Saturday, January 5, 2013

Crazy notions... and a few bad pictures ;)

Ever since I attended the kindergarten conference, I've had crazy ideas. Ideas that I should be doing things differently in my classroom. No so much my teaching, although that is inspired as well, but more in the set up and procedures. So before the break I decided to get rid of all the extra tables in my room. I had my kids really spread out- you know to cut down on all the talking. I think it didn't work well for me. Yes other kinder teachers in my building did it that way and it might be working too. I started to feel cramped and we really weren't using all the tables. Out they went and I talked to my kids about a project that we will be doing this spring. I want to find out if my kids learn better if they can choose where they are going to complete a project or if we really have room to spread out. So we talked about how teachers do action research projects (the big grown up name for "I have a question and I am going to work on finding the answer") My kids got all excited... one even asked if it was like being a scientist. Why yes my little it is! ;)

I spent the last few days of my break working in my room. I moved things around and I bought carpet squares (don't have a picture of them yet). I think I am most excited about those because we will all have a personal square and be able to spread out to do projects on the floor. And cleaning my room just got easier, too!! Just a broom and I can sweep up all the little pieces on the floor. I can't wait to get started!


Here is the view from my door. 

 
This is the carpet square area. I have our new calendar pieces up. And the houses at the top are our word family houses.



Here is a close up of the calendar area... and the word family houses.




This is the view of the hall. I changed out the owls and put up a banner. SO much better than what was there!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Book Study wk 1: Just what is all this differentation all about anyway?

Not to intentionally date me, but I started teaching in the mid 90's. Back then school was VERY different! I am not sure I can truly explain how different I feel that teaching is today but it boils down to this- at times I feel like the hamster in a wheel running and running and getting no where. So when my district walks in and asked "how are you differentiating instruction to meet the needs of your students?" I want to scream! (Ever felt that way?)

This December I was able to attend the Arkansas Kindergarten conference. It was an amazing two days! Cindy Middendorf was our key note speaker the first morning and she really inspired me to get off the wheel. That first morning she talked about teaching in terms of a trip to Oz, with all the characters in toe. She talked about how we meet the needs of those on the trip with us. I honestly wanted to hear more about how I was to make my room like that trip to Oz. IF you have never been to a kindergarten conference or been to any workshops other than what your district offers, I would recommend that you find one near you. It is SO worth it! Ok getting back on track...

While at the conference I picked up Cindy's book Differentiating Institution in Kindergarten. This post will be centered on chapter one: What is Differentiated Instruction mean in Kindergarten? Cindy says "Differentiated instruction is a philosophy, a way of thinking and structuring our classrooms that puts children first." When I read this I thought, I do that... I try to met every child where they are and I'm spinning but as I kept reading I found that Cindy addressed this by saying that most kindergarten teachers naturally do this. We create environments where children bloom and grow.

Then I read this an d it really hit home... Differentiated instruction is more than just having different students involved in different activities. It means that the teacher is consciously tried to engage children in learning and reinforcing skills through an array of methods while addressing curriculum standards. Differentiated instruction means that one instructional goal or objective can be attained using different strategies, different contents, and/or different finished products for different children. Ok WOW... does this ring a bell... well a light bulb when on for me- learning modalities!

Have you spent much time thinking about learning modalities? It's ok if you haven't. But think on this for just one minute... visual learners learn differently from auditory learners. Really let it sink in.... so on a normal day, aren't you already addressing the different types of learners through songs, poems with motions, art projects tied to writing projects. So it hits me that differentiation is really addressing the different learning styles. Can it really be that simple? I think so. We want our children to master a set of skills, right? And we know that different activities appear easy to some children while other children are not as successful. I am seeing where learning style would be the reason that one activity is easy for this child but another activity on the same skill is more difficult. The learning style is the road that the information travels. When a child masters a skill, I believe that the learning style has a lot to do with that mastery and how quickly the children reach mastery.

Another point that Cindy makes is this... when we start differentiating instruction we start looking at long term goals. We begin to free our selves from the idea of "how do I fit it all in" to thinking "where do I want my children at the end of this week, this month, this unit. The freedom that this brings is what energizes teachers and makes teaching fun again. WOW... making every day of teaching a fun day. A day where I feel that everything is done but all children have been given the chance to master materal.

I have to say at this point, just one chapter in, I am very excited about the light bulb that went off when I was reading about the learning styles. I am wondering how identifying the learning styles in my plans might show me where I am missing opportunities to reach all my kids. Cindy mentioned multiple intelligences, honestly I don't know much about these and am eager to read how knowing this about my students will help their mastery.

I hope that you will join me next week as I look at chapters 2 and 3. These chapters deal with the modalities and intelligences.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Resolutions, looking back, and paying it forward

Tonight I sit here thinking about how far my life has come in one year. I am amazed and blown away! Last year I spent New Year's day crying and debating if teaching was the right thing for me. I had fought the hardest battle of my professional career. I had my professional judgement questioned, had teachers in my building turn their backs on me, and I meet with the deputy superintendent (our district is HUGE by the way). I had been fighting to have a child placed into a learning environment where she could be successful. At every turn, the person who could have made my life easier stabbed me in the back. (Or at the very least opposed me in my assessments.) I had considered this person a friend, so I was shocked at the lengths I had to go to do what was right. I spent last spring trying to find my passion for teaching again, and I found it in moments at a time. I found that passion in my teaching partner. I found it in the faces of the children who needed me. And by the end of the year, I knew that I had to change schools if given the chance. It was one of the hardest moments in my life. I shed many tears over it. And at the end of August I moved. I love being back at the school that my room had been cut from three years ago- and having 3 years over several new hires insures that I am no longer the one who will be cut!

I wish I could say that I am in paradise, but I knew coming back that the school was not perfect. (and it's not...) There are good days and bad days. I miss my old partner just about every minute of every day! And I have wondered if I messed up a good thing by moving. I know that she has been given opportunities that would not have happened if I had been there (seniority wise), and she has grown SO much in her professional life. I love that we are also very close friends and that we do get together a lot, but it's not the same as running across the hall. I feel like I have been lost this fall... almost adrift. I feel that there is WAY more competition going on among teachers, rather than sharing and support. It's weird and very difficult to be around. Honestly, I holed up in my room... stuck my head under a rock and hoped it might get better. I don't want to make waves my first year back but I am not happy this way. So I guess that you guys... my bloggy friends get the benefit!

I have decided to use the month of January to share a book that I have been reading. In early December I attended the Arkansas Kindergarten Confference and listened to the wonderful Cindy Middendorf!! She knocked my socks off!! The last session on the last day was about differentiation in kindergarten. I was so tired but I wanted to be there more than anything... see Cindy inspired me. She pulled me out of my hole and without knowing it challenged me to be more than I was being. AH thank you Cindy!! The month of December flew by and I knew that over the break I was going to read her book. It's really a quick read, and not long either- 5 chapters. I plan to post quotes and my thoughts on the chapters each Friday in January. I hope that you join in, or at least gain something from what I am sharing. Here is my schedule for posting: