Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Keeping the Wonder Workshop: A Workshop for Secondary ELA Teachers

Some people plan an event then find the perfect venue for it; I found the perfect venue then planned an event. From the moment I saw The Story Shop on a home design blog of all places, I knew that I wanted to host something in this magical bookstore. Though I've never planned anything like this in my life, the idea of hosting a workshop for English teachers grabbed onto me and just wouldn't let go. At one point it looked like it wasn't going to work out, but in the end it did, and now I know why it was meant to be.

Here was my goal for the workshop: 

Keeping the Wonder Workshop: A Secondary ELA Workshop at the Most Magical Children’s Bookstore Ever!

Elementary teachers spend their entire careers building a love of reading, but as secondary English teachers, we run the risk of tearing down this foundation with rigidity disguised as rigor. Magic, whimsy, and play don't have to end in elementary school. Join us for a hands-on workshop where you will learn alongside four high school English teachers who strive to create engaging classrooms full of wonder! Topics include: Incorporating picture books, using stations, transforming classrooms, infusing real-world scenarios, improving classroom environment, and lots more!

From the feedback we received and the feeling we left with, I feel certain that I met and even exceeded this goal! 

This bookstore is even more magical than the pictures suggest and the sixty teachers who showed up to learn with us made our time at The Story Shop an unforgettable experience. We were surrounded by passionate English teachers from all around the U.S. who took a day away from their summer break to learn strategies for keeping the wonder in secondary ELA. Their energy and hearts filled this beautiful space, and I think we all left with feelings that we want to bottle up and keep all school year long.

Because of the crazy world known as Instagram, I was able to sweet talk some incredible presenters to travel half a day to Monroe, Georgia. Here they are in their elements: 

(Ok, this first one is me, but I did drive four hours to get here. This place is totally worth a road trip by the way). 

Ashley Bible @BuildingBookLove
Ashley Bible is a high school English teacher who strives to build a creative learning environment for her secondary students. She holds a Master of Arts Degree in English from East Tennessee State University. After gaining ten years of teaching experience, Ashley recently took a year off from the classroom to teach online British Literature while traveling around the U.K. She looks forward to returning to the classroom this year!

I presented in the young reader's room (swoon), and we had a great time learning all about Storybird and how I use it in my high school classroom. I also gave a fun and crafty get-to-know-you idea that later became extra decorations in the party room. You can catch a glimpse of them in Jenna's picture below. 

Jenna Copper @DocCopTeaching
Jenna Copper is a full-time high school English teacher and a part-time college professor specializing in perspective-taking learning to build critical reading and writing. She earned her Ph.D. in Education in 2013. In addition, she is a curriculum writer and researcher, and she designs resources to inspire creative thinking.
You can read more about what she presented on and her takeaways here: 

Staci Lamb @TheEngagingStation
Staci Lamb is a high school English teacher committed to engaging students, sparking creativity, and empowering other educators. She is currently serving as the 2018 Cecil County Public Schools Teacher of the Year, and she is pursuing her master’s degree in School Leadership. She is passionate about transforming classrooms and schools through collaboration between all stakeholders of education.
You can read more about what she presented on and her takeaways here: 

Abby Gross @WriteOnWithMissG
Abby Gross is a high school American Literature, journalism, and newspaper teacher who is dedicated to engaging and empowering her students. She is committed to designing authentic learning experiences and loves finding creative ways to “trick students into learning.” Abby firmly believes that you can have FUN and keep the magic in secondary without sacrificing rigor.

You can read more about what she presented on and her takeaways here: 

Here's some of the feedback we received from attendees:

From the Google Form Exit Ticket: 

"I walked away with so many wonderful ideas that I can practically and easily implement. Thank you for hosting this incredible event!"

"The enthusiasm of the presenters was infectious and all materials presented are useful in any ELA setting!"

"This was extremely practical and the activities can be used with all types of learners. The presenters were organized and positive. They truly love being teachers."

"The information was current, relevant, and gave me fresh new ideas from people who are currently in the classroom. Everyone exceeded my expectations. Great job ladies!"

"Teachers learn the most from other teachers. Sharing your passions in the classroom just may ignite a passion in someone else!"

"This was an absolutely magical experience. I learned a great deal, and I will definitely attend again if it’s ever done again. It was great to be surrounded by teachers who love what they do."

"The fresh new ideas were presented with passion! Can't wait to use the various resources presented. Great job, ladies!"

"Not one minute was wasted at this workshop. I was able to get something from each station and lesson, and it was clear the presenters had spent time in developing the material presented. The handouts were especially helpful. This workshop was about collaboration and creativity— the presenters were so generous in the information shared and material provided to help the participants shape the lessons learned into the best fit for their classrooms."

"This workshop truly was magical. Between the energy of the presenters and the great ideas I can bring to my own classroom, I would give this workshop an A+!"

"The energy and enthusiasm of each the presenter was amazing!! My two co-workers and I spent the entire 7 hour drive home brainstorming ways to implement and expand on all of the ideas that we saw and heard. I also loved the number of participants being small so we could get to know one another and share ideas."

"Amazing workshop! I thought the presenters were very prepared, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. It was well worth the 5 1/2 hour drive!"

"I totally loved spending the day with you all. It was great PD in a one-of-a-kind, whimsical venue! I loved every minute!! Thank you for dreaming big!"

"This workshop was very organized and well thought out. I felt like every presentation's content and delivery was excellent, and I walked away feeling like I could teach every single item that was presented. I could easily visualize how I would use each strategy/lesson/technology/activity in my classroom."

"It was absolutely fantastic, positive, and unbelievably inspiring, especially for a first-year teacher. I want to start my career on the right foot, and with the resources and lessons I learned from everyone at the workshop, this is a definite step in the right direction."

Ok, now I'm crying again. Wow. What an incredible day! One of my non-teacher friends who joined me summed it up better than I ever could. She told me on the drive home that she wished she had just a small fraction of the passion for her job that she felt at this workshop. I told her that when you get a group of like-minded teachers together, this is the norm.  English teachers are WONDERFUL. 

A special thanks to The Story Shop for hosting us! I know they thought I was crazy when I started messaging them on Instagram, but they made us feel welcome and kept insisting that their bookstore is for children of all ages! 

I would also like that thank Coffee Camper Co. for catering our event. They did a spectacular job and the coffee bar was a hit!

Until next time.... 

If you have any venue suggestions in your city, we would love to learn more! Leave a comment!

Middle School World History Classroom: Inspiration for a small and windowless classroom

My husband is one of the best teachers I know. I can verify this because I hear, “MR. BIBLE IS MY FAVORITE TEACHER !!!” every time my own students figure out we are married. I could get jealous, but mostly I just get proud. That’s why I set out to surprise him with a world history classroom that’s just a small fraction of what he deserves.

However,  this surprise classroom makeover didn't go as planned due to family issues and a flash flood that brought him home early from a conference. So while it wasn’t the sweet surprise I had envisioned, we ended up having fun creating something beautiful together. 

(You can see a video tour of his room on my Instagram story highlights @buildingbooklove)

Here's a tour of my husband's world history classroom: 

Please note that his classroom is very small and doesn't have any windows. You can still create a welcoming space even if you don't have much to work with!

Watercolor map tapestry ($13), inflatable globes hung with low-gauge craft wire ($18), clocks with time zones of cities in his world history curriculum (the cheapest clocks I found were $4 from Dollar General), and repurposed old maps (free). ***Note*** He hasn't put the batteries in the clocks yet because he's waiting until school starts. (<affiliate links)

This is a focal wall made out of two cheap sets of sheets from Big Lots (I think they were $15 each) and a $3 roll of fabric I picked up from Goodwill. All of the patterns on the fabric are different, but they create a unified design because they are all navy, gray, and white. We were going for a Persian design here to emphasize some of the world cultures his students will be learning about.  

I'm sorry that I didn't take more pictures of this process, but it was relatively easy to do. First, I cut the fabric into strips (I cut the elastic out of the fitting sheets and those pieces were used for the two end top pieces). I didn't sew the edges or anything. It's fine if they fray some. Next, you can see that he stuffed one end of the fabric into the ceiling tile edges. Then, he created a swag and stapled the fabric to the wall in the back. If you have cinder block walls, you will have to attach it to the very back ceiling track instead of stapling it to the wall.

As for the fabric on the sides, we just put the fabric on curtain rods and attached it to the wall. Again, if you have cinder block walls, you will need to use something like strong command hooks that are large enough to hold a small curtain rod. (I have no idea if this will work, but I'm just giving you an idea of what I would try). I don't have a picture, but if you can envision a set of sheets then you know that top sheet has a thick band at the top. When you cut that fabric on both ends, you have a perfect tab to slide a curtain rod through. 

*** Please check your fire marshal codes before attempting this. His room doesn't have sprinklers to block and this doesn't take up more than 25% of a wall, so he should be good. 

One of my favorite walls in the room is the "Be the light in the world" wall display I made for him. I designed it so that different style lights, lamps, and lanterns from around the world would be represented (obviously I could find them all, but I think the idea is there). The pieces of paper you see represent where student work will be displayed. In the last picture, you can see our little helper who came to school with us to escape the storms and flash flooding I spoke of earlier. 

Another reason I like this wall is that it connects our two rooms together ever so slightly. 😍

Mine says, "Lumos Be the Light" and you can see more of my classroom here: High School Engish Classroom 

Beyond the message of  "Be the light in the world," I wanted to promote world kindness and unity. The posters are blueprints or sometimes called engineering prints that I got from Staples. I simply hot glued the thin pieces of wood to the paper and hung them with the same low gauge wire I used for the inflatable globes above. If you are interested in creating this look yourself, you can check out my Watercolor World Classroom Decor Kit 

Lastly, I will leave you with something Aaron made that he's really proud of. Back when he taught American history, he used these American history growth mindset posters and activity to promote growth mindset with a historical lens. Now that he's teaching world history, he decided to bring in world historical figures to do the same. You can find these growth mindset posters and the world history growth mindset activity in his store here: World History Growth Mindset 

If you would like help designing your own classroom, I would love to have you join my FREE and FUN classroom design challenge! You can sign up here: Classroom Design Challenge 

This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting my blog!

Monday, June 25, 2018

High School Classroom Decor: Semi Flexible Seating in a Secondary ELA Classroom

I'm a strong believer that your environment, whether that be your home or your classroom, can influence your daily energy, imagination, and joy. Because of this, I set out to design my high school classroom decor to reflect the overall goal I want to achieve in my classroom. Since I'm a high school English teacher, I want my classroom to promote reading, writing, and discussing. Let me walk you through the classroom design choices I made, why I made them, and how much they cost me.

A Tour of My High School English Classroom: 

For my focal wall, I wanted to create a gathering place for classroom discussions, a designated area for a specific learning station (such as always have one station with a discussion component), and a line of vision to the whiteboard/ projector. Since the overall theme for my classroom is "Hogwarts Library," I created a common room feel with a wall of books and a faux fireplace that says, "Lumos: Be the Light" (more on how I created all of this below).

As for the flexible seating part, here is my plan so far: I want each student to have a designated desk to begin the day. I think this will set the tone that we always mean business when we come to class. After we do our daily routines and have our mini-lesson, students can then choose to move to a different location where they work best. I realize this is probably the complete opposite of what true flexible seating should be, but from my research, this is how I want to approach flexible seating for the first time. I will try to do an update by December on how it's going, or you can follow me on Instagram @BuildingBookLove for more frequent classroom musings.

If you are wondering how I will make the "choose where you want to work" part fair, the answer is that I'm going to let students take ownership of those rules on our first day. I will let them brainstorm and agree to a fair plan on who gets to sit in these seats when it's work time. I will give an update on what they come up with.

As for other flexible seating areas, I have this little nook behind my desk. I need to find two more chairs for this area, but you get the idea. Even before I decided to give flexible seating a try, I would have students who chose to move over to this area to work. If you are an introvert like myself, then you can understand why this space is appealing to certain students. If you aren't an introvert, then you really need to read Quiet Power: The Hidden Strengths of Introverted Kids or the adult version Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Quit Talking (<affiliate links). Introverts have many talents, so providing safe little nooks like this for them to work will help these students thrive.

Side note: I debated long and hard about ditching my desk, but in the end, I just couldn't do it. My desk is HUGE and takes up too much space, but the thought of getting rid of it just to replace it with something smaller seemed like too much effort (It would take probably 4 strong people to move this thing). If it comes down to my needing more room for students, I will do it, but for right now, it's going to stay.

Which brings me to a question that always comes up: How big is your room and how many students do you need to fit in it?

So it's kind of hard to get a good angle of my desk configuration, but right now my classroom has 26 desks in it. I will probably need to add more to get it closer to 30. If I need to get to a number around 35, I will definitely need to downsize my own desk to make that happen. Again, I designed my classroom so that the seating in the center will not be someone's designated work area. If semi-flexible seating goes well, I might change my mind on this in the future. We shall see. My room is approximately 600 sq ft which based on your own classroom measurements could be considered either extremely large or average. I don't have any windows in my classroom, so to me, it feels average. Others have been commenting that it's gigantic, so I guess it's all about perspective. Either way, I feel very appreciative of the generous size of my room.

Here are some other angles: 

Other Classroom Design Choices: 

Lamps- Since my classroom doesn't have windows or natural lighting, I think that it's really important to have other calming light sources. I have always used lamps in my classroom, but now I have even more after reading this interview from The Cult of Pedagogy. The teacher made it a point to never use the fluorescent lighting in her room because it really irritated an autistic student. Because of this student, she became aware of her own sensitivity to fluorescent lighting and figured that fluorescent lighting would be subconsciously bothering pretty much everyone else in the room too. I have my fluorescent lights on for the pictures, but I will probably leave them turned off most of the time. Here's the calming environment that lamps help to create:

Lamp Sources: 

Most of my lamps are from yard sales or thrift stores. You can find secondhand lamps everywhere! I never spend over $3 for one...with the exception of my chandelier. I thought that was worth a $5 splurge, ha! ;)

 This was so cheap because the wiring wasn't included, but that doesn't matter because it's not wired in! I just hung it up there by attaching the chandelier chain to a track ceiling hook (see below for a picture and link). The candles that you see are battery powered remote controlled candles that can easily be turned on and off with the press of a button! If you want the specific ones I bought, here they are:

I had some left over, so I also stuck these in the wall sconces around the room. 

I did have to buy two brand new lamps because I needed to save floor space and these are the type that can hang from the ceiling.

 You can see in the background of this photo that the cord goes behind the paper roll, down the wall, and plugs in like a regular lamp. I purchased two of these at Lowes for $18 each.

Lastly for the lighting, let's not forget about my faux classroom fireplace that I made using Dollar Store string lights 😍 (more on how I made this below).

Seating- I've already talked about how I plan to go about dipping my toe into flexible seating, so now I will share where I picked up the flexible seating options.

*One vintage sofa that I got for a great deal at a local antique shop ($100 delivery and everything!)
*Two pink wing-back chairs from a different antique store ($50) 
*Pillows for floor sitting (free)
*Rug for floor sitting. This rug is one of the only things I purchased new. It's HUGE and only cost $50 because it's actually made of plastic and is meant to be an outdoor rug. I think this will make it easier to keep clean plus it's so light that I can take it home and wash it out with a water hose every summer. You can look at the one I bought plus other colors here: RV rugs on Amazon  (<affiliate link)
*Chairs that go over in the quiet nook ($10 so far, but I need to find two more)

 Decor- One of the things I knew I was going to splurge on for my classroom makeover was the book focal wall. In fact, it drove my entire design!

 ***By the way, if you want to learn more about how to design your own classroom, be sure to start by fun and FREE classroom design challenge!

But you see, I didn't spend upwards of $500+ for wallpaper to go on this wall. Nope. This is actually WRAPPING PAPER. It's from Spoonflower, and it's the best. Spoonflower has about a million designs, so no matter your classroom theme, you can definitely find something that will add interest to your classroom decor. A designer named Magenta Rose Designs created this pattern out of books that belonged to her English grandma. How sweet is that!? 

Unless you catch them on sale, each roll of wrapping paper is $15 and covers almost 13 sq. ft. I needed 5 or 6 rolls for my project so that's around $100 for this focal wall.

After seeing my wrapping paper wall on Instagram, Spoonflower asked me to write a guest blog post for them on how I attached the wrapping paper to the wall. You can read that here: Liven Up Your Classroom with this Budget-Friendly DIY 

For the rest of the decor, I didn't splurge at all. In fact, all of it was either free or really cheap. For example, I found two of these matching wooden thingys (I have no clue what they are) at Habitat for Humanity for 2.50 each.

I then had my husband attach a piece of wood on top to create a fireplace. Next, I measured the inside of the fireplace and created a banner in Microsoft Publisher. After that, I printed off the banner on 16 individual pages, taped them together, and used a marker to color in places where the printer cut the edges off (this is easier than trimming the edges in my opinion).

 This might sound complicated, but I promise that it's easy to do once you learn a few tricks. If you would like to learn how to create your own classroom posters and banners, you can take my class here: Poster Design Class: How to Make Posters for Your Classroom 

 This next decor item is one of my biggest teacher hacks. Not only does it look like a cool scroll, but it is also functional and takes up zero floor space! If you go to your local newspaper and ask for end rolls, you can get large rolls of paper for cheap or free!! Next, you will need to attach clamps to your ceiling track with these ceiling track clamps (<affiliate link). Lastly, you will buy two S hooks that fit around a curtain rod and hang the S hooks from the clamps. Now obviously you will need to use your own judgment about keeping these rolls within reach of students. I'm personally not going to allow students to unwind their own pieces of paper when we need to use them. I've had one of these rolls in my room for about 5 years now and it has never fallen, but I don't want to take any chances.

You can see that I also added a little whimsy with an old curtain tie.

Since I'm loosely doing a Harry Potter themed classroom, I decided to add cute brooms above my cabinets. They were .25 each from The Goodwill, and I love how they turned out!

Lastly, I will leave you with one of my favorite spots in my classroom:

The posters at the top are part of a Harry Potter Language Novel Study I designed.

The posters above the student work turn-in-area and display area are part of a Growth Mindset Novel Study approach to Harry Potter

I just love all of my little magical items in this nook including the books, salt lamp (a Christmas gift), diffuser (had for years), and lots of vintage looking frames including a .25 cent frame that has one of my all-time favorite quotes: 

 All in all, my classroom decorations and flexible seating cost me around $425 (I didn't count the items that I've collected over the years--only the items I bought this summer). I've been hesitant to post this number because as a new teacher, I would not have been able to afford even $50 for my classroom decor. While I believe that spending money to make your work-space a happy place to be is worthwhile, I want to stress that what goes ON inside your classroom is far more important than what goes IN it. If you can get a grant or can afford to make your classroom decor special, then GO FOR IT. If you can't, use your other talents to make your classroom magical. Because like the quote above, magic is free if you know where to look for it. 

For those who want to learn how to plan out your classroom theme and design, be sure to start my fun and FREE Classroom Design Challenge! 

*This post contains affiliate links meaning that I get a very small kickback if you use my link which is at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!