Thursday, June 28, 2012

Speaking Of Multiple Intelligences.....

I can't wait to use this new discovery with my kiddos:

It profiles famous people and the learning style they fall under. I think it will be a great way to introduce the concept and learn a little bit about historical figures as well.

I'm still working on the survey I'm going to give them in the beginning of the year to see what category/categories they will fit into-but that's definitely something I'm going to pay more attention to this year both for planning and grouping purposes.

Reading Web Resources for Students

I'm teaching summer school this month and using some of these even whole group with my kiddos. I like that they are reading the story and showing the text along with it-great for that sound/word connection. These are also links I add to the class website for kids to use for practice at home. Are you familiar with these?

1) Tumblebooks is a good one. They have a paid membership, but many libraries are nice enough to have it on their websites for free. I use Atlantic City Public Library-but if you Google it various libraries come up.

Tumblebooks-Atlantic City Public Library

My kids love Big Chicken, 50 Below and Princess Justina Albertina.

2) Story Place

This one has fairy tale stories told with a twist. My kids love Dinosaurs Rock. I encourage them to even watch the ones for "Preschool" because they are just like their decodable texts in the repitition of words.


Not the Electric Company when we were young :) but they do still say "Hey, you guys!". Lots of cute animations for reading strategies. *warning* Silent "e" is a Ninja will stay in your head forever!!! :)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

TED Talks

Not the Marky Mark's talking bear movie :). I know that most teachers have seen the videos here on TED I love to play them and just listen while I work on the computer.

It's a little long, Sir Kenneth Robinson's on creativity is one of my favorites-because it's funny and thoughtful at the same time:

And this one on what adults can learn from children:

An incredible tutoring project:

An African teen who built a windmill from spare parts:

But I also use them sometimes with my kids. Einstein the Parrot is one of their favorites-I can't imagine how long it took to train her to do that:

A great talk on following your interests and how amazing discoveries are still being made in the ocean, who knew an octopus has a sense of humor:

Who knew there were bats with long tongues-amazing ways technology has changed film making:

Kids Overlooked for Awards

I know this article is meant more for the middle/high school arena:

...but it struck a nerve with me. I think especially when you teach GT kids, you have to be used to having students who don't fit the proverbial "mold". They can be social misfits, not have tools to channel emotions or, let's face it, just plain odd. Maybe it's the psych major in me, but I often observe the kids playing like I'm doing a case study :). Once I had a student who spent recess walking around a tree over and over-that was just fascinating to me.  I don't know that I'll ever figure them out, but I'm one of those teachers who relates to, even values odd, so I guess it's a good match.

Anyway, I thought this was an interesting take on awards. I know even in Kinder during class, the kids know who the "Superstars" are. It broke my heart the first time I realized I was unwillingly doing this. My 2nd year teaching, one of the students said "you think Robert is the smartest one in the class". And the truth was, I actually didn't think that. Was he the best reader (a trait often admired by kids who struggle with that skill), yes. But certainly we all know people are "smart" in different ways. Awards are often no different and even though we may give an award to every child, I think many families know the "good citizen" award is another way of saying "I just couldn't think of anything nice to say about Johnny". Valuing high grades and talents/abilities is fine, but I think we should also value publicly other qualities. If you can't think of one quality to recognize in a child, I don't think you have taken the time to get to know them well enough.

A friend of mine teaches middle school and was in awe of a boy who she witnessed stand up for another boy getting teased for wearing make-up in the hallway. How much courage that must have taken! I've had students who would jump to help anybody do anything. They even notice my tea bottle is empty and get another one out of my bag-I turn around-a full bottle! How thoughtful is that! One year I had a student who really struggled academically, but man, she had common sense. You know how you can send 2 students to the office with something to give the secretary, and they can come back 20 minutes later saying there was no one there, so they walked around the whole school looking for the secretary! :0 She wasn't like that. I could trust her with any task. If something spilled, she wouldn't just stand there watching it spill all over the floor and then come over and tell me it spilled (don't you love when they do that), she'd go get something to clean it up with. That's a rare quality in 5-year olds.

Anyway, I know our next awards season is pretty far away, but I thought it was worth thinking about.

Monday, June 25, 2012

My Classroom Theme This Year

So it's a tough decision to make because I know I'll have to look at it all year and there are sooooo many different choices out there; but I've finally decided the theme I'm going to do for my classroom this fall.....The Wizard of Oz!!! It's usually one of the first chapter read-alouds we do (great for introducing ethics!), so I can tie it into the academics.

*I'm going to do signs that say "There's No Place Like Miss Trayers' Class".
*For the library something like "Have the Courage to Read  Good Book"
* I'm going to start our morning message with : Dear Munchkins,
* a yellow brick word wall (I think with rainbow cut-outs, still need a good title for that)
* hot-air balloon cut-outs for their nametags.

The ideas are just flowing in. I actually found a website that sells fabric with the characters on it-I just have to find out if we can use fabric as a backdrop on our boards, we have a very strict fire marshall.

I need an opinion from y'all, because I trust you :). I found a very cheap Dorothy costume and am seriously considering dressing up in it for either the parent Meet-and-Greet or the 1st day of school. Is that totally insane? Teachers at my school don't really do things like that, but I just think it would be so much fun!

What do you think? Too over-the-top?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Inspiration Struck Sunday

So this week's are a little off the topic of teaching, but today is my birthday (and it's my 40th ;). I was going to continue to pretend I was 32, but decided to just go ahead and embrace it. So here goes:

I guess dance is the universal language. I am so jealous of all the places he visits!

How Sweet Is This?

My camera isn't working or I'd take a pic of it.

To encourage my kiddos to keep writing over the summer I gave them some fancy printer paper and a stamped envelope to write to me. I just read one of the letters I received, it said:

Dear Miss Trayers,

Has Ruby been itchy this summer? You are still in my heart.

(Ruby is my dog who has allergy issues)-I just melted. How sweet is that?

Multicultural Stories

I know it makes sense to use stories of different cultures in the classroom; I've actually observed kids choosing books because the characters look like them. I think it's really important not only to have them in your library, but use them in lessons as well.

Here are some of my other favorites:

I love to read this one at the beginning of the year.

A little girl who thinks her parent's Chinese restaurant won't do well on an American holiday.

I know some teachers don't talk about September 11th in Kinder, but if you do, this is a really neat story. A village in Africa got together to send us cows as their sympathy for had happened. Really amazing!

This is just an incredibly well-written story about a simple concept-needing some rain to cool down on a hot day.

Did you know Debbie Allen was once self-conscious because she was too tall? I watch her on "So You Think You Can Dance" and just think of the mark she's made on so many lives. What would have happened if she hadn't had the courage to continue with dance? A real feel-good story.

Boys in Africa who are extremely excited for a new soccer ball until some bullies come along and try to steal it. But they are too clever for that. It talks about what a scary world they live in, but when they play as a team, it all fades away.

A typical day in Kenya-a fun story. Lots of activities you could do with it including comparing it to their day.

Not only Will Smith's wife, but an author too! I love the photos in this story. My boys will pick it up and start making faces when they actually read the text, but it's true-we do hold up the world! :)

A collection of poems from various writers-lots of different cultures represented.

It's a scarf-if you didn't know. Mostly English with a few Spanish words sprinkled in.

The following are all English and Spanish text. I read the English when I read it aloud, but do catch some of my kiddos reading the Spanish text.

Some chapter books:

A refugee from Kosovo adjusting to life in America.

I really loved this book. I thought it was touching and funny at the same time, which is hard to do. I read it to my 1st Grade class but edited some of the text. His cousin lost a hand in the war and his father was killed-I skipped over some of those descriptions. But he is adjusting to life in America and does things like put the dishes in the washing machine. I think it's a really heartfelt story.

**** I'm on the lookout for any books that represent India. I have had more students that fit in to that demographic and I haven't been successful at finding anything, if you have any other suggestions, I would love to hear them!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fluency With Camp Songs

I'm teaching Summer School right now...I know, crazy right? Well, it keeps me out of trouble! :)

I was struck with a little bit of inspiration. I always start my whole group reading instruction with a warm-up that includes a poem for fluency. I put it up on the SmartBoard and we read it every day for a week, hoping that they are making that connection with the words. Plus, you can't beat poetry for vocabulary instruction.

Anyway, since it's summer I thought I'd try using camp songs. The kids just LOVE it! I think it's something I'm going to do with my Kinder kids throughout the year next year.

Now, I admit, I was a Girl Scout (I grew up in the country, not much else to do). I actually went away to a week-long camp 3 summers in a row. Good time! Memories of polar-bearing and kayaking and of course, making useless macrame stuff (that doesn't seem like a skill that would help on Survivor). The 2nd summer my sister attended too and didn't brush her teeth or her hair for a week-that one's not a great memory. But I can still remember the classics-like the entire lyrics to Billboards (I swear my brain is probably 70% song lyrics-I can't remember what I ate for breakfast, but I remember that :).

 I think this is a really good collection:

My all-time favorite (not sure I could use this in class, but remember it fondly):

A Boy and A Girl In A Little Canoe 

A boy and a girl in a little canoe 
With the moon shining all around.
They paddled their paddles so
They couldn't even hear a sound.

And they talked and they talked 
'till the moon grew dim
Then he said you better kiss me 
or get out and swim

So what 'ya gonna do with a little canoe
with the moon shining all-a
the boy paddling all-a
The girl swimming all around!

Some I've been using this summer:

Boom Chick-a Boom

I said a boom chick-a boom
I said a boom chick-a-boom
I said a boom chick-a rock-a chick-a rock-a chick-a boom

Oh yeah

One more time…

Change style each time
Italiano style (boomba, rrrock-a)
Valley girl style
Astronaut style (zoom chick-a zoom, take a rocket to the moon)
Opera Style
Janitor Style (broom sweep a broom, sweep-a mop-a)
Underwater style

Austrian Yodeler

Once an Austrian went yodeling
On a mountain top high
When along came a _________
Interrupting his cry
Oh lee lah
Ohlee lah kee kee lah
Oh lee lah cuckoo cuckoo, …
Oh lee lah kee kee lah
Oh lee lah cuckoo cuckoo …
Oh lee lah kee kee lah
Oh lee lah cuckoo cuckoo, …
Oh lee lah kee kee lah oh

Things to come by:
Cuckoo bird (cuckoo, cuckoo)
St. Bernard (woof, woof)
Grizzly Bear (grr, grr)
Skier (swish, swish)
Cow (moo, moo)
Duck (quack, quack)
Miss Piggy (Kermie!)
Girl Scout (Cookies, Sir?)
Avalanche (rumble, rumble)

Each time you sing through this song, use a new “thing to come by.” In the chorus, add the new sound/action following the completion of all of the old ones. For example, on verse three, the chorus would be: Oh lee lah, oh lee lah kee kee lah, oh le lah cuckoo, cuckoo, woff, woof, grr, grr.

Littlest Worm

The littlest worm
I ever saw
Got stuck inside
My soda straw!

He said to me,
“Don’t take a sip!
For if you do,
I’ll surely slip!”

I took a sip,
And he went down,
All through my pipes.
He must have drowned!

He was my friend,
He was my pal.
But now he’s gone,
I know not how!

This is the end,
There ain’t no more;

Unless I see
My friend once more.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Challenging Ones

This week was the 3 year anniversary of when I brought my little turkey Ruby home from the shelter. She was 3 months old, cute as a button and I would soon find out extremely challenging. The drive home she nipped and scratched at me. Any time I would sit down, whether it be in the grass with her or on the couch, I would get the same treatment. I called my mom the next day to ask her if they do exorcisms on dogs! :)

I think I was meant to find Ruby. At least one person had already given up on her (she was in a shelter). My family's advice was a well-intentioned  "take her back and get another one". I called in a trainer recommended by my vet and I will never forget her assessment. Because Ruby never curled up in my lap or fell asleep next to me she decided that "she will never be the dog you want her to be". I had paid for several lessons already, but told her I didn't want her working with my pup anymore. As a teacher, I know if you don't believe they can learn, they won't learn.

We went to 3 other trainers before we found one that understood her. All the others told me I wasn't being tough enough with her, I had to show her who was boss. That was exactly the wrong advice. Ruby gets stressed out whenever anyone even raises a voice, she shuts down or acts out. She needed someone who saw how incredibly smart she was, how praise in the form of food works wonders! How she needed time to build up that trust. 

Today she is a fabulous companion. She sleeps in the doorway of my bedroom and stands in front of me when a cat walks by-all I think in an effort to protect me. She makes me laugh on a daily basis. She will go get a toy that I put peanut butter in and literally drop it in my lap as if she is asking for a treat. I can tell her "over" and she jumps puddles! Last year, I injured my knee and she would consciously slow down her pace when I did. I treasure our time in the evenings where she sits in the grass and watches the world go by and I read a book.

What does this have to do with teaching you ask? A lot actually. I am teaching summer school right now and have a student who many people, unfortunately, had written off. Many warned me about him-he can't learn, he doesn't listen, has a bad attitude, etc. He has a lot of difficulty with reading and writing, and I could see his frustration with that right off the bat. During the school year his teacher sent him to Kindergarten as punishment, because that's what his level was anyway *sigh*. He would take home no folder, no homework. Was ineligible for tutoring because of his behavior.

Fast forward to this week. My strategy going in was sticker charts and stickers and told him he had a blank slate with me. He could earn the rewards for hard work. The first day I read Patricia Polacco's Thank You Mr. Falker (there are others who could benefit from that message, but I could tell it spoke to him-it's her own story with enormous difficulty in reading and now she's a famous writer!). Telling you he has stepped up is an understatement! We started practicing his high frequency words, I made some flashcards-he asked if he could take them home to practice! He takes books home to read every day. He shares the soap in the restroom and offers to stack up the chairs at the end of the day. I have had this kid for several days and already just see a different child. He's really good at math-I'm not sure anyone even took the time to realize that before, maybe because he can't read the problems. 

I have a t-shirt that says "If a child doesn't learn the way we teach, then we need to teach the way the child learns". I wholeheartedly believe in that fact. Kids are not always going to fit into that mold that many think are the ideal student. I actually find working with the challenging kids more rewarding. 

My point is sometimes it takes time to figure out what works for a kid, but we have to take that time. If kids get written off by their teachers year after year-imagine how frustrating that is, how much that makes the problem worse. It takes time, but the rewards are so worth it!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Now More Than Ever---Advocating for GT Kids

So our district, like many others faced with the call for teacher accountability, has moved to a model where 50% of our yearly evaluations are based on student test scores. Yes, that's even for early childhood *sigh*. I think almost everyone in education has a soapbox (or at least anyone who still has passion for the profession)-mine is those GT kiddos. My biggest fear is that teachers, fearful of losing their jobs, will spend all their time trying to get those who are struggling up in scores and those who probably can already pass the test will sit on the sidelines.

I already see 2 things happening. One is that some teachers don't want the GT kids. If a child enters 4th Grade with 7th Grade skills, it's hard to show growth on a common assessment, especially one standardized for 4th Grade skills. They may be growing, but the measure has a ceiling, so that growth just doesn't show. We are a society that caters to mediocrity. The other is that lessons are planned for the middle/low students. So even if they aren't officially GT, these advanced kids have to sit through lessons on sight words when they can already read Horrible Harry books!

I often hear critics say that teachers complain a lot and don't give solutions. So I am going to make some suggestions:

1) Don't forget those high kiddos! No matter what level they are on, they can always improve their skills. I talk to teachers who do small group instruction (a must at the elementary level), however, they meet with their high group, maybe once per week, their low groups get individualized instruction every single day. A Kinder student who can already read sentences can benefit from lessons in fluency and comprehension. You could even do a literature circle (I call it "Book Club" :) or read a chapter to the group from a chapter book and have them do a separate activity-maybe related to vocabulary. They have the ability to grow as much as the other groups-but we have to help them get there! That's our job.

2) I've been doing a lot of reading on Blended Learning or Flipping the Classroom-using all the technology tools many schools have to differentiate. Recording lessons yourself (it is summer, I'm going to do some of this while I have the time) or using already recorded lessons (between YouTube, TeacherTube, BrainPop, Discovery Education, Khan Academy--there are many out there) to differentiate your lessons. If my whole group lesson is about counting to 10, for example, and I know that Johnny can already compose and decompose numbers to 10, then I can set him up on a computer or give him homework to watch videos of something more at his level. Maybe introduce a concept not in our standards or work from something he's interested in.

3) Peer tutoring is NOT differentiation! I hear this in meetings and workshops all the time and it just eats my lunch! There is nothing inherently wrong with peer tutoring. I think it could even be an effective tool, especially if you are talking about a before/after school activity. But asking the student who finishes their work first, to go around and help those who are not yet finished is not forwarding the instruction of that advanced student. Now, I've heard the arguments-when you teach something you learn it better. My point is that these kids don't need to learn what they already know better, they need to learn something new! I could teach a colleague how to use powerpoint, it doesn't make me a better powerpoint user. I would much rather be learning a new program I could implement.

Just imagine going to school every day, stepping off that bus ready to learn. A great curiosity, many questions--only to be relegated to whole group instruction that you already know how to do, small group instruction where you are told to "go read a book". And independent work that really isn't challenging, you get it done in 2 minutes, then are told you have to go "help your friends". What new thing did you learn that day? If this happened day after day, would you really be growing? But it is important to differentiate for those kiddos-even if they can already pass the test used for our evaluation!

Ethics in Children's Literature

Since I'm usually posting about activities from class, it's hard for me to think of some topics to post during the summer. I thought I might post some ideas for stories to use when incorporating the concept of Ethics. This is actually an easier concept for the kiddos than I had imagined. The hard part is getting them past the part of wanting to give you the "right" answer. When we have class discussions about it, I usually play the other side and ask needling questions and they don't know how to answer because it's like they are trying to predict what answer I am looking for. They apply the concept pretty readily after that. I had a student who took something from the backpack of another and instead of getting mad at her the victim announced that this was "ethics"! It was wrong for her to do that.

Some ideas for books that provide fodder for ethical discussions:

The little boy is told by his father not to go in the water or away from the lion he drew in the sand. He wandered quite far but made the lion's tail very, very long so he wouldn't stray from the animal. Sounds like a loophole to me, one of those moments where the child knows what the parent means by their request. Was this the right thing to do? What are some examples of ways kids blur the lines a little bit when listening to their parents.

Now some people in education do not like this book, but I think it's a perfect example of karma in action! The princess is a complete brat and asks for pet after pet because they don't live up to her expectations. If she doesn't get what she wants she throws a complete fit so the nanny tries to pleas her. In the end (and this a spoiler, just FYI) the last choice of pet eats her. Somehow you don't really feel sorry for her. It can easily fuel a discussion on right and wrong.

I know, a classic! So much is wrong in this story though. The kids let a stranger inside, he trashes the house, they may not tell their mom. When you talk ethics the kids actually do sometimes see the other side and that is the children had fun. An interesting discussion can ensue.

Oooh-lots of right/wrong going on here from throwing the bucket of water on the Wicked Witch to the Great and Powerful Oz being a phony.

However you feel about this book it amazes me how the kids see it. They will agree it's wrong to take and take and take but many will point out (which may have been Silverstein's point to begin with)-that it's right in the eyes of the tree.

There's a lot of grey area when it comes to ethics and it's fun to see the kids really start to understand that. Their world is really black and white until they start to think about other factors that may influence a character's decisions.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Inspiration Struck Sunday

I love how some of the other blogs that I read have a weekly post topic. I talk a lot about how we should try to inspire the kids, I decided to one to show things that I think are inspiring me right now. I'm going to try to do it every Sunday because when school starts up again, that's when I need the most inspiration! :)

So here goes-some things from Pinterest:

I'd love to be able to have this on my wall-Winnie the Pooh has so many quotable moments!


I stumbled across this on YouTube. It just reminds me that we should never write off a child because of their experiences. Everyone has gifts. Everyone has the capacity to overcome.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Encouraging Creativity

Kids today are not as creative as they have been in the past. Chalk it up to mindless video games and cartoons (did you know that 74% of all infants and toddlers have watched TV before the age of 2!) or maybe because imagination is not something that can be measured by standardized testing, therefore is not encouraged in some schools. I can remember my sister and I making up crazy games to entertain ourselves  when we were little-once we made a whole cadre of paper dolls and played with them on our staircase for hours. Unfortunately, (and I know there are exceptions), most of our students don't have that same creative way of thinking. We had a hurricane a few years ago that took out power across the state. My friends who had children said the worst part was-not worrying about enough supplies, not being without information about what was going on---but trying to entertain the kids for a whole week with no electrical devices!

Anyway, I think it's really important to lay that foundation for skills in creativity. It can be applied to all different subject areas and I think is particularly important in creating effective writers. A few ideas for incorporating creativity in the classroom. (Just a sidenote-sometimes we have to even be creative in the objectives we attach to these activities because sadly, creativity is not typically in our standards. You can always bring it back to a writing activity-we painted, but then we wrote about it; we wrote a script then made the Claymation to go with it).

1) Divergent Art-love this! I will do this activity with them as a morning warm-up/bellringer activity at least once per week. You give them a shape, any shape and they have to use that shape in their design. It often takes awhile for them to really comprehend what you are asking them to do and I often consciously teach them to try to come up with something different than anyone else thought of. A few examples-- the black line is half of a square:

2) Invent things! If you are doing planets, use what you learned and invent a new one. If you are learning about mammals, create a new mammal. This is a great way for them to apply what they are learning in a different way. You can assess what they have learned-mammals have fur, but it also gives them a chance to really put that imagination into action.

3) Vary the medium for self-portraits. Many teachers, especially in the younger grades so some sort of self-portrait as school begins, maybe something to hang up for Open House. Have the kids draw one or paint one, but then use different materials as well. Have them walk outside and find things in nature to use. Or food is a favorite-they really have to think about how they are going to represent their features using what is given to them.

4) Digital storytelling-there are plenty of programs out there for this. I use Pixie 2 -the kids draw their illustrations, type the text and then can narrate their feature. It incorporates so many skills! I wish I could show examples of this-I just can't get those files to upload correctly here.

5) Take the old version and make it new. Instead of a family tree-what other designs could we use? Instead of a Gingerbread House, what could we make? If we had to design a new American flag, what could it look like?

Anything you can do to encourage the use of imagination will help take these kiddos a long way. If nothing else maybe they will be able to better entertain themselves when the electricity goes out! :)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Grouping By Multiple Intelligences

When I first learned Gardner's work-I didn't put much stock in it. But the more I thought about it, the more I was fascinated by the distinctions between how people learn. I've had classes where the students were dominantly visual learners-getting them to listen to a read-aloud was like pulling teeth. You would think that all young kids like to get up and move around and that would make them kinesthetic learners, but you'd be surprised, there are always 3 or 4 that will sit out and another group that will do it to please me, but their heart is not in it. I can tell you I am definitely a more visual learner. When I was a kid, we would be grocery shopping and I was notorious for having to come back to my mom and say "what did you tell me to get again?". I can be truly listening to you and not catch a word you just said. I thought it was really interesting when I read they added the Naturalistic style and was probably the only person in the world watching the movie based on the book "Into the Wild" who was thinking--that guy is a perfect example of the naturalistic learner! What can I say am admittedly a teaching nerd!

I was talking to a colleague who is taking a class for her master's (and I thought I was tired :) where they talk about grouping kids this way for small group instruction-and I am in love with this idea! We do small group twice per day-once in reading and once in math. We have always brought the kids to work with us based on where they were on the academic spectrum. Are they working on letters and sounds, are they already reading fluently? We work with those kids together on the same reader or math activity. And I think I will still have to do that because I'm not sure the powers-that-be would go for an extreme makeover of our small group system. However, I think I am going to start grouping kids to work together in their stations by learning styles. There are lots of surveys out there to determine what their style is or I think I could easily create one that's early childhood friendly with happy/sad faces to circle. 

We'll see if that makes any difference. Has anyone ever grouped their kids this way before? I'd be curious to hear how it worked.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Humble Opinion of The Book Whisperer

After seeing many, many recommendations, I finally finished the book The Book Whisperer. Reading and I have had a very fractured relationship over the years. I started reading at 2 1/2 and put most of the credit for that on a combination of watching Sesame Street twice a day ( they played the same episode morning and afternoon but I'm told I would cry if I couldn't watch it both times :) -and the fact that my mother was an avid reader and read many whole series of books to us when we were little. I can remember the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as well as many Beverly Cleary stories.

I read incessantly growing up. I was one of those kids who always had their nose in a book-on the bus, in the hallway before school started, study hall. I devoured summer reading lists and would read easily read 100 books in a summer to enter some school competition. I can still remember a 7th Grade teacher upset that I was reading Carrie by Stephen King. "Does your mother know you're reading that?" she asked one day. "She's the one who gave it to me." My father in particular would often check out Stephen King books for me, because he was one of my favorite authors. He actually just gave me one of his newer books for Christmas this past year. So I was definitely encouraged at home and discussions often drifted over to literary themes.

After college, that love of reading dwindled a bit. And when I started teaching, it practically faded away altogether. I read so much daily for work, it's much more relaxing for me to settle in and watch a movie than to read a book. Maybe it's getting older, but it takes me longer to finish a book these days-even the good ones. I did start listening to them in car though and have finished several books in a few months that way (very surprised by how much I loved the Hunger Games, right now it's Peace Like a River-a novel I have started about 12 times in the past few years). Better than all those commercials on the radio anyway.

Ms. Miller inspired me as a reader with her book. Her passion for stories is so contagious-I loved reading about her feelings about literacy and it allowed me to really reflect on mine. I am making a conscious effort to read more myself. My beloved puppy's favorite thing to do in the world is sit in the front lawn and watch the world go by. I have a bench out there and will often brave the Texas heat and just bring a book or a magazine out and read for awhile in the evenings. Right now I just started A Thousand Gifts, which might be the most poetic prose I have ever read. I'm sure my neighbors have been sufficiently deceived into thinking I'm a very literate person-always out there with a book, but the truth is I have volumes of stories in my to-be-read pile and on my Amazon wishlist.

As it pertains to the classroom-the main gist is of her book is to give the kids time to read independently. Let them choose what to read. I will definitely try to implement this more as well-but I think a little tougher in the lower grades where they are just emerging with their reading skills. I always chuckle to look over in the library and see a kiddo very engrossed in a tale turning the pages one by one, not even noticing the book is upside-down! But believe it's definitely important to lay a foundation of passion for not only stories and characters but for words themselves. I am always talking about how a word is one of my favorite words and was struck by a student's question this year "Miss Trayers are there words you don't like?" I had to think about that one.

Kids of all ages should be having conversations about stories-what they like/don't like, what they think about a character's actions. Miller also points out it's important to let kids know they don't have to like every book they are required to read. I run a book club for older kids at my school and hear their gasps every year when I say how I didn't like one of the books from our list. It's ok not to like a book! How many conversations I've heard and Facebook posts I've read from people who started reading a story and couldn't get into it. People can have different opinions, that is allowed!

I did like this book. I was inspired by this book. I do think the specific ideas pertain more to upper grades-even middle/high school. But definitely included ideas that I think can help make more passionate readers, even out of ourselves!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Strategies for Working With Gifted Kids in Early Childhood

I know we are probably few and far between-but I know we are out there. I think every Kinder teacher has some GT or at least academically advanced kiddos in their classes that need to be catered to differently.

Gifted identification processes are different everywhere. We test 4-year olds with an oral administration of a spatial reasoning test and the WIATT. If they qualify, they can be placed in a stand-alone GT Kinder class (well, that is if we can recruit enough kiddos, this year my class was about 1/2 GT). Many people have raised concerns at identifying them at such a young age and to be honest, it's not always accurate. Some kids are GT and don't qualify (although they can reapply the next year with standardized test scores) and some qualify that turn out not to actually be GT.

However, I think the benefits far outweight the potential pitfalls. A student can be challenged right out of the gate. No sitting through classes where they are coloring a picture of the letter "A" when they can already read 30 wpm fluently. No having to simply learn how to count to 10 when they can add 10+10 in their heads. Nothing like creating 5-year old school burnouts! :) They also can have that foundation set for thinking skills that they might have an innate ability for, but haven't yet learned how to apply.

So, my strategies for working for young GT kiddos:

1) Be patient, be very, very patient. I can't even articulate how frustrating our first compare and contrast lesson is. What's different about these two concepts--"they are different". Yes, but how are they different. "I don't know". Ok, what's the same about them. "They are different". (Do I have to tell you how many bottles of hair dye I go through each year because of all the extra gray hair they give me :). Don't give up. They will get it, they just need a lot of practice.

2) Be flexible with your grouping. This is a no-brainer when working with any group of kiddos, but you would not believe how quickly these kids can grow. I will never forget the student-I'll call her Alexa-I was doing assessments the 1st week of school and she couldn't identify any letters-not even the "A" that began and ended her name. Fast forward to 3 months later and she was reading, writing things like "the lake glistened" (in phonetic spelling and that was a vocab word, but still!). When I pull kids to work with me in small groups they can change groups from week to week-nothing is set in stone in my class.

3) Don't push too hard. I am all for high expectations. I have written about it before-I use my regular vocabulary, not talking to them like babies. I read to them above their grade level. But when it comes to academic expectations-(and now the expectations are more stringent than ever)-I really try not to make a big deal out of Johnny not being able to read his sight words or Mary not being able to add. They are so, so sensitive and see those differences come up quickly, I don't want to add to those feelings.

4) Let your parents know how they can help their kiddos at home. Give them examples of the activities you are doing in class, websites where they can find similar ideas. Sometimes parents don't even realize they need to be challenged at home as well. It really surprises me how many kids-these kids with wonderful imaginations and outstanding critical thinking skills spend a good portion of their time watching cartoons and playing video games.

5) You have to teach them practical emotional responses. How many times I will hear a blood-curdling cry thinking Mary broke her arm only to find out Jessica wouldn't let her play the game with her. That's it, that's the big trauma. They are super-emotional and super-sensitive. Just giving them some tools in using words to express themselves can go a long way.

6) Depth not breadth. I was helping interview for a new Kinder teacher and she was going on and on about how she challenged her kids by teaching them multiplication. While I think you can teach kids to memorize the multiplication tables (they can memorize just about anything) I don't believe those students really had any real understanding of the processes of what multiplying meant. It's much more important to work on number sense and have the student do a lot of mental math to work up to a more complicated process like multiplying. Same goes for reading a student may read at 100 wpm but not be able to answer a single question or understand what he's read. That commercial for "My Baby Can Read" frightens me when the little 3-year old is showing off how she can read Charlotte's Web and the how the father is wielding the axe! Just because they can read the words, doesn't mean they should be reading those words.Many times they haven't developed the vocabulary to comprehend advanced texts.

I know in this test-driven world of education that we work in, it's easy to kind of set these kids aside--they'll do well on the test, I have to help the ones who are struggling. Or worse, you have these kids teaching the ones who are struggling and calling that their differentiation! :( But with just a few extra steps you can help set these kids off on an academic journey that can really help them develop a passion for learning.

Friday, June 8, 2012

My Classroom Philosophy

I think summer is a great time to sit back and reflect on what has been going right and what has been going wrong in past classes. I've been doing a lot of that reflecting myself, especially because I felt a little challenged this year. I've been seeing a lot of posters on Pinterest people put up in their rooms stating not rules, but kind of an overview of what to expect in that classroom. Or Dear Students this year you will.....I wanted to make one for my classroom as well. Not just for parents, students, etc. but so I can visualize it in my head and refer back to it when it feels like I'm going off-track:

In this class....

We create.
We think.
We take risks.
We earn praise.
We show learning in different ways.
We move.
We sing.
We explore.
We imagine.
We perform.
We paint.
We write.
We question.
We love words.
We help each other.
We debate.
We analyze poetry.
We listen to stories.
We tell stories.
We share.
We value learning.
We make mistakes.
We work together.
We laugh.
We rise to the challenge.

What would your poster look like?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Math Warm-Ups

Do you use math talks? I remember going to a training on them once and just being amazed by how adept the students were at being able to verbalize their process in particularly addition and subtraction. Here, unfortunately, I don't think we spend enough time on the basics. We are being required to introduce things before they really have an understanding of number sense; and as anyone who teaches the primary grades knows, if you don't have a strong foundation in that-you are sunk!

I do them daily as part of our whole-group warm-up. People do different things, but for us it's a matter of looking at math dot cards:


I ask the students to give me a thumbs up when they know the answer. I ask them for not only how many dots, but how they figured that out. They usually start with "I counted them". So that would be 1+1+1.... Did anyone do it a different way. Eventually they start seeing the 2's or 5's in the dots. When they are ready, we move on to addition problems. Give me a thumbs-up when you know the answer-but the answer isn't what I'm looking for. I'm looking for them to verbalize how they got there. With regular practice, they become very adept at composing and decomposing numbers. Hopefully not having to rely on those good old fingers to add it up! I let them do it at the Smartboard as a workstation and I love to hear them describe their processes to each other and the "good job" that follows. :)

A few other math ideas:

Never would have thought of this in a million years-what a way to incorporate objectives into that lego table!

I use these as a whole group activity. I ask the students to hold up theirs if it equals more than 5 or less than 3. It's a quick activity but they have to incorporate that addition and know where the number falls on the number line.

Using real life photographs. I love this site: MSNBC's This Week in Pictures. I use it for my oral language in reading, but also for math.

I love to do a tricky one with the shapes. How many rectangles are there? They will forget to count the tables.

How many people? How many legs? If one person left, how many people are there?

You can go on and on making those real-world connections!