A Letter to Myself in the Mirror

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As each year passes, I feel like the time goes by faster and faster.  We have 17 school days left – SEVENTEEN! It seems like just yesterday my kinders were walking into the room for the first time.

Earlier this year, I posted about managing a hectic personal schedule with my professional one and my struggles with shifting priorities.  This school year has been wonderfully chaotic, albeit overwhelming at times.  I took on professional responsibilities, married my best friend, lost my wonderful grandmother, and will welcome a bundle of joy this summer.  All of these experiences led to the need for more structure and kicked my OCD into hyperdrive!

One of the items on my full plate this year, has been a literacy class.  My hopes for the class were simple – be a better than usual professional development opportunity and be an addition to my literacy credentials.  “Literacy Beginnings” has been so much more.

Each session, we take time to reflect on new and old learning.  We reflect on things we have tried in our classrooms and shared with our colleagues.  We discuss our successes and our defeats.  It is truly a safe space where we all feel comfortable sharing our true and honest thoughts about education and concerns we have about teaching our children.  For our last class this week, we have been asked to think about all that we have taken and all we will take away from the course.

Throughout this school year, this class has served as a reminder for me.  More times than I’d like to admit I’ve arrived at class with concern or frustration.  I’ve needed the class to lift me up. And yes – some tears have been shed.  I’ve needed that class to remind me, with everything else happening outside of or linear to my teaching, that what I believe and hold true about teaching is valid.  That my passions have merit – even if they are different from someone else’s.

Dear Self,

These are things you KNOW in your heart, mind, and gut to be true:

  • Play is important. The second half of this year has been amazing!  Being fortunate enough to restructure the schedule for a sizable junk of sustained play has helped with their development.  They are blossoming socially and developmentally.  They are using their literacy skills everywhere.  Their love for learning and literacy continues in their play.  They are bringing their literacy into everything.  During this choice time – they are choosing literacy whether it is obvious or not.  They are creating lists in the kitchen center, designing maps and plans in blocks.  They yearn to put pencil, marker, pen, and crayon to paper in the art center.  They create their own story time in the reading center.  Reading is a social activity for them.  It is a way they are connecting with others.  This is so powerful. Enter their play more – the assessment can wait.
  • Meeting a student where he/she is is priority number one.  Taking a child’s age and maturity into account while teaching him is not an excuse.  Pushing for developmental appropriateness for my students creates a positive learning environment.
  • If it frustrates you and them – you’re pushing too hard!  STOP and ask yourself why?  Is it for the benefit of the children or someone else?  I know you feel guilty.  You’ve let others’ opinions seep into your bubble.  You’ve let whispered judgements about your students from people who don’t know what being in your class is like to affect you.  Do not let the pressures you feel push you to push your students before they are ready.  Do not halt their progress by skipping rungs on the ladder.  Do not leave them dangling. Look into your students’ eyes – are they broken?  No!  Fortunately, the excitement is still there as they put letters to match sounds they are hearing in words.  They feel success as they read their sentences to you – sentences they created, rather than copied.  Words they put forth with true effort rather than words that were pulled from them for someone else’s benefit.
  • All gains should be celebrated – even if the gains aren’t “good enough” according to someone else’s standards. Every child has grown – and at a different pace.  Keep in mind the district expectations, but do not let them defeat you.  Your students have a strong foundation that will help them succeed later in their schooling.
  • Continue to surround your students with love and acceptance.  They should feel capable and successful.  They should feel confident in their “expertness” and safe enough to fail.  We all know that success is built on top of failures.  Continue to show them that it is ok.  To take chances. To be brave.
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April Showers bring May Flowers

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If you’re like me – you’re wrapping up your Spring Break.  Or maybe, you’re just about to begin.  Or, maybe, you’re like some of my Georgia friends and Spring Break was week ago – before Spring had even started.  No matter your finishing point on the break scale, you may be searching for new and fun ideas to keep your students engaged these last few weeks of the year.  Testing is about to begin for upper grades.  Class schedules will be altered.  Recess plans may have to move from outdoors to indoors because of noise.  I’ve been using Google, Pinterest, and blogs to find creative ways to enhance our last nine weeks of school.

SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS!

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http://www.education.com/activity/kindergarten/science/

I also blogged about other fun experiments a couple of years ago: https://withliteracyinmind.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/snippets-2/

If you have them – iPAD PROJECTS

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http://iteachwithipads.net/2015/03/31/building-early-literacy-skills-with-ipads/

https://withliteracyinmind.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/kindergarten-and-the-writing-process/

http://barrowmediacenter.com/tag/kindergarten/

SHOW and TELL

This one is pretty self explanatory – create a schedule and fill some time blocks with Show and Tell.  The kids have been sneaking toys to school anyway! (Well, mine have!)

GUEST READERS
(featured below, my hubby)

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Again, create a schedule for parents, community members, or even other teachers.  My kids love being read to and when someone else comes in – it is extra special. You can easily create a google doc that can be emailed out for sign up.

RECYCLED CRAFTS/ MAKER SPACE

I automatically save tissue boxes, shoe boxes, and toilet paper rolls.  Let’s put these items to great use!  The Pinterest board below has so many great ideas.

https://www.pinterest.com/susanmomof5/kids-crafts-recycled-materials/

Aren’t sure what a maker space is?

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http://kindergartenmakerspace.blogspot.com/

NATURE WALKS

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We have a green way near our school as well as plenty of trees.  If you have the beauty of nature around you – and the parental permission necessary – take your kiddos for a hike.  Document your walk with iPads or other hand-helds, pictures, or science journals.

GO NOODLE

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It’s FREE, engaging, and FUN!
https://www.gonoodle.com/

HAPPY SPRING!

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The Power of Three

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In Harry Potter, the Deathly Hallows are three super powerful magical objects believed to give the owner invincibility.  How awesome would it be if we armed our students with 3 magically powerful skills that enabled them to be “invincible” when it comes to reading?  Research on the Generative Theory has shown that there ARE 3 powerful things that create successful readers. Without these three things, readers are unable to self monitor and try strategies to help them succeed. Reading becomes a chore rather than something that comes as natural as breathing.

The Generative Theory of reading is born of the research of Diane Stephens on what matters when helping students become successful readers and writers.  Her “What Matters” framework places heavy emphasis on meeting students where they are and using assessment as a way to know more about how students learn and shape lessons accordingly.

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According to Stephens’ theory, if the following 3 things are in place, the reader will automatically self monitor.  They will stop themselves when something does not make sense and will apply a strategy to help.

  1. The reader understands that reading should make sense. Does the reader understand that reading is about more than just getting the words right?
  2. The reader believes in his/her ability to make sense of text. Does the reader see reading as an attainable goal everyone can achieve rather than an ability a person is born with?
  3. The reader sees reading as an enjoyable event.  Does the reader see reading as fun?

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As teachers, we need to look for and at times create situations for the students to show these 3 things.  To start, here are some activities for helping students understand that reading should make sense.

  • Use easy to read books that are fun and enjoyable and have high interest for students
  • Have students look at a picture and ask them to tell you what is happening in the picture.  If the student is just pointing to objects in the picture and naming them (labeling) rather than crafting a scenario for the picture, he/she does not understand that reading should make sense
  • Tea Party Strategy:
    • Show the students the front/back cover of a book and jot down words they think the author may use in the story.
    • Talk about why the author may use those words.
    • Categorize them.
    • OR Show students various pictures (some actually from book, others not) and have them sort the pictures into 2 groups – Pictures they think will be in the book or will not be in the book.  Discuss reasoning behind the categorizing.
  • Use wordless picture books  to practice telling stories
  • Use 3 pictures, tell a story, and write the story together
  • Teacher talk – think aloud as you read a story to model how a reader self monitors and the meaning making process
  • Oral storytelling
  • Interactive read alouds
  • Performance Literacy:
    • Student draws favorite animal
    • Teacher writes the name of the animal
    • Ask the child if the animal has a name
    • Write 2-3 words that could form the problem of the story (ex: lonely, hungry, or lost)
    • Ask questions: What problem do you want your animal to have? When the lion was hungry what did he do? Where did it go? What did it eat?
    • Write down the student responses to the questions
    • Tell the story back to the child filling in details when necessary.  Use plenty of sounds and movement.
    • Ask the child to tell the story back to you.

As I explore this topic more in my Literacy Beginnings class, I will share more with you!  In the meantime, check out this article:

http://www.debaronson.com/node/94

Or Diane Stephens book:  Reading Assessment: Artful Teachers, Successful Students

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I can be ANYTHING!

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As most often happens, my plan for writing goals for ourselves didn’t go according to – well plan.  We came back from winter break and needed to readjust ourselves to school by reviewing routines.  We came back from winter break just to have a late start to school one day. We came back from winter break and we just needed to get used to each other again.

So our goal setting conversations shifted to this week.  This actually worked out better because goal setting ties in well with our character trait for the month Commitment.  Our guidance counselor teaches a lesson each month about a particular character trait.  Monday, she spoke with the children about commitment and what it means to our goals in kindergarten and for when we grow up. Tuesday, we quickly reviewed commitment in a “little chat” about trying our best and doing our job as students in the classroom. 🙂 Wednesday brought our read aloud, I Can be Anything by Jerry Spinelli.

In this charming picture book, the little boy dreams of all the things he can be – from a make believe critter to a cheek-to-cheek grinner.  The kids loved all the things and giggled at many of the pictures. We talked about each of the things the little boy could be.  One student said “Um, he needs to pick one!” This led to a discussion of how each of us can be more than one thing.  I am a teacher, book lover, cupcake baker, etc.  To help prepare us for our writing, we used the app Popplet to create a web on the Smartboard of all the things we can/want to be now and when we grow up.

From there, we went into small group writing.  Students made the outline look like themselves as whatever they wanted to be.  We have many future police officers, a few doctors, a couple cheerleaders, and even a unicorn! We CAN be ANYTHING!

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Goal Setting and Picture Books

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As the return from winter break approaches, I am thinking of how I can continue to motivate some of my reluctant readers and writers.  Before we said goodbye for the holiday break, I had conversations with a few of my students to see where their minds were at.  We talk a lot about our interests in the classroom and I try to provide as many resources as possible to supplement these interests.  And yet – I still have a couple students who have the knowledge they need but seem less than motivated to use it.  They are still relying on teachers and others to help with unknown words.  They still need a little hand holding.

I tell parents that January starts our “crunch” time  – meaning we really put to use what we learned those first few months. With the application also comes to relinquishing of responsibility from teacher to students.  More and more independence becomes encouraged and required of our sweet kinders.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t drop them in to the deep end of a difficult assignment and yell “Swim!”.  But I do release their hands, little by little, until suddenly they find themselves accomplishing it alone.  For my littles who still aren’t ready, they stumble a bit.  They become frustrated and sometimes down right upset that “no one” will help.  Then….

The light bulb goes off.  The fire catches.  The connections are strengthened and extend beyond their wildest dreams.  They realize they are doing it – all by themselves.  And. It. Is. Amazing.

To help get us ready for the “CRUNCH”, I’m calling on a few of my favorite picture book friends:

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After reading and discussing what we would like to accomplish, each student will create a GOAL board.  I’m not sure of the format yet, but I’m sure Pinterest has tons of printables if I decide to go that route rather than using their iPads. Goals can be easily incorporated into data notebooks if those are a part of your classroom.

What’s your goal to make it through the CRUNCH?

Happy 2015!

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Is there a sliding scale of BEST?

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As the holidays draw closer and we are nearly half way through our school year, I’ve been reflecting on how things have been going.  What has been working – what needs revamping – what needs to be thrown in file 13 (a term I picked up for the trash can). This year already has been a year like no other.  Of course, every year is different because every child is different.  Adding to the ever-changing landscape of my career currently are variables of a more personal nature. So, obviously, this post is more personal.

For all the years I have been teaching (almost ten now), my students and my job have been a top priority.  I have been, and forever will probably be, guilty of bringing my work home – physically (books and plans and papers) and more often, emotionally.  Wholeheartedly, my kids are my kids – and always will be.  There have not been many moments where anything or anyone else took precedence.  I don’t mean this to sound like nothing else matters or that no one else matters.  There has just been a level of dedication I have been able to afford to my job. I have been able to come in early (ha) and stay late (way late) without worry of someone waiting for me to come home.  I have been able to spend countless amounts on my classroom and my students without the feeling that my savings account is more important.  I have been able to attend sporting events, birthday parties, and extra curricular events without it majorly affecting anyone else’s schedule. I have been able to go to work, for the most part, and be 150% present for my students.

Which brings us to this year – different from any other.  My personal variables are changing.  The outcome of these variables is creating a feeling of doubt.  I am questioning whether the best I am giving is really my best – or am I grading myself too hard because it’s a different kind of best?  Is there a sliding scale of best?

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Just 10 days ago, I got married.  What a wonderful day it was! It was the closest to perfect we could have imagined.  I began the school year in the middle of wedding plans and big dreams for my new group of kiddos. I also began the school year with heart breaking concern over my terminally ill grandmother, a new leadership role as grade level representative and taking on a new professional learning opportunity.  Plenty of irons on the fire – usually how I like it – frazzled and busy makes my blood pump and keeps my mind invigorated. This time, frazzled and busy left me feeling scatter-brained and self conscious.  I constantly was worried that I was forgetting something.  I had to leave post it notes everywhere for myself. I was constantly feeling like I was letting my colleagues and my students down because I just couldn’t focus on one thing or the other.  I could feel the personal drifting into the professional – and sometimes the personal felt more urgent.  And yet, I was so excited for the wedding. So excited for my new professional opportunities. So excited for what the future has in store for my life.

For the wedding, I was fortunate enough to be able to take 5 days off work.  During those 5 days, my students crossed my mind maybe 3-5 times. Many people told me before I left to not think about work at all, to not worry about the kids, to enjoy my days. And friends – I did not worry about work like I thought I would.  I did not think about my kids like I thought I would.  I thoroughly enjoyed the time I took for our wedding and the first few days of married life with my husband.  THIS. ROCKED. MY. WORLD.  For the first time, my job and my students were not taking precedence. Although I still LOVE my job and LOVE my students, I felt a shift. A shift from being EVERYTHING to one of MANY important things. And I feel horribly guilty.

When I think about the future life my husband and I have planned for ourselves, I see that this shift is here to stay. As I find myself taking on the role of wife – will I still stay as late at school or will I want to rush home to put supper on the table? When we have a family – will I bring home as much from work or will I be better able to compartmentalize work emotions? Even as I am typing the questions, I know the answers. What I do not know, is how to reconcile this within myself. I do not know how to not feel guilty over this.

How do you accept a different level of best?

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Once upon a story…

“Children need to be immersed in a listening and storytelling culture where their voices are valued and heard.” – Lucy Calkins

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From the beginning of my teacher training, I have been in love with and identified with the works of Vivian Paley.  Her books line the shelves of my personal library.  Repeatedly, I turn to these books as reminders of what my kinders are capable of and the importance of teaching them the ways they are meant to learn.

This school year, I am fortunate enough to take part in a literacy cohort just for kindergarten teachers in my district.  Upon entering this professional development, my expectations were cautiously high.  We all know that sometimes PD is just not what it should be.  Fortunately – I have hit the mother load of PD.  The instructors are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and realistic.  This is a PD worth writing sub plans for!

The focus of the class is literacy – with a heavy emphasis on play. Yes, PLAY!  It is alarming how PLAY has become a nasty four letter word in our classrooms.  Before we all start asking the “How can I fit this into my day with this assessment and that assessment, etc.?” question, let me share one of the best parts of this PD.  We embrace what is natural!  Play is natural – not something extra that should be fit in to our days.  Standards are being met through play – each and every day.  I know that we all know the benefits of play.  But should you need a reminder, or documentation to prove the benefits:

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We are given time during each session to read (no homework) from several different books that are ours to keep!
We are reading:

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The most recent session, we focused on storytelling and creating thinkers in kindergarten.  We were reminded that the standards (Common Core) are not what we teach, but where our students are heading this year. Storytelling a grand vehicle to get our students where we need them to be.  We started off with an activity that asked us to created characters for a story – any characters we wanted.

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The next step was to join with a partner and create a story with both of our characters.  This was challenging – and fun.  We then shared our stories out to other partnerships.  What a fun time!  So many aspects went into the creating of the story:

  • talking about story elements
  • the relationship between the characters
  • sequence of events
  • dialogue of characters
  • addition of props depending on setting and mood

How many standards do you see addressed above?  So many!  The speaking and listening standards are obvious – but many reading standards are also addressed.  We then highlighted the standards we thought were addressed during the activity.

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Our instructors then used their characters and told their story.  After they were finished, we extended the learning by participating some word activities using language of the story.  Again, we were asked to highlight standards we thought were addressed during the extension activity.  Boom – foundational skills!

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Our children are natural storytellers – with or without props.  How many times have you chosen to stop a child from sharing a story for the “sake of instructional time”? Instead of stopping her, incorporate her story into the lesson!  Doing what feels natural and right for our children can be challenging when the expectations are increasing and we are made to feel like what is natural and right does not mesh with academics.  Arm yourself with these benefits of storytelling:

  • Students attain meaningful vocabulary
  • Students are exposed to cultural diversity
  • They play with the sound of language as they repeat rhymes and chants
  • Ability to visualize increases
  • Ownership increases – students become emotionally attached to what they are listening to, in turn producing motivation for remembering and retelling
  • Students motivation to read increases
  • As students learn to tell stories, they hone oral language skills and build self confidence
    • Oral language skills developed through storytelling lead to better reading comprehension
      (Generative Theory of Reading):
  • Children must understand the point of reading is to make sense
  • Children must become confident of their ability to make meaning
  • Children must recognize that reading can be fun

  • When these 3 things take place – comprehension takes place

 

Go forth and tell stories!

Want to incorporate technology?  Check out this post by Matt Gomez:
http://mattbgomez.com/33-great-apps-for-storytelling-and-creativity/

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