Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween brain breaks

This post is coming days later than I had planned.  Work has been a little (ok, more than a little) hectic with the start up of a new intervention class and the battery of assessments we are required to administer before report card are due next week.  It seems like I have done nothing but assess this year.  Beginning of the year assessments, state assessments, and now first trimester benchmark assessments.  Of course, much of the first trimester has been spent building the classroom community and learning the rules and routines.  I'm looking forward to finishing up these assessments and really diving into content.

With all these assessments going on, I've started using brain break videos.  Our favorite so far is the gummy bear song, but last week we did the skeleton dance a few times.  My students quickly figured out that at the end of the video you can click on other songs.  When they had really great behavior last week, we did two in a row and they got to choose the second.  We settled on this really neat Spooky Halloween Song.

I like it because it shows a simple label with each image and is great for teaching Halloween vocabulary.  It's great to stumble upon a great engaging educational resource.  I don't think my students even noticed they were reading the labels as they danced along!

Do you have a favorite brain break?


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Trusting Lucy

We had our first writing celebration on Friday.  My students have worked so hard on getting their first pieces written.  Our focus was generating ideas and moving through the writing process.  I had been seeing small signs that we were reaching our goal throughout the unit.  Scribblers became letter writers.  Reluctant writers became prolific writers.  My students love writing time.  They steal time to write throughout the day and are extremely reluctant to stop writing, even when it's time to go home!  At our celebration, each author shared his/her writing and received three compliments/questions.  Each student had a moment to shine and each student learned a little something about how writing can be improved so that readers understand it.

To be honest, I didn't really know what I was doing or where the unit was leading.  I felt like I was blindly following Lucy Calkins, hoping that my students would be able to produce writing by the end of it all.  Lucy leads at a good pace, but more importantly she is encouraging.  Too often I would look over my students' writing and think of all the things they need to work on.  My focus kept coming back to conventions.  I would even make remarks to students about what they could improve.  I noticed that this caused those students to have a writing lull.  When I jumped back on board with Lucy and saw and praised all the ideas students were generating and the effort students were giving, my students responded with putting forth even more effort and producing even better writing.  I must trust that as I follow along with Lucy, the conventions will come.

A teacher down the hall had her students publish their first work this past week as well.  When I walked in to see their work, it all looked the same: one page beautifully printed with great conventions, each a picture with one sentence.  I walked back into my room at the end of the week and saw my student's work displayed.  It looked a lot less refined, but I saw each author in his/her writing.  I remembered the strides each student had made during the unit.  Booklets, one page, one word, many sentences.  My students' work varied but each piece reflected the author and showed the author's purpose.  My students will never know just how proud I am of their work.

I hope you had a great week!


Friday, October 11, 2013

Leaps of Learning

What a great week!  My youngest students are working hard on learning their letters.  My week was made when they started writing strings of letters during writing workshop this week!  They are learning that letters are what make up words and that the words hold the meaning in books.  I'm even seeing progress in their understanding of beginning sounds.  I attribute this progress to daily letter work and a few successful writing lessons.

In writing this week, we learned about different purposes for writing.  Writing lists and letters really encouraged my young students to try words (letter strings) instead of only drawings.  Desharae in Second on TpT made prep for these lessons a breeze!  Check out this amazing pack of writing papers I used:
Work on Writing:  Forms for Writer's Workshop
My letter friends also enjoyed their first picture sort.  They really loved the poem that went with the sort from Words Their Way.  I think this really encouraged their interest in words as well.
I have made leaps in learning how to stay organized.  I am using colored file folders and stackable trays.  Blue for math, yellow for reading, and red for writing.  Each tray has the papers I need for each part of the day conveniently located in a brightly colored folder.  I also have two extra trays for papers to grade and need to file/copy.  So far this system is working for me.
What are your tips/tricks for staying organized?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Community Field Trips

I'm finally feeling caught up.  I'm sure that will change soon.  (It always seems to work that way.)  Part of feeling caught up is the arrival of these new bins and new found organization!  I love the continuity the bins give and that they hide a lot of clutter.  Now that they are all labeled, I am working on teaching my students to keep them organized.
I know I'm behind on blogging.  Last week was a crazy busy week.  We had field trips on Thursday and Friday!  On Thursday we went to an urban farm.  It was fun to go on a walking field trip.  We walked about 13 blocks.  It was a long walk for my Kindergarteners, but it was great practice learning appropriate behaviors out in their community.  As we walked, we searched for letters and numbers.  These basic skills are much more fun to build in the real world.

One of my students found a dead grasshopper.  We took the grasshopper back to school to study.  A week later, my students are still talking about the grasshopper.  I've had a number of parents enquire, saying that their child said they just had to see what we found at the farm!  Our trip was a huge success!  We learned some academics, but more importantly we learned to take care of one another and respect nature.

Think that was enough for one week?  Nope!  We took a field trip on Friday too!  We had a great opportunity to meet some senior citizens in our community last Friday.  I was amazed at how my students quickly got to know their senior partner.  Although many of my students were shy at first, by the end of our 45 minute visit they did not want to leave!  The seniors really enjoyed meeting my little ones and encouraging them in their learning.
The worst part was the bus ride.  After such a successful walking trip the day before, it was frustrating that my students just would not sit still on the bus.  On the way to the senior center, we tried songs and searching for letters and numbers.  None of that was really successful or engaging for all students.  On the way back, I whipped out some picture books I had brought along.  I had enough for each pair of students to read.  They sat still and read for the whole ride!  As pairs finished reading one book, they swapped books with another pair.  What a great way to get some reading in since we were missing our reading workshop time that day!  Note for future planning: pack a bag of books for every bus trip.
I hope you had a great week!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Creating Intrinsically Motivated Students

Motivating students is something that is very challenging for me.  I was a very intrinsically motivated student.  I wanted to be at school every day and learn.  I know that is not the case for the majority of students.  At my current school the motivation methods seem to be extrinsic and material driven.  Children win cheap prizes and save up dollars they have "earned" to buy more cheap stuff in classroom "stores."  Essentially teachers are paying students to behave the way they should so that learning can take place.  Students don't develop an intrinsic desire to learn by collecting cheap toys.

I have found it is much more useful to give learning rewards.  As a way of scaffolding students into doing the correct behaviors, I provide learning oriented rewards.  Building our silent reading stamina is one area that this has been particularly successful.  We first went up minute by minute.  Students felt accomplished as the little bars slowly grew.  Then we had a particularly chatty day and our graph dropped.  One student pointed out (without any prompting), "that's embarrassing."  So we talked.  Yes, that is embarrassing, but we have proven that we can continue to improve and we can't let this one dip hold us back.  Let it be a reminder as we move forward.  Now my students were more determined than ever.  I offered them a great reward: If we make it halfway to our goal of 30 minutes, you can take turns sitting on the carpeted space for reading time.  The students just love my reading nook and it is the best reward.  They want it and it keeps them reading!

Other non material rewards include
-lunch outside or in the classroom for good lunch behavior in the cafeteria
-5 minutes to chit chat for an extended period of quiet work time
-free choice centers (legos!) for good behavior during learning centers

I am required to have a class store full of cheap toys.  So, I decided to make it into an economics lesson.  Students earn a dollar each day their classroom job is done well.  They are really doing work which should be paid.  I made them practice for a whole week before I gave them their first pay check.  They thought it was really great to be paid for the work they do.  It is not paying them for work I expect from everyone.  Each student has his/her job and that is what earns them money.  Filling in for an absent student to make sure their job is done, earns an extra dollar.  I occasionally give bonuses for extremely polite behavior, being extra thoughtful of others, and other things I notice students doing that go above and beyond to help our classroom and school run smoothly.  Students understand that they need to have generally good school behavior in order to earn these bonuses.  Students are learning responsibility and the value of hard work through their classroom jobs.  I am hoping they begin to learn to save their money too.  There are some high priced items in the store that the students really want.  Only one or two students are saving every week, but I know the other students will catch on when they see those students get a bigger item next week.

I can't say my method is perfect or that I haven't used material rewards.  Some days are just really tough and it is so easy to offer a small eraser as a prize to well behaved students to get the others in line.  But in general, I think my students are learning to be more intrinsically motivated as they reach for an educational prize rather than a cheap toy.

I do have some students for whom school behavior is an extra challenge.  For them I have implemented my Smiley Behavior Rating Scales.  They earn prizes at home for earning a smiley face (good day) at school.  Most parents opt for material rewards such as candy, but going to the park can be just as great a reward.  I must say that the external incentive is working very well for those students.  They are also learning the satisfaction of having a great day.  In just four weeks I have seen two students turn around their behavior and are no longer being considered for special ed!

How do you motivate students?   I am constantly learning and changing.  I would love to hear what has worked for you.