Have you ever had such an awesome adulting moment when something finally “clicked,” you figured it out, and you just want to SHOUT it from the rooftops?!? I SOLVED OUR BUDGET CRISIS! I GOT US OUT OF CREDIT CARD DEBT FOREVER!!!!! There, I did it!!
As a teacher, I just can’t keep it inside and I HAVE TO tell and help others. I get no kickback from YNAB for this, but I kinda sorta really just want everyone I know/love to use this and make their lives as seamless and awesome as I did for our family. Cuz I love you. And it’s easy. And it works.
A year ago, our family was in major credit card debt and crisis. We had two kids in daycare (HOLY MOLEY! It was more than our mortgage!!!) and a maxed out credit card. I was PANICKING. I mean, one small “oopsie” and we’d have no options – what if our fridge broke? Car accident? Medical trauma? We had no wiggle room on the credit card, and no way to dig ourselves out.
I’m a very frugal person with will power and determination, so I was convinced I could figure this out. My husband suggested we try YNAB, since he had several friends who highly recommended it, and I initially scoffed. $83 a year just to do what I’m already doing with my spreadsheets? Pshaw. How does spending more money help me solve our need for money?? I balked.
Then, I decided to give the 33-day free trial a whirl. Maybe I could learn something new and just cancel my subscription, no money lost. So I signed up, linked our bank accounts, and started “budgeting” on the website. You guessed it – I wound up loving it and staying on for the entire year.
The initial set-up is a huge learning curve. It took about 3 months before I felt like “yeah, I’ve fully got this. I’m ready to teach and help others.” It got pretty frustrating at times, but I persisted. There was a lot of trial and error, asking questions, and waiting to see how things netted out. But I stuck through it, and it was well worth it.
Within 9 months of starting YNAB, we were completely credit card debt free and saving for the future.
How? How can one budget app make all that happen? How did it actually save us money? That’s what I’m going to break down for you…..
MAPPING IT ALL OUT – GETTING A LAY OF THE LAND
The very first thing I did was to dig into our bank statements over the past year. At this point, I am being purely descriptive and just NOTICING our trends, not judging or altering them in any way. Notebook/pencil in hand, I made a list of the major categories in which our spending occurs. YNAB gives you sample categories, but obviously personalization is key here. I noted the following categories for our family:
Debt Payments (mortgage, student loans, car loans, home equity line)
Insurances (life insurance, home / auto)
Monthly expenses (daycare, utilities, subscriptions like Netflix)
Variable expenses (groceries, gas, sundries, services like haircuts and dog grooming, medical/dental, vet, home repairs)
Quality of life (dining out, family activities, gifts, clothing, date night, fun)
I also made a list of big time expenses that seem to happen once a year. I put these into a final category called “Budgeting Ahead” Examples: Tax accountant, Amazon prime annual, Costco membership, Furnace tune-up, Glasses/contacts, Birthday parties, Christmas, etc. These aren’t necessarily things I have to pay for or that are due every month, but like death and taxes, they can’t be avoided when it’s time. The goal would be to start socking away money into these categories so that when the day comes, the money is there for it. At first we had no money to actually put into any of these categories, but I made them just the same so that we would be prepared.
RENEGOTIATING – MAKING ADJUSTMENTS
Once I had all our categories set, it was time to take inventory and make some decisions. Once our first round of paychecks hit the app, I gave “every dollar a job” and assigned them to the categories that HAVE to be attended to – debt payments, insurances, and monthly expenses. Suddenly, with all dollars assigned, I could see just how little we had left for those “Variable” and “Quality of Life” categories. Not much! Time to go on a serious Budget Diet and reign in lots of things. Either a) we can’t spend as much money on day-to-day things we enjoy or b) we need to adjust our obligations so we have more money to spend on variables. Honestly, I chose both!
First and foremost, we cut WAY back on discretionary spending. We didn’t eat out for at least 4 months while we got our feet back under us. We started bulk shopping/cooking/meal prepping and packing lunches.
To stop any accidental late payments, we switched completely to auto-pay and online billing. This took a big chunk of time and lots of phone calls, but was well worth it.
We switched some payments to monthly billing instead of annual to help mitigate large annual lump sums.
We switched to shopping at Aldi and saved at least $200/month on our groceries.
We began ordering groceries online and picking up in store to make sure we stuck to my list – no impulse buying!
We became strong meal planners, and we only did a full grocery shop 3 weeks a month. The 4th week was for baby’s milk only, and we had to live off the leftovers/pantry/fridge for the remainder.
We researched best prices for diapers, wipes, and formula and signed up for Amazon auto-delivery for those items.
We cancelled cable.
We noticed that we were getting a lot of overage charges on our cell data plan, so we switched to unlimited and actually saved money!
We refinanced our mortgage and rolled in our home equity line, saving hundreds a month in interest payments.
We cashed in our credit card perks points to get a large sum of money, which we put toward the balance.
We had an almost ‘no-spend’ Christmas with handmade or previously enjoyed items, and we sold things around our house to fund the remainder.
Then we seriously just hunkered down, sold things around the house we no longer needed, did without, reused and reduced, until we finally paid off our credit card in full. PHEW!!! Not only was that a huge relief, but it also recouped for us those hundreds of dollars that were disappearing to interest payments!
PLANNING AHEAD – NO CREDIT DEBT AGAIN EVER
Now without that credit debt looming over us, we could focus on planning ahead so we would no longer even need our credit card. Remember that category I set up called “Budgeting Ahead” that was filled with big time annual charges? I set goals for each of those categories with end dates, and I started putting aside money each month in preparation for the expense. When the time comes, the money is there, and we don’t have to put anything on our credit card.
We also adhere to our monthly budgeted amounts in variable categories. For example, if we set aside $50 for family dining out, we’ll always check it before we make any decisions. If we don’t have the money to go out, we don’t.
To me, being able to set goals and budget ahead has been the best part of YNAB. Without that, we’d continually be stuck in this perpetual debt cycle. Between carefully observing our habits, adjusting as needed, and planning ahead, it’s been a real miracle for our family. It also helps us to have clear agreements and communication. Since the app syncs to our phones and laptops and doesn’t live in a spreadsheet on someone’s computer, we have constant access and can make informed, team-based decisions in the moment.
In case you can’t tell, I highly recommend YNAB for getting your budget and life together. I don’t ever want to go back to a life without it!
I had the honor of attending the annual WSRA convention for my 5th year. If you’d like to refer back to any of my previous WSRA posts, here they are! I look forward to this very well-organized, professional event year after year because of the amazing, nationally-known speakers that are featured as well as the careful cultivation of trending topics and research in education and literacy. Oh, and all the great friends I get to meet up with year after year!
“Bringing Strategies to Life: Conferring with Individuals and Groups” by Jennifer Serravallo
The first session I attended was offered by Jennifer Serravallo and focused on Conferring. I was very interested to attend this session to enhance my ability to support the educators in my district as we continue to refine our literacy workshop model and our work with Teacher’s College.
After making a strong case for conferring with students (which has a high impact on learning through providing individual feedback, building student teacher relationships, and goal-setting opportunities), Serravallo helped us delve into the steps for establishing a conferring culture in your classroom.
Step 1: Choose a Student Goal
Begin by consulting the “Hierarchy of reading goals” (below). Face-to-face with a student and his/her book bin, work your way down the list with a student, interview style, until you determine where the student needs the most support. Stop at the first level where you notice a need for instruction.
There are several other assessment sources you can reference to set a goal for a student. For engagement: Is the student excited, passionate, and overall engaged with their texts? Observe them during independent reading – what is their time on task? Stamina? For fluency: Take an informal running record and note miscues, rate, inflection, etc. For genre-specific skills, consult the learning progressions of your instruction / curriculum. Additionally, invite students to fill out this form below, which allows them to reflect and self-report on areas they believe they need to advance.
While working to identify a goal for a student, consider engaging in a goal-setting conference, as per the following steps:
Goal Setting Conference Structure
Guided Inquiry – Help the student name a goal (that you already have in mind)
Teach – Offer a strategy to practice the goal
Coach – Provide feedback and support as the student practices
Link – Leave the student with a visual, physical reminder (artifact) of the goal and strategy). This could be a sticky note, copy of an anchor chart, model, graphic organizer, etc.
Below are some Prompts to Use Doing Guided Inquiry to empower students and engage them in their own learning and goal-setting:
What do you think you’re doing well as a reader?
What do you think you might need to work on?
What do you notice about your work?
Can you think fo ways that I can help you grow as a reader?
Look at __ compare it to what you’re doing as a reader.
Step 2: Look for & Reinforce Strengths
Provide “Helpful Compliments” – Notice and name what they are doing. Focus on effort, not ability.
Step 3: Identify and name the students’ strengths.
Resist the urge to focus on deficits! Often, students aren’t even aware of their strengths until we point them out for them. Naming their strengths and skills helps build them up!
Step 4: Think of the Progression of Skills
For example, consider the skill of “adopting new vocabulary” and how students progress through the list below as they master a new word. They don’t jump from “not knowing” to “master” in one fell swoop; it’s a progression! Resist the urge to jump straight to the grade level goal or standard.
Get the gist of the word
Understand the simple definition
Use local context to explain
Use larger context to explain
Consider author’s craft, tone, connotation vs denotation
Research Decide Compliment Teach Conference
Putting all the above together, we land at the R-D-C-T model of conferring. When we confer with students, we engage in the following steps (yes, all within about 5ish minutes!)
Research: Ask questions, have student read aloud, look at artifacts, etc.
Decide: Find a compliment and next step that connect
Compliment: What, why, concrete example of a student’s strengths
Teach: Name the strategy and teach, model, explain (step by step, how to)
Coach / Active Involvement – student reads/thinks/talks as the teacher offers feedback
Link: Repeat the teaching point
Step 5: Group for Efficiency
Develop a strong system of note-taking and management. Group students with similar needs to create strategy groups. Jennifer Serravallo explains that she meets with every student in her class face to face at least twice a week, either through individual conferring and/or strategy groups. This is a great goal!
Wait… is it really October already? We’ve been back for a month already? It feels like we just started! I was very excited to return to work this fall after being out last spring on maternity leave. And boy, did we hit the ground running!
I am a SPED Literacy Coach, and I support about 15 staff members spread across 4 buildings. Part of my back to school fun involved traveling around, checking in with the teachers I support, and delivering treats 🙂
Sorry-not-sorry for the cheesy pun 😀 So grateful for Pinterest!
Our back to school PD this year had several foci, and I was thrilled to finally be getting ‘into the weeds’ with many of these topics. Trauma Sensitive Education. Word Study. Science Inquiry. College and Career Ready IEPs. EXCITING STUFF! All of it directly impacts student learning, which is incredible.
I hope you all have had a successful and smooth transition back to school, and that you are enjoying building relationships and getting to know your students. That, essentially, is the cornerstone to trauma sensitive education. I’m really enjoying meeting all the new students and reconnecting with the teachers I support to kick off an exciting new academic year!
How has back to school been for you? If you could summarize it in one word, or three, what would you say?
If you’ve been following my blog, you know just HOW much I look forward to attending the WSRA Wisconsin State Reading Association each year in February in Milwaukee, WI. I find it so uplifting, invigorating, and reaffirming to rub elbows with the top experts in our field, attend sessions that expand my thinking, and be surrounded by such passionate, knowledgeable educators. Then I always come back to my blog to share the cutting-edge research and educational materials I discover. See my previous posts below if you’re curious!
This year was no exception. Such careful planning and TLC go into making this conference the best in the nation. And this year, something extra special – I got to be a presenter! Proposals need to be submitted almost a year in advance, so I had no way of knowing that my idea for “Fake News” would grow to be such a popular, trending topic by 2018. But I was thrilled at the high level of attendance and participation at my session. Educators from middle and secondary classrooms expressed to me a heightened need for media literacy and critical consuming awareness and education in their classrooms. They hailed from social studies, language arts, journalism, english, and history classes across the state. I’m so thrilled that we, as educators, see ourselves at the front line in preparing and equipping students to be the critical citizens that can intelligently shape their own futures. Presentation Link
Of course, I also had the honor of attending the keynote and several other sessions that day.
Our 2018 Keynote speaker was Alfie Kohn, an author, lecturer, and expert on education, parenting, and human behavior. He was so incredibly engaging and humorous – a great way to start the day! His presentation, entitled “How to Destroy Children’s Interest in Reading” was a perfect summary of classroom teacher’s frustrations and instincts regarding encouraging and maintaining a student’s love of reading.
Alfie had 8 was to certainly kill a child’s joy of reading:
Quantify reading. Tell them how much or how long to read
Force students to analyze, summarize, and otherwise digest their reading.
Make reading a solitary activity. include copious amounts of independent homework.
The teacher decides everything about the reading process. What a student reads, where s/he reads it, with whom, when, and under what circumstances.
Frame everything as test prep.
Make everything about reading strategies and phonics practice instead of just enjoying the experience.
Force students to read at their own level and practice a narrow band of skills, regardless of what they find interesting.
Give them a reward for reading. When you offer rewards, you change what, how, and why a student chooses to read.
Next, I had the privilege of attending a session held by none other than Jan Richardson herself! This presentation was entitled “Moving Forward with Guided Word Study.” Let me tell you, it’s a once in a lifetime experience to see an intervention or curriculum demonstrated by the creator, herself. She had many videos of her working directly with students, which she still does today. She clearly explained word study and its correlation to reading at each level, A and up, and demonstrated what it should contain and look like. The fear here is that teachers don’t always spend time on Word Study, seeing it as optional, and instead focus on reading comprehension and strategies.
Jan reminded us that sight word study should be part of Word Study at least through level I (2nd grade-ish), and that the goal is not to memorize words, but rather to learn to look at and recognize words. I loved the following process she used with a group of 1st graders.
She chose the word ‘here’ from a reading they just completed (connected, not random word choice, and a focus after authentic exposure.
She showed them several permutations of the word ‘here’ and asked them which letter(s) were missing. h-re, he-e, -ere, etc.
Next, she gave them magnetic letters and asked them “mix and fix” or shuffle the letters and reset them several times.
Third, she asked them to write the word with their finger on the table, then on the whiteboard (kinesthetic, tactile). They practiced writing it several time, mixing in some previously known words in between.
This activity reallllllly made me want to get some magnetic letters and a tray! It was so concise, scripted, engaging, and hit on so many different learning styles. And again, to her point, it wasn’t about memorizing the word ‘here,’ but rather about learning to manipulate and recognize the word several different ways.
Jan reminded us that Word Study should be multifaceted and contain:
Picture sorts to learn the sounds
Making words to learn to apply the sounds to reading
Sound boxes (aka Elkonin Boxes) to learn to apply the sounds to writing.
All three of these components are important!
She also introduced us to a new method of analytic phonics that is remarkably different in essential ways from Words Their Way. If you are familiar with WTW, you may often hear the complaint that students learn to visually recognize the patterns but don’t always master “hearing” the patterns. Jan’s answer to this is an auditory approach to analytic phonics. For example, if she were teaching students the “ick” and “ike” pattern, she would have them write down “sick” and “like” on either half of the page. From there on, every word would be dictated orally, and students would add them to the correct side of the page by listening and spelling by analogy. I loved this!
So those were my 2018 WSRA adventures. If you attended or have questions / comments, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
This update has been a long time coming, but I am finally done with my room! As a coach, I don’t get a ‘classroom,’ but I do get to place my office in the building’s book room. This is a room where we house our Calkins Units of Study books. Even if it is a glorified warehouse, it’s still “my” room, and it needed some flare. So, at long last, here is my office space!
And where are all these books, you might ask? Here they are!
See the post below for Before Pictures. That 70s yellow was just too sad for me, and I had to brighten it up with more white. I covered my desk in contact paper, covered the walls in white butcher paper, and added as many pops of color as I could. The wall is also covered in book jackets of my favorite elementary read aloud books. I hope you enjoy this fun makeover!
If you have a blog with before/after pics or brag pics of your classroom, I’d love to see! Please link in the comments below 🙂
Welcome back to school! For many traditional school year teachers in the U.S., this week is either professional development week or your first week back with students. I hope you are all surviving the transition and ready to get back to the critical, valuable, honorable calling of education.
I am starting this school year in a new district, in a new position. I am the Elementary Literacy Coach for Special Education in a district outside of Milwaukee, WI. There are a LOT of transitions for me! This is my first year in a role as a coach. I am so excited to be able to support teachers and help them with the ‘behind the scenes’ work that we all do. I will be helping teachers to better understand and address the literacy needs of their students. This is also a big transition for me to dive into the elementary world, since the vast majority of my teaching experience has been with middle / high school adolescents. I have so much to learn, which means a lot of potential to grow professionally (go growth mindset!).
I’d love to show you the BEFORE pictures of my new office. It’s not a classroom, since students will not use this room. I share this room with 2 other literacy coaches. It is also our book room for the elementary school at which I am housed (I serve all 4 schools in the district, but this is my home base). As such, I know I won’t be spending a TON of time here, but I do want to make it welcoming and inviting. I have a lot of work to do, but I am up for the challenge!
If you have any fun, exciting, new decorating ideas – PLEASE SHARE! I have a blank canvas inviting me. Stay tuned for AFTER pictures soon!
Most teachers I’ve met are born planners and organizers. That is exactly how I would describe myself as well. This past summer, I dove head first into the world of Whole30 (an anti-inflammatory way of eating that centers on healthy, lean meats, vegetables, fruit, and some nuts and healthy fats – basically, no dairy or grain). I LOVED how it made me feel: strong and healthy. More than that, I loved how I DIDN’T feel anymore – no more bloating, GI discomfort, headaches, feeling sluggish. Even mosquito bites didn’t bother me as much any more, as if to say my body was healing and better able to fight.
I wanted to be able to continue eating Whole30 (W30) throughout the school year. However, as you know, time is a precious commodity, and W30 does require a lot of cooking. Armed with my favorite kitchen appliance – my Instant Pot – I spent a good amount of time this summer batch cooking and freezing for the fall. When I made dinner for the family, I’d double it and freeze half. By the end of the summer, you can see below what I amassed. These recipes include W30 as well as paleo items, as I am now in W30 maintenance and slowly adding in items that are permitted in paleo (i.e. honey) but not in W30.
In this picture you see:
4 sweet potatoes slightly cooked, peeled, and diced to be added to hash – W30
My first stop to prepare for this endeavor was Costco. There I was able to purchase bulk meat at a discount. Next, I treated myself to a jar of minced garlic to save me a step. I purchased a giant bag of almond meal from Amazon for the paleo recipes.
Not pictured here are the things I will make weekly, including:
Keto overnight oats
W30 Egg breakfast
A dozen hard boiled eggs
In addition, I have purchased a lot of snacks to keep in my desk, listed below:
Dried apple rings
Roasted Plantain chips
Rx Bars (Chocolate Sea Salt and Blueberry are my faves!)
Fruit and veggie pouches
Unsalted Mixed Nuts
In the fall, I plan to warm up these items fairly quickly either by thawing them in the fridge the night before, or throwing them directly in the Instant Pot to sauté and warm up.
If you enjoy following my food journey, you can find me on Instagram! I am MightyKeka
Did you do any food prep this summer? I’d love any tips or tricks you can share!
It is with mixed emotions and a heavy heart that I close the door to my classroom this week. I have decided to embark on a new adventure with a new school district. In the fall, I will be a Literacy Coach for another suburban, low income, small school district near Milwaukee. I will specialize in supporting teachers in closing the 5th to 6th grade reading gap. It sounds exciting and terrifying all at once! Am I ready for this? I’ve never been a coach before. I’ll soon find out!
To prepare for my new role as literacy coach, I will be reading the following resources this summer.
My main goal for the first few weeks is going to be watching, listening, and learning, as well as encouraging and supporting teachers. While I am extremely saddened to leave my school district ‘home’ of 10 years, I’m also very excited to meet new teachers and make new friends. I’ll also be shifting my perspective from working with 6-12th grade adolescents to now elementary students. It will definitely be an adventure!
This year, I administer a decoding intervention to students in Tier 2 & 3 reading interventions. We work on decoding, spelling, vocabulary, and phonological awareness. Our goal is to read more quickly and accurately over time (fluency). This is an essential prerequisite for comprehension, because students who struggle to read fluently often lack the cognitive resources to dedicate to comprehending, which is the ultimate goal of reading.
Every week, I administer the AIMSWeb R-CBM probe, a 60-second running record that records students’ CWPM (Correct Words Per Minute) and errors, to each of my students. The hope is that through our weekly word study, students will show evidence of their learning by being able to read more quickly and accurately. However, I’ve always felt I was doing a pretty inadequate job with improving my students’ fluency. We practice reading out loud in class every day, but our gains in fluency are slow and hard earned. Most of my students’ AIMSWeb graphs are nearly flat, like the picture shown below, meaning very little growth is evidenced.
And yet, I see their growth in so many other ways every day. I see it in their confidence, their decoding abilities, vocabulary knowledge, and spelling – none of which is measured by AIMSWeb. But the question remains – how can I improve their fluency so that it is reflected in their scores?
I don’t know why I thought just reading more and more often would help my students. I had no systematic, direct approach; I just relied on sheer volume. We read interesting new texts every day and forged our way through the tough words together; and there was negligible improvement. I needed to find a way to speed up our progress.
I recently learned about a few fluency concepts that sounded really exciting and easy to incorporate into my curriculum, and I dove right in. Important concepts for improving fluency:
Students need to read the same text multiple times (repeated oral readings)
Students need to analyze and improve on their own miscues.
Students need to understand why fluency is an important skill worth improving.
It seems simple enough, and yet why didn’t I think of it sooner?
I began by choosing very short, leveled passages for us to work on. I work with groups of 4 students, and this activity should only be done individually (you don’t want students to hear each other, which will impact their own readings).
Next, I created a worksheet that allowed students to see and improve on their own miscues, keep track of their progress, and set goals for future improvement.
Here is my copy of the worksheet, which I put in a sheet protector so I could write on it with dry erase marker for each student.
Each of my students got their own copy of the worksheet, which they used to track their progress.
As you can see, this student clearly progressed between her Cold Read and her Warm Read. In the first read, she made 4 errors. We took the time to go over them, decode the words, discuss their meaning if necessary (especially with ‘turnstile’), and then I gave her individual work time to practice or reflect. On her second, warm read, she made only 1 error AND read faster! *NOTE: she did not repeat any of her initial miscues! In the end, I asked her to note any words that she felt were tricky for her and worth future practice. She chose ‘amid,’ which we have now decoded and made into a flash card. All of this took about 5-6 minutes total.
EACH and EVERY one of my students today said they *liked* this activity, and they felt it really helped. They asked me to please keep doing it, and to pick another interesting passage for tomorrow. They eagerly took on the challenge, enjoyed competing with themselves, and were thrilled to see their own progress. Yes – ACTUAL noticeable progress. I’m so glad we are incorporating this into our daily word study routine!
Have you had an experience with multimodal writing/spelling? There are so many great ideas out there on Pinterest, from writing in shaving cream to making impressions in bags of paint. The beauty of this idea is that it is a) engaging for students b) gross motor skills (no worrying about holding a pencil) c) kinesthetic and multimodal (do, say, hear) d) easily replicated over and over until mastery e) memorable. Students can get in a lot of fun practice with language rules without the exhaustion and monotony of pencil/paper.
This practice is typically done in elementary schools, but I say NAY! Our middle school students deserve some fun as well! And since we were reading a book called The Cay in which (SPOILER) the 2 main characters are stranded on a deserted island and must write “HELP” in the sand to flag an airplane – well this gave me the idea that we could do our word work in the sand as well!
Our word study focus for this lesson was on the tch/ch rule. To begin with, we reviewed all of the short vowel sounds, making them in the sand and saying them repeatedly to brush up. A-apple, E-edge, I-itch, O-octopus, U-up.
After this practice, we learned the tch/ch rule – that the final ‘tch’ sound only occurs after a short vowel. We practiced with the word ‘batch’ – do you hear a short vowel? Yes I hear a-apple. That means that the /ch/ sound must be made by a -tch at the end.
We continued with several other words for practice:
I didn’t so much care if they correctly spelled ‘teach’ with an ea and ‘screech’ with an ee, just that they recognized that the ending needed to be ‘ch’ instead of ‘tch.’
As you might expect, playing in the sand was a huge motivator, and at times distracting. In between words, I asked students to put their hands in the air. Once they were done spelling a word, I held up the cue card for them to cross check their spelling.
Overall, this lesson was a big hit. It was on theme, engaging, and appropriate for our word study sequence. The next lesson will be similar, on the ‘dge/ge’ ending (‘dge’ only occurs after a short vowel).
Would you try sand spelling with middle or high school students?