Thursday, July 31, 2014

Alternatives to Reading Logs

I am passionate about a great many things in the teaching field (if you haven't noticed that already). One of those things is reading logs. I loathe them. I very much understand keeping kids accountable for what they read, however, I feel like there are better ways to do that. I attended an all-day training today that was only focused on kids' independent reading skills. It took a lot of self-control not roll my eyes too many times! :)

The common recommendation is that students either keep track of the minutes they read or the number of pages. This is not even a take-home log, this is in class. We had a school-wide competition last year and students had to track their pages. Questions came up like do they count the pages with just an illustration-because they are not reading words on those pages? Do you count the title page-because those are words? So as they read they counted pages. *sigh* All those strategies we teach them for comprehension and they are focused on a timer or counting.

They also advised in the training that every day when they read independently, there has to be some worksheet or graphic organizer filled out about what they read. Why? If they are reading a chapter book, for example, they have to stop after a chapter to fill out a flow chart instead of spending what time they have actually reading? I am a slow reader already-you know how much that would slow me down if I had to do that?

So what are some alternatives:

1) Blogs-using Kidblog or another blog site you could easily set it up so kids can talk to each other (and you) about what they are reading. I liked the beginning of the book because they started a mystery. Or I didn't like how the author....Authentic responses to reading and collaborating on those discussions with others-does it get better!

2) Book trailers. Many classrooms (or the classroom teacher) have at least one ipad nowadays. Use a program like imovie and have the kids create a trailer for their book. They have to decide what music sets the proper tone. How they are going to summarize without giving too much away.

3) Advertisements-make paper ads for the books. What better fodder for a library bulletin board. They can entice their friends to read certain stories.

4) Make PSA's based on what they learned from the characters. How many kids' books are about character traits like kindness. Have the kids make a public service announcement based on what they learned people should do. A book like Wonder for example, obviously it would be an anti-bullying campaign. Something like On Meadowview Street-how to help the earth.

5) Book club prompts. Have the kids track how many students have read the same book and when you have about 4-they can meet and have a little book club discussion. Each child can write a question based on how the story spoke to them. It's something that takes a little bit of modeling-discussion prompts like "I understand what you are saying, but I actually disagree with that". It's an amazing thing to watch when they get going-it often generates better discussions than book clubs I've belonged to as an adult! :)

6) Talk to them! I can tell just by asking them if they liked a book if they read it or not.

I think we do too much to take the joy out of reading for the kids. They are relegated to reading passages instead of books. They have to comment on every part of a book they read. They have to time themselves or count pages. There are other ways to make sure they are reading. Let them enjoy that time! :)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Making Connections

I know this may be common sense to people but it was what I was thinking about today, so I'm posting about it! I am a big believer that we miss many opportunities to make genuine connections with people in this world. Maybe our obsessiveness with technology (I got my phone out to take a picture of a rainbow the other day and was like--why not just enjoy the rainbow! Everyone is always walking around with their nose in their phones!). Maybe it's just a matter of not enough time-although we make time for things that are important to us.

Connecting with Students:

1) One way I try to connect with them is to try and share things about myself. They know who my dog Ruby is. They know I like to go to the library. They know I like to read. In the beginning of the year I even share with them my life at their age:

My Halloween costume in Kindergarten. My mom was so creative-she made it!

Missing teeth and a broken arm-what a mess! I broke my arm in gymnastics class doing a back walkover. My dad, who was watching heard it crack and fainted. My mom carried us both to the hospital! :)

And they remember these things. Months later they will comment on something that I shared with them when I didn't even think they were listening.

2) Eat lunch with them. I started doing this at the end of the year last year. We have a little patio area with tables and I would take the kids by table out there. Not a reward for good behavior, not only my "favorite" students-everyone would have a turn. Kids who never speak would be talking up a storm. A great opportunity to get to know them better.

3) Use their interests. If I know Johnny loves dinosaurs I will read Dinosaurs Love Underpants as a free reading choice and let him know I chose that for him (because what boys don't like talking about underpants as well :). If Mary is in ballet class I will read Angelina Ballerina and let her know I thought of her. Then I am remembering the details of things they told me.

With Your Team-this one I think is harder for many reasons. Sometimes you work with people who are clock in clock out people-they don't want to make connections with you. Sometimes people are very busy with their lives and just don't have time for it either.

1) Eat lunch together once a week. Those e-mails and phone calls you have to return will wait! I love talking to people who I work with about their families and things unrelated to teaching if only for 15 minutes. It's nice to have that time to talk to grown-ups.

2) Meet before the school year starts. I'm so excited to be meeting my new team for lunch next week. Yes, I'm sure we will discuss planning items, but we will also bond a little bit as well.

3) Make time before each team meeting to share successes. I don't think we do that enough. Last year I had a great moment. My class was doing a group activity where they were competing. At first they started cheering for individual students--"let's go Mary, let's go". And then all of a sudden they all started cheering "let's go everybody, let's go". They all cheered for each other! I recorded it and really wanted to share it with someone...but I didn't have that kind of relationship with the team I was on.

Just some thoughts I had today on ways we can connect better with people. It's one of my goals this year. Let me know if you have any other suggestions! :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Family Feud Style Vocabulary Practice

I will admit it--I'm a huge fan of Family Feud! I think it's truly a game of critical thinking. You have to really pay attention to how a question is worded and sometimes it's really hard to get past those first couple of answers. I use this format, less formally, for a vocab practice activity.

I do it as an oral language activity with my students. I will give them the question, let them turn to a partner and name everything they can in one minute and then come back and record all the different answers. It takes about 5 minutes and I think they enjoy the challenge! Not only are they possibly learning new words in the question, but also from all the different answers. Seems easy, but it actually really makes you think. Sometimes they really surprise me with what they come up with! And sometimes I really surprise them with things they didn't even think of.

Some examples of questions to ask:

1) Name a kind of clothing that only children wear.
2) Name things you find at a movie theater (grocery store, school, in a living room, etc.)
3) Name something people can do with a deck of cards.
4) Name something you can swing.
5) Name something you can roll.
6) Name something you won't fit in if you are tall.
7) Name something that beeps.
8) Name a place people go for peace and quiet.
9) If you were turned into a spider, name something you'd have to learn how to do.
10) Name something people do even though they know it's wrong.
11) Name a way teddy bears are different from real bears.
12) Name something dogs do when their owners are gone for the day.
13) Name a reason someone might wear a disguise.
14) Name something you would only find in Texas.
15) Name a sport where the athletes wear protective clothing.
16) Name something that can fit in your pocket.
17) Name something you only do at night.
18) Name something that makes music.

Most of my students come from homes where English is not the primary language spoken. So anything I can do to make vocabulary more fun, I will try!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Know Any Brand-New Teachers?

This is a really good book for them to read:

I read the last 50 pages today while I was waiting for my car to be inspected and was giggling out loud.

It's the most realistic advice I've ever read. For an experienced teacher, much of the advice is maybe too late because you already have management and organization procedures. But even so, there is lots to reassure that no one is ever perfect.

Some of my favorite lines: "This is not going to be Chicken Soup for the Teacher's Soul more like Hard Liquor for the Teacher's Soul".

"Freedom is easier to give than it is to take away, so be an authority figure".

She also talks about being at trainings on how to get organized and wanting to throw color-coded systems out the window--glad I'm not the only one!

I wish I knew a brand-new teacher to pass this on too. Maybe I'll find one when I get back to campus! :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Word Wall Rebel

So if you have read my blog before you probably know that I'm a bit of a rebel sometimes. I believe in doing what is best for my students, regardless of what others do. Word walls are one of those examples. I think a word wall should be organized based on what you are using it for. Many Kinder classrooms have walls that are alphabetical with many, many sight words up on them by the end of the year. I am not one of those people. I do not judge those who do it that way at I said depending on your purpose and your students. However for me, my word walls are interactive and I use them so students can take the words off the wall and use them in their writing or for workstation activities like alphabetization. My wall guidelines:

1)  mostly vocabulary words as well as commonly misspelled words like "friend" or "because". 
2)  also include pictures so they can find the words they want. If they do not know the word they are looking     for, how do they find it otherwise? That's one of the reasons I don't do sight words-if they don't know           how to spell the, they aren't going to use the word wall to spell it.
3) limited to maybe 15 words at a time. When a word is rotated out I keep it in a container nearby, so they can find it if they want to. Some people just build on their word walls all year, I think that's too much overload for the little ones.
4) random order-there were times I separated for example math and science vocabulary, but otherwise no pattern to it.
5) I give them many adjectives that they can start incorporating in their writing

Here are a few examples of past walls (most pics I have I took the 1st weeks before we really started using them):

Now, I am by no means telling you how to do a word wall....however, I did want to show that everyone does not have to follow the "rules" of the experts and can still have students with a successful word wall experience! :) I was at several trainings this summer where people asked what the right way was; personally I believe the right way is the way that works for you. Don't be afraid to stray from the herd sometimes!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Recognizing Potential

So I'm reading Carol Dweck's book Mindsets right now and find it very eye-opening. I will blog about my thoughts on that when I finish. But one thing that she said was something deep down I think I knew already, but I bet a lot of people in teaching don't realize. Alfred Binet, one of the forerunners of IQ testing believed that "education and practice could bring about fundamental changes in intelligence". IQ is not a set number.

 Working with young children, I see this first-hand. I don't know about results on an IQ test, because believe it or not, that's not what we use to identify our GT kiddos (after Kinder it's strictly standardized test scores). However, I do see kids who begin the first day of school with seemingly no creativity/critical thinking skills or academic ability only to leave Kinder brimming with it. I make it a point never to judge a child and their abilities. I had a student once who literally did not know what an A was or how to count past 3 on the first day of school. Mid-year that same student was writing about the "reflection" in the pond and the "gleaming" of the sunlight. She had just never been taught.

I've seen the errors teachers make in not recognizing potential first-hand. Many years ago we had a very difficult student, I'll call him Billy. Billy was in a class with a teacher who decided on the first day of school that she did not like him. She let other students make fun of him, because after all, they were able to say what she couldn't-she couldn't tell him to shut up or call him names, so she'd do nothing when other kids would say it. He acted out by kicking other students, spitting on them. His desk was moved to the corner of the room. His mom came in a for a conference and asked who she should invite to Billy's birthday party and the teacher told her outright that Billy didn't have any friends. His mom cried.

Fast-forward to about a month later. The teacher is absent and the sub can't handle him. So they give him to me for the day. My kids rolled their eyes when they heard that (they did after all witness him getting in trouble often at lunch, specials and recess), but I told them that we are going to treat Billy as part of our class. If I ignore a behavior like him tapping pencils, they are going to ignore it.We were doing a group activity and one of the students complimented Billy's idea to solve the problem and told him "you are very smart!". His face lit up like the Fourth of July. I asked that he be moved to our class permanently. This child was incredibly bright and creative. He especially excelled in math. Was able to do problems with missing addends when just given the sum, etc. We rarely saw any behavior issues. Teachers would make comments as we passed them (in front of the child)-how did he get in your class?! Because a child with a bad reputation can't be GT? I rolled my eyes at people a lot that year! His parents took him to another school the following year-he must be in middle school by now. I think about him often. I truly believe his behavior was attention-seeking because he wasn't getting any positive attention in her class. I also think maybe he had undiagnosed Asperger's. He actually applied and qualified for our GT program that spring.

In two different instances I have heard teachers say they knew they were going to retain a child that school year in the first week of school (one told a parent that-the first week!!!!). One year a teacher got a student that I had taught in Kinder. He was having trouble reading, but if you talked to him at all you could see he was incredibly gifted-his vocabulary alone! She decided he was not GT, he did fail most spelling tests after all. She failed him that year, which didn't surprise me, since she made that decision the first week. Luckily I taught him in summer school and fought for him to pass. He was tested in 2nd Grade and identified with a severe learning disability-is getting A's when read the tests now and still maintains his GT status. It just infuriates me! You have 180 days to help that child reach their potential, how can you just give up on them because of a judgment you made. Whether you are talking about behavior or critical thinking skills or associating sounds to letters--you have the responsibility to believe that child has the potential to succeed. I am not qualified to make a judgment whether a child is GT or not and I'm not qualified to make the judgment a child will be a success or a failure. I have to do the best I can with the time I have to mine their potential. That is our job.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Homework Bags

I have been doing a lot of shopping which is not good for my credit card balance, but I feel like I'm getting some things done that I definitely need to do before we go back. I decided I am definitely not allowed near the Container Store again for a very, very long time! And to top it off we have a Container Store right next to a Lakeshore store--big trouble for teachers on a budget.

I also made a productive trip to Wal-Mart. I don't go there often, ours is kind of in a skeezy part of town, plus I end up coming out with far more than I went in for. I did get the bags I need to decorate for my students' "homework bags". Not traditional homework, but instead I record stories for my students to listen to at home. They take the mp3 player (soooo grateful to Donorschoose) and the book, that way I know someone is reading to them at night. (They always say...Miss Trayers, this sounds like you! :). 

I work at a Title 1 school with about 90% of our students who qualify for free/reduced lunch. For many families books are not something the kids have access to the way their counterparts in other parts of the city do. Plus I know many parents are busy these days so sometimes reading regularly to their children falls away due to other priorities. I've had a lot of success with them. Some of the kids like them more than others--one parent told me her son falls asleep listening to me read. 

Don't you just love my beautiful artwork! :) I give them away to the kids at the end of the year (last year I saw one of the 5th graders was still using hers at a tote bag)-so I make new ones every year.

I used to do it with cassette tapes and Walkmans-I actually still have those but it was such a pain to have to turn the tapes over and rewind them all every night. Not to mention I would have to record stories over other stories because cassettes were pretty expensive. Now with the mp3 players-it's so easy! I just record the story and upload it. The kids know how to work them and I can even use it for their listening stations. I think a great way for them to practice listening to someone reading fluently and following along with the print.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Differentiation in an Early Childhood Classroom

I often say this is one of the hardest things about teaching. I know that every grade level deals with kids all over an academic spectrum, but I still contend that it's a much bigger spectrum with the young kiddos. We have students beginning Kinder on Day One who don't know what an A is (even if their name is Alice) or can't count past the number 3-basically a blank slate academically. Then you have kids who are already reading Magic Treehouse Books and can add 2-digit numbers in their heads. 

So what can we do?

1) I am a firm believer in limiting whole group instruction. Often times even the higher students need strategies, especially when it comes to fluency and comprehension. And even if they can read, often they don't know the rules of phonics-you have to teach reading backwards basically. I also do my vocabulary whole group with everyone and a read-aloud. All the rest of their reading time is small group instruction and guided reading.

2) Menus. If you are not already familiar with Ian Byrd's Differentiator it is a really cool way to create menus or find ones that are already made.

I use these a lot for workstations. The students can choose how they want to apply their knowledge. Here is just one example:

I've also seen options where the students know if they are supposed to do the green, red or blue activity-but I like when kids challenge themselves-so I give them the spectrum to choose from.

3) Homework. Now I know, homework in Kinder! But yes, those are the times we live in. Even homework calendars can be differentiated. If they are supposed to count to 20 on Monday and you have a student who could probably count to 1 million if they had the time and inclination--that's too easy for them. Challenge them by making it counting by 2's to 20 or figuring out how many 20's in 100. It doesn't take very long to change the assignment in your template.

4) Independent Study. This is a little bit harder with the little ones because even if they are academically gifted they are usually still not very independent! :) What I do is find out what they want to learn more about. I find child-friendly articles and pictures online (Scholastic usually will have something good) and then let them read about the research. They put together a product of their choice that they can use to teach the class facts about that topic.

These are just some examples-there are many. Even after trying to do it for so many years and reading more/attending trainings about it, I still feel like I'm not able to hit those levels all the time. But we try! :)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

School Shopping

Am I the only one exceeding my budget already? :) I was doing really well there for a couple of months and then it's this time of year again. My mom found the cutest little seats for my library to go along with my classroom theme of The Dot. I don't know what they are made out of, but it's something I can wipe off easily and won't have to worry about lice with because it's not fabric:

When I went to Target over the weekend they were starting to put out their school supplies so I thought for sure today it would be stocked-but not yet. I need to get composition books and folders. Our school does grade level supply lists and I hate it because each teacher has different needs. One teacher may like using binders, another folders and then the list is too long and things just get cut. This year we are only asking for one bottle of soap per child-for a class of 25 kids. Do you know how long that will last us? Maybe until October!? I also have to get new tubs for the table supplies and some new plastic containers from the Container Store. Mine have lasted a while, but are starting to get a little shabby. 

I know it may seem early but we go back in a month and I have several PD's still scheduled so I'm trying to get as much out of the way as possible now with my free time. :) Besides they always run out of the good stuff pretty quickly!

Have you started shopping for your new class yet? Any good finds?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Heterogeneous Grouping

So let me preface this by saying, it's going to be kind of a PSA. This is one of my pet peeves and I'm kind of annoyed right now.

I was at a training today because my district has decided, once again, to change our reading program. Now we're going to get everyone reading by 3rd Grade...because apparently we weren't trying hard enough before, but I digress. It's a mix of a bunch of different programs including Daily 5 and the traditional reading model. My problem with it is they want the students grouped in heterogeneous groups with students from each level represented when they go through their stations-word work, reading with a partner, etc.

I am wholeheartedly against this. Not only does it make it  much more difficult to pull homogeneous reading groups for guided reading, but the whole reasoning behind it is that there has to be a high student in each group in order to teach the rest of the students the skills. *sigh* I could literally feel my blood pressure going up as I was sitting there listening to this.

I'm not saying don't ever use heterogeneous groups-not by any means. I certainly think they have their place. I actually use them quite often when kids work on projects together or are doing a science experiment. But when you are asking kids to do workstation work, they should be working with peers at their level. The purpose is not for kids to be teaching each other! The purpose is for each student to get practice at the skills they need to practice. The argument I often hear is "well, you learn by teaching". I actually don't think that is true. My student in 1st Grade who was reading 140 words per minute, is not going to learn how to read better by helping another student with high frequency words. They need to work on other skills-like comprehension and fluency.

I work for a very, very large district district. Hundreds of teachers are going to be using these methods. And I know there are probably lots who already do it that way. But I just wanted to give you some food for thought-that maybe there's a way every child can still be challenged and still be practicing the skills they need help with.

PSA Over! Thanks for listening! :)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Remembering Your First Year

I came across this video that Diane Ravitch posted on her blog: The Myth of the SuperTeacher .

I think her candor, humor and honest reflection is not only refreshing, but probably what makes her a Superteacher today. Hearing people talk about how easy our jobs are (you know summers off an all) is one of my number one pet peeves. Especially if they've never been in a classroom.I barely even remember my first year. I think I blocked it out! :) I actually went through an alternative certification program and had the hardest time finding a job. I probably went on more than 25 interviews-in the most urban part of the district, for 5th grade positions-had no idea what I was talking about, all my experience had been with young children.

I did finally get a job teaching my ideal grade--Kindergarten! I remember my first classroom vividly-it was a room that they had split in half with a big partition the school had grown so much. We had over 1200 students just Pre-K-5th grade. There were 6 Kinder teachers on the team. The class attached to us was bilingual so it wasn't too distracting that we could hear their lessons, because they were in a different language. Every once in a while we would hear their ESL lesson and a child would remark "hey, they are speaking English!". I had 27 kiddos my first year! We were in tight quarters. I still remember some of the students' names. I actually have a memento on my fridge-this is a picture Henry drew for me---it's God. I just loved the big hands. I shared it with my mom and she made it into a magnet for me-been on my fridge ever since. He would be 17 now.

I look back on it and don't remember doing things like differentiating at all. I was moving a few years later and found a roster that said some of the students were LEP-I didn't even know that at the time. I know some were probably gifted but don't remember seeking out that testing process for them. I didn't even know we were doing standardized testing in December. My reading coordinator came in a few weeks before the big test and said you are doing practice tests, right? For what? They ended up building a new school across the street and because of the loss of enrollment, they had to let go their 10 last hired teachers. So I ended up job-hunting again. When I got to my new school I think it was meant to be. I didn't realize how bad it was at the old school until I saw how they did things at the new one.

Now, 12 years later I still doubt myself quite often. One day someone will figure out I really don't know what I'm doing. But I do think I've grown a little bit each year and that's important. We have several brand-new teachers starting at our campus this year and I love the sparkle they have in their eyes. I want to make sure they get the support they need to get through those milestone first few years.

So, what was your first year teaching like? If you aren't like me who seems to have blocked most of it out! :)

Reading Habits

I see my tastes in reading opening up a bit this summer! I've written before about the fact that I went years after college and into my professional career without really reading for fun. These past couple of years I have made a concerted effort to incorporate reading more for entertainment's sake. A problem I had was how to choose the books I'd read. Sound familiar? We do the same lesson for the kids. And I do talk about myself as a reader now to my students. They are always asking me what book I'm reading, which I think is funny because it's not like they are going to recognize a title or anything. But I think they hear me asking kids that all the time! :)

So I started reading reviews of new books being published. I get alerts when an author I like publishes a new book. Well, this summer I went outside of my comfort zone a little bit. I have read/ordered books that would fall into the YA category and I just read what I think is the first memoir I've ever read. I highly recommend this one:

It's about a journalist whose mom has a big personality (I feel like I know her and would love to have someone like that as a friend!). After her mom dies she starts investigating her mom's life, something she kept very private. Interviewing family members, tracking down court documents and learning along the way just how strong her mother was. And all written with a sense of humor which makes for a very pleasant read.

I am up to 20 books that I have read so far this year-not that I'm really focused on that or anything, but it is a record for me. My Amazon cart is full of many others! I have to stop reading other blogs/Twitter-too many recommendations! :) I have trouble deciding what to pick up next.

Anyway, just being a little introspective. I'm proud of myself for going outside my comfort zone a little bit and reading different kinds of books. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

S.C.A.M.P.E.R. for Back-to-School Read-Alouds

If you are not familiar with S.C.A.M.P.E.R. it is an acronym that stands for activities you can do to help increase critical thinking abilities in your students. I've used it with literature, with holidays, with the theme we are doing for the week. If you want some other ideas-Terri over at : has wonderful ideas and even has units available on TPT for them! :)

It stands for: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify/Magnify, Put to Another Use, Eliminate and Rearrange

Now obviously, I wouldn't do all these activities with each book, I just want to give you an idea of examples of how you could do it. I usually just do one activity for each theme. And some of the books just don't really fit with all the ideas.

1) Substitute another accessory for Pete's "school shoes"-Rockin' in my school ________.
2) Adapt Pete's shoes for another occasion other than school.
3) Modify Pete's shoes for different settings-space shoes, desert shoes, wedding shoes, etc.
4) Another use for shoes-you could plant a plant in a shoe, etc. (I would give them shoe cutouts and a blank piece of paper and let them glue the shoe on where they wanted and decorate around it with their idea)

1) Substitute another creature for the raccoons in the story-what changes?
2) What if Chester was going somewhere else other than school, adapt the good-bye technique for antoher setting.
3) Modify that goodbye technique for maybe Dad or brother/sister-someone else in your family or another character from a book. If you read First Day Jitters-what do you think the teacher's technique for the first day would be? What would Pete the Cat's be (probably something very cool! :).

1) Substitute something else for her dot-how would the story have changed if she had made a different mark on her paper.
2) Combine her dot and the little boy's line at the end-what could they make together?
3) Adapt-adapt her dot for other people-what would Santa Claus' dot look like, a giant's, the principal's, etc.
4) Modify-the dot for different settings-a dot in the Arctic, underwater, etc.
5) What is another use for the dot? Again I'd give them a cutout and let them design around it-it could be the bottom of an exclamation point, etc.

1) Substitute another location for David-what would David at the mall look like? the zoo?
2) Adapt a classroom so that it would be an ideal learning space for David-maybe stain-proof carpet.
3) If you were the teacher, how would you have to modify your instruction because of David?
4) Another use for a paper airplane.
5) Rearrange the classroom so it would become David-proof.

Just some ideas as I start to brainstorm for myself and beginning of the year activities. I looped with my group last year so I feel like it's been forever since I used these books. If you have any other ideas, I'd love to hear them! :)