Meet Ashleigh: She’s been teaching 3rd and 4th grades since she was 21 and says she loves both grades. She has a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction and is a Specialist in Brain Research. In her own words, she says it “officially makes me a big nerd.” We happen to heart nerds and we definitely loved getting to know a little more about Ashleigh.
1. How did you first become involved on TpT, and what benefits do you get out of being a TpT Teacher-Author?
I first discovered TpT in February 2009 when I was searching for a lesson for my class. It didn’t even occur to me that I could potentially sell my materials until later that November when I stumbled upon TpT a second time. I decided to give it a try, because I was already creating resources for my own classroom. I figured I didn’t have anything to lose. I honestly didn’t expect to sell much of anything. My goal was to earn enough to pay for materials for my classroom, so I didn’t have to dip into our family budget for teaching supplies.
I was immediately hooked! From that point on, I feel like I’ve been joined at the hip with my laptop. In all seriousness, I think that one of the biggest challenges for me has been to learn to balance two young children, a husband, a full-time teaching job, and regular household duties. There really isn’t an easy solution for me, but I do try to drastically limit my work time.
The benefits of being a TpT Teacher-Author are innumerable. Obviously there are financial rewards, but there is so much more to it than that. I have learned to do more than I ever imagined would be possible. Just recently, I was working with HTML codes, which was a foreign language to me a year ago. TpT has given me an increased passion for education and motivated me to continue my own professional development, as I continually seek ways to improve my instruction and the quality of materials I create. I think that being a TpT Teacher-Author has helped me to become a much better teacher.
Another amazing benefit of TpT is that it allows me to collaborate with teachers all over the world and to cultivate friendships with other TpT sellers and bloggers. I’ve learned so much from other Teacher-Authors and I’m continually inspired by their generous and caring nature. The entire TpT community is an amazing entity that I am so proud to be a part of.
2. What was a hard-won lesson on TpT that you wish someone had told you?
I could write a book on what NOT to do. I had a very slow start to TpT because I didn’t realize that the materials I used in my personal classroom were not necessarily ready to be posted on TpT. The content was good, but the overall design was severely lacking. I had a very steep learning curve in the graphic design department. I didn’t even know that it was possible to buy clip art, borders, and fonts!
I also didn’t know to include features such as cover pages, teacher directions, and answer keys. I had to come to the realization that to make my products TpT ready, they had to be complete and include everything that a teacher could possibly need. I had to reach an understanding that quality was far more important than quantity. It didn’t matter how many items were in my store if they weren’t high quality ones that would encourage repeat customers. Even to this day, I am constantly revising and updating products, because I want everything in my store to represent my best work.
However, my biggest mistake was the assumption that TpT automatically converted products into previews when I loaded a product. My first month selling, I posted a full product for all my previews. Needless to say, I didn’t sell much! Finally, some sweet person emailed me to let me what I was doing wrong.
3. I also read you’re a Specialist in Brain Research. Has that influenced your TpT products?
My brain research degree definitely has a tremendous impact on my instruction and my TpT products. I love learning about how people learn, and I try to use the principles from my courses as a guide when I organize my classroom, create materials, and interact with my students.
I try to create a safe and caring classroom environment that encourages risk taking. I think that almost all teachers realize that a positive learning environment is an integral part of the learning process. I strive hard to create a classroom that evokes positive emotions from my students, because emotions are what motivate students to learn. I also want my students to know that everyone will be challenged in my classroom, and that it’s okay to make mistakes. I think that is one of the most difficult lessons I teach all year, but I also think it’s one of the most important lessons.
One of the ideas that really hit home with me is how the brain responds to novelty. If you looked through my TpT store, you’d see that there are many, many different types of products. That’s because I’m constantly changing things around for my students to give them a sense of novelty. I believe in keeping the structure, routines, and expectations consistent throughout the year, but I like to keep my style of instruction varied to maintain my students’ interests. Can you imagine how boring it would be to do the same thing every day?
I also pay particular attention to creating products that are relevant and meaningful to students since the brain is constantly searching for meaning. I try to give students multiple learning experiences that allow them to find connections and patterns from those experiences.
Another idea that made a significant impact on me was that, “practice makes permanent.” I’d always heard that “practice makes perfect” but that’s not true. If a student practices 100 math problems and does all 100 problems incorrectly, he/she hasn’t learned anything or perfected any skill. It’s important for students to practice correctly and for teachers to provide support and feedback that allows students to improve through repetition. I’ve created several products that give teachers an easy way to provide that practice for their students.
4. What kinds of resources do you like to make, and what programs or tools do you use to create your products?
My absolute favorite products to create are the ones where I have a need for that particular product in my own classroom. Whenever I have a strong feeling of inspiration for a product, it is pure joy to watch the pieces fall into place and to create something I know will be useful. I rarely make a product just for the sake of making something for TpT. There’s no fun or passion in that for me, because I truly pour my heart into my products. I enjoy making resources that find just the right balance between fun and high levels of learning, which isn’t always easy! I want my products to require students to be engaged and actively learning, while at the same time challenging them academically. I like making resources that scaffold student learning to make challenging concepts and skills attainable for all students.
I can’t tell you how much I regret using Word when I first started on TpT, because for me, PowerPoint is so much easier. I spent hours and hours this summer updating some of my oldest products and transferring them to PowerPoint. I start everything with a completely blank slate, and I try to get what I’ve visualized in my head onto that document. The first few pages are always the most difficult for me to create, because it can take me hours to decide on the overall look of the product. I typically work on one product at a time because I have a tendency to become obsessed with the product until it’s finished.
5. What are your three favorite products and why?
That is such a hard question! I don’t know if I can necessarily pick my top three favorites, but I can share three that I’m especially proud of.
My favorite new resource has to be my 3rd–5th Grade Guided Reading Unit, because it’s something that I’ve been cultivating in my mind for over a year now. It took me that long to “see” how to effectively integrate fiction and nonfiction. I love how it’s structured to be teacher-friendly, because we all know how incredibly busy teachers are. I wanted teachers to have everything they need to teach reading in one place, and I think this product does that.
Another one of my favorite resources is my Social Studies Interactive Notebook. Finding high-quality social studies resources can be incredibly difficult, so it’s been wonderful to have everything that I need at my fingertips. My students love the activities, and I love that they have a journal of their learning throughout the year.
One of my favorite free resources is my Hands On Math Booklet for Place Value. I think that it’s one of those products that meets all of my criteria for a great math lesson. I love the fact that it has students up, moving around, and working with math manipulatives to build conceptual knowledge of place value and rounding. The booklet also requires students to explain their math ideas and thoughts in writing, which is a great way to help students solidify their understanding of math concepts. Another reason I love this product is that there are so many different ways to use the booklets — whole class centers, small group work, early finisher activities, homework, you name it! Most importantly, it’s fun! My students constantly beg me to do more of these hands-on booklets!
How insightful! Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions so thoroughly and thoughtfully, Ashleigh. Learn more on Ashleigh’s blog, Ashleigh’s Education Journey and be sure to check out the rest of our 5 Questions posts to get to know additional Teacher-Authors.