Tuesday, August 15, 2017

6 Back to School Centers with Chester

Back to School is the perfect time to create independent centers even for our earliest learners. I have included 6 ideas for back to school with Chester.
Who doesn't love the Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn? If you asked 100 kindergarten teachers what books are on their Back to School list, I'm betting 99 would include this amazing book. I have used it for years because it hits on all the great themes of the time: nervousness, separation anxiety, friendship, and love. Teachers can use the story day after day to discuss different themes. I have had students complete first day/first week art activities with hands and hearts and snack activities with sugar cookie hands and chocolate kisses. Here are 6 center ideas for Back to School with Chester.

Creating Early Independence

It is important to introduce centers early in the school year. Students need to quickly learn independence with centers that are routine and easily achievable. Early success in centers will create students eager for independence.  The first rule of centers is it doesn't go into a center until it's taught whole group. I will give ideas for whole group instruction and practice during the first week of school, so that this can become an independent center the following week. Why do you want the students to be independent in centers? Because you want to teach reading.
Back to School is the perfect time to create independent centers even for our earliest learners. I have included 6 ideas for back to school with Chester.

Letter Match

The first week of school students should be introduced to ALL the letters of the alphabet. We use a sound chart for quick connections and it becomes part of our routine. We chant the chart: a, /a/, apple, b, /b/, bear...and so on. I also love to sing ABC Rock. It's such a fun way to get them reciting the alphabet independently. As a fun way to introduce the Letter Match with Chester, pass out letters to students and ask them to find their partner. Have plenty of sound charts available for reference and teach them how to find the letter on the chart. Once they find their partner, turn in the letters and take a seat. Once all the partners have been found, start all over. It's a fun way to find the upper/lowercase matches. The letter cards are available for an independent center the next week. Provide students with the letter cards and a sound chart. It can be a group activity in the center or each student can be given a certain number of letters to order. Be careful not to overwhelm students with too many letters, if this will ultimately frustrate them. If there are 5 students in a center, give each child 5 or 6 letters in a baggie. Ask them to match and order their letters individually, then read the letters as a whole group.
Back to School is the perfect time to create independent centers even for our earliest learners. I have included 6 ideas for back to school with Chester.

Number Match

As with the routine above, numbers can be similar. The set includes numerals, sets of objects, and ten frames. Students can work in sets of three to complete the match. As a while group, you can sing the Number Rock. It's one of my favorites. As a whole group, you can build ten frames and match numerals to sets.
Back to School is the perfect time to create independent centers even for our earliest learners. I have included 6 ideas for back to school with Chester.

Letter Sound Match

This is another sound chart connection center. As you are chanting the letters and sounds, students are making connections to sound all week. Students can orally make connections with the sounds by introducing themselves to each other with alliterative sentences: "I'm Brian and I like bears." Matching letters and sounds can help students with connections for future reading decoding strategies. The set included is consonants (excluding x) and two picture cards for each letter. The sound center can have bags with 5-6 letters and matching sound cards. Students can match letters to sounds. This is easily differentiated. Students with letter/sound knowledge can be asked to write the letters and attempt writing the words associated with pictures. Students with letter or no letter/sound knowledge can be asked to write a letter and draw two the two picture representations.
Back to School is the perfect time to create independent centers even for our earliest learners. I have included 6 ideas for back to school with Chester.

Shape Match

This activity is a perfect center for first week connections to shape charts. One of the first writing activities in a kindergarten classroom is building anchor charts with colors and shapes. (If you would like to read the anchor chart post, click this link: 5 Reasons Anchor Charts are Important.) The first week of school, we write the color words interactively on 12 x 18 construction papers and we sort pictures for each color. These are anchor charts that are used all year. Students are asked to refer to the wall each time they want to write colors and shapes. Once the anchor charts are created, students can use the card sets containing shapes and two cards per shape with picture representations of the shape. Students are asked match the shapes to the shapes in space. This center is also easily adapted for the varying levels of prior knowledge in your class.
Back to School is the perfect time to create independent centers even for our earliest learners. I have included 6 ideas for back to school with Chester.

Color Match

Just as the shape anchor charts are constructed, the color charts are also constructed WITH the children. Students can use the color anchor charts to match the color cards, the object cards for each color, and the word cards. Follow-up activities can be differentiated based on student need. Some students can match the cards, some can choose a color to write and draw, and some students can write, draw, and label color words.
Back to School is the perfect time to create independent centers even for our earliest learners. I have included 6 ideas for back to school with Chester.

Word Wall Words

Students can create word wall words on the cards provided with magnet letters or letter tiles. These are not included in the set. It is important that students are not provided with words they have not been introduced to prior to the center. This center could build, as words are added to their word wall, the cards can be added to their center.

These centers can allow for early independence and success. If you would like a free sample of the color cards, click on the Sample Back to School Color Set link or the picture below.

If you are interested in the entire set of Back to School set, click the picture below.

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Back to School is the perfect time to create independent centers even for our earliest learners. I have included 6 ideas for back to school with Chester.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How to Be the Teacher Everyone Loves

6 ways to be the teacher everyone loves and everyone wants. We have to take responsibility in being our best.
Is that what we want? Deep down, whether we are willing to admit it or not, we really want people to like us.  Not just grown-up people like parents, colleagues and administrators, but little people, too. We want to imagine students getting the letter in the mail with your name on it and seeing them do a fist-pumping, "YES!" in the driveway. How can we make sure we are the teacher everyone loves? Here are several ways we can be our best selves as we start the new year.
6 ways to be the teacher everyone loves and everyone wants. We have to take responsibility in being our best.

Build a Community

"Once you are in my class, you are my student forever." I've seen this meme, or some rendition of this meme, on Facebook and I find myself nodding my head. We need to make sure our classroom is a community of learners who are there to learn and grow from one another. Building this community takes time, but it's well worth the time. At one time there was a kindergarten objective for knowing what a community was. Students learned a community is "where we live, work, and play." This is a great start for building a community. Communities also have rules, community helpers, and events. When students learn to behave like a community, they build relationships, develop trust, and help each other reach higher.
6 ways to be the teacher everyone loves and everyone wants. We have to take responsibility in being our best.

Teach Collaboration Skills

Building a community leads right into teaching students to collaborate with one another. We need to teach students how to talk, respond, and ask questions to each other. We also need to help them help each other. While working in a kindergarten class this Spring, I was asked to help create an environment for independent literacy work stations. One of the first things the class and I discussed was their responsibilities during this independent time. Before releasing the students to their centers I ask, "What do you do if you don't know what to do?" We all hold up 3 fingers: We ask a friend. We check the center board. We raise our hand." I want the students to ask a friend for help before they try other ideas. I want them to lean on each other. When they are reading to each other, students are taught to offer a "help or a hint" when their reading buddy gets "stuck" on a word. Students of all reading levels know how to suggest a fix-it strategy to give a hint or to help each other by supplying the word. Students who know how to help each other are more likely to actually help each other. When their environment is safe, they will love coming to school.
6 ways to be the teacher everyone loves and everyone wants. We have to take responsibility in being our best.

Be a Good Listener

As teachers, we tend to talk, talk, talk. We are large and in charge and we take advantage of it. BUT, teachers who create students who love learning, need to listen to our learners. We need to hear them both verbally and non verbally. We need to listen to their weekend fun and their birthday party antics. The need to hear about soccer practice or playing with a friend. We also need to listen to them non verbally. We need to know when a drooped head means they've had a bad morning, or a grumpy start might have nothing to do with us at all. Students want to be able to tell you all the bad stuff, too. They don't really want much in return: a hug, a tissue to wipe their tears, and a soothing voice. They need you to be on their side.
6 ways to be the teacher everyone loves and everyone wants. We have to take responsibility in being our best.

Be Human

Students have to know you are human. You make mistakes. You laugh. You have fun. You are silly. You are not perfect. When you make a mistake, own it. They will not hold it against you, they will love you for it. Showing them you can start over or fix a mistake with an eraser or a new paper, only makes them feel ok about their mistakes. I also like to share my life with them. I go to Wal-Mart. I go to church. I go out to eat with my family. I celebrate birthday parties and holidays. I love to read for pleasure. You certainly don't have to invite them to be with you, but knowing your life let's them want to share theirs.
6 ways to be the teacher everyone loves and everyone wants. We have to take responsibility in being our best.

Be an Active Learner

It's not ok to stop learning. I'm sorry if I offend anyone with this section, but I'm pretty passionate about making sure we know what best practices are AND we make sure we are using them. My best friend had a fourth grade teacher who was amazing. It was her favorite teacher for all of the reasons I've listed above and more. She was the teacher "the parents" wanted each year. Fast forward twenty years, and my best friend's son got this teacher for fourth grade. She was excited. But her excitement soon changed to concern when it appeared her son was bringing home the same work she had done twenty years before. The family projects were the same and the routines and teaching style was the same. We have to want to be the best and the best we were twenty years ago is not the best we can be today. I am in the twenty-ninth year of teaching and what I know about reading today is categorically different than I knew about reading twenty years ago. We have to demand more of ourselves than learning a skill and not updating our learning along the way.
6 ways to be the teacher everyone loves and everyone wants. We have to take responsibility in being our best.

Love Them 

It's the most important one of all. Regardless of your teaching style or your personality, we show our love in a variety of ways. We listen, we build, we value, we learn, we want more for them. Loving them doesn't mean we let them do what they want. Loving them doesn't mean accepting less from them than we should. We must want more from them and for them. We must not let anything get in our way. We could be the only thing between them having a life they want and being stuck in a life they don't.

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6 ways to be the teacher everyone loves and everyone wants. We have to take responsibility in being our best.




Monday, August 7, 2017

Why We Should Stop Saying "Said is Dead"

Let's think of new ways to teach "said is dead" to our students. Some students understand "dead" differently than others and we must honor that.
So, here's the thing: I had a great family and a great childhood. Things that I thought were crises, we just teen angst with girlfriends and boyfriends and school dances. I went to a great school and made good grades. I didn't really have to work for it, except in math. My friends had similar lives and from what I knew, the people I went to school with must have had the same life I had because I never knew anything different. My parents made an honest living, both as pubic servants (my dad worked for the city and my mom was a teacher assistant first, then a teacher). I grew up surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and more cousins. I went on to college, mostly paid for by my parents, and my first few years of teaching were in a middle class school with supportive parents. I transferred to a school in our district that was very different...and my world was changed forever. I used to tell my family, "I drive 12 miles to the other side of the world."

Butter Sandwich

I had a student come in to school the day after her birthday excited she had a "real Food Lion birthday cake" for her birthday. She described the icing and the cake and how exciting it had been because this was her first "real" cake. She then proceeded to tell me, "We have to eat butter sandwiches the rest of the week, but that's ok. I got a cake." When I told that story at dinner that night my sons were shocked and "butter sandwich" became a conversation starter and ender if the boys seemed to be acting spoiled. My point is: our reality isn't their reality. One isn't right or wrong. It's just different.

Why does this matter?

We all don't come with the same background. Think of these scenarios: This week alone there have been 8 murders in a neighboring town. An article in the newspaper this morning described a grandmother telling her 8-year-old granddaughter her father had been shot and killed the night before. A first grader in our school lost his mother to a brain tumor in April. A kindergarten student in a friend's class had her newborn brother pass away in the crib from SIDS. A fourth grader at a school in a neighboring district lost his grandmother and grandfather in a car crash. I could go on and on, but it's just too much. Too much to process. Too much to rationalize. Too much to understand. But, "dead" is a word that matters to these students. I understand the concept of "said is dead" and I completely agree with purpose. Let's make sure we are teaching a skill, not minimizing their experiences.

Text Gradients

Let's think about the skill and take away the "dead." Text gradients are one of my favorite things to discuss with students. I have included text gradients in my vocabulary presentation at conferences and workshops across the US. Here are a few ideas for Text Gradients that teach with purpose.
Let's think of new ways to teach "said is dead" to our students. Some students understand "dead" differently than others and we must honor that.

Anchor Charts

Using the same concept as "said is dead," using a mentor text like, "My Lucky Day" to find all of the different words for said is an easy way to post options for writing. Putting the anchor charts on a vocabulary board or up on the wall can provide students ideas for replacing "said" in their sentences. It's also fun to have them role play using another gradient of "said." They can whisper, shout, sigh, and so on.

Paint Chips

I can't help it...I love it. One way to use the paint chips is to put library pockets behind words such a "said," "big," "little," and "hot." When a student wants to use the said, they take the paint chips out of the pocket, choose a different word.

Class or Small Group Activities

Giving the students a list of gradients and asking them to order the words can make for a fun and insightful activity. You'll get to see how much the students know about the word. Opening their mind to a new word for "said" can shift their writing.

Build A Gradient Garden

Or whatever you want to name it. Why not build flowers with gradients and post the "garden" for student use. Don't want flowers? How about ice cream cones? Rainbows? Trains?

I have seen this meme more than once on Facebook with way too many posting it to give credit, but the author says it all.
This wasn't my life, but it is his and it is the reality for some or all of our students. I'm not making any judgments, just starting a conversation. When we know the students we serve and we honor their experiences, we can change a life. We can create a classroom, a learning environment, a safe place, a hollowed ground for learner. 

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Let's think of new ways to teach "said is dead" to our students. Some students understand "dead" differently than others and we must honor that.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Obsessed with Paint Chips: 6 MORE Ideas for the Classroom

Yes, I'm still obsessed with Paint Chips. Here are 6 more ideas for your classroom.
What is it about paint chips? I am just drawn to them in the store like an ant to a picnic. I have posted about paint chips on my blog before, this is the link to the original post: Obsessed with Paint Chips - part 1.  However, there is always room for more ideas. Here are 6 MORE ideas, including 2 math ideas. (See, I'm not just about reading.) I keep a stack of paint chips in my office, not knowing when I'll need a teaching tool, a colorful intervention, or a new idea for getting students excited.
Yes, I'm still obsessed with Paint Chips. Here are 6 more ideas for your classroom.
Letter Fluency Drills
I used 6 different colored paint chips and a die. I made a corresponding die (it's in the FREEBIE at the end of the post). Dollar Tree also had dry erase programmable dice at the beginning of the summer. You can use markers to draw a circle on the die. Give the paint chips and die to a pair of students and let them practice reading letter names as quickly as they can.  To add some giggles, have them read the letters down from the top, then up from the bottom.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Disrupting Effect of Round Robin

There is no research that shows the benefits of round robin reading. NONE. Actually, there is plenty of research that shows the disrupting effect of this practice. We need to take this procedure out of our classrooms.
"Back in the day" we used the Round Robin technique for reading. It seemed to be a way to make everyone participate in reading. Everyone took a turn, either in a specific order or in a random "popcorn" order. I was never sure about this process.  I had a few questions:

  1. Am I trying to "catch" someone not paying attention? That seemed so mean. "I want to catch you off guard and punish you by reading." Hmmm? That's not a message I want. 
  2. Did I want to showcase or protect my struggling readers? Do I strategically pick a short paragraph or an easy passage for those struggling readers.
I have a family member who distinctly remembers "round robin" reading and the pain of it. She was an insecure reader and she knew she would always have to read paragraph 5 based on her last name. It was anxiety before, during, and after the reading. She would practice, practice, practice rereading paragraph 5 while the other students were reading paragraphs 1-4, then she would feel panicked when she was reading the paragraph, and finally it would take her the next few paragraphs to settle herself and listen again. SOOOO...for her, she knew the information in the 5th paragraph and in last third of the text. This method did nothing to enhance her learning. In a blog post from Jen Jones at HelloLiteracy, R.I.P. Round Robin: 19 Reasons Why it is Not Best Practice, Jen gives reasons why round robin isn't a preferred method for reading. And my colleagues, Jennifer Jones (yes, there are 2 Jen Jones talking about round robin) and Katie Hilden stated in a April 2012 Reading Today article, "Sweeping Round Robin Reading Out of the Classroom," We know of no research evidence that supports the claim that RRR actually contributes to students becoming better readers, whether in terms of their fluency or comprehension."  

In fact, there is more research to support STOPPING this method than there is to support this method. The overwhelming fact is Round Robin can actually disrupt learning. Let's look at a few of the "Disrupting Effects of Round Robin."
There is no research that shows the benefits of round robin reading. NONE. Actually, there is plenty of research that shows the disrupting effect of this practice. We need to take this procedure out of our classrooms.

Disrupting Attention

Ironically, one of the most vocal reasons teachers think "round robin" or "popcorn" reading is good is because "it keeps everyone on their toes, ready to read" when, in fact, their attention is disrupted from the text and content every time the teacher calls on a new student. The moments between one student finishing, the teacher calling on another student, and that student starting to read are precious and their attention is disrupted. Students are asked to attend to text when it is read by a variety of readers with different levels of pitch, intonation, decoding skills, and fluency, all while maintaining their attention to the content of the passage. Like the person in the above example from a family friend, the reader's attention was focused on the fear of reading, not what was being read.
There is no research that shows the benefits of round robin reading. NONE. Actually, there is plenty of research that shows the disrupting effect of this practice. We need to take this procedure out of our classrooms.

Disrupting Fluency

Speaking of fluency, many articles discuss the actual disfluency presented with round robin reading. Students are asked to listen to reading from all their peers. Unfortunately, all their peers aren't at the same fluency level. Some readers are lacking speed. Some lack the appropriate pitch levels for correct emphasis. Some are poor decoders who will struggle with reading aloud. In the article, "Analyzing "Inconsistencies" in Practice: Teachers' Continued Use of Round Robin Reading" by Ash, Kuhn, & Walpole (2009), the authors refer to Allington's research in 1980 that found students were mostly presented with disfluent reading examples that can actually interrupt "development of accurate and automatic word recognition, preventing students from developing proficiency in their decoding." Ash and Kuhn also stated in the article, What's Wrong with Round Robin, "it is also the case that breaking up a text into smaller passages actually works against developing fluency; instead of building up students' reading stamina, it actually limits it."  One of the greatest benefits of listening to good reading is learning how various fluency principals can enhance reading, likewise, listening to struggled or interrupted reading can only hurt examples of fluency and, ultimately, comprehension.

Disrupting Comprehension

Using the two previous examples, disrupting attention and fluency can only lead to problems with comprehension. Let's look at a round robin scenario: we were reading a story about two friends. I don't really remember the introductions of the friends because I was so nervous about reading my paragraph. My paragraph tells me about these friends at the park. I know what they did and what they ate at the park. When I'm done reading, I take a few moments to settle my nerves and I hear all about the ride home from the park on their bikes. If I'm asked about the park visit or the bike ride, I'm good. However, there are plenty of holes in the story. Comprehension can be further disrupted by mispronunciations, decoding hesitations or struggles.
There is no research that shows the benefits of round robin reading. NONE. Actually, there is plenty of research that shows the disrupting effect of this practice. We need to take this procedure out of our classrooms.

Disrupting Engagement

When students are truly engaged in reading, they are paying attention to details, using fluent features to make connections and comprehending the concepts and plots of a story. When round robin reading is employed as a reading technique the engagement in the text is decreased. The culmination of all of the disruptions mentioned above can be directly correlated to the reader's engagement in the text. Several interruptions in reading can lead to frustration for the reader. The first way students make headway with comprehension is engagement. Students actually have less time reading when round robin reading is the structure of the lesson. Student investment in a story can equal student engagement. Reading one paragraph in a story or article cannot produce the same results of reading the entire article.

So now what?

If we are determining that round robin isn't the best choice for reading what are good choices for reading. There are many articles, chapters in books, and entire books dedicated to better choices for round robin reading.

11 Alternatives to "Round Robin" and "Popcorn" Reading is an article through edutopia. This includes Peer-Assisted Learning Strategy, Timed Repeated Readings, and Fluency-Oriented Reading Instruction (FORI). There are examples and links included in this article.

Alternatives to Round Robin Reading by Mrs. Judy Auarjo is a blog post about the same. Some similar ideas are available, but she also discusses Partner Reading, Choral Reading, and Echo Reading.

There is no research that shows the benefits of round robin reading. NONE. Actually, there is plenty of research that shows the disrupting effect of this practice. We need to take this procedure out of our classrooms.

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There is no research that shows the benefits of round robin reading. NONE. Actually, there is plenty of research that shows the disrupting effect of this practice. We need to take this procedure out of our classrooms.