Monday, June 30, 2014

Dialogue Journals for Parents

I don't know how common it is, but our dismissal system is one that I don't actually see most of my parents who are coming to pick up their kiddos on a daily basis. The students go to different areas based on how they get home and each member of our team is at a different location with all the students from that grade level.

Because of this, I feel disconnected from them sometimes. I can e-mail updates to those who have provided me e-mail addresses and I do updates on our class website. But I miss that connection. There are things that happen day-to-day that I'd like to share with them. So I was sitting in a training a few years ago and they were talking about dialogue journals for students to communicate with each other and a lightbulb went off over my head....dialogue journals for the parents!

So every Friday I send home a journal with a little note-it can be an anecdote-your child said something that made me laugh. It can be a comment on something the child made in class. If I have nothing specific to relate, then I can just talk about some class activities we did that week. Sometimes I include pictures. It's all positive. I encourage them to respond and ask any questions they might not want to bother me with through e-mail.

I think it's been successful. I've done it for 2 years now. I'd say 50% of the parents respond regularly, another maybe 10% where the kids say they do read it every week, just may not feel comfortable or have time to respond. I wait for the composition books to go on sale at Target or Wal-Mart-usually you can catch them 2 for $1.00. And the only other thing it costs me is time. I take some home each day starting on Wednesday and it doesn't take too long to scribe out a message in each one. Worth the effort to me to make that connection.

Anyway, just wanted to share an idea that I've found to be helpful in continuing that all-important relationships with parents throughout the school year!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Summer Reading

My dentist asked me yesterday what I was doing this summer and I told her that I had no travel plans or anything (I'm too poor right now! :), but I'm catching up with appointments, attending training and reading. She asked the next logical question which is "what do you like to read?". Do you know, I completely drew a blank-I didn't know how to answer that question. I figured out yesterday that like my tastes in music and movies, apparently I also have very eclectic tastes in books as well! Who knew! I have always read Entertainment Weekly magazine and when they give it an A and it's something I think I will like, I usually add that to my list. There are blogs or Twitter feeds where people I feel like I know offer up suggestions, sometimes I take those.

I am honestly a bit of a snob when it comes to reading. It usually takes me a while to finish a book, I read pretty slowly (my mind tends to wander sometimes). So I'm picky about what I'll take the time to read. I can't figure out Goodreads for the life of me-I'm probably doing it all wrong. But I do use it to keep track for myself of what I've read. Unless I know the person and their tastes, I usually don't go by their reviews anyway. I hate when people say "oh that didn't get good reviews"-from who though? People have such different tastes. I can usually tell by reading the summary if it's something I'll like. I like when a book is well-written (especially if I have to look up some of the words). I like suspenseful stories, but not necessarily mysteries. I love ones about dark family secrets or ones that surprise you. This one definitely surprised me! And I had even read other people talking about how surprising the ending was-but it still snuck up on me. I kind of want to read it again someday, knowing what I now know.

 I think We Were Liars is also considered YA. It's a really great example of how to effectively use voice-I loved the narrator's voice. I'm still reeling a bit actually. :)

I also finished this one:

Which I think is like a fairy tale for grown-ups. The author is from Alaska so the descriptions of the setting were just amazing. Took me a little while to get through it, but it was a really beautiful story.

What are you reading this summer?

Friday, June 27, 2014


So you guys know that I rediscovered Twitter this year as a tool to connect with other teachers. I'm still more of a lurker than a participant, but I've learned so much. One of the things I am doing this summer is following @techninjatodd-Todd Nesloney and his Summer Learning Series #summerls. I am actually in awe of how many teachers he is helping learn this summer.

One of the challenges involves reflection. I tend to reflect a LOT! Sometimes I think I reflect too much on this blog, because most people probably don't care what I'm thinking about my kiddos. :) But it helps me sort through things and learn from myself anyway.

Every year when I am making my Open House packet for parents, I try to frame my philosophy in my classroom. It's like that famous speech from Bull Durham where he lists all the things he believes in....that's what I try to do as well, but about my students.

In my class this upcoming year, I believe that.....

learning should be fun!
everyone should be learning something new every day.
individuality and creativity are important.
all students should be able to learn the way they learn best.
children should be given high expectations.
kids can learn through dancing and singing.
teachers should laugh with their students.
the students will be read to every single day.
assessment will not be done just through multiple choice tests.
even young kids can be poets.
I want my kiddos to be risk-takers.
every student should feel like they are my favorite.

That's what I have so far. Will probably add more before I actually do the packet, but it's a start. What does your philosophy say?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My New Classroom Theme

One of the things I have been spending way too much time thinking about is my new classroom theme. I know that the cool thing these days is not to have a theme, to keep things simple. Well, I actually do keep things very simple, you won't see chevron anywhere in my room or tissue paper flowers hanging from the ceiling! :) Honestly, the theme is much more for me. You see, when I go to look for bulletin board border if I don't have direction I tend to just buy the ones that look "pretty" and my room ends up looking like a hot mess. Besides, my themes also have educational value, I've done China and New York City. I've done books from the Wizard of Oz to the more general fairy tales. I always do something different-this year I was really stuck. I thought about doing Where the Wild Things Are or Elmer (Target had perfect plates colored like Elmer-not that I had any idea what I would use paper plates for! :).

So I'm in a teacher store today and just looking around trying to get inspired and then I see this really cute border called Bubbles. What can I do with this, I think? Oh, I know! So my room will be inspired by a book I usually read to the kids the first week of school anyway:

Yeah, I have some direction! These are the borders I got today:

Now to come up with the slogans. I think my word wall will be "Masterpiece Words" and I'll put the words on frame cutouts. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to let me know! Now off to find some polka-dotted bean bags for my library......

Friday, June 20, 2014

And the Hits Keep On Coming....

My class was incredibly blessed this week! Our class won the Adopt-a-Classroom grant for $2500. Thank you so much to those of you who took the time to vote for us! We ended up with over 12,000 votes! Gotta love social media.

And the same day I heard about that, I found out another Donorschoose project was funded. This one was for art supplies, which I'm really grateful for as I threw out a lot of old paint, etc. when packing up this year. We are just so grateful for the generosity of people.

Anyway, summer blogging is hard for me. Not because I don't have the time-I certainly have the time. But normally I blog about activities or projects we do in class. Can't do that unless I get my German Shepherd Ruby to do some homework! :) I've been reading a lot of good articles and finding resources, but I know everyone else is probably doing that as well.

So I'll share what I've been reading this summer. The hardest part for me is choosing the next book when I finish one. I have a full shelf of books to read and it kind of depends what I'm in the mood for. Some of them are deeper and ones I have to think about more when I read. Some are lighter in their tone. I'm trying to alternate.

Finally read Harry Potter! I am not a big fan of fantasy stories which is why I avoided it for so many years. I run a student book club that is reading it this year, so I had to read it. I actually really, really liked it! It was exciting and creative. I may have to share it with a class one year.

This is what I'm reading for the kids right now. I am so jealous of the library in this book! I think if more libraries where like that, more people would definitely take their kiddos there!

My grown-up book choice. I'm trying to alternate lighter, maybe YA-type fare and books like this. This is a tough read, it's pretty dark. The reviews on Amazon were completely split; which I like because that means it was either a love-it or hate-it kind of story and usually that means I'll love it :). People complained about the ending-but I liked that part, I don't know how else you would realistically end it. They complained about how dark the plot was, hello?!-even just reading the summary you can see that, I don't know what they were expecting. It's about revenge, family and redemption--so it's definitely not a light read. Extremely well-written and characters that will stick with you for a while.

And what I'm reading now. Don't know why all my summer choices involve a snowy setting! :) But this one seems interesting. I just started it, so can't give any kind of review yet!

Hope everyone is enjoying their summer so far!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Using Technology With Rigor

I signed up for a lot of PD sessions this summer. There were 2 reasons: 1) I really want to improve my craft 2) I was afraid I would be bored-first year ever I didn't teach summer school. Well, today was the first of many sessions and I went in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to learn something new I could use.

Unfortunately, the presenters did not have the same plans. I learned how to use a Smartboard (been using one for at least 3 years and I'm the kind of person who played with it enough in the beginning to already know how to use it). And how to make a powerpoint presentation. *yawn* Seriously! With all the new technology out there-you choose powerpoint! They can match words to definitions and unscramble words though. *sigh* I even asked at one point (because sometimes I have trouble keeping my mouth shut)-most of these are really low-level activities, how would you suggest making them more rigorous. You know what the answer was-make the vocabulary they are matching harder. *d'oh*  So let's say it was a very, very long day!

I did realize something though. For a long time now I have been on the fence about all the technology ideals being incorporated into school mindsets. We even now have a laptop cart and each class has 2 ipads assigned to them-more than I know some schools have. Our district wants to go to completely paperless textbooks in the next few years. I think it's great that we are giving our kiddos the tools to compete in society that is always creating, always inventing. 

But ask what we do with those laptops? They all login to the same reading program for 45 minutes a week. We are not allowed to download even free apps onto the ipads-simply have to use the one math program on there. It is sooooo frustrating for someone who believes in higher-level activity and differentiation. I am really not a curriculum snob (even though it may seem that way) but I know just from reading all the ideas other posts from bloggers/tweeters/educators that there is more out there! Technology should be stepping up the challenge in the curriculum not dumbing it down. My kids roll their eyes when the laptop cart comes in and that shouldn't be the reaction.

So sitting there in the training when I was pretending to be impressed by how they made a Jeopardy slideshow in powerpoint; I started to make a list of ways we can use technology to challenge the kids!

1) Have them make up the questions! If you going to the pre-made anagram template for the Smartboard or Jeopardy game-have groups of students take turns each week creating the questions for other groups. Give everyone the opportunity. We know from experience in creating assessments how hard it can be to make up a question, even if you know the answer you are looking for. 

2) Have them use those ipads to make a book trailer through imovie or take photos with it that represents what inspires them at school and have them create a slideshow from it. Anything that's allowing them to create!

3) Talk about ethics when it comes to technology. There are so many gray areas out there. Do you know I actually saw in our district curriculum where they attributed a source as Pinterest?!? Someone had the idea before it was pinned, whose idea was it-isn't giving them the credit the ethical thing to do!? Is technology helpful or harmful? Great discussions to have!

4) Encourage them to invent new technology. I remember watching I think it was a TedTalk about a child who developed an ipad app. They are capable of those kinds of ideas-even if it's something they just make a model of for now-who knows maybe you could find a way to help them take it farther.

5) Have them make digital stories or digital portfolios for themselves-by having them narrate their own evaluation of their work-that's a higher level activity.

We have so many tools at our disposal that teachers didn't even have 10 years ago! We have to encourage each other to use those in the right way.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Including Dads

Being Father's Day and all I thought this was something relevant to discuss. I know that quite often it's the moms that we target to attend classroom programs and as field trip chaperones, but I think going that extra mile to include dads in the equation is important. I think fathers get a bad rap in our society today. I mean you never hear any kind of phrase like "deadbeat moms". Our dads even get slighted out of Father's Day gifts that we make in class, because we are out of school already! 

There are so many competent, present, caring fathers out there and I think they have the same right to be included in their child's education process. So how can we go about doing that?

1) A weekly mystery reader where dads can sign up to come read a book to the kids. I have tried this in years past and didn't have many takers (the thought of reading to Kindergarteners can be nerve-racking even for those big, tough guys!), but you could see how excited the kiddos were when it was their dad's turn.

2) As a fundraiser this year I am dying to have a Daddy-Daughter dance. How cute would that be with the little ones and their fathers dressed to the nines sharing an evening together.

3) I know the impulse is to call mom with a positive behavior report-but I try to alternate and call the fathers as well.

Any other ideas of how to incorporate the all-important father figures into the school year, I would love to hear them!

Goals for Next Year

I know it might seem premature to be thinking about this already, but I am! :) I feel like we make our New Year's Resolutions for the new school year instead of January. I have reflected a lot on what we did this year and what could have gone better. I'm sure I will have more ideas to implement as I start attending more workshops and reading more professional books this summer. But here are my thoughts so far:

1) I want every child to feel like they are my favorite. I shared with you guys before that I went to an in-service by Todd Whitaker and this is something he said that struck me. I am going to try and forego the conduct chart (which will be tricky because it's required by my admin) and handle things  more personally with each child. I hate when a book has been torn and they say "Johnny did it". And I ask, did you see Johnny do it-no, but he's always doing bad stuff. I don't want that kind of thinking next year.

2) I am going to take each table of kids to eat at our tables outside on Fridays. Not as a reward, not for any reason other than we are going to talk and try to connect with each other a little bit.

3) Interactive notebooks-not exactly sure how to implement this with Kinder kiddos, but reading up on it!

4) Daily blog for parents. I got this idea from Kimberley over at First in Maine. Every day we'll sit down to close out our day and put the highlights online for parents to read. I've had a class website for years, but not many parents use it. I need to figure out a way to advertise this better with the kiddos.

5) Be more organdized (that's how Winnie-the-Pooh says it :). I make this statement every year and never seem to be able to follow through with it.Not that it's an excuse but I stay after school several days a week for student clubs-I just don't have time to file things away like I'd like to. But I have to be better about that. I was trying to do my permanent folders at the end of the year and panicking because I couldn't find some of the paperwork (I found it, but certainly lost time looking).

That's all for now. Like I said the list will probably get longer as the summer wears on.

Have you started thinking about next year yet? If so, what are some of your goals.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Gratitude for Donorschoose

I know many educators already know about Donorschoose-but just in case you need some motivation to post to project! :) I have had great luck with their site-it always amazes me how generous people can be!

If you've never posted before it's uber-easy. All you have to do is start with a catchy title. Then you go shopping (that's the fun part!). I try to keep my shopping cart below $300 because they will add fees that will take it over $400 and I think sometimes smaller projects are easier to get filled. Then you just write about your kids and why you need these resources. 

Lots of people ask for technology-but that can get really expensive quickly and I like my projects to stand out from the pack. I get all my workstation materials (people make fun of the variety of different counters I have for math :), my art supplies, books for my student book club and my classroom through these donations. My all-time favorite was a request for materials in our housekeeping centers (I had the furniture, just nothing for them to play with). The last day it was viable was Christmas Eve and a stranger funded it that day saying "Merry Christmas-this is something I belive in". How cool is that!

When you get funded the only thing you have to do is have the kids make thank you cards, take pics of the resources being used and write a thank you yourself-totally worth it! If you don't get funded, please don't get discouraged. It's happened to me too. Now they will refund you your points and you can start again. They track gifts by school and our school has been blessed with $35,000 in materials since 2008! 22 different teachers have had their projects funded, I've had over 25 myself. Check out the page in your area-often businesses will fund half or even sometimes the whole thing if it fits their requirements. The 3 times a year I make sure I have one posted are Teacher Appreciation Week, Back-to-School and Christmas-times I think people are feeling generous towards teachers!

These are terrible pics, but these are the latest thank-you cards my kiddos made:

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ways to Sneak in "Fun"

Although I think that comparison is not exactly apt (kids working in sweatshops is a real problem in the world today)-I do understand what the author is talking about. Even Kindergarten has become much more academic. Administrators often don't understand Early Childhood and how it is developmentally appropriate for children to learn. I actually once got marked down in evaluation observation because in the middle of my whole group lesson I put on a Dr. Jean video (one that taught vocabulary I might add). The comment was that the kids could "get their wiggles out" at recess-I should have kept the tone more serious. Anyone who has ever taught young children knows-they can't wait until recess and I'm sorry but if I have them sitting on the carpet for more than 15 minutes at a time-we get up and move in between-go ahead and deduct for that.

So we know kids learn best through play and discovery. How can we sneak that in to our daily routine? And I say "sneak" because that's what it has come to for many of us. Unfortunately the standards get more and more stringent every year. In our district the promotion standard for 1st Grade includes being able to read 75 of the high frequency words-that is now expected to be accomplished by the end of Kinder. That data is the focus of many a PLC meeting-how many words are they reading, why aren't they reading more? We are teaching time and money-very abstract math concepts. Even with writing, our report cards (even the 1st 9 weeks) ask if they are "using correct punctuation and capitalization in their paragraphs" *cue hysterical laughter.* Most kids are still making that letter/sound connection-we're lucky if we can get a sentence out of them!

How can you make sure the kids are still learning in a developmentally appropriate way? There are ways.....

Housekeeping Stations-my admins tried to get rid of ours when we moved to new building-I pulled it out of the trash pile! I can connect it to objectives for print awareness and math:
matching words to foods

Tell me he's not learning something!

Sam's sells those order pads in bulk-I buy them with my school supplies every year. Taking orders
writing words, adding up prices.....

Art-we learn about famous artists (historical figures) and then we write about what we create:

Workstations: I know many people are moving toward the Daily 5-which I don't have a problem with for older kids, but I think the younger ones need to move around and discuss more. So we have workstations:

Practicing beginning sounds

Practicing their letters and sounds-they can spell words if they are advanced.

Games-someone walks in and asks what they are learning-critical thinking is what I hope they will answer!

Snacks-they are following directions (sometimes I even write them out on index cards as they move table to table reading what they should do) and in some cases even practicing measurement! :

Creativity at work!

Songd-we sing every day! I put up some little songs that go along with our weekly theme and we read/sing them together. Went a training with fluency guru Tim Rasinski who showed research that I can quote of how this helps fluency instruction.

Movement-my district unlocked YouTube to us this past year! Yeah! Some of our favorites-that are still working on learning objectives:

So even if the powers-that-be want the focus to simply be about test-prep and seatwork-we can still be little rebels and sneak in ways to still make learning fun! I am always ready with an objective standard to justify it, if need be and make sure the kids know that as well.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Summer Vacation Rocks!

Now you know I love teaching! But how nice it is to have a real break. I usually teach summer school but was not chosen this year for that privilege--initially I was disappointed, but I think it was a blessing in disguise. I am finally finding out what a real summer vacation is like!

1) I was shopping at a local produce market (kind of like Whole Foods) and I adore some of the salads they prepare. I'm turning them over like I always do to check the date and see if they are fresh and realize....I have no idea what the date even is today! :)

2) I can catch up on appointments that I put off all year like the eye doctor and dentist-I can make them for anytime not "as late in the afternoon as possible" as I usually have to ask for.

3) I have finally been able to get my money's worth from Netflix! I hate when I have a movie for over a month, but sometimes you just don't have the time to watch. I may finally be able to make a little dent in my queue.

4) Even had a guilty pleasure-a friend of mine passed along the DVD set for Pretty Little Liars. Ridiculously brainless, but addicting! Now I have to watch Season 2!

5) I haven't been reading as much as I'd like to, but I am reading more than I usually have time to. I finished:

Yes, I'm the last person on earth to read this book. I'm not a big fan of fantasy/science fiction-y books, so I really didn't think I'd like it. But how wrong I was! I was on the edge of my seat to the very end of the story.

I had to pry it away from Ruby though-who obviously also wanted to read it.

I just started this one-which I think is considered YA-a genre I also used to think I didn't like. Amazing how your tastes can change when you open your mind to them.

6) I am also starting to plan for next year already-am I a nerd or what?! My admins have told me that my students for next year are already reading--very exciting! But I have to make sure they are properly challenged. I will also be teaching 2 children of fellow teachers and the daughter of my Instructional Coordinator--that's not nerve-racking at all, right? My goal for this week is to decide on a classroom theme--any suggestions? I really liked dragons that we did last year.

I hope if you are still teaching that you are hanging in there and if you are done that you are relaxing as much as I am! What are you doing for your summer vacation?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Our Favorite Stories With Multi-Cultural Characters

I read an article in Entertainment Weekly a few weeks ago that I found disturbing:  . Basically it says that an alarmingly few number of children's books are published each year with multi-cultural characters in them. Because there is just not enough demand for them. I am always on the lookout for books with characters representing other ethnicities. I've seen firsthand that given a whole library of books, kids gravitate towards characters who look like them. And if more of them existed, they certainly would have more reason to read! I don't know about you guys, but my classes are always made up of a very diverse demographic.

These are some of the favorites from my class:

A cute little story about a girl who hasn't completely accepted the fact she will be getting a new brother or sister. Warning though-there's a part where they are doing a jump rope rhyme "mama's having a baby, people are going crazy...."--if your students are anything like mine, they will recite that repeatedly! I still know it by heart. :)

We watched a Brainpop on Eloise Greenfield and the kids asked me if I could get this book for them It's a really sweet, simple book about things she loves in her life. Went perfectly with our gratitude unit.

This happens to be one of my all-time, top-ten favorite stories. I just think it's really well-written and fun!

My kids especially liked this one because I had a student who could fold paper cranes and everyone was always wanting to learn!

A classic, I know. A little girl tries on her mother's ring when she isn't supposed to and is afraid it's baked inside the tamales.

My Hispanic ESL kiddos love to hear me try to speak Spanish! So this becomes a fun little read-aloud about something a simple as a scarf.

I like to use this story at the beginning of the year. We compare it to Chrysanthemum who also does not like the name she as been given.

I love the poetic language of this book! Whenever we have a few weeks without rain I think of these characters and say "come on, rain!"

There are many books about running for class president out there (even one with a duck candidate!)-so why not choose Grace. I must have read this book 20 times this year-the kids just love it!