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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Another Kind of Crazy Idea....

I had an unusual experience with my school last year. I was working on a new team and they actually frowned on collaboration. If you didn't know this already, I'm a very collaborative person when it comes to teaching. There are resources that I find that I actually squeal with joy to find and want to share them immediately so other people can feel the same joy! :) I love looking at other classrooms and getting inspired. Last year I worked on an island. We did not ever. I never knew how they were teaching anything. I was actually once accused of trying to "show off" because we were asked to bring examples of projects to a staff meeting, and you know that's one I could bring ideas for. Apparently it just wasn't cool to share.

So I thought about this a lot. How could I have fixed this? Part of our evaluation is collaboration and my assessor, unfortunately, would not count blogging or Twitter or anything, it had to be on our campus. So this summer I had kind of radical idea. I am going to talk to my principal next week, but my suggestion is that we have a staff blog! People could upload pics of things going on in their classrooms and other teachers could go in and comment on those posts giving support. I think it would be fun and also informative-how cool to know what everyone else is doing in their classrooms!

We'll see how it goes over. We have a number of new teachers to our campus this year and even a handful of brand-new teachers-so hopefully it would give them an opportunity to post/read reflections about their classroom experiences.

What do you think? Am I crazy? :) Has anyone else done something like this on their campus? How did it work?

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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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Thursday, July 10, 2014

School Shopping

Am I the only one exceeding my budget already? :) I was doing really well there for a couple of months and then it's this time of year again. My mom found the cutest little seats for my library to go along with my classroom theme of The Dot. I don't know what they are made out of, but it's something I can wipe off easily and won't have to worry about lice with because it's not fabric:

When I went to Target over the weekend they were starting to put out their school supplies so I thought for sure today it would be stocked-but not yet. I need to get composition books and folders. Our school does grade level supply lists and I hate it because each teacher has different needs. One teacher may like using binders, another folders and then the list is too long and things just get cut. This year we are only asking for one bottle of soap per child-for a class of 25 kids. Do you know how long that will last us? Maybe until October!? I also have to get new tubs for the table supplies and some new plastic containers from the Container Store. Mine have lasted a while, but are starting to get a little shabby. 

I know it may seem early but we go back in a month and I have several PD's still scheduled so I'm trying to get as much out of the way as possible now with my free time. :) Besides they always run out of the good stuff pretty quickly!

Have you started shopping for your new class yet? Any good finds?

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Heterogeneous Grouping

So let me preface this by saying, it's going to be kind of a PSA. This is one of my pet peeves and I'm kind of annoyed right now.

I was at a training today because my district has decided, once again, to change our reading program. Now we're going to get everyone reading by 3rd Grade...because apparently we weren't trying hard enough before, but I digress. It's a mix of a bunch of different programs including Daily 5 and the traditional reading model. My problem with it is they want the students grouped in heterogeneous groups with students from each level represented when they go through their stations-word work, reading with a partner, etc.

I am wholeheartedly against this. Not only does it make it  much more difficult to pull homogeneous reading groups for guided reading, but the whole reasoning behind it is that there has to be a high student in each group in order to teach the rest of the students the skills. *sigh* I could literally feel my blood pressure going up as I was sitting there listening to this.

I'm not saying don't ever use heterogeneous groups-not by any means. I certainly think they have their place. I actually use them quite often when kids work on projects together or are doing a science experiment. But when you are asking kids to do workstation work, they should be working with peers at their level. The purpose is not for kids to be teaching each other! The purpose is for each student to get practice at the skills they need to practice. The argument I often hear is "well, you learn by teaching". I actually don't think that is true. My student in 1st Grade who was reading 140 words per minute, is not going to learn how to read better by helping another student with high frequency words. They need to work on other skills-like comprehension and fluency.

I work for a very, very large district district. Hundreds of teachers are going to be using these methods. And I know there are probably lots who already do it that way. But I just wanted to give you some food for thought-that maybe there's a way every child can still be challenged and still be practicing the skills they need help with.

PSA Over! Thanks for listening! :)

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