Monday, July 14, 2014

{...creating a positive environment…}

Every year as a educator, my goal is to make my students feel warm and welcome as they walk into my classroom.  This sets our year up for success when we start to build trust in our partnership that will take place over the course of the year.

A few ways I make students and families feel comfortable in my room are:
1.  send home letters/post cards towards the end of summer
2.  have a back to school night/getting to know your teacher time before school starts
3.  make phone calls to each family within the first two weeks of school to introduce myself (if need be) and let them know how their student is being successful in the classroom
4.  send home notes through the mail throughout the year addressed to the student praising them and making them feel special about their hard work and accomplishments (I usually alternate and try to contact the family once a quarter.  Quarter 1 and 3 with phone calls and Quarters 2 and 4 through a quick note in the mail)

After visiting a former colleague this last week, I was motivated by her because she had started writing out her postcards to her future students.  Thanks Sara, for always keeping me on the ball and challenging me!  Here is a copy of my back to school letter.  Usually I send post cards, but since I moved to a new town, new school, I figured families would like to know a bit more about me and my family.

What strategies do you use to connect with students and families?  
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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Simon's Hook: Don't BITE!

So, last week, I was on the phone with my mom explaining that I was pulling out my hair trying to get my students to not react when others try to get a rise out of them, especially for silly reasons.  And then my mom stated a phrase that made me pause…"ahhhh…they bit the hook". For a moment I thought she had lost it (which has happened several times before :).  She said it is a book/lesson that she uses during her guidance counseling time with students K-6 and it works like a charm.  So I got on Amazon and ordered immediately and waited for the book to arrive.

The book arrived and I read it one day after school seeing what I could do to prepare for introducing it to my students.  After reading it, the just of the book is to give kids strategies to use for teasing and put downs from other kids.  I grabbed my daughter Layla's fishing pole and was ready for my lesson the next day.  After reading the book and discussing the strategies ONLY a few times, my kids were literally HOOKED!  After our initial lesson, my kids kept asking me to do the "fishing lesson" again.  So we have been taking a few minutes out of each day to make up some scenarios and I have been SOO impressed with how quickly my kids have picked it up.  Now, if someone comes up to me upset because of what someone said to them all I say is…"hmmm you must've bit the hook."  When you bite the hook, the person holding the fishing pole has ALL the control.  Another motto that my mom uses is: don't bite the hook!

I know my explanation is a little foggy on what the actual book COVERS…so I video taped my students to show you exactly what we have been working on.  Now…I am the one in some of the videos doing the teasing, and beforehand, each of my students knows that I don't REALLY feel this way about them…that we are practicing so that if someone really DOES say something similar they know what to do!

Sit back, relax, and let my five and six year olds teach you some strategies for dealing with teasing and put-downs!


I am having trouble uploading my other videos where my students are holding the fishing pole and role playing.  Please visit my Kindergarten Facebook page to view those "Simon's Hook" videos!!

Aren't they amazing teachers?  I think I have a couple actors on my hands.  :)  These are just a couple examples of our problem solving strategies.

The book teaches us to:
1.  agree with the person
2.  change the subject
3.  do nothing (ignore)
4.  walk away
5.  laugh (don't let them anger you)

These are all ways to NOT BITE!

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Writer's Workshop in Kindergarten :)

During Writer's Workshop, I have many high expectations for my students.  I am very strict on using quiet voices, staying in your area (unless accessing the word wall or other resources around the room), listening to piano lullabies (on pandora) and simply writing.  It is never acceptable to not have work done on your paper.  I also understand that my kids are at all different educational levels and what looks like "hard work" is different depending on each kid.  My writing time is very individualized and I each kid is working on a different goal, depending on what they are ready for.  But no matter what, everyone writes!  Some might have a 6-10 story and another kid might have scribbles and it is my job to take those kids at their level they are at and push them to the next. 

Before Christmas we start talking about the "Writing Process".  During my writing time, the kids come up with their own topics and own writing pieces.  I never give them a prompt unless it is some sort of a school assessment.  So they are all in different places throughout the writing process. We start with the planning stage.  We discuss quick sketching so we are able to remember what we want to write on each line.  Then we move to rough draft - which is simply writing a first draft of your personal narrative.   In January, we introduce the FAMOUS red pens...and we add editing to our writing process.  It is important for me to explain IN GREAT DETAIL my expectations for each step of the writing process and model and have them practice over and over again until it is exactly the way I want it.  Soon after editing, (usually towards the end of January) I add in Conferencing with Mrs. Bowder.  Before this step, I sit at a different table each day and watch them work and make observations.  I also take that time to discuss with them what they are writing, what they can do better and what they are doing GREAT!  Motivation and praise is huge because writing can be VERY SCARY!  I jot notes down under each kids initials on a sheet that I created so I can refer to it at other times.  When conferencing is introduced, we kind of change the way we do things!  I just introduced conferencing this week (2nd week of Feb) and so far they have transitioned well.  Instead of sitting at a different table each day, I now sit at MY guided reading/math/writing table and when the students have reached the "Conferencing" part of the writing process, they have to move their magnet so I can see they need to conference with them.  Sometimes, I have 2 people ready to conference and sometimes I have 10...just depends on where they are.  If they are waiting to conference with me, they can read a book, work in the "save" folder (work that needs to be finished) OR they can start a new writing piece.  Now, I will say that recently my kids have been a bit too chatty so I am considering changing the rules a bit and having the only option be to start a new piece.  We will see if their behaviors improve or not.  Usually, I can cycle through 5-7 kids during a writing time.  I make a note of when I conference with kids so I can tell how quickly they cycle through the writing process.  If I have not conferenced with a kids ALL week...then something needs to change.  Maybe that child needs extra assistance from me?  Or maybe a behavior is getting in the way and so he/she can have a personal writing date with me during another time during the day.  It just depends on the situation.  I am so very proud of the independent writers that develop throughout the year in Kindergarten.  It is so much fun to see their excitement during Writing time.

This is our writing paper for this time of year.  TS means Topic Sentence.  They are to write four sentences AND a topic sentence.  We will also be getting into conclusion statements before too long.  :) 

This is our "writing wall" (cabinet).  This is where they can reference different things we discuss during mini lessons.  They are also responsible for moving their names through the writing process.

Later on in the year, students will pick their OWN goals to focus on during writing time.
Towards the end of February, beginning of March, I will introduce our final step to the Writing Process which is, Publish.  Now, not all kids will be ready for this step.  I will say the majority of my kids will be (with practice) but there might be 4 or 5 kids that I will just be happy with if they complete a rough draft successfully.  They will need to copy their writing onto a separate piece of paper where they can draw a detailed picture.  Usually my kids that I conference with get to spend the last 5 minutes of writing time sharing their pieces with classmates on the carpet. 
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WOW words in Kindergarten :)

During Writer's Workshop time in Kindergarten, I encourage my students to get rid of the boring words.  We even (towards the beginning of the year) flush our boring words "like" and "love" down the toilet and say goodbye to them!  (I got the idea from Mrs. Meacham's website )  So early on, we make "power flowers" during a mini lesson and then students use that anchor chart during their independent writing time.  I have been so impressed with how many of my kids NEVER use like and if they do use like we made a rule that you have to write BECAUSE with it.  That is the only time it is okay to write "I like...".  Here are some seasonal "power flowers" we have used during our writing time.  I had a very talented para make them when she was in my room a few years ago...because I am NOT that artistic!  The kids are always looking at our WOW Word Wall and it's fun to see them exercising strong word choice while they write.

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tally Marks - to the rescue!!

Do you feel like you are always pulling tricks out of your bag to try and get your kids to focus and stay on-task during whole group times?  Anytime before I require my students to sit for a whole group time, we always get our wiggles out by dancing or doing some yoga.  This, for the most part, helps 85% of them sit and focus.  There are always a few, no matter what, that struggle to focus and learn.  So, one easy way that I eliminate this is my handy-dandy competition!  This….works….every….single…time.  The "format" of the game might be different depending on my students' needs that day.  Different "teams" include:  boys vs girls (Mrs. Bowder included) :),  superhero(s) (…keep reading…) vs Mrs. Bowder, and individual students vs Mrs. Bowder.  Different scenarios call for different game setups.  I have to know and observe my students to know which type of game will help them to be the most successful.  If I notice a few boys (yes…this year it is boys…but it can be girls, too) that are really struggling to focus, then I put their names up on the board and they earn points for the whole entire class.

Other days, I just pick "super-heros" to play against me.  I don't tell them WHO the superhero(s) are and so all of them put forth their best hoping to beat me.  Anytime the students who are earning points for the entire class are on-task and focused they get points.  Anytime they are not, I get points.  I very rarely EVER win but I have once or twice when we were really struggling.  Sometimes, when a player is PERFECT and I get zero points, I ask them if I could just have ONE point….for my beauty of course.  And that usually makes everyone erupt in laughter.

We have lots of fun trying to stay on-task. This is one of my tricks in my educational bag.  What are yours?
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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Two Additions to our Kinder-room!

Earlier this year, our whole staff attended APL training.  Basically, in a nutshell, it is classroom management and strategies to get the most out of our kids.  We had a two day training, and in March we will have another 3 days of this training!  Before we left, we had to discuss a few things we would try and implement before meeting next time.  Two things stuck in my head.  1.  Post learning objectives so students know what is coming and can be prepared and focused  2.  Post your schedule so (again) students know what to expect and it can be a predictable day.

1.  Post learning objectives - when I first heard this, I honestly just shrugged it off because I thought….well I teach Kindergarten….some can read SOME words but it would be a waste of my time to do this.  The more we learned about it though, the more my ears perked up.  I got busy right away creating learning objective headers to use in my room.  I have seen on Pinterest many ideas with these that include putting them in frames or making bulletin boards out of them.  The easiest solution for me was to attach it to my whiteboard so it would be an easy write on/wipe off system.  When  I first started writing my objectives, my students would say, "What does that say"  "What are we doing in Writer's Workshop"?  So then, at the beginning of our day, I would make it a point to look at each of the objectives quickly and then revisit them as we got to the subject.  Not only did my kids start using the word "learning objective" but I found myself more focused.  As I would make my lesson plans, I would ask myself "what do I want the kids to know at the end of this lesson".  Another fabulous colleague of mine, Mrs. Smith (4th grade teacher who I mention her A LOT!!) and I collaborate often.  She is always taking an idea to the next level.  As we were discussing this she said she was planning on adding a section in her lesson plans that said:  "what" and "how".  Basically, what do I want my kids to know?  And how am I going to know my kids 'get it'.   So when I made my lesson plans, I put "I can…" statements.  Plain and simple!  It states what the child should be able to do at the end of that curricular period.  Here is a link to my learning objective headers on tpt!
Some snapshots of my objectives are below:

 2.  Post your schedule so students know what will be happening.  I have done something similar in the past, but kids were always pulling them out and I never remembered to switch things, and…well….I was kind of lazy with it!!  I will admit it!!  So,  I mustered up the courage to try again and to make it better and more useful.  I found these schedule cards on teacherspayteachers by firstgradeparade!  It is a FREEBIE and it is AMAZING!  I copied the subjects off I needed.  During a brain research class I took to receive my Masters Degree, we learned about how kids' brains learn in a circular way, not in a 'list' form.  I will say the kids seem to pay attention to the way I have my schedule posted vs. when I have it posted in a list form.  So, I decided to give that a try…and I tell you what - we have LOVED it!!  I don't know what I was doing wrong before, but it holds me accountable and my kids know what the day looks like.  I have a weekly helper and it is his/her job to "move the magnet" when we do something different.  The kids are constantly looking at it and seeing what we are moving onto next and what specials we have.  I was worried that I was going to have to explain each section all the time, so we spent some time in the beginning simply looking at the pictures that came with.  Now, when they ask "Do we go to PE today?"  I will just say, "check the schedule!"  and it pushes the task onto them.  This is another way they can become a bit more independent in our classroom.

Before I leave each day, my goal is to have my objectives written and the schedule changed for the following day.  It doesn't ALWAYS happen, but the majority of the time it does.  These are two ideas that help support my little ones in the classroom.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Delightful Differentiating :)

Hello hello hello!  I have been absent from the blogging world for quite awhile…but I am back!!  Life/school got a little crazy to say the least!  Today during Math Stations, I was introducing a new station during small group time with each group of kids.  I thought I would show one way we differentiate the same game throughout a classroom of kids so that it hits their ability levels.
We have struggled a little with putting numbers in order from smallest to biggest, especially if they are random numbers.  So I had a sheet that I got from Shari Sloane's site (which is AMAZING and I use all the time) that used ordering numbers with dice.  So I took that sheet and made it my own.  We have been working hard using subtilizing cards (in a nutshell, dot cards) and I knew some of my kids still weren't ready to order numbers through 30 independently…so…I added subtilizing cards to the station for certain groups because if they are unable to tell what the number is and where it should go in the order of things, they can count the number of objects on each card.  There needs to be four cards pulled at a time because there are four lines (4 at a time…each person pulls a cards) and they have to put them in order smallest to biggest.  For my kids who need a little more of a challenge, I just used basic number cards through 60 that they will pull out and put in order (without dots).  So, basically all groups are doing the exact same station but the numbers vary between groups.

What are some ways that you differentiate stations for your little learners??
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