Tag Archives: personalized learning

All Work and No Play (pull out your soapbox)


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.


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.


How do you incorporate play into your day?


Referenced articles:






Filed under Lower Grades, Uncategorized, Upper Grades

Literacy – it’s APPtastic!

Let’s say you’re a parent, or a teacher, or a tutor, and you find yourself in possession of an iPad, or 5, or 10, or 25… How can you use the device as a learning tool rather than a technologically savvy, highly entertaining babysitter?

I have been spending the last eighteen months answering this question. My school is an Apple Distinguished School – we are considered a model for other schools in the country (and world) for our 1:1 iPad use in the classroom.  Coming in to this technologically rich environment has been a blessing – albeit intimidating.  Luckily, I have my rock start mentor and an ever-growing PLN on twitter to guide my way. It probably took until Christmas last school year for me to adjust to and feel confident enough in my own skills/management of the devices to venture out and try projects. I jumped right in, with both feet, but it took some time to get comfortable and swim in the deep end of app-smashing, creation, and personalized learning.

Here is a list of my class’ favorite apps and how we use them:


Endless Alphabet teaches students letter sounds, spelling, and vocabulary within context.  They are able to learn new words in a fun way – with precious little monsters – and then transfer them to conversation or writing.  We were fortunate enough to catch this app when it was free.  Cost:  $5.99


Our district uses the Houghton Mifflin reading series Journeys.  With our adoption, we purchased access codes for the leveled readers.  The app itself is free and downloads a sampling of readers from levels A – Z.  We use the app during the reading center or Read to Self time.  The students like having voice and choice when choosing leveled books.  With the kindergarten access code, we receive books leveled A-F.  If a book is too difficult, there is a read to me option.  Students are able to hear fluently read text, reread a text from guided reading groups, or explore new books on their independent level.  Cost:  Free, but need access code


Grandpa’s Workshop was another great free find.  This app combines math with real world experiences in a woodworking shop.  I was actually quite surprised by the different skills combined within this app – beginning fractions (with guidance), counting, comparing/contrasting, and measuring.  Grandpa is encouraging and entertaining – he dances and students can give him a high five for a job well done.  Interspersed throughout are videos of real world projects where students learn about building projects and what is needed.  The carry over of knowledge from this app is great.  Many students write about Grandpa’s Workshop and use what they have learned in small group math lessons.  Cost:$1.99


There are several different magnetic letter apps available ranging from free to $8.99.  The differences in prices have to do more so with added shapes/stencils/backgrounds than with actual content.  Don’t get me wrong, the shapes, etc. are fun for creativity – but our main use for this app is word work activities.  In the beginning of the year, the students use this app to practice spelling their names, recognizing letters or numbers, and also letter sounds.  We use the app in small groups at least once a week.  As we move forward with our sight words, we use the app to practice spelling those as well.  Students can take a screen shot of what they have done and save it to their camera roll for later use.  Cost:  Free (for a lite version)


When our iPads were taken and wiped clean by the district, we knew that we absolutely had to have this app on our list of the first apps to be reloaded.  With Montessori Crosswords, students learn that words are made up of sounds and practice dragging sounds into boxes.  They then move on to spelling words with long vowels or blends.  As the difficulty increases, the students solve actual crosswords within the app.  To personalize for students, the settings can be adapted to particular sound categories for students to work on.  Cost:  $2.99


As with Montessori Crosswords, you get a lot of bang for your buck with Montessori Numbers.  Students can begin with basic number sense skills such as recognition and tracing.  As levels increase, the skills become more difficult ranging from algebraic reasoning to place value.  Students are able to customize difficulty for themselves, or it can be adjusted by the teacher.  Many students in my class are adept at increasing their own difficulty and challenging themselves – which is wonderful!  Cost: $2.99


I like Books combines 37 different emergent reader texts into one app.  You can download some of the individual books for free, but with this app they are kept all in one place.  Although the text is emergent, the content connects to the real world.  Students/parents/teachers can record the story in their own voice and then listen to it.  Each book is interactive – and you have the ability to customize the interactive features.    Images are professionally taken photographs – reinforcing a text feature of nonfiction books.  These books are wonderful for ESL learners as the text can be altered and recorded in any language.  Cost:$1.99 (for 37 books)


Number Pieces Basic is an app we are just now beginning to use regularly.  Students are able to manipulate numbers using base ten blocks.  They can write on the screen, break numbers apart, and solve number equations with multidigit numbers.  Screen shots can be taken to save work of a student.  The app is great to use for a quick assessment of place value.  Cost: Free


Pocket Charts Pro combines both reading/phonics and math skills.  The app has 20 different pocket charts to choose from.  Skills range from letter recognition to rhyming words, number recognition to adding/subtracting.  The app is wonderful for self guided practice.  I introduce the app in small groups and then they are free to choose which activity when in the app.  Cost:  $4.99


Phonics awareness provides a platform for students to practice working with words.  They can segment or blend words as well as practice syllables.  This app has a first grade edition as well.  A voice prompt guides the students through each activity.  Many students enjoy separating the bugs and chopping them apart!  There is also a carry over to small groups with the app, remediation or acceleration of skills.  Cost:  Free

These are some of our favorite apps for small groups and independent practice.  Check back again soon for a post all about our favorite creation apps!  Literacy — it’s APPtastic!

To keep up with free apps of the day, follow Technology in Education or My Hullabaloo on Facebook and Pinterest

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Filed under iPads, Literacy, math literacy, Technology

I Dare to be Brave


I’ve been doing a lot of reading the past few days.  Reading is good – I love it – I model loving it in my classroom.  My life would not be the same without reading. Why do I love it so much? Aside from the entertainment aspect?  Reading causes you to think. Reading causes you to consider something from another stand point.  Reading can strengthen your beliefs – or cause a “come to Jesus” moment with them.

As I am preparing to start a new school year, I am reflecting on last year.  What would I like to do the same?  What would I like to change?  I’ve made some organizational and arrangement changes already to create a more open, collaborative working environment for my students.  And I’m having my own “come to Jesus” moments about homework and behavior management (Bye bye stop light system).  The two links below are still reeling in my brain.

“Behavior Management”: not systems, but relationships

Be Brave: The Only Rule in My Kindergarten Class

I’ve blogged before about my journey into Personalized Learning in my classroom.  Now more than ever – I’m seeking value in everything I do in my classroom.  I want to continue creating a strong community of learners and thinkers.  One aspect of Personalized Learning is a Code of Cooperation.  The class works together to create expectations – not rules – for the year.  Being the book worm I am – I’m compiling a list of read alouds to help in our process.  I hope to read different books throughout our first week together, discuss the books, and then create our code.


Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes is, and always will be, a first day of school read aloud – no matter what grade I teach.  It allows for discussions of friendship, self esteem, and courage.


The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill is second on the “must read” list for every year.  Students love the rhythm of the words – and gives a jump off point for talking about bullies, equity, and friendship.

The following are options for discussing fairness in the classroom and the idea that fair does not always mean the same.


Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Kahn (link to read online!)


Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats


When Sophie Gets Angry – Really Really Angry… by Molly Bang


One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogrian

To tie in empathy, I turn back to Kevin Henkes (love him!)



And for safety, I like to have Gloria’s help


Officer Buckle and Gloria

My #kinderchat tweeps have been discussing #brave as our theme for this year.  Do you dare?


Filed under Literacy, Read Alouds

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.


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.


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:

choice checklist


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

20130506-183105.jpgand days like this

20130506-183056.jpgFind some inspiration – from a colleague, Pinterest, or just taking Amazon’s recommendation.

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Filed under Lower Grades

Springing forward! Snippets of Inspiration

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” ~ Harriet Tubman

As I’m enjoying my coffee on my last day of Spring Break, I’m finally in a place to put all of the ideas down into this blog. I don’t think it is uncommon for teachers to continue “working” on their breaks – I even count all those pins I’ve put on my classroom antics Pinterest board. The point is – – – I’m still looking for inspiration, everywhere. And although it has been nice to spend time with family and relax just a smidge, I’m ready to go back to my classroom tomorrow. I’m ready to see my kids. I’m ready to hear all of their stories and see the excitement in their faces as they go on and on (and on). 😀

I’m ready to finish this year with a bang!

I’ve compiled a list of what is inspiring me right now – what I’m reading, who I am blog/Pinterest stalking, and what is just generally making me want to do more.

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Common Core Unloaded is a great blog that I’m getting idea for my literacy block from. The author asks you to think outside the boxes that education and policy place on us – and listen to your students. It goes hand in hand with my personalized learning obsession and the next two people I follow…

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 9.53.40 PM

I found Kathleen McClaskey researching Personalized Learning one day. She does a lot of blogging and sharing ideas on scoopit. com. And then I found her on Pinterest! I repin just about EVERYTHING she pins. She is innovative with ideas and is helping me bring EdTech in my own classroom to another level.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 9.54.33 PM

Lisa Welch and Wanda Richardson are my heroes right now! I gush about them constantly to coworkers — wishing we could knock down some walls and combine. My mentor, Kristi Meeuwse, and I share kids frequently to try and get the same benefits they do in their Learning Garden (which is multi-age and multi-level). Their BUDS acronym really resonated with me over this break. I would give anything to be able to hear them speak and visit their classroom.


Last, but certainly not least in my book – my nieces are inspiring me. I spent the better half of my Spring Break with my sister and her children. We welcomed a new baby into the family just before Easter. Staying with my sister and seeing the excitement in the big sisters faces (Ruby and Libby, 3 and Olivia 6) was an energizer. Olivia is in first grade and she is exploring animals in her classroom. She is able to choose which animal to research but has guiding questions for her research. She has access to technology – but not in the way my students are fortunate enough to. With my teacher iPad, I introduced her to Book Creator. Her eyes lit up and she began creating. In the span of under an hour – she created her own book.

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The twins inspired me with the use of the Mr. Potato Head app. What started as showing an app they could manipulate on their own became an idea for free writing in my classroom. Inside the app, you choose the potato head to create and then you can place him/her in a scene. To me – this equals writing inspiration and illustrations for student created books.


I am thankful for these inspirations – they keep me focused and determined to make some changes and make a difference.

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Filed under Literacy, Technology