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!

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 soemthing 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.

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!

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Monday, July 28, 2014

What I'll Miss From Summer Vacation

Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those countdown to vacation kind of teachers. And yes, summer is just about over for me. I have 2 more days of training this week and will go in and start working on my room next week. After that we have two weeks of pre-service activities before the kiddos come.

This summer was awesome for me because as I've posted before, this is the first summer EVER that I decided not to teach summer school. I was just tired. I worried that I would be bored with so much free time on my hands....but, in reality not so much. :)

So as much as I am excited to go back and meet my new students, there are some things I will miss:

1) My daily Vitamin D fix. My dog Ruby and I sit outside in the mornings and the afternoons. She does her favorite thing in the world-which is lie in the grass and watch the world go by and I usually read and listen the birds. Is that the life or what?!

2) Netflix movies. I get so far behind during the school year it doesn't even seem economical to still subscribe. Some movies I watched this summer that I loved:

Not usually a fan of time travel, but this movie was just soooo sweet! Makes you want to enjoy every moment of life.

Predictable and a little hokey, but I still really enjoyed it.

A Wes Anderson movie, so you know it will be strange. I can see how some people wouldn't get it. But I loved the main character-Ralph Fiennes is usually so serious!

This was a love it or hate it movie. I believe it was thought-provoking and a statement on how reliant we've become on technology. The main character works at a website that produces handwritten notes for people who order them for pete's sake.

Another sweet one!

3) Reading books! I've kind of hit a wall in that area. I've read about 15 this summer-mostly fiction, a couple of professional boos and a few chapter books for the kids like Harry Potter. Right now I'm reading--

4) Having more time to cook. I try to eat healthy and limit processed foods. I can do that so much better over the summer. It starts to wane as the week goes on during the school year. Some days I just feel like it's more convenient to grab something canned or frozen.

5) Not having to eat lunch at 11:00! One of the downfalls of teaching Kindergarten, we eat soooo early! By the time I get home at night I'm starving. During the summer I can space things out so much better.

What I Will Not Miss From Summer Vacation

Never knowing what day it is! I literally have to check my phone some days to see what day of the week it is. I went to training on Monday and Tuesday last week, woke up the next day thinking it was Saturday! I'm a mess! :)

Even if you don't go back quite yet....what will you miss?

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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! :)

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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! :)

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