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FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions of the Teacher

Below you will find answers to common questions about my classroom policies. For info on how I set up my spelling instruction, reading workshop, writing workshop, and math in the classroom, I'd be happy to share in person! Click on any of the green links to find out more information on a particular topic.

  1. 1. 5/6 Multiage? Why and how?

  2. 2. How can I get important messages from the teacher?

  3. 3. How do I know what homework has been assigned or when due dates are?

  4. 4. How do I make an appointment to see the teacher?

  5. 5. What is the best way to reach the teacher if I have a question?

  6. 6. How should students be organizing their materials?

  7. 7. Do students need planners?

  8. 8. What is your discipline policy? How are issues dealt within your classroom?

  9. 9. Is it necessary that we buy items on the supply list?

  10. 10. How can I volunteer in the classroom?

  11. 11. When are parent-teacher conferences and how do you run them?

  12. 13. How can I check my son/daughter's grades?

  13. 14. How do you grade and assess?

  14. 15. How much homework will my student have and what will my student expect?

4th/5th/6th multiage? Why and how?

Multi-age is a dynamic and supportive teaching framework set up to benefit all of the students in the class, regardless of readiness level. This is so because teaching is tailored to the individual, where he/she is in their academic journey, not on an arbitrary grade level that they are "supposed to be at" that dictated by their age. Kids (and adults) simply don't learn at the same pace. There is no "middle group" in multi-age, rather instruction is designed so that all of the students reach the end goal (or beyond) because lessons and assignments all have varying levels of support, scaffolding, and tailored assessments in place to ensure the students progress at their own pace.

How do multiage teachers do it all though? Teaching two or even three grade levels simultaneously sounds difficult! The reason it works so well is because teaching multiage requires less focus on grade-level specific assignments, and more focus on teaching skills to the individual student, which can vary in level. It would be impossible for a teacher to hand out 28-30 different assignments for each subject, each day, in order to meet the needs of their students, but it's not hard giving one assignment per subject and grading the student on the various skills of the assignment at the level they are at.

Another benefit: students who don't reach "grade level" by the end of the first year can begin the next year with a teacher who already knows their strengths and weaknesses, and can immediately put time into helping that child reach their goals, rather than spending the first quarter of the year getting to know them. Likewise, strong students are more challenged because they aren't limited to "grade level" work they have already mastered, because multi-age teaching is skills based. Skills, which are embedded in the level of book the child is reading at, and embedded in the complexity level of the essay or story that the child is writing. There are no "4th grade level texts" or "5th grade level grammar worksheets" per se, but a constant emphasis on learning and progressing the entire time, whether that happens the first 6 weeks of school or the last 6 weeks.

This year I will again partner with my team teacher, fellow multiage teacher Sarah Finnell, in structuring our classes to best accommodate the individual needs of our students. Some of the ways we will do this include the following:

1) We will collaborate on teaching "exploration" classes in the areas of science and social studies. These classes are designed to enhance our teaching of different content areas, all the while having our students learn about specific methods, techniques, and skills. This way, each of us can focus on a content area, and thus increase our effectiveness in teaching the subject.

2) Each student will be placed in his or her "grade level" math class, taught by a particular intermediate teacher. Math at the intermediate level is split into three sections, which all cover the same material, but move at slightly different paces to accommodate faster and slower moving students. These classes are fluid, and allow for students to move if they need a faster pace sometime during the year.

3) We are all using the same assessment system in the hopes of making the grades your child receives more representative of their understanding. Letter grades are the current adopted measurement our district uses, but it is agreed by many that letter grades can be so ambiguous. Your child's grades will still be calculated as letter grades, however the actual assessments we will be using involve scoring guides that assess the State standards that your child masters. Please read my homework policy/grading newsletter for more info.

One of my goals again this year is to meet the needs of everyone by spending quite a bit of time working on classroom community and caring for one another-- that way there is no rift between older and younger students, or students of different gender. I find there to be quite a bit of social development for most grades as the older kids learn to be responsible and helpful and the younger ones learn how to balance their workload and increasing academic demands.

My other goal, as with last year, is to get to know your child! I plan on keeping records of daily interactions with my students through routine conferences, which will help me learn about their strengths and weaknesses without bombarding them with worksheets. This in turn will help me plan lessons to encourage authentic learning in the classroom, which is what every caring parent and teacher wants to have take place in the classroom

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How can I get important messages from the teacher?

Every week, or every other week (as important info needs to be shared with you) I will e-mail family members an e-newsletter with news, updates, and important info about upcoming dates and assignments. In the past I’ve sent home paper copies, but realized that these often never found their way home! If you would like a paper copy, please let me know and I’d be more than happy to provide one.

Another system I use for establishing and maintaining regular contact with you will be through the usage of your child’s daily planner, which is a simple sheet that I prepare each week. It is not necessary that you buy the school planner- you may use this free version, which I will send home each Monday with your child. Any relevant information that you will need to know about (assignments, tests, field-trips, parties, etc.) will be addressed in letters sent home.You are encouraged to leave me notes in your child’s planner at any time, however if you wish to contact me about any questions, comments, or issues, you are more than welcome to call, text, or e-mail me.

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How do I know what homework has been assigned or when due dates are?

You can click on the "Homework"The first method is to check the weekly newsletter. If your child lost the newsletter or misplaced it, you may download it on the class website. Listed on the newsletter should be the weekly due assignments (sometimes I do forget to include them all).

The second method is checking your child’s planner and seeing if assignments were written down (if it is blank, you can ask your child why!). I make it a point to have your child take on most, if not all of the responsibility of knowing which assignments are due or assigned. Students are expected to write their homework assignments in their planners every afternoon before school ends. I encourage parents to ask their children what the assignment is so that every child can be held accountable-- this builds enormous responsibility!

Lastly, you can also click on the "Homework" link on the above main menu of the class website. There you can read about my homework policy, and any info on projects (rubrics, due dates, etc.).
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How do I make an appointment to see the teacher?

The quickest, most reliable way to contact me is through e-mail, at barbie.keller@k12northstar.org. You can also call the front office at 479-4234 x288, or text me. I can meet with you before or after school, pending enough notice to plan around other staff and committee meetings. I prefer if you call before or after school, as phone calls are very disruptive throughout the day!

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What is the best way to reach the teacher if I have a question?

I prefer emails since I check them frequently and it's not disruptive to the class, but if you don't use e-mail or find it difficult to access routinely, please don't hesitate to call (preferably before or after school). I check my emails during the day and all through the evening and will reply as soon as possible. I check my phone messages during planning and after school.

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How should students be organizing their materials?

Students will need to obtain four 3 hole dividers (reading, writing, science, and social studies) and a 2" (maximum size) three-ring binder that will house important notes and work we complete at school. Additionally, they will need a two 3-hole pocket folders (for homework and reading).

This binder will stay at school. The only thing that will travel to and from school is the folder for bringing work home and back. In the front area of their folder, each student will place the weekly newsletter/planner given to them (which lists important events and due dates).

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Do I need to purchase a planner for my child ?

No- I provide a simple, free planner sheet that I will send home weekly with the class newsletter. This planner will be used as both a work organizer and a form of communication between you and myself.

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What is your discipline policy? How are issues dealt with in your classroom?

Consequences for students who do not follow rules:I am a big proponent of positive reinforcement, i.e. I first resort to pointing out the benefits of behaving in class when curtailing off-task or inappropriate behavior. I stress to students that if I observe they are not following our classroom rules (which are discussed in depth throughout the first few weeks of school), they need to make a wiser choice. One of these choices may be to work elsewhere in the classroom. Students that need time to their selves to think about their actions or just have a quiet place to work may choose to go to one of the tables I have set up around the room. I have these areas available since I don’t believe in isolating a student by sending them out in the hall. Not only is it safer for them to be in the class but they can also still participate. Students may also collect "credits" or class money by working hard or showing team-work behavior. At the same time, students are also subject to classroom "fines" for inappropriate behavior, which coincides with our classroom economy system (see class info section for more info).

Classroom conflicts All classroom conflicts and misbehavior issues among students are addressed during weekly classroom meetings. Class officers are elected at the beginning of the year and help lead the class and promote solving problems with classmates, while I simply oversee the process. The way I organize weekly meetings is by inviting everyone to the back of the room to sit in a circle. The meetings begin with compliments, where each student will be asked to compliment at least one person within the room. Next the class President will address the issue (if there is one) with the class by asking them ways they can avoid or deal with the conflict. Students that are involved in the conflict are not anonymous, and are expected to address the issue in front of their peers. If there isn’t an issue to discuss, the class President will use this time to talk about upcoming trips, parties, assemblies, guest-speakers, or anything pertaining to the class that is written in the class agenda. At the end of the classroom meeting I will try to culminate it with a cooperative game. This structure has been highly effective, and typically reduces/eliminates the need to write a student up.

TAG Referrals: For serious or repeated misbehavior, I (or another teacher) will write a referral for students. This is a last resort after exhausting all other options, which I like to avoid. This referral usually results in a loss of recess and a call home by the behavior specialist or principal.

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Is it necessary that we buy items on the supply list?

In addition to the supply list mailed out at the beginning of the year, I have added a few extra items which I use for writing workshop and organization. I strongly encourage parents to obtain them. I understand that supplies can get expensive, especially if buying for more that one child, but I make use of every item on the list so these are put to very good use!

Additionally, my own stash of classroom supplies will be stored on open shelves and made available to the students at anytime during the day. Students that lose supplies or are unable to purchase their own are welcome to use mine, though I do remind them to take care of them since they are in short supply. I do constantly take donations as keeping up with functional supplies can be quite expensive!

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How can I volunteer in the classroom?

Parents/relatives/guardians are all welcome and strongly encouraged to volunteer in the classroom whenever they have any available time. In order to make most efficient use of your time and the class’s time, I only request that you contact me prior to when you would like to help out, just so that I will be prepared to give you something to do.

If you prefer to stay in the classroom I can also let you know when students are independently working so that you could offer up help on class work. Math time is a great opportunity for this. Whether there is a particular slot of time you could routinely help out during, or if you can only volunteer for an hour a month, any help is appreciated. There will be occasions where parent chaperones are going to be needed during class fieldtrips, so this could one opportunity to help out as well. Help is also greatly appreciated when our class does projects! If you are interested in contributing any of your time to the class to help out with prepping materials or any other jobs, please contact me.

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When are parent-teacher conferences and how do you run them?

There will be two “officially” scheduled parent-teacher conferences throughout the school year. One will be at the end of fall (October) and one will be before spring (February) (see school calendar on the home page for specific dates).

During the conference you will have the opportunity to hear about the progress of your student and also look at some work I have saved highlighting what your child has been working on during the year. I strongly encourage you (and your child) to attend these conferences as it greatly benefits your child’s success. If you are unable to attend during one of the designated slots I don’t mind making accommodations to schedule a meeting for a later or earlier time. As well, you are welcome to schedule an “unofficial” conference with me at any time by calling or e-mailing me.

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How can I check my son/daughter's grades?

1. Log on to www.Mrskeller.net and click on the top left link labeled Powerschool.
2. Go to https://premier.k12northstar.org/public/. Type in your child's student number and password, or parent username and password to access student grade information. (If you do not remember your username and password, call the front office at 479-4234).

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How Do You Grade and Assess?

I am a huge proponent of standards-based grading. I find this method of grading to be a much more useful and helpful method of score keeping for myself, the students, and the parent on many levels.

Standards-based grading means that I align grades and the Alaska standards I teach in each subject. Each assignment focuses around a State standard or set of standards, and I consequently grade each standard separately (not each assignment).

Please read my grading newsletter for more details on how it works and what you and your child can expect this year regarding grades.

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How much homework will my student have and what will my student expect?

I'll be honest. I am not a big fan of the tradition of homework for elementary students, especially after researching how little it actually benefits pre-high school students. I do, however, see the benefit of learning how to keep track of work and return it on time, and build discipline and work habits. Any homework that is assigned in addition to daily math and reading will either be work that we ran out of time in class to finish, or an occasional project. I do not penalize a student's grade for late work, but I do hold students accountable by having them work during recess at Study Hall if homework is missing without a reasonable explanation. With a parent note or e-mail, students may be excused from study hall.

Students can expect to have 40-60 minutes of homework a night (or less), which includes the aforementioned math and reading. Generally, 4th grade students have fewer expectations than 5th and 6th. Please refer to my homework policy packet for more information.

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