Category Archives: Lower Grades

Kindergarten and the Writing Process

“Writing might be magical, but it’s not magic. It’s a process, a rational series of decisions and steps that every writer makes and takes, no matter what the length, the deadline, even the genre.” – Donald Murray

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Say what you will about Lucy Calkins – especially since her mass marketed writing program has been released.  I hold firm to her (and my) foundational beliefs about the writing process.  All children can be writers. We meet writers where they are, capture them with great literature, and inspire them to find the writer within.

The not fun part is when the writing process gets “put upon” students.  It is presented as a series of “must do” steps just to feel that a piece is complete. It can be daunting and disheartening, especially to our youngest writers.

So how do we present these steps to our emerging readers and writers?  I prefer to model the different phases of the process.  You will not see a step by step guide to the process in my classroom.  There is not a poster of the process as a cycle (which is my preference – a piece of writing can always be returned to if the writer chooses).  I teach five and six year olds and the walls of our classroom are filled with anchor charts they have created. You may see a check list of things to remember.  You may see rubric of what our “best work” should look like.  But you will not see “THE WRITING PROCESS” laid out on our walls.

Throughout the year, we build on our writing.  We begin with labeling, progress to simple sentences, and finally (hopefully) we write multiple sentences with details.  We emphasize adding details – both to our drawings and our writing.  We use graphic organizers (brainstorming), 4 squares (rough drafts), iPad apps and paper (publishing).  We read our writing out loud – to a friend, to a teacher, to ourselves.  We check our sight words with the word wall.  We ask each other questions (editing/revising).

The last two weeks, we have been exploring the ocean and all it offers.  My students this year are very interested in animals and habitats.  We started a project this week that allows us to put two of our favorite things together – research and the iPad.  Using the “plan” below, students began researching an ocean animal of their choice.

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Students used library books, Pebble Go, Brainpop Jr, and other sources (each other) for research.  I modeled adding information to the plan after reading or listening to research.  We learn early on that copying every word from a book or the computer is a big NO NO.  We learn that we must use words from our own heads, not another author’s words.  If we write it, we need to be able to read it!  Not to mention that whole plagiarism thing!

Once the plan was complete, they showed a teacher what they had.  We had conferences about how to use the information in the best way. They could choose an app to make their project or actual paper.  Many students chose to create a paper book about their animal.  Either way, what they produced what meaningful to them – and they learned about the writing process along the way.

Here are some examples, still works in progress:

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This student opted to leave his planning page in his book.  He thought it would make a great table of contents!

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These are writings that I know the students will return to again and again as they learn more.  They have asked to not take them home yet – just in case! Wonderful authors in the making!

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Filed under iPads, Literacy, Lower Grades, Reading Workshop, Science, Technology, Writing Workshop

“Spacing” Out With Blokify

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Spatial thinking is often an intelligence (literacy) we neglect to address in our schools. It is one of those things we consider ourselves to just not be so great at – “I’m not that great with depth perception” (guilty) or “Geometry and measurement has never really been my strong suit”.

This week, after reading a post by a mentor of mine, I suggested to a colleague we download the app Blokify for our student iPads. It is addicting to the children, especially if they have played Minecraft before, and it is addicting in a good way. The level of engagement is outstanding.

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Blokify offers two modes for users to create 3D images. Images can be built according to a pattern, or using free play. Hints are given for the pattern, telling the user where to place blocks and of which type. The less hints used, the more diamonds one can earn. The diamonds can be used to “buy” additional types of blocks or worlds to create with. All in one app, my students are building, creating, collaborating, visualizing, and problem solving. It requires a level of spatial reasoning that can be difficult for our kindergarten minds at first – as this is a developing intelligence. Together, students and teachers, we are learning through trial and error and perseverance to become more skilled.

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Today, we shared a Skype session with another kindergarten class with the creator of the app. Jen was incredibly helpful and patient with our questions, answering each one. We learned about improvements that are upcoming for the app (as it is very new) and how images created in the app can be produced with a 3D printer. In our classroom, we know to ask 3 friends before coming to the teacher. Each person is an expert at something. It was amazing to be able to communicate with the ultimate expert of Blokify and ask for more information.

What does building with 3D blocks have to do with good ole “traditional” literacy – the reading and writing of it all? Well, more than you may think. Increasing spatial intelligence can have an impact on reading and reasoning skills.

In my own research this week, I discovered a plethora of knowledge regarding spatial intelligence and children. On the parentingscience website, Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. writes about the importance of spatial intelligence and improving these skills within children. Evidence from studies suggests that simple practice with spatial activities heightens one’s abilities in later spatial tasks. This training also closes gender gaps that are often seen between men and women performing the same spatial exercise. Students who have a foundational knowledge of spatial vocabulary perform even better. Familiarity with shape and position words increases understanding of spatial relationships, which then in turn increases a student’s ability to visualize, manipulate, and problem solve efficiently. In a 2011 study, students who heard more spatial vocabulary, used more spatial vocabulary and scored higher on tests. We all know how a child’s working vocabulary directly impacts reading ability and in turn writing ability. My personal belief regarding this research is that the skills students build upon – problem solving, visualizing, and perseverance – have the greatest impact. Our struggling readers and writers often give up at the first hint of a challenge. By cultivating confidence, we can help all students succeed.

So if you are looking for a way to address multiple intelligences, increase engagement, collaboration and problem solving; I highly recommend Blokify. It is a free app available in the iTunes App Store.

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Filed under iPads, Literacy, Lower Grades, Technology, Upper Grades

All Work and No Play (pull out your soapbox)

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An article featured by the Washington Post has been making its way through social media lately.  The article, “A Very Scary Headlines about Kindergartners”, can be found here.

What this article, and the several (listed later) it references, brings attention to is the effect Common Core and academics has had on kindergarten in recent years.  This is my second year teaching kindergarten.  I am teaching skills and strategies that I remember from my first grade lesson plans five years ago.  Expectations are high.  While that can be a good thing – students always surprise you with their capabilities.  The negative side to high expectations is that five and six year olds begin experiencing the “stress” of school from the very beginning, possibly fostering a dislike for school and altering their academic careers.

I love what I do – absolutely, positively.  But, let’s be honest – teaching kindergarten is a HUGE responsibility.  More often than not, my classroom is the first experience children have with the public school system.  My classroom is their first chance to “do school”.  Many come from day care programs, but they are not the same.  Their little brains become overwhelmed with routines and socialization – and then we throw academics on top of that.  I sincerely believe that kindergarten in my classroom can factor in to how a child feels about school.  I take that to heart.  I want my students to LOVE school!  I want them to feel successful and confident and proud.

After some days, I wonder if every child left feeling that way.  Fountas and Pinnell have had to change their reading level chart.  What was once considered on or above level at the end of kindergarten (level B) is now considered below level after the second nine weeks.  To be on grade level at the end of kindergarten, Fountas and Pinnell (and my school system) say that students should be reading at level D.  You and I both know that some kiddos just aren’t ready to read in November, December, or January.  They may jump on the reading train in March and as a teacher, you’re ecstatic.  And as students, they are ecstatic because they can finally read all by themselves!  But some of that joy gets stolen when at the end of the year, all of their hard work still doesn’t seem good enough.  They end the year at level B and you’re worried they will struggle in first grade.  Common core says teach them how to decompose numbers into tens and ones.  Well, Sarah can only count to ten with confidence.  How will she feel after a day of working with numbers larger than ten in a complex way?  High expectations are not all bad, but what gets pushed to the wayside is the developmental appropriateness of standards.

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The designers and writers of assessments and standards do not seem to take into account the age of the child – and where he or she is at developmentally – when putting forth requirements.  One of the first classes of my teaching program was on child development.  Obviously, this stuff is important!  For example, five and six year olds are very egocentric still.  Everything is about them, their families, their lives.  The entire world is their world.  Anything outside of their bubble is foreign.  So if Piaget and others taught me this in undergrad, why am I being asked to expect my students to understand the concepts of states, countries, and continents at ages five, six, and seven?  Do I love to teach about these concepts?  Do we love exploring about other places?  Of course!  The difficulty lies in ASSESSING these developmentally inappropriate skills.  I could go on and on about this – but I’d rather focus on play.

Play is losing its place in our kindergarten classrooms.  We all try to play.  We play to learn.  My students have voice and choice in the classroom and learn through a variety of ways.  We go off on tangents to answer questions.  We play hands on games, explore, ask questions, research, build, create, use iPad apps, write, color, stamp, cut, sort, and experiment.  Currently, I’m making a conscious effort to provide more opportunities to play for play. 

We play at recess, yes.  In the past couple weeks, I’ve hung up my “whistle” and loosened the reins a little.  Unfortunately, I have been worried about injuries on the playground and have come to realize I was making recess less fun – for me and the students.  “Make safe choices” is our new philosophy on the playground.  So if a student is running up the slide or throwing sticks – he might get hurt.  If he gets hurt, then we will have a discussion about the safety of his choices.  My reflections on recess and play led me to see that recess was not always a break from the classroom if I had to continue redirecting behaviors on the playground.  Tattling has decreased and students are getting more energy out.

We are also fortunate enough to still have “nonacademic” centers in our classroom.  Students are able to invent and pretend in the home living, block/cars, and art centers.  The kitchen is a kitchen, a barber shop, a store, a house, an animal shelter.  Students are moms, dads, babies, and pets.  Blocks become airplanes, rocket ships, bridges, ships, and roads.  Construction paper transforms into robots, hats, gifts, and decorations for our room.  The noise level during choice time is louder than other times in our classroom.  This is an adjustment and also a fine line.  Our class if filled with friends who take a mile when you give them an inch.  We talk about procedures and what being at a center looks like and sounds like.  We sit in time out when we can’t respect the space of others.  We make messes – and then learn we need to clean them up.

Through play, for the sake of playing, we take care of our emotional selves.  We develop life long skills that will make us happy human beings, successful human beings.  We form friendships and develop talents.  We find out our likes and dislikes, our strengths and some of our weaknesses.

We gain so much – and none of it can be assessed.

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How do you incorporate play into your day?

 

Referenced articles:

http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/01/kindergarten_test_results_a_so.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/01/the-trouble-with-calls-for-universal-high-quality-pre-k/

http://curry.virginia.edu/uploads/resourceLibrary/20_Bassok_Is_Kindergarten_The_New_First_Grade.pdf

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Filed under Lower Grades, Uncategorized, Upper Grades

It’s All Good

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In Kindergarten, we organize our weeks around various skills, strategies, and themes.  Included in these themes are several author studies.  Last week, we immersed ourselves in the world of Eric Litwin and Pete the Cat.

Being the book worm that I am, I love a series of books that easily lends itself to integrated studies.  Through Pete, we explored all of our literacies and addressed common core standards while we were at it.  If you aren’t familiar with Pete, you are missing out on one groovy cat.  With his gaining popularity, more books are being released, but we focused on the first three in the series last week.

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As far as read alouds go, the series is pretty much perfect.  They all have a rhythm (and songs!), a positive message, the opportunity for audience participation, and humor.

We started out the week by listening to the stories as I read them aloud.  The students started reading/singing along right away.  We then explored the Harper Collins website and watched animated versions of the stories.  Anytime we needed a quick time filler – I would hear “let’s do Pete the Cat!”  It amazing to find stories that the children truly love and remain engaged in no matter how many times they read/hear them.  Each time we read, a student would point out something new or make a comparison.  We were truly thinking on higher levels – all within the first few weeks of school.

Pete continued into center time where students honed scientific literacy by categorizing and sorting various tins of buttons throughout the week.  Students used magnifying lenses, sorting buckets, plates, and charts to place buttons into various piles.  The discussion regarding which pile specific buttons would go into were telling.  Students worked on inquiry and social skills by working together and reasoning through their thinking.

In Math, we played “Roll and Record” with Pete and also practiced our counting with dot to dot.  Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons introduces early subtraction skills.  We discussed counting backward, what is one more, and what is one less.

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Writing time gave us several opportunities to challenge ourselves this early in the year.  What I found was that the students worked harder because they were to engaged and motivated by Pete.  Our first writing was on Tuesday after several readings of Pete the Cat Loves His White Shoes.  Students chose a color and filled in the color word.

 

As a wrap up of the week, we created an anchor chart all about Pete and what we learned from him.

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This chart was used for our 4 square writing all about Pete.  We did this in small groups.  Students copied words or created their own and illustrated.

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There are so many other great ideas for Pete the Cat – many we didn’t get to.

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http://www.makinglearningfun.com/themepages/PetetheCat.htm

What I loved the most, was the willingness for all of my students to try, challenge themselves, and keep singing their songs.  Just like Pete.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Literacy, Lower Grades, Mentor Text, Read Alouds, Writing Workshop

Rime and Reason

I finished the standardized assessment for kindergarten today and I am ecstatic!  While it was great to get to know another teacher’s students, I’m glad to be back with my own kids and our normal schedule. Before administering this assessment, we were given training by our assistant principle.  There are multiple sections to this assessment and a couple of them left us guessing… What is the point of this section?  What is it really assessing?  The conclusion was reached that we just needed to stop questioning it – and do it.  This assessment is a requirement of the county, we have to administer it – not pick it apart.  Honestly, that was very hard for me.  The last school district I was in we focused a lot on data and making sure we were appropriately assessing our students.  Yes, we gave standardized assessments such as benchmarks and state tests – but every other assessment was so carefully thought out.  Now, I think of every assessment in this way.  Which is the way I should? Right? Let me get to the point of this post – reviewing the book I posted a couple weeks ago in Straddling the Line. 51To7VhjTrL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX225_SY300_CR,0,0,225,300_SH20_OU01_ I think it’s safe to say I’m in love with the possibilities this book presents.  The author, Sharon Zinke, outlines lessons  (not just for kindergarten) that can be used to quickly work on decoding so a teacher can focus the most of reading instruction on constructing meaning.  The book  comes with a DVD that has printables to make any flash cards you may need and videos of the lessons being taught.  To me – the DVD makes it worth 14.99 (which isn’t bad to start).  I am a visual learner.  I like to see how it is done, then tweak it for my own purpose. Zinkes makes so many valid points (and affirming some of my own beliefs) – I can’t possibly list them all here with out copyright issues.

My wordle: http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/6714176/Decoding_Solution

Here are some key points:

  • Reading fluency isn’t about speed, but rather about appropriate rate.
  • Even some fluently reading adults have trouble segmenting words into their individual phonemes (and I just assessed K students on this).
  • Our brains love patterns!  This is why we teach word families, onset,  and rime.  It is intuitive.  Our brain functions as a pattern detector, and we find it much easier to detect patterns than to apply rules (Goswami & Bryant).
  • Reading is all about constructing meaning.  Letters and sounds should be presented in context.  When students realize much more of the story can be found in the words and outside of the pictures, they learn much more about the grapho-phonemic cueing system.
  • Immersion rather than mastery is the goal (with the Rime Magic sequence).

I plan on trying some of the techniques with a group of emerging readers before the year is over and during the summer with an individual student.  So I’m going to hold on to my reading star and press forward! star

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Straddling the line

It is always about this time of the year that I’m trying to remain in one world – the world of today, these last 20 days of school, with these students.

But – my mind always wanders to NEXT year… How can I do things better next year?  Change this arrangement?  Amp up this lesson?  Remember to do this!

I’ve agreed to tutor 2 students over the summer – so I’m also in that planning mode.  Pinterest has become my best friend.  It is always nice to find new ways of reviewing and remediation of the same subject matter.  I even created a separate board for tutoring.

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I’ve also started doing some research for how to better help my struggling readers.  All of my teacher friends know that sometimes – no matter how many tricks we have up our sleeve – we can feel at a loss trying to reach a child where he or she is.  I’ve seen so much growth with my kids this year, and being intrinsically competitive,  I’d like to have more tricks (more growth) for next year.  So I bumped up my latest amazon order to free shipping with this book – I’ll let you know how it is.

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We have moved into survival mode in my classroom and we are trying new things to keep us engaged and following classroom procedures.  We recently starting creating our own daily schedules.  She saw it in another teacher’s classroom and it is great to make this progress with personalized learning.
Check out my mentor’s blog about this:

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http://iteachwithipads.net/2013/05/02/a-matter-of-choice/

I’m so glad we started it!  The students have so much ownership in their schedule and their work.  The students are practicing being first graders by working more independently, and having only one teacher available to help,  while I pull small groups to help or assess for the end of the year.

So if you’re like me -straddling the line between this year and next…
Between days like this

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Filed under Lower Grades

Little Engines

I’ve been listening to my little ones read out loud for a week straight now so we can complete running records. I can probably regurgitate every word of some of the leveled texts. What I have loved most is hearing and witnessing all the growth of my readers! I wish I could take all of the credit – but luckily I have an amazing assistant, supportive parents, and amazing apps on the iPad to help me scaffold my guided reading instruction.

The saying of the Little Engine that Could kept popping up in my mind today while listening to them read. “I think I can! I think I can!” Many of my students are taking risks and pushing themselves because they think they can. Their intrinsic motivation is really paying off! With the leveled readers we have on the iPads, they can explore texts above their level by having it read to them. By listening repeatedly to the same story, they can become more fluent readers and then try these texts on their own.

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Our reading series offers an app with the leveled readers loaded on to them. Students can explore all of the kindergarten level texts. There are also a few higher level texts we have access to because they were samples. Using choice, they are able to select books for their own bookshelf – and again listen to books as a preview before reading. They love going to the library to select what interests them.

Using their voice, they are able to tell me when they feel ready to read a text aloud to me. They feel in charge and this has made a great difference! I use all of these observations to impact my guided reading groups and lessons.

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More and more I am seeing how voice and choice empower even the youngest learners. We think we can! We know we can!

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