring break is near!   

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Topics: Literacy

Reading Fluency - Taking Time to Practice

 

Reading is a complex skill - this truth is visible and audible. Consider the critical path from phonemic awareness to phonics & word study to decoding to fluency to vocabulary - all the way to comprehension, everyone’s desired destination. Now consider the roadblocks that cause readers to stall or stumble on the road to reading proficiency.   

According the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy (July 22, 2017), if solid reading skills aren’t formed during a child’s early years, the odds of dropping out down the road increase significantly. Kids who aren’t successfully reading at grade level by the third grade are four times less likely to finish high school. Think about this statistic - it’s staggering.  

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Topics: Literacy

Reading Connections: Getting to the Heart of Reading

Books that Changed Us - Our Curriculum & Instruction Team Shares Some Reading Love 

I’ve been recently inspired by a trending professional book called, "Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters," by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst. It presents how to better support all readers in developing lifelong reading habits and promotes reading values beyond the skills. Using a simple framework and “disrupting thinking,” it challenges teachers to guide students deeper into reading connections by considering the following: 

  • What you noticed in the text (Teachers typically do this - skill-based strategies.) 
  • What happened in you, your thinking, as you read the text (Do you ever ask this?) 
  • What you took to heart, what touched you or made you look at yourself or your world in a new way (How about this one?  It goes deep!)  

I love how this launches readers’ thinking over and above the search for “right answers,” and inward to their own minds and hearts. Wow - this resonates with me!  As an avid reader, I began to consider these thinking cues and recognized them as the prompts that keep me coming back for more and more books. I get to the heart of reading and I can see and feel how the reading changes me - or doesn’t.   

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Topics: Literacy

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