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New School Year, New Standards

August 7, 2017

Tennessee Academic Standards

I know that Tenspire’s followers are from all over the globe, but I wanted to take the chance to highlight something awesome in the world of academics happening in our home state of Tennessee. We have new K-12 teaching standards in English Language Arts, y’all! We have new standards in mathematics, too, but you know I am your literacy gal so I am just going to stick to what I know best. Getting to this point of the adoption process was no easy task. We are proud of what our stakeholders have put into place for our students! Teachers, community members, leaders in education- everyone had a chance to chime in to help create what is uniquely Tennessee’s own set of standards. Our state is calling these changes revisions to the previously adopted standards. Therefore, there is no reason to worry that everything we liked about the old standards were thrown away. The revised ELA standards have some subtle but important aspects that I am excited to highlight with you now.

Vertical Progression

In viewing the layout of the revised standards, you will most likely first realize changes have been made. The standards pages list the cornerstone standard (formerly known as anchor standard) at the top of the page and show how that standard is achieved as it moves from the top tasks in 12th grade all the way down to the foundational skills in Kindergarten. This layout was intentional to help educators see exactly where their grade level standards fall in the big picture of preparing students. Additionally, this layout helps one see where students might have gaps in their learning from previous grade levels.

Embedded Language Skills

Integration is a common goal for many educators. Research tells us that students learn best in context, not in isolated pockets. It is too difficult to piece together the numerous components of literacy without the chance to apply what you are learning in a cohesive manner. It is also difficult to teach each aspect of the reading process without combining elements- there are simply not enough hours in a day! Do not have a meltdown when you cannot locate the language skills for grades K-5 because now you know that these standards are embedded in the foundational standards as they should be.

Greater Emphasis on Writing in Early Grades

Guess what? There is a greater importance placed on foundational writing skills in the early grades. This is a concept that we can all rejoice about since we know writing can be the glue that binds all those tricky early literacy skills together. The sooner we get our students writing, the better. Maybe we have all known this for some time now, but at least our standards now help support this wonderful revelation.

Besides the main categories mentioned above, there were some other changes, too. There is new nomenclature (a.k.a. coding- see the graphic below) and the reading standards have a side by side layout so one can compare the literary/informational text components easier. There is a great reference in the speaking and listening standards to other literacy standards to guide you in integrated instruction. A new appendix with supporting documents was a must. You simply have to check out the revised standards yourself to see all the nuanced but necessary changes in clarity and continuity that were made to your grade level’s standards. I hope you enjoy your new school year- here’s to the best class ever to go with the best teaching standards we have ever had in Tennessee!

P.S. Also check out this Chalkbeat article about the standards!




Back to School Homeschool Motherhood

Mapping Out Your Homeschool Year

August 3, 2017

Planning Your Year

Planning an entire year might seem completely overwhelming, especially if this is your first time. But let me tell you, the time you take to map out your school year is well worth the investment! Without a doubt, plans will change, things will take much longer (or shorter) than expected, but if you have this general curriculum map in place, you’ll have an idea of where you’re going and about the pace you need to go to get there.


When I taught in the classroom, we often referred to this as our pacing guide. Being a runner, this resonated with me. For example, if I’m running a half marathon (13.1 miles) and I want to get in under the 2-hour mark I know I have to keep a pace of about a 9-minute mile with a little wiggle room. Some miles might be faster, others will be slower, but I know about the pace I need to go to meet my goal. The same is true for your curriculum mapping. If you know you have X amount of lessons to cover and 180 or so days in which to do it, you’ll want to know about the pace you need to go.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT about “just getting through the curriculum.” Part of the beauty of homeschooling is being able to adjust to your student’s needs, interests, and learning style. However, I also know I’m responsible for equipping my kiddos (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and academically) for when they transition to public school. And so part of that requires I move at a pace that does prepare them academically.

Okay, let’s dig in! If you don’t have one yet, grab a planner to jot all this information down (I suggest in pencil)!

So, let’s start with the simplest part. Begin by establishing your starting and ending dates. Now as I shared in a previous post, we always “start” our school year a little early – getting our feet wet with some of the curriculum in the summer. But we still establish a date when we’re going to start that full day schedule. Once you have those, block off holidays and any other days that you know you will not be conducting school. At this point, make sure that you have – at a minimum – the number of days required by your state.

Now, you’ve got your big picture outline, and it’s time to start actually adding the meat of your planning.

I suggest starting with your mathematics curriculum. I suggest starting with math because it tends to be laid out in lessons that will consecutively build on each other and it’s a subject you’ll likely be doing every day. Start by evaluating how many lessons are in your curriculum – be sure to count any review and testing days as lessons as well. Then, divide the number of lessons by the number of weeks in your calendar, and you’ll have a general idea of the number of lessons you want to cover each week. Using the planner, pencil in when you’re going to do each lesson. This is where you want to start paying attention to dates and day. If you know you’re heading into a break, you aren’t going to want to start a brand new unit right before. Also be sure to plan review days. Not only is it important for kids to review the material they are learning, but it gives you the freedom to spend two days on a lesson that your students find more challenging.

I suggest moving on to language arts next. I advise you to do these two subjects first – simply because they are two of your core subjects that you’ll be doing every day, and if you can get these two subjects planned, the rest will be a piece of cake.

You’ll take a similar approach in planning your language arts curriculum as you did with the math. However, many language arts curriculum are planned out in weeks or units as opposed to numbered lessons that you often find in math. But you’ll basically start the same way. Evaluate the number of weeks or units that are in your curriculum. Look at the number of days you have in your calendar and divide to see approximately how much you need to cover each week.

Remember, you’re getting a big picture idea with this planning. You don’t need to go into great detail with every single component of the curriculum. So don’t stress about that! You’re just trying to get an idea of the pace, and when you get closer to the actual teaching, you’ll be able to spend more time preparing for all of the components of the lessons.

Once you have your language arts and math planned out, it will be time to tackle the other subjects. What else do you want to include in your teaching? How often do you plan to teach those subjects? You’ll likely include history and science. But do you want to include art? Bible? Music? Foreign language? This will depend partly on the age of your student, as much more is required for older students.  

One thing I DO NOT recommend is trying to hit every subject every day – especially if you have young ones. Not only will your kids burn out – but you will too!

So, maybe you plan to do history on Monday and Wednesday and focus on science Tuesday and Thursday. You can leave Friday open for other specialized activities or just for review. Or may you choose to really focus on a history unit for a couple of weeks and then dig into a science unit for a few. The choice is really up to you.

The big idea with this planning is to assess where you want to be at the end of the year and then to map out a general plan and pace. This has made such a difference in my planning – and I sincerely hope it helps you as well!

Do you have other tips? How is your planning going? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a note in the comments below!

Back to School Math

Back to School Math!

August 1, 2017

It’s hard to believe we will all be back in our classrooms soon, with a fresh group of students ready to soak up all the knowledge a new school year has to offer! I’m not quite ready to give up my summer yet, but I am starting to think of ways I can better my teaching this year. There are so many fun ways to incorporate math into your beginning of the school year routines!

Name Tag Numbers

This activity will be fun for students as they get to know each other and practice number sense. All you need is a stack of name tags! Take a number and write it a different way on a few name tags. For example:

  • 651
  • six hundred fifty-one
  • 600+50+1
  • use a photo/drawing of place value blocks to represent the number

Do this with 4-5 numbers and give each student a name tag, then have them find the other students in the class who have name tags that represent the same number. You can make this a great ice-breaker by having the students complete a task together once they find their group.

I Have, Who Has

This game is perfect for any grade level! You can easily find a set of cards on TPT or at most education stores. My place value set is a favorite in 3rd grade! I love this game because it forces students to practice listening skills and interpret the information on their card.

If you’ve never seen this game, here’s how it works: each student gets a card with a picture or phrase on it. The first card might say “I have 63. Who has 7 tens and 8 ones?” The player with 78 reads their card, which says “I have 78. Who has 2 hundreds, 4 tens, and 2 ones?”…so on and so forth. I love to have my students playing this game from the beginning because it is perfect to use as a warm-up game for so many lessons throughout the year! You can have them start with review skills from the previous year.

Me By the Numbers

This one is perfect for your first hallway or classroom work display! Modeling is essential for this, especially with the younger grades. Have students create their own chart giving information about themselves using numbers. Some ideas include their age, number of pets, number of siblings, birthday, favorite number, house number, number of soccer games they won/books they read over the summer… really anything with numbers will work! Let them be creative! Here is a sample chart I found, but you could easily create one that fits your needs!

There are so many great ways to use math during those get-to-know-you first days! Wishing all of you a wonderful start to the school year!

Back to School New Teacher

School Supply Shopping List

July 9, 2017

The time is here! All of the Target, Walmart, and grocery store ads are beginning to feature Crayola crayons and composition notebooks on the cover. As a kid this was by far my favorite time of the year! I couldn’t wait to take my supply list to Target and pick out my fresh new supplies for the upcoming school year. I think that excitement is part of the reason I became a teacher because I still feel just as giddy when I see the first back to school ads appear on T.V. now as I did when I was a kid. 

But as exciting as they may be it is very easy to go overboard buying supplies for your new classroom. As a first year teacher, I learned a lot about what to buy during those crazy sales and what’s okay to pass on.

Last year, I decided to allow my students to have their own supply boxes, and I provided some communal supplies for my students to share. I ended up strongly disliking this method by the end of the year! The students had very little respect for the communal supplies and we ran out of many things by December. This year I plan to only have community supplies and be very clear about my expectations with my students and how to treat our tools with respect.

I am excited to start my “back-to-school” shopping this year with a better idea of what I need and what I can pass on. 

Must Have

  • Folders– I wanted my students to have color coded folders for all of their subjects so this was a “must have” for me. I found that many stores would offer them as low as 15 cents!
  • Composition Notebooks– By purchasing composition books I was able to add tabs and create covers for my students’ interactive notebooks so they were ready to be used on the first day of school.
  • Erasers– You can never have enough erasers in the classroom…especially come May when none of the pencils have any left! I also find that these rarely go on sale any other time of the year.
  • Scissors– Many of my students did not bring scissors to school even though they were on the supply list. If you are starting your first classroom I would recommend having some to spare since scissors are one of the hardest supplies to share.

Pass for Now

  • Pencils– This might sound crazy but I found that pencils are the one supply that most of my students brought to school. I decided this year I am not going to buy as many as I did in the past and rely on my parents to help me.
  • Crayons– Last year I purchased a full class set, but if you are planning to do community supplies you probably do not need as many as you think. When I taught third-grade, I finished the year with 15 full boxes!