what worked: literacy centers

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The first 20 days of school are all about procedures and routines. My district actually gives us the first 20 days for setting up procedures. I honestly can not say more WONDERFUL things about giving teachers 20 school days to get things established before hitting it. Y'all this year my centers were the best they have EVER been.

We started slow... I mean snail's pace slow! Heck we had the time. We started with everyone doing similar activities but working with a partner. This is one example. This is a matching game. It's from one of Deedee Will's sets called... A Cat, A bear, A tree math and literacy centers (click the picture below).  We learned lots of games and how to play them. Matching or building games like this one start at letter ID, move to match letter and picture by sound, and finally by the spring we are building CVC words and sight words.

We played lots of games in the first 20 days.  Games like Bam (pop, bang-- lots of names for it), letter puzzles, matching, bingo. Anything that could be done in partners we did it! Over and over, changing partners many times to keep from getting board. 
This is our book or library. This station is one of 2 that I open ASAP. As soon as we have had our lessons on how to handle books (this comes really early in readers workshop) and 3 ways we can read a book (look at the pictures, make up a story to go with the pictures, or read the words). Each book has a icon in the upper right corner that matches one on a bucket. The hard part the first few weeks is getting the books back into the right bucket. We practice whole group as part of our early readers workshop on getting a book, reading the book, and putting the book back. I reinforce this by checking in with the children in this center. We do A LOT of practicing by placing new books into the center. The kids get to add the books to the right bucket. Yep I add 20 books at a time so that every child gets a chance to place the book into the correct tub. How do I do that? Scholastic book club! I also get my listening centers from the monthly flyers. ;) 

These boys are using write the room. I LOVE this center and so do the children. I have used themed WTR (write the room) cards, pick a letter and find words in the room with that letter, or write the words you know. It is easiest for me to teach this center by using themed cards where the picture that is on the card is also on the recording paper. We start this whole group. Every child gets a clipboard, paper, and pencil. We start at our carpet spots and I send away small groups of students to "find the words". When they finish they return to me and I put a sticker on their paper and into their cubbies the papers go! We will do the same one several times, all I have to do is change the picture location on the recording paper. This is probably one of the easiest centers to maintain. 

These two are working on puzzles at red table. This is the "game and puzzle station" and it is also easy to maintain for the school year. At the beginning of the year we have out the wooden puzzles (no real teaching needed to start with wooden puzzles.) Then we start adding games as we learn how to play them. I have high ho cherry-o, don't break the ice, chutes and ladders, and candy land that we put into this center. 

This was actually a math center but it shows so well how each table has it's own activity going on. Here the littles were measuring using links. All of their center supplies are in the bucket. And they pull the labeled bucket and bring it to the table. I teach them to make room by putting the bucket on the floor under the table, and they can move the table trash cans or supply caddies too. 

This is our magnetic center. These littles decided to sort the letters by color! And no that wasn't one of the options that I had ever thought to do at this station. We sort letters, build names, build words, match pictures to words, but I had never thought to sort the letters by color! That became an activity. This giant magnetic board is just an oil drip pan from Walmart with holes drilled in the 4 corners. I use command hooks to hang them on the wall. 
This is the last center I am going to talk about today. It's the pocket chart center. This is a poem that we had worked on in whole group about our names. Once we had gone through every child I modeled and opened pocket chart center. There is a small basket that slides under the pocket chart that holds all the pieces. The things you can do in pocket chart are kind of endless! I am working on a TPT file for pocket chart that I hope to have ready by the end of July. But some of the things we sort: letters (tall, small, tail, straight lines, curved lines) beginning sounds, matching letters (upper to lower, upper to upper, letter to sound), build cvc words, build sentences, rhyming match... and the list goes on and on. The great part about this pocket chart is that I hot glued it to our chart stand. This gives me the ability to teach the center whole group RIGHT where they are going to be using it! 


looking back to move forward

Sunday, June 28, 2015
I mentioned in my post about reflecting that I really wanted to take the time to think about what worked and what didn't; what supports my education beliefs and what doesn't; and think about moving in to the future.

This year I changed schools, and districts, just two weeks before school started. I am back at the school where I did part of my student teaching way back in the early 90's. The administration has changed, the school is no longer a magnet school (district did away with them a while back), and the population has shifted from 50/50. But I love it. It is home, and the level of support I have is amazing. So that said, I didn't have much time at the beginning of the year to set myself up like I have in years past. I got a lot done but there was a LOT of shove that under a shelf or cabinet and move on. I hope that as I reflect on what the future needs to look like, that much of the shelves and cabinets get cleaned out! Purge baby purge! (my hubs loves the movie the purge.... wonder what a teacher/ classroom clean out version would look like. Scary thought!)

So lets start with what worked... centers!
Yep I LOVE centers! I love creating students who become independent. No they are not perfect, yet. But this really is some of my favorite time during our day. I also LOVE writing!! And begging to be trusted so I could continue with writing first thing in the morning was the best decision I made this year. I also used a lot of what I learned about close reads. I still have some room to build but I saw where my kids grew using a complex text and discussion. Remember where I mentioned that oral language development is key to my beliefs about a classroom? Well Close Reads are where this is evident. When we discuss we get into a circle, me too, on the floor. We sit where we can see every one. We take turns and talk. We turn to our neighbor and talk, we talk across the circle, we build ideas on what someone else might have said.
Another area that seems to fall in to the "it works" category is my management system. This includes supplies and children. See the child in the picture above who has the tag with the bear? She is a table captain for the week. Her job is to get supplies for her table. We keep crayons and pencils on the table, but glue, scissors, and notebooks are kept elsewhere. Her job also includes getting papers and passing them out. I'll post more about my management this summer. I think that I have enough pictures to make it clear ;)

What didn't work?

We as humans don't like showing where we didn't succeed. But I am going to step out and share where I am going to be growing this next year. Math. Yep. Math was not what I wanted it to be. I'd been working at a school that did not have a math coach. I was able to structure math the way I wanted, and then I moved. Some days I felt like our math coach was more of a math general. I get what the goals were, but I was unsure of how to have open conversations with someone who had never seen me teach and I didn't have the relationship with to say "trust me! I am going to get them there." Also we have a text book series that really doesn't get the kids where they need to be. Not a lot of depth, so that caused issues.

I spent the year building the relationship that I needed to be able to say "um this isn't what my kids need, so I'm changing it and here is my classroom data to back me up".  Rebel much? not really, but I will fight to get my kiddos what they need, not what some curriculum map says we need. Also we are looking at changing our math time to first thing in the morning. I am really excited about that change and what it could bring to my teaching math.

With as much as I love to teach writing, this year was a disaster! Ok maybe not in anyone else eyes but in mine it was. Our writing block was at the very end of the day. I mean like 1:40-2:10 and we start dismissal at 2:15 kind of end of the day. That time wasn't horrible until you realized that we picked up from specials at 1:40 and they ALWAYS ran long or required more time than expected to get back and settled into writing. And if you are teaching the littlest of the littles you know, as well as I do,  that 5 minutes is NOT enough time to pack up to go home in an orderly fashion. Which leads me to my pet peeve and another "it didn't work" area of our day- dismissal!

UGH! Why oh why can't dismissal be orderly and quiet! For pete's sake we are GOING home! Dismissal procedure is something that I will be working on next year. And I already have some ideas on how this is going to change.

So there are the big picture pieces to my reflection. I hope to share here as I break them down and look more in-depth at each of these. Maybe I'll even take apart the day and look at each block through the lens of what worked and what didn't.



Saturday, June 27, 2015
For someone who's brain never shuts off you would think that reflection would be EASY PEASY. But it's not. Ah I said it... and the world didn't end. I am constantly thinking about school, about my students, about what should be happening next, or how to get to the next land mark. But the process of actually stopping and thinking about what is working and what was an epic fail doesn't happen much.

As soon as school ended my little fam, hubs.. the kids x2.. and MIL, packed up the pull behind camper and headed west. My oh my what 40 something hours in a car will do for you and your reflection! LOL... and no we didn't drive that much at one time. While in the car I did some light reading and some deep thinking. I've been reading Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller and it's been eye opening!

What exactly was so earth shattering? reflection! Miller talks about how at the end of her school days she would sit down with student work and a note pad and reflect on what had happened, what needed to happen next, and what her role needed to be for each child. WOW! Really? sit down each day!?! my mind literally exploded with the idea "but I'm so tired that I can barely move!" and " there is NO way that I can do this daily, when would I clean up and get ready for the next day?". Don't worry Miller had had similar thoughts (or responses from teachers) and suggest starting with 1 or 2 days a week. Ok that sounds more do-able. Actually that sounds really good. 2 days where I set everything aside and focus that "it never shuts off brain" on my kids.

Another idea that I loved from Miller is the idea of teacher notebooks on each child. She is talking the mini type like this:

I really think I've seen them in small packs at the dollar store. Each child gets a notebook with their name on it. Then when Miller was walking around conferencing (another big goal of mine- conference more!) she would take notes, quick notes, notes that help inform instruction AND document differentiation in the classroom! We have a teacher evaluation system called PTAS that is based on Charlotte Danielson's work. My only problem with this system is the level of documentation that I am asked to keep and the number of hours that I spend doing something for an evaluation and not necessarily for my kids. I think that these mini notebooks might be a way around that! Millar also talks about using a larger notebook to document things that kids say during whole group instruction. This type of whole group documentation might be a way to make anchor charts later. I'm beginning to wonder if it wouldn't be a better way for me to document some of our deep thinking since K students aren't necessarily ready to write those thoughts our independently. Do you see what I'm thinking? I need a better way to show what my kids can do. A way to document their deep thinking. Linda Dorn, in one of her many books, talks about the progression of oral language to the ability to write about ones thinking. She basically says for a person to be able to write about their thinking they first have to  have a deep understanding of that thinking. And the #1 best way to get kids to a place of having a deep understanding is to let them talk!

I have a strong believe in oral language development being vital to reading and writing development. I believe that children who can talk about a topic can later write about that topic. This believe is rooted in my own children. My thing 2(now 13) started life with a speech issue. He was unable to correctly make sounds, his mouth just wouldn't form the sounds correctly. Our speech therapist said that we HAD to get him taking! She said that every time he asked us "why" to flip that question and say "well what do you think?" I believe that this lead to his playing with language and working through his thinking. Once he reached school, he was able to think deeply about topics and express what his thought were. He was then able to write ideas beyond "I like" when he started writing. He had had time to process language and had a better understanding of what he wanted to say, he was able to focus on the mechanics of writing. For years I stubbled with figuring out why learning to write was so easy for him and so hard for me to replicate in the classroom. I guess thing 2 was in about the 4rd grade and I was talking to his teacher and she made the comment that he was able to think so much deeper than his peers. That would have been about the time it all came together. He had spent years working on his oral language, years and years before he ever dreamed of picking up a pencil! That is the key people... oral language MUST be in place before a child is ready to write.

Another think Miller really impressed on me was this... if you believe something then you should see evidence of this in the classroom. That is if I say I believe oral language is paramount but I never give my students a chance to talk out ideas, do I really believe that oral language is important? Am I letting something over ride my personal belief? What systems can I put in place that support my belief? Miller said that she spent a long time developing her beliefs and that she worked with a group of teachers who were doing the same thing. They would spend time reading research, talking, and observing each other to see evidence of those beliefs.  So as I was reading, I got to thinking about my room. How does it show that I believe in oral language? Can someone who doesn't know my belief walk in and tell that is my belief? I am still thinking through those questions and looking for ways to make this belief more evident in what I do daily. (so thinking this might develop in to several posts).


Not meeting the status quo....

Friday, June 19, 2015
I love technology and the internet. I love that there are SO many ideas out there. I love how it has impacted my teaching and classroom. What I don't love is the pressure that I feel when I can't do it all.  I am a perfectionist and I am betting that other are too. Are you? Do you get to where you feel like you can't meet the mark? or that you wore the scrunchy one to many days? (ok so dated myself there! If you don't know that one- watch Heathers) Some days I feel like I am just an outsider who can't seem to ever get into the club. I feel the pressure to be more than I am able to be. And right here I am drawing a line!

This summer I am not going to kill myself to have earth shattering posts. I plan to spend time with kids... it's hard to believe but they are 13 and 15! I mean where on earth did the time go? I am going to do some reading. I have about 4 professional texts that I have started but not finished. I want to finish them. I also want to spend some time reflecting on what is working in my world and what is not. Maybe I'll figure out how to do a link up thing with a cute picture (or not :) remember I'm giving myself permission to not measure up)

I also want to work on taking some things that I have purchased or gotten free over the last few years and make them my own. This fall, no matter what grade I am teaching, I want my back to school pack to be my very own. I don't want to use things that I like part of but not all of. I want to simplify things, right now it's WAY too much! I want to do more reflecting and being intentional.  Yep one of my summer reading books is Debbie Miller's Teaching with Intention. If I am blessed enough to be in K again (there is some speculation as to where I will be) then I want to be really reflective in what I am doing and have the data or reflections to back it up!


Summer 2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015
So it's day one of summer vacation- took it long enough to get here thanks to snow days and a certain pair of dancing shoes, newly retired thank you! We are headed out on a trip to the west, all 5 of us piled in to a truck pulling s camper. All 5 are me, the hubs, thing 1, thing 2, and grannie. It reminds me of the picture on the cover of The Relatives Came. And after 24 hours in the truck we are all past ready to be at our destination. 

Thing 1 is watching downloaded episodes of her favorite show. Thing 2 is building with mind craft. The hubs is driving. Grannie is sleeping. And me, well I am the problem child of the bunch. See a little over 24 hours ago I turned in the keys to my classroom. And my brain has already flown in to planning for next year!! 

Yea that is a horrible problem to have! And it's only compounded by the fact that I don't have a definite teaching assignment. I know there are worse problems but to a planner this is the nightmare on my street kind of nightmare. I know that I won't be moving far from kindergarten, if I move at all. I might go to first grade or I might go to Pre K. Honestly Pre K excited me more than first but I'm up for either. 

A year ago I was moved to first grade and that sparked the whole changing  schools and districts.  I love kinder and my heart is there. I don't really want to move to first but I like the team and would enjoy working with them. However Pre K is where I really want to go if I have to leave K. 

So here I am, trapped in the back seat between thing 1 and 2 with a brain that won't shut off! This summer I am reading and blogging about what I am reading. I also hope to work on some things for tpt. Games mainly that I am using in my classroom. 

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