Sunday, July 29, 2012

School Year Resolutions

I was going to do a post like this anyway, but then I saw the link-up on Teaching Maddeness: 

I also feel like teachers' New Year's Resolutions come in August instead of January. I have a lot I want to change this year (and haven't finished all the books I was supposed to--oops!).

1) I want to use every minute of the day better. I start out doing this really well, and then we don't always keep up with it. I've been finding more songs, movement activities that we can weave into our day. Have more fun!

2) I'm going to implement facets of Conscious Discipline. I don't know if it's the fact that I'm getting older and therefore less patient, or if the kids are just coming in more mischievous-but every year I seem to be getting more and more gray hair from the stress of kids' behavior. This year I will go in armed with some new strategies. 

3) I'm going to be better at creating and tracking assessments. This is good teaching and will also be required for our evaluations. I've been reading Understanding By Design, which is all about backwards design and creating more effective assessments based on what you are supposed to be teaching.

4) We're going to do yoga! I already bought some ABC yoga books and a posters. I'm going to incorporate it into my workstations. Just FYI-you will NOT be seeing pictures of me trying to demonstrate those moves-luckily it's hard to embarrass yourself with 5-year olds.

5) I'm going to also try to implement facets of a flipped classroom. If you are not familiar, it's using lessons you have recorded or websites with videos assigned to kids for differentiation.

6) I'm really going to try to communicate with parents better. I always thought I was good at this but had several unhappy ones :( this year. I'm going to use Remind 101 and some other new techniques to try to keep communication at it's best.

That sounds like a lot! I'm actually starting to get anxious about going back in a few weeks. I've enjoyed vacation and it's not that I want more lazy days, it's just I don't feel like I've done enough to prepare yet. Oh well-it will be here before we know it! :)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Read-Alouds for Teaching Multiple Perspectives

I find myself making lots of lists this summer. Our curriculum is changing so I can't do a lot of actual planning yet by objectives; but I can sort out the books I'm going to use to teach concepts like Depth and Complexity. One of our icons is Multiple Perspectives-we use this one quite often in Kinder. So often, in fact, it's hard to break them of the habit of beginning a piece of writing with: "if I were a....".  :)

 Here are some that I use:

One of those I found totally by accident. I was already reading the book to the kids one day and realized, it's told from the perspective of a house. Lots of things matter to that little house that wouldn't matter to us, but some of it's worries are the same.

Told from the perspective of the pea--not fun to be stuck under a bazillion mattresses!

I know you've probably already heard of this one, but included it anyway-fairy tale told from the wolf's side.

Perspective you may not think about often-a tractor living on a farm. He has a happy life until he's replaced by a new state-of-the-art version.

One of my favorite chapter read-alouds. Every child wonders what their stuffed animals do when they leave the room. These characters misunderstand things all the time because of their perspective.

Told completely from the point of view of the dog who is trying to find his boy owner. Lots of references to how things/people smell-not exactly how we usually describe people.

A perspective of school from the class pet. Fire alarms, homework--all a mystery to this little hamster. It's a series, so if your kids like the first one....

Yes, I know gross title (which probably means you will get the kids attention right away). Life from the view of 2 cats-from the moment they are born they see the world differently than we do. Humans are very strange to them.The title comes from a "game" they hear the kids in their family playing when they are fighting over a toy. "It's mine", "is not", "is too", "s'not", "s'too". You get the drift.

Any of these titles are a great model for putting yourself in the shoes of someone or something else and thinking about what that perspective would be. Especially with little ones, that's a hard task because you know the world revolves around them-they haven't had to think that way before! :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Critical Thinking Even in Transitions

One of my goals this year (and I feel like I say this every year) is to use every minute of the day better. I feel like we waste time between activities or waiting for everyone to do what they are supposed to be doing. We only have so many hours each day and I know those wasted minutes add up.

So I've been thinking about things I used to do during transitions to still make it an effective use of instructional time-to make them think as we are moving to the next activity.

* One of my favorites is to give the kids examples of things; they have to not only figure out what the category is, but come up with something else that fits in with that list of things. For example I would say: button, plate, clock and I go around the group asking for more objects that fit with that group. They don't name the category, but if they say "sun"-they can go line up. Eventually, everyone usually figures it out. If I have to tell the last few what the category is, I still expect them to give me an example that fits.  My favorite part of this activity, is sometimes they come up with something I didn't even think of! 

* Another is to have them copy your pattern. You can clap your hands in a pattern and they have to mimic the same pattern but using different gestures-this is a good one when everyone is returning to the carpet after cleaning up, etc. So if I clap fast fast slow-AAB, they would snap or move their shoulders or shake their heads in a way that also shows and AAB pattern and we would continue until everyone was sitting down. This way the ones who are already on the carpet have their hands (and minds) occupied instead of just sitting and waiting.

*Using vocabulary. For example-we may be talking about animal life cycles in science. I will yell out an animal: kangaroo and whoever says "joey" first can line up. We would continue with other baby animal names until everyone was in line.

* When kids enter in the morning I have a large dry erase board and printed their names on magnetic paper. I have a question of they day for them--who was your favorite character in the Wizard of Oz, what is your favorite lunch food, did you read a book last night? And they move their names to their choice. When we begin our math segment of the day we have data to do a very quick little graph or t-chart. They also learn quickly that they have to be able to back their choice with a reason why they chose that one as well, because I will ask.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Different Kind of Class Exchange....

I love connecting with other classrooms and giving kids an idea that there is a whole world out there beyond their little bubbles. With postcard exchanges, my big 'ole state of Texas is usually the first one taken and I've seen other cute ideas, like the alphabet one with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom but I never seem to get in on it in time.

I want to start a different kind of exchange-one that will even save you the expense of postage. :)  Each class would digitally record a song, poem or story that they love and would upload it (still figuring out the details of how and where) and we could all easily view the recordings. The kids could even give some details about their state/country/school. It could even be a listening station activity. I think it would be really fun and could lead to many lessons of comparing and contrasting classes from other locations.

If your class is interested please e-mail me or leave a comment and let me know. Pass the word on to anyone you think may be interested. I'm not going to limit it to one person per state, etc.--we'll take anyone who wants to participate-any location, any grade. I'll do a master list and give everyone the final info before school starts. I'm so excited-I really wanted to incorporate technology better this year and this seems like one way to do it! I know the kids would love to connect with other classes too. :)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Books To Encourage Creativity

I am a huge proponent of encouraging creativity with students, particularly young students because many of them just don't know how to channel those creative juices. Very quickly they learn my stock answer when they ask "what color should I make the sky?" or "should I draw my hair curly?"--my answer is always "YOU ARE THE ARTIST!". 

My first year teaching, a master teacher observed my class just before Thanksgiving and was horrified that my kiddos were making turkeys of all different colors-purple turkeys, blue turkeys, even rainbow turkeys. She marked down on my evaluation that I had to teach them how to do it realistically. Of course, I took the criticism under advisement :), and I make it very clear during science if we are making observations that the illustration should be realistic. But if we are doing some kind of craft or art project---the sky's the limit, and I will vehemently defend that position. Where are the creative minds of tomorrow going to come from if we prohibit them from using their imaginations? What if someone told Steve Jobs that digital music was not realistic (they probably did, but he obviously didn't listen), or Ray Bradbury that the future worlds he wrote about were not realistic? Or Mondrian that he had to use more colors?

Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox and share with you some of my favorite read-alouds to model creativity for the kids:

Have you ever heard of Blue Dog? A New Orleans based artist name George Rodrigue created her many years ago. He drew the likeness of a his beloved dog that had passed away--Tiffany. There are hundreds of versions of his paintings, kind of a pop culture icon. This story is a great one on using various colors to get varied effects. 

Eric Carle of course if one of the most fabulous illustrators out there. I love to have the kids make an illustration like his. If we read the Cat in the Hat for example-draw him the way Eric Carle would....

I love this story because all the descriptions are unexpected. "Pink is the color of crows...when they have just hatched." The colors aren't matching with what we would expect-very creative.

A creative way to use space on a roof-the character turns it into a marvelously sculptured garden.

A true story of a Mexican artist Juan Quezada who used animal hair for brushes and mud/berries to create beautiful pots. It's in the same repeating rhythms as the House That Jack Built.

This is just a wonderfully cute story about kids who cannot stay clean. Again, refers to making different colors (for them it's the bathwater after mom makes them clean up). But you can talk about what the different colors can mean.

Beautiful legend about a painter who just can't capture the color of sunset.

It amazes me that kids come into Kinder not knowing what colors make mixed together (although sometimes they are even trying to paint with the plastic end of the brush the first time we paint!). I love to let them experiment with all the colors themselves to see what they can come up with. They'll say-what if I mix purple and white--try it and see! Of course their favorite is to mix them all together, but that's an exploration too.

Amazing true story of a jazz musician who was nearly blind. Talk about raw talent! The illustrations look like watercolors-just beautiful.

And of course, Duke Ellington. The author talks about the different colors we see when we hear different music. I always have the kids listen to jazz and paint what they see after we read this story.

What books do you use to inspire your creative minds?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I Love Donorschoose!

I've had really good luck with them the past couple of years. I posted a new proposal for art supplies, and another for the books from our student book club list some time ago. I received the e-mail last week saying we only had a few more days left before they were going to be archived. And lo and behold----both funded today!!!!!!! I guess Starbucks funded a bunch of Texas projects that were on their last legs. So cheers to Starbucks (now I feel badly that I don't drink coffee-can you believe there's a teacher out there who has never been to a Starbucks!) and cheers to Donorschoose. It's like $700 worth of materials for the kids!

Seriously, it takes 15 minutes to post a proposal-especially if you already know what you are going to ask for. It's worth taking the chance and posting a request-it's an easy process and they walk you through it step by step.

My 2 suggestions if you are posting a request would be: 1) Use a catchy title-that's the hardest part for me, especially because I've done a bunch now and feel like I've run out of ideas. Make it rhyme, use alliteration-the one I called "Loco for Literature" was filled in a month or so.  2) Ask for $300 or less. Especially now with people distributing the gift cards around. One project had 19 different donors to get to $300-most were smaller gift card amounts.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rigor Journals

I know, I know-you're tired of hearing that 5-letter word! :) I am very passionate about writing in my class and have several different kinds of journals that we implement throughout the week-math, poetry, reading response (some years), social studies, science and what I call "Rigor" Journals. We ask for composition books in our supplies, but I have a hard time using them with the kiddos right away. Most are at the stage where they are drawing a picture and dictating their sentence-the lines in the comp books just don't match that skill. Plus having them copy the question takes forever and I really want parents and the students themselves to be able to go back and see what they were writing about; so I just type it out at the top of each page, print it out and make copies. 

For the "Rigor" part--since I use Kaplan's icons for Depth and Complexity regularly in our lessons, I make pages for each that we use in Kinder: perspective, patterns, ethics, over time and rules. Sometimes I ask them to write about one specifically (write about the rules for being a snowflake) or we will use a story/theme concept and write using all of them (over the course of a week).

For example, if we are doing monsters in October, over the course of a week: I would ask them to write about the rules for being a monster, ethics of monsters (how are they right/wrong), pattern in Where the Wild Things Are, their unanswered questions from the story, how monsters change over time (or how the monsters in the story changed) and to write from the perspective of a monster. I like being able to make those connections across a theme or book. Take patterns for example, many students come away from math lessons thinking patterns are just AB or red/blue--I want them to be able to apply that concept to science, social studies, art and reading. 

These are some pics I found of the ones from last year. I didn't take many for some reason, but it can give you an idea:

Plant life cycle as a pattern-applying the pattern concept to science.

Unanswered questions-sometimes coming up with good questions to ask is harder than coming up with answers!

Perspective of a groundhog.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Exit Tickets

Do you use these? I've been reading about the great ways teachers are doing this with the new technology they have, but unfortunately we are still in the ice age when it comes to tech toys in our classroom. People are using clickers or a website survey to post questions and the kids can respond using their ipads-automatic data-which would be soooo cool; but we are going to have to do it the old-fashioned way for now.

One of our evaluation criteria is to "check for understanding" which I know, as teachers we do all day long. But I think I'm going to need more tangible strategies next year to show the kids are getting it. I did it last year regularly for about a whole week. :) Ok, maybe a little longer than that. It just got to be to time-consuming and when I asked the kids to write/draw what they learned that morning, I would get the answer "reading" or my all-time favorite, they would write something from PE every day (they don't even go to PE every day! :). I need to tie it to specific lessons better. Maybe words that begin with the letter/blend we are reviewing, or draw me an example of an AB pattern. I just hate all those piles of papers that inevitably end up piling up.

I do them at the end of the year as t-shirts and am always fascinated by what the kids remember learning:

I just have to figure out a way to do it more regularly day-to-day. Does anyone do this successfully and have ideas to share? :)

Inspiration Struck Sunday

Even though I know many of us have at least a few more weeks of vacation yet, I wanted to post this video.  I just think it's very inspiring!

I saw videos from this site highlighted on another blog. I had never heard of it. Being such a visual person, I love to watch videos of great teachers in action!

Not at all teaching-related. But I am trying to make time to read more myself. I thought it was very hypocritical to be telling my kiddos about how much they should be reading over the summer and for me not to hone those skills at all. I read a lot for school, but not really just for fun. I just finished! I read it in like 4 days and I'm not a fast reader-I had to find out how it ended. It's about a married couple-the wife disappears on their 5th anniversary and of course, they look to the husband as the culprit. Mid-book there's a huge twist and we find out who did it, but then we have to read on to see if they get the justice they deserve. So it's a mystery of sorts. I really liked it. In the reviews on Amazon many didn't like the ending, but I am not one that always has to have a happy ending. Anyway, it's called Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn: 

They just sold the movie rights-Reese Witherspoon is going to play the missing wife. It will be the first time in a long time I will be able to say I read the book before I saw the movie!

Anyway, Happy Sunday!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Debbie Diller Still Rocks!

I have spent the past 2 days at one of Debbie's conferences. She comes here every summer. I went a few years back, but wanted to get her take on the new math workstation book she published last year. She was also supposed to talk about adding rigor to workstations--you know I love rigor!!!!! :)

I know many people have jumped on the Daily 5 bandwagon in lieu of stations, and I've read the books and I can see how it could be effective, especially in primary/intermediate grades. But I struggle with how to effectively implement it in early childhood. Last year for example, I had one student out of 25 who started the year being able to read any words at all. Only about 40% of them knew their letters and sounds. I know they can do "read to self" and "read with a partner" by retelling, picture walks, etc. But I just find being able to move around to various workstations, getting that practice in all areas of reading, is a much more effective use of time in our class. 

I learned some new tips and got reminded of some things I knew I should be doing, but somehow there just aren't enough hours in a day. One of my favorite math activities was having a pic of someone the kids relate to like *sigh* Justin Beiber and having them count colored  unifix cubes for vowels and consonants. So Justin Beiber would equal 5 red and 7 blue-how many letters altogether--to practice math facts.

I love her spunk. She was even talking to the administrators in the room like she says she did when she was in the classroom--everything has be what's best for the students. If your administrators tell you to have your stations set up the 1st week-tell them to come do it for you-they'll see that's just not an effective plan. If you are required to use a basal reader, that's fine, but supplement with literature and poetry and all the things you know are important for your kiddos.

Even though it was how I spent my first official days of summer vacation (take that people who say we teach for our summers off!)--I was glad I attended. I'm inspired now to get organized!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ice Breakers for the First Day

I'm not quite sure what I'm going to be doing yet, but wanted to share some ideas with you that I traditionally do. I know we brace ourselves for Day One because whether it's accurate or not, it often feels like hot mess! Kids/parents crying, bags of supplies to keep track of, students not knowing what to do. Last year I had students changing their own nametags, one sat down and started playing on my computer! That's never happened before. So I tend to over plan for first day activities; along with read-alouds and songs, we do some ice breaker-type games.

 I'm hoping to have my class list before we go back. so I can sent out those blank, enlarged puzzle pieces made of cardboard for the students to decorate and bring the 1st day. I usually ask them to decorate it with things they like or to look like themselves, that way they can share what they made.

I also like scavenger hunts around the school. Since the Wizard of Oz is my theme this year, I may use cutouts of Ruby Slippers or Toto to find around the building. That way we can meet the nurse and the librarian, etc. I always feel so badly for the little ones the first day because they are with me for awhile and then have to go to ancillary (which is PE, computer, library, etc.) -they rotate each day. Their faces that they will have another teacher are a little scared all over again.

I like to do name games a lot the 1st couple of weeks-since that is often the first word they start to read. We play 'Who Stole the Cookie" and "Doggie Doggie, Where's You Bone?"-so they can start getting to know each other's names (and so I can start learning them too-I inevitably mix up 2 kids-like Bianca and Bryanna, or I'll call them by the sister's name because I had the sister, they don't like that by the way :).

What kinds of get-to-know-you activities do you do for your kiddos?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Question About Helping Struggling Readers

I am so glad I had the opportunity to teach summer school this year (even though I'm a little jealous reading about everyone's vacations so far...:). I felt like it was a challenge, but in a good way and I ended up with some questions on my mind and maybe all you fabulous teachers out there can help me out.

I have always taught Kinder, except for one year looping up to 1st Grade with my class. I have also taught a mostly GT class for several years now. Although I will be the first to tell you there's a myth that all GT kids are advanced academically-we do have a spectrum of abilities; I was really surprised to see how far behind some of these 2nd Graders were in their reading skills. When we have students behind in Kinder, I guess it doesn't seem so dire because we really don't have official promotion standards (it's not even a mandatory grade here). And sometimes it just takes a little longer for those skills to kick in, especially if they are young Kinders. We want them to be reading at least 40 sight words by the end of the year and the ultimate goal is 30 wpm for fluency, but as long as they know letters/sounds and can blend some words, they will move on. I posted before about a particular student who tugged at my heartstrings this year, because I truly believe he was misunderstood during the school year-- I want to tutor him next year, but I'm at a loss at what kind of interventions will even be successful.

I worked with him individually every day (granted, it was only 19 days) and used a lot of the varied techniques I use in Kinder-tactile sight words, sight word hopscotch, shaving cream writing of the words, memory games, slap with flyswatters and of course reading every day with the lowest level readers I could find. This student, however, made very little progress in reading, besides maybe being a little more motivated to want to learn. He asked if he could take his flashcards home one day to practice-are you kidding, absolutely! This was the kid who went home everyday during the school year with nothing-no backpack, folder, homework, etc. He took books home to read every day during summer school and was just so disappointed he wouldn't be moving on to the next grade-but he was so far behind. He even asked if we could make summer school longer!

I read about students making great gains with teachers within a year, jumping up several grade levels. I'm wondering if there is a resource that you know of ,or a book/author/workshop that has great ideas for intervening with struggling readers.

I really want to try to help this kid next year, but just don't feel very well-equipped to do so.

Thanks so much!


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Extreme Makeover: Blog Edition

Barbara over at 

Did such a fantastic job on my blog makeover! I've been needing it for awhile now, but it's like choosing colors to paint your house-you know you're going to have to look at it for some time and I'm not good at making decisions. I actually looked at the example kits she sent me about 12 times before deciding. I like to think I'm semi-tech-savvy, but when it comes to things like this I'm still learning.

 I'm just so thrilled at how it came out. If you are wanting to dive in and make some changes she is just wonderful!

Let me know what you think!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Inspiration Struck Sunday

Only 4 more days of summer school and then my summer vacay finally starts (well, until the week after next when I have PD about our new curriculum for a week....what's that saying again about teachers getting 3 months off? :).

From Pinterest:

I wish we had a new teacher starting out on our team that I could make this for them-I think it is soooo cute!

Inside: Animal cookies for when your classroom seems like a zoo. • Band-Aids for when things get a little rough. • Chewing Gum to help you stick to it. • Crayons to color your day bright and cheerful. • Candle for when you are up late marking or planning. • Smarties because that's who you're teaching. • Time Out bar because you'll probably need it by the end of the day. • Eraser to remind you everyone makes mistakes. • Lifesavers for when you've had one of those days. • Marbles to replace the ones you've lost. • Paperclips to hold it all together. • Pencil to "write your wrongs." • Rubber band to remind you to be flexible. • Shiny Penny to remind you that each will shine in his or her own special way. • Starburst to give you a "burst" of energy when you need it. • Tissues to wipe away the tears...yours and theirs. • Toothpicks to help you "pick" out the good qualities in others and yourself. • A prayer for you to say at the start of each day. 

This is an old video, but I think a great reminder that we need to know a student's strengths and tap into those to help them learn, instead of just focusing on the weaknesses.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

What Teaching Means To Me

Well, I just could not resist this link-up because it's going with the Wizard of Oz theme, which of course is what I'm using for my classroom in the fall.

Follow The Famous Yellow Road

This is the one I chose to comment on:

Follow The Famous Yellow Road

Teaching means so much to me!

* It means making a difference. I love to watch my former students grow up into scholars. I know that I am attempting to give them the best foundation as possible in basic skills. But also trying to help develop in them a passion for reading and learning. I facilitate for a campus book club for students and we meet in my classroom. I have kids who were in my class in Kinder and now are big 'ole 4th graders come in, look around and say "I remember when we did that activity".

* It means challenging kids to think in ways they never have before.

* It means having fun with my students! There's nothing like students laughing at your jokes! I can be silly with them in a way I would never be with a room full of adults! :)

* It means getting rewarded in pictures the kids draw of me where I look like Princess Leia. I get told every day that I'm pretty, that I'm a fun teacher, that they love me. What other job do you have where that happens! The rewards may seem few and far between in the politics of education today-but it's all worth it for those moments.

* It means helping families. I try to give parents as much info as possible to help their kids be successful. Some are first time parents, or it's been awhile since they had a child in Kindergarten--but we work together to try to create the best learning experience for that kiddo.

I am very passionate about teaching (sometimes too much so :). I think I ended up in this profession for a reason and hope to continue doing it for a long, long time!

Using Yoga With Students

I'm reading a book right now on brain research and one of the recommendations (and I think most teachers instinctively know this) is to take brain breaks. It's such a long day for them, especially because at our school, we don't do nap or snack daily-the only breaks they have are recess and lunch. I want to use yoga next year for the stretching exercises and then also incorporate it into a reading station. There will be a mat and directions they can easily read/pics to illustrate the movements.

Now, I'm personally more of a pilates girl myself. I've never found much solace in an actual yoga class. But I do think I know enough to be able to demonstrate. I think too, it may help with those kids who just don't know how to relax. I can't imagine being so stressed and angry at age 5, but I see that in  more and more students every year.  Maybe particularly the breathing techniques will help a child be able to calm down.

I found this resource that I might invest in, I particularly like the poster:

This book looked good too.

Blogs about using yoga in the classroom: and

Some ideas to use it with literature: (love the Brown Bear, Brown Bear idea).

And of course, lots of youtube tutorials:

Does anyone already use yoga with their kids? Does it help?