Brain Books = Data Collection that is FUN

Report cards are due next week. If you have ever seen a Kindergarten report card, you know that means I have to assess a million different things for every one of my students. One on one. During class time.

This used to be a HUGE headache. I used to get overwhelmed, and then put it off, get even MORE overwhelmed, then finally do it in a rush and work late every night until they were finished. And when they were finished I would say to myself: there has to be a better way!

A good friend showed me how she kept all of her data in a binder. Keeping data together was a breeze because everything she needed to test was ALREADY there. Another friend showed me how she kept data in individual folders for her students. I decided this was the path for me. Brain books. Simple, concise, and you only have to worry about putting them together ONCE.

I keep all of my students papers in individual binders. I could place them all in a single spot for easy access (I know people who do this and it works well for them!), but by putting them in binders, the kids have ownership. Their binders are so important to them and they love, love, love to track their own learning.

My brain books have pages for EVERY single standard we learn and test (plus a few more I find important) over the year. Each week,  I have a goal like “I will test all of my students on this skill,” or “I will grab so-and-so who is brand new and test all of his literacy knowledge so I can put him into a reading group this week.”

It’s magical.

And the COOLEST thing is – no one hates testing.

I’m going to say it again because it is a miracle sentence: NO. ONE. HATES. TESTING.

In fact, they love it. I love it.

I enjoy that time with my students because it is some of the only time I have to be one-on-one with them. We are focused on a certain skill and we get to celebrate the fact that they know more than they did the last time! How amazing is that?!

My students love come to my teacher table because they get to add to their brain book. Maybe they get to color in a few more squares on their sight word graph or make a new learning goal. Whatever the case may be, it is enjoyable for them.


I am all about letting them choose the color I test with, the color they fill their data in with, the sticker they put on their shirt, the way I holler their achievements to the rest of our class.

I am telling you, 100% truthfully, data collection is one of my favorite things about Kindergarten. I think it is a very special time of growth and teacher-student time that is incredibly valuable to our classroom community.

Oh, and I finished my report cards in one day. How, you ask?

I already had the data 😉

Does this sound strange to you? Do you have questions about how I make it work? Please ask! You can either comment here or email me at

I would love to help you make testing and data a more enjoyable part of your life!

Looking for a resource to get you started? I have just posted my literacy brain book on Teachers Pay Teachers. It is my first product so I would love any feedback you have to give!


Thanks for reading! I appreciate you!


Confession Time: Please don’t hate me!

Confession Time: Please don’t hate me!

Hello fellow teachers.

I have a confession to make.

Please don’t hate me…because…

I seriously love data.

I love testing my students and tracking their growth with them. I love to see the progress we make throughout the year and I love to see their excitement when they realize they have reached a goal.

Disclaimer: I know testing has gotten out of hand and we as teachers are TIRED of it. I hate that many teachers feel like they have to spend all of their time teaching to a test. That is no way to teach. I am telling you right now: this is not the kind of data I love. Mandated testing is a huge problem and I have no solutions.

The kind of testing I am talking about is much, much different. It is an opportunity to turn that testing you hate into something enjoyable. It is a relationship between teacher and student like no other I have found and I want to share that love with you.

Here are a few of the many benefits I have found in tracking data with my students:

  • Better understanding of one another: I know exactly where my students are at any given time because we test together. They know how much I want them to succeed because I get to celebrate their growth so often.
  • Classroom community: We set goals together and help each other reach them. When a student masters something like a sight word list or their letter sounds, I yell something like “Woo hoo! Jesus mastered his alphabet!” and the whole class cheers. Every. Single. Time. Talk about heart warming!
  • Better instruction: when I test a student and he is obviously struggling with something, I jot down  a note to make sure I cover it in small group. I have closed so many gaps this way!
  • More directed small groups: I know exactly who needs to come to my teacher table together and why. My groups are literally always changing because students are mastering different things at different paces. Our time together is meaningful and focused and therefore very valuable.

I was inspired to share my ideas after I posted some pretty amazing data in a Facebook group a few weeks ago: IMG_4432

The first picture shows my student’s alphabet mastery at the beginning of the year. The second shows our mastery after one month of focused instruction. My kindergarten class is at 89% mastery! I will tell you, I have a really great group this year and we have worked hard this month! Each one of my students has a “brain book” (that is what we call our data notebooks) with several data pages.

  • IIMG_4407

This is what my alphabet page looked like. Can you believe this growth?! Our class had a dance party after testing on September first!

After I posted those photos, I was asked to share my files. I decided to create a whole literacy brain book for Kindergarten! This is my first teachers pay teachers project and is definitely a leap of faith for me. It is free for a short time in the hopes I will get feedback on things that could be changed or adjusted. If you decide to download it, please email me with changes you would like to see! If you love it as much as I do, please review it on teachers pay teachers! I would really appreciate it!


You will see several posts about tracking data with students because I love it so much and feel it is so under utilized in teaching these days. I definitely do not want to overwhelm anyone so I am going to take it slow. I will be posting more specific strategies and benefits as well so please subscribe if you are interested!

Thank you for joining me in this journey to discover the best way to help our students succeed!

Mo Willems, Pigeon and Directed Drawings

Mo Willems, Pigeon and Directed Drawings

Hello friends!

I hope August treated you well. It’s September! Yippee!

A few weeks ago I did this super fun, whole week unit on Mo Willems and I wanted to share some pictures. We learned from his writing style and drawings and used them as inspiration to be authors and illustrators.

It was incredible to see my 5 and 6 year olds take on this role so CONFIDENTLY. This age is so fun because they really believe they are capable of whatever they put their mind to – and they are!

My absolute FAVORITE activity was our directed drawings of Pigeon. We just love him. We especially love yelling “NO!” whenever he asks us to drive the bus or stay up late. And we giggle a lot when he tries to get out of taking a bath or finds a hot dog.


Didn’t these turn out SO cute?! Oh my word. I’m thinking about “losing” them (at my house) instead of returning them 😉

I found this image when doing a google search (I couldn’t find the original source! I’m sorry!) and thought hey! That doesn’t look to hard! So I figured we would give it a try. I explained and drew each piece on the smart board while they watched and then they did it on their papers. I had them use crayons instead of pencil so there could be no erasing. It worked out really well!


The kids really, really, really loved it and were so proud of their accomplishment!


Here is a close up of a few of them. I mean every single one turned out so great! Every one!

So I am completely obsessed with directed drawings now. I purchased a great set on Teachers Pay Teachers and we have already tried out a pig to go with our Three Little Pigs book last week. It is one of my favorite new activities!

The final benefit of this project is reading the hilarious stories my students keep writing about Pigeon.


One of my boys was writing “If You Take a Mouse to Pigeon’s House.” I was cracking up when he told me all the things that would happen. Think: the mouse will try to eat his hot dog; the mouse will drive the bus and pigeon will be mad, etc. So creative! I love that they have gained the confidence to draw him and even mimic stories they have heard.

I hope these drawings gave you as much joy as they have given me!

Rainbow Names

Kindergarten is so fun. Especially at the beginning of the year.

I tend to ask myself a lot of questions before the years starts:

  • Will students know their own name?
  • Have they ever seen scissors before? What about glue?
  • Will they try to eat it?
  • What are they going to do with a frantic totally calm teacher who tries to do a complex craft the first week of school?

Oh, the questions. They go on and on and on, but this last one brings me to a funny story about my fifth day teaching this year. That was the day I decided we should make a really great name craft to put up at open house. I had dreams, people. Big dreams.

I took large pieces of art paper and cut them in half. I wrote their names nice and big and had this picture in my mind of *rainbows* (and maybe unicorns – who knows). I cut construction paper into tiny little squares and kept them sorted by color.

Then I realized there was no actual way the kids would be able to glue and place these pieces on their own. (To be honest, I always knew this in the back of my mind but I wouldn’t admit it to myself until I was in too deep.)

So I brainstormed and the best strategy I could determine was to put one color of paper on their tables at a time and put glue on one letter at a time for all twenty two students. At the same time. On our fifth day of school.

Good plan, right?


Luckily my students were quite patient and didn’t really seem to mind their teacher running from table to table to glue names and change out the tiny strips of paper. And who cared that some names had four letters and were done almost immediately while some had TEN LETTERS. Let me repeat TEN LETTERS.

Well, against all odds, the names turned out beautifully and really made our room look fun and inviting for open house!

Version 2The kids were so proud and the parents were very impressed. They are now hanging out in the hall for the school to admire so in the end it was totally worth it.


What projects do you like to do at the beginning of the year? Have you ever had an experience like this one?


Classroom community is always my biggest goal at the beginning of the year. We do lots of different activities ranging from being a friend to taking care of yourself to not making  your teacher go absolutely insane (necessary.). My absolute favorite activity, though is when we read Chrysanthemum and talk about how mean words can make other people feel.

I always start this activity by reading the book by Kevin Henkes.


I read it with my sweetest voice for her and my most snooty voice for Victoria. Man I just can’t stand that little mouse! I don’t say much about how mean they are. I just read it.

Then I give each student a big heart made of construction paper with their name written nice and big on it. I tell them I want them to make that heart as beautiful as they can using lots of color and design and of course, doing their best work. I give them stickers to put on there and let them work until they are just about in love with their hearts. “Can I take this home?” they always say, which makes me hurt a little inside because I, unlike them, know what is coming.

Then I tell them to bring their hearts to the carpet where they show them to their new classmates with pride. “Wow,” I say. “Those are the most amazing hearts I have ever seen!”

They glow.

Then I tell them they have to crinkle their hearts.

They wilt.

I explain, “We are going to read Chrysanthemum again. Every single time someone says something mean about her, you must crumple your beautiful heart a tiny bit. Every time someone says something nice, you can try to smooth it back out.”

So I read. They crumple. And sometimes a student even sheds a little tear. This is not fun but it is necessary. It brings the idea home.

When I finish the book, we try to smooth out the hearts the best we can but the wrinkles just won’t go away. I tell my sweet students that this is just like when we say mean words to or about another person. We can apologize. We can try to make it up to them, but we can never, ever take those words back. The students start to nod sadly. Some still don’t get it, but a lot do.

Then we make a circle and everyone gets to share something that would make them feel sad. Lots of friends nod their heads and we make a list of things that we should never, ever say.

I put the hearts up around a quote and refer back to it a LOT in the first week and then periodically through the year. This alone will not cause your students to be nice to one another, but it definitely helps those friends who are visual and kinesthetic learners.


This is my wall this year. The quote says ” It is easier to leave mean words unspoken, than to fix a heart that words have broken.” We talk about what that means and I get lots of serious nods. I just love how students “get it.” They want to be good friends to each other, they just need to know how.

I am always searching for new ideas to build classroom community! If you have a great one, please share!


Making Words on a Budget

So one of my favorite things to do when teaching phonics is “making words” as a class. It’s so fun for both the students and me! For those of you who aren’t teachers or haven’t been lucky enough to try it yet, I’ll give you a quick run down.

The teacher instructs all students to get specific letters. This could look like letters on paper, letter tiles, magnetic letters, etc. The teacher then instructs the students to create words with different prompts, like “a three letter word that starts with ‘c’ and ends with ‘t.’ It has the ‘a’ sound in the middle.” Then the teacher checks that the students have spelled “cat.” Next the teacher might say “switch one letter to spell the word ‘mat.'” See! Fun! You create all sorts of words with the letters that have been brought out and even let the students make a mystery word that uses all the letters. There’s a great book (found HERE) with tons of lessons that are completely guided. Students LOVE them.

I’ve been racking my brain on how I could bring this into my classroom this year. I knew I couldn’t afford to buy letter tiles or even make them from tiles found at a hardware store. Paper was out of the question considering the extreme budgeting we are doing at our school. I gave the whole system up as lost until a teacher friend offhandedly suggested using foam.


Today I decided to head to Hobby Lobby with my 40% off coupon in search of foam and a way to store my letters once they had been cut. It was a huge success – I found a 50 pack of fun bright foam pieces for $6. Once I used my coupon, it was only $3.50! I was pumped. I looked around for storage and was not disappointed – Hobby Lobby had plastic jewelry storage for $2 – I got 2. The whole project cost me about $8!!! I call that success!

Once I got home and finished planning my week, I allowed myself to work on the project I was so excited for! I started by figuring out how exactly I wanted it to work. I decided that 1×1 inch squares would be perfect. I would cut one inch strips and then cut them again. Each piece will have a capital letter on one side that lowercase letter on the other.

I cut the strips while watching Pride and Prejudice so it felt not only enjoyable, but quite productive 🙂 I have 23 students in my class so I decided to put 25 letters in each slot compartment for the time being. I made 50 Os, As, and Es so accommodate words with several vowels. I’m also sure that I will need doubles of some letters so I cut extra squares in preparation.

The consonants are all yellow or green and the vowels are hot pink!

Tomorrow I will finish writing the letters and it will be ready for use in my classroom! I am also using the rest of my foam pieces to make large letters to put in my pocket chart. That way I can do a large example as my students work on their own at their desks. I’m really excited to do this activity with my kids because I know they have not been able to do it before and they LOVE hands on learning. I’m going to introduce it as a privilege at first so they understand that they need to treat the materials with respect or we won’t be able to do it anymore. Hopefully they’ll love it as much as I do and we’ll get to do lessons all year!

I also hope that you were able to find this useful and maybe even make your own set for your classroom on a budget! 🙂

Disney. Delightful.

So I’m a student teacher in probably the best second grade classroom in Bartlesville (I may be a bit biased). My mentor teacher is absolutely crazy about Disney. Everything Disney. If you know me at all, you know this is a perfect fit. What could be more fun than a Disney themed classroom?

You’re right. Nothing.

Anyway, I’ve been doing my best to find things I can contribute to our lovely classroom. I found these AWESOME Disney alphabet letters. They’re printable and free! We’re going to put them up on our word wall.

Delightful Disney Alphabet

This was such a great find! Not only does the site give an awesome alphabet for free, it has tons of other ideas and printables for your classroom or kids.

My favorite thing I’ve discovered, though, is an instrumental CD of Disney favorites. It’s called Heigh-Ho! Mozart It features 16 favorite Disney songs in the styles of different classical composers. I ordered this used on Amazon, received it a few days later, and uploaded it to the school computer immediately. We have been listening to it during all the quiet times of the day and the students really enjoy it. So do we! They know it is a privilege to listen to music so they are always on their best behavior when the music is on.

Our classroom is also decorated lavishly with Disney memorabilia collected over a lifetime. The kids seriously love it and it’s just so much fun.I look forward to finding more classroom friendly Disney things to add into the curriculum throughout this semester.