Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What Can Mistakes Tell You?

Today as my Super Stars were reviewing facts about plane shapes (circle, square, rectangle, triangle and hexagon), I was listening, watching, asking, and supervising as I walked through the room helping each student with his or her math journal.  Joining a friend at a spot on the carpet, I took a peek at her page:

She gladly read and pointed her way through each column:

"Circle (shape), circle (not the word she glued down), and it has zero sides and zero corners."

"Square (shape), square (not the word she glued down), and it has four sides and four corners."

"Rectangle (shape) rectangle (CORRECT word), and it also has four sides and four corners, but two of the sides are long, and two of the sides are short."

She continued on through triangle and hexagon.

Asking her to look again at the circle and square columns, I asked her to find the word for each and read them to me.  She misread "square" for "circle" and "circle" for "square." I then asked her what sound she heard at the end of "circle."  She said "l," so we looked at both words again, to see if "l" appeared near the end of either.  Asking her what sound she heard at the end of "square," she said "r." She quickly looked at the words, and then realized her mistake, laughing "Oh!  I just looked at the beginning sounds.  "S" and "C" can both make the same sound (snake, cereal).  Next time I'll look at all the letters."

Mistake explained, I got another glimmer of insight as to how my friend first looks at words: by initial letter/sound.  

With some gentle pulling, she was able to apply more glue and give the words "square" and "circle" the old switcharoo.


I've uploaded the PDF printable journal page for you.  The images on the PDF display correctly when printed, so don't worry about the square that appears to be missing its bottom!  The page would also be easy to print out and then enlarge if your students need bigger pieces with which to work.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spooktacular Pumpkins: Numbers Greater than 10

With several months spent away from the blog, I'm afraid it's gotten a bit cobwebby in here!

~sweep sweep~

~dust dust~




Experienced kindergarten teachers know what new-to-service kindergarten teachers discovered in August and September: the beginning of the school year, though exciting, is c-r-a-z-y busy.  Throw in a barrage of new germs shared by many enthusiastic children, and you can imagine how difficult it can be to find not only the time but the energy to blog once the dismissal bell rings.

The big payoff to all of the extra time and effort spent teaching, practicing and reteaching routines, rules and procedures is apparent when students and teachers alike enter the classroom one day, and can feel the rhythm and step right into the tempo of our scheduled activities.  Last week was when that magical stanza was reached by my Super Stars, and I was extremely grateful to find it ~still~ in place today, after students returned from a three day weekend during parent teacher conferences.  

With a smooth transition after calendar and story time, the Stars sat through directions, and returned to their seats to assemble large orange blobs, and black, white, green and brown construction paper into jack-o-lanterns with toothy grins.  The goal?  To fill each jack's mouth with MORE than ten teeth:

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The candy corn footprints are helping us learn to count by fives (parent volunteers discovered how many students have ticklish feet!):

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Has your year gotten off to a good start?  I hope so!

Let me finish sweeping the place and letting some fresh air in... I'll be back to my regular blogging routine soon!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Classroom Tour for Students

Each year, our school's mascot helps me create a photographic tour of some of the special items and activities that my Super Stars will find in our classroom:

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Our first day of kindergarten is tomorrow!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Once Upon a Time: a Barn Makeover

Once upon a time, two years ago, a Kansas kindergarten teacher had to miss work due to a yucky tummy bug.

Sub plans were prepped on the computer with care, center materials were ready, brain break videos of yoga and dance-a-thon activities were waiting on the SMART Board, and the para and aide were in the loop about the teacher's expectations for the day.

The day passed without incident at school (or so the teacher thought).

After recovering from the tummy bug's assault, the Kansas kindergarten teacher happily returned to the classroom, relieved to find the walls still standing and her students in good spirits.

And then the Kansas kindergarten teacher saw the wooden barn in the dramatic play center:

"LG."  In black marker.  On the roof of the barn.  The barn where no markers were allowed.  Not ever.

Calling "L" over to the barn, the Kansas kindergarten teacher asked, "L... why did you write letters on the barn?"  L replied "I didn't."

The Kansas kindergarten teacher asked again, "L... why did you write letters on the barn?"  Eyes growing as wide as saucers, L replied "How did you know it was **me**?  I put G's letter next to mine so it wouldn't match my initials!"

And ~that's~ how the Kansas kindergarten teacher learned that on sub days, classroom marker sets needed to be put up high, out of reach.


Fast forward to Summer, 2014.  "LG" is still on the barn, but not for long.  After obtaining permission to paint the barn, the Kansas kindergarten teacher got to work.


Wiping off sawdust:

Letting a smile grow across her face as she fondly remembered L:

Taping off the exterior using newspaper and painter's tape so the interior could get a quick dusting of ivory paint:

Working in a well-ventilated area:

Taping off the dried exterior ivory paint so the red wouldn't dribble onto it:

Posing for a shadow selfie:

... and letting everything dry.

Once dry, the Kansas kindergarten teacher lightly sanded over the barn's exterior, dulling the gloss a bit  and roughing up the edges:

Something tells me that both the Kansas kindergarten teacher and the barn that needed a makeover are going to live happily ever after.

Now all it needs are some farm animal toys and some Super Stars, eager to play!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sometimes It's the Little Things

Last summer, one of my organizational tasks was to sort through, organize (and even donate) eighteen years' worth of bulletin board finery.  Posters, anchor charts, backgrounds for artwork and even trimmer were spread throughout my classroom for an entire day as I thought through the units, theme and decor I'd want for not only last year, but likely the next five.

No large projects needed to be tackled this summer thankfully, in fact, it's just been the little things, those slight tweaks that will help when school starts again in August.  In addition to altering the back of a rolling cart for chart tablet storage and display, I added some clear hooks to the side of my SMART Board, the leg of a display easel, and near our math focus wall.  With the purchase of a multi-pack of pointers, my Stars and I will be able to reach and point without having to hunt for an attention-getting arm extension:

Yet another quick task: ROY G BIV'ing construction paper:

What are some of the minor changes or adjustments you plan on making this year?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Twitter Newbie No More

Some of my professional and personal goals for the summer were to become more familiar with Twitter, and to explore the bells and whistles of links, hashtags, and Twitter chats.  I was already aware of how quickly I'd be able to grow my PLN and hopefully contribute in kind, but I just needed the school year to be over, the garden planted, the dvr'd shows watched, and some space from all things "classroom" before I could settle my brain enough to dive in.

An invitation came from Debbie Clement to "practice" tweeting with other Twitter-newbie #teacherfriends several weeks ago, and it ended up being the perfect opportunity and audience with whom to learn and share.  I quickly discovered more chats, and became familiar with Twitter protocol and etiquette.  I "favorite" more than I "retweet" at this point, but I'm making progress.  Feel free to join us if you like, Tuesday evenings, 9 p.m. EST, with "practice" starting a half hour earlier.  You'll find support, encouragement, and even prizes as you hone your skills with other educators on the web.


This evening I participated in a chat about CCSS, with representatives voicing pro-CCSS and anti-CCSS opinions and viewpoints.  Spammers, publishers, product pitch-men, teachers, parents, administrators, and technology in education advocates kept the screen rolling, with several sidebar conversations and jabs taking place.  Teaching in a district that implemented the CC for kindergarten several years ago, I've had enough time to look through, interpret, "unpack," and evaluate not only the standards, but several books and many products touting the merit of themselves and their presumed alignment with the Core for my grade level.  I've shared the strengths of the CC with my Super Stars' families, and I've found merit in the arguments and reasons offered by local friends who have chosen to homeschool their children. With this background, the chat ended up being the perfect venue for me to clarify and summarize where I stand as a teacher and mother regarding education reform.

* This will be my nineteenth year teaching kindergarten.  Whole Language, Phonics, NCLB, CCSS adoption and STEM have all been touted as the be all-end all solution to meeting students' needs and solving society's woes during my career.  I strongly suspect that with at least ten more years to go, they won't be the only ones I'll encounter.  Education, like life, evolves, though not all educators, administrators, or policy makers do.  Evidence of this can be found in veteran teachers who refuse to learn new skills (usually technology related) because "what they've always done is good enough," and with the parents, new teachers, administrators and policy makers who continue to find five year olds offensive and/or deficient because they don't behave like short third graders by the end of the first quarter of kindergarten, and they haven't mastered all first grade goals before ever setting foot in a first grade classroom.

* I find myself feeling rubbed the wrong way every time a program or policy cheerleader insists that all teachers should support his or her party line. "All teachers should support NCLB!"  "All teachers should support the Core!"  No, all teachers should support their students.

* I appreciate the education and student advocates who document and share the inner sanctum goings on of policy decision making.  I appreciate their voices, their insistence, and their willingness to play devil's advocate as counterpoint to the blind acceptance that snowballs in our profession.  Every teacher cannot conceive of every plan, player, pro or con, manipulation or benefit in education.  There's not enough time in the day.  Many of us won't deprive our own children and families of our time and presence for the sake of policing education debates or innovations spreading coast to coast.  Researchers and watchdogs keep those of us who have an interest outside of our school's walls and districts aware of what's going on nationally and globally.

* Respectful of every teaching contract I've signed in the states in which I've taught, I've told only one of my previous employers "no."  I did so only after I was directed to do something that was in direct opposition to my oath as an educator and threatened my licensure and ability to provide for my family.  As a result, I earned my only "below proficient" evaluation rating from an administrator, which in due time I came to view as a badge of honor.  Fortunate to work in a wonderful district today, I don't fear voicing my professional opinion to colleagues or administrators.  Aside from eleven other kindergarten teachers and two early childhood experts, it's safe to say I have more experience with developmentally appropriate practice than administrators and policy makers do.  I don't have to shout from rooftops or throw down the gauntlet when curricular changes happen.  I can identify weak spots, commiserate with colleagues, find solutions, and do my job.

* As a veteran teacher, I certainly do grow tired of the inevitable hoop jumping that occurs through the process of policy changes.  We have to immerse ourselves in materials, manuals, and resources.  We have to familiarize ourselves with the new acronyms (and not accidentally refer to the former set), sort through suggested practices and goals, interpret them, find commonality in our interpretations, adjust our calendars and schedules, re-evaluate previously used tools, and research, purchase, and create new ones.  We have to sort through our feelings about the evolution of our jobs, and we politely allow everyone to have his or her say.  It's time consuming.  Broken-record-syndrome can set in.  Fight-the-power rumblings can create an uncomfortable undercurrent, and sides are expected to be taken.  Having to recreate the wheel, feigning going through the motions, and treading carefully so as to keep the peace is tedious.  Let... me... teach.

* I don't believe there's a be all, end all answer to our concerns over student need, or airtight policy that will deliver effective education reform to every student in our nation, or edge that will help our standing in the global economy.  Change happens constantly.  It happens whether we like it or not.  Philanthropists, publishers and spokespeople who claim students will be college or world ready with the implementation of a singular program are ~guessing.~  We're ALL ~guessing.~  Life, technology, interests, hobbies, and opportunities grow, evolve, and die at an incredibly fast rate now.  How can we possibly know what the world will look like in ten years?  Twenty?  Who has the crystal ball?

* I believe that via collaboration and sharing, tasks can be made easier, innovations can be discovered and developed to help us, and that diversity is the beneficial rule and not the feared exception.  Let's not be scared of creativity, differentiation, non-traditional learning environments, or not-so-anonymous teachers online.  Dynamic, real world exploration, conversations and interactions trump death-by-Power-Point any day.

* I'm a bit tired of education reformers trying to sell the idea that standardization in schools will benefit children and families from diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds equally, and on a set timeline.  It sounds great on paper I suppose, and once practiced in the mirror (or social media) long enough, much of the public falls for the pitch.  Snake oil, much?

* As for current education reform resisters, it's difficult to dialogue with you, much less add my voice to your attempt at revolution.  You yell, beat your chest, and listen only long enough to respond with retaliatory battle cries, while failing to offer solutions that could benefit students in public education settings.  I ~get~ that you're angry.  Occasionally, so am I.  But many of you are are just being excessively noisy while tying this issue to political parties, the constitution, and upcoming campaigns.  I'm a constituent who is a child advocate, and I'm hearing nothing from you that would benefit my kindergartners.


Our professional learning network is made up of the people we choose, and there are plenty of topics to discuss, resources to explore, and esprit de corps to build with fellow educators, administrators, and friends of education via social networking.  Thanks to Twitter, I can challenge my thinking, reaffirm my beliefs and intentions, and be inspired by colleagues worldwide.

Try it.  Tweet.

Hashtags, Twitter Chats and TweetDeck for Education

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kindergarten Teacher Truth: The First Month of School

My first grade teaching colleagues usually wear a slightly exasperated look after the first week of school, but thankfully, they've all taught long enough (and in the same hallway as our kindergarten classes) that they know better than to cast aspersions.

After all, a kindergarten teacher's first week month (quarter?) of school is full of how-to's, modeling, practicing, reminding, and reteaching when it comes to routines and rules.

Rinse, wash, repeat.

Rinse, wash, repeat.

Rinse, wash, repeat.

For.  A.  Month.  (Or longer.  Oh yes, we've all had those years.)

Don't forget: curricular goals need to be included amongst all of this introductory stuff too!

I drink a LOT of coffee during the first month of school.

I sleep the sleep of the dead every single night.

I barely speak to my children or husband over the first two weeks of school because my voice is hoarse, my throat is sore, and my cheeks are in pain from constantly smiling at the end of each school day.

I am ~on~ constantly for students and their families, which means the first month of school is not the best time to make plans with friends or family.  Yes, I become anti-social.  It's nothing personal, truly.  I love you all.  Wait... I need to plan on signing "I love you."

That's more like it.  Save.  The.  Voice.

It takes first grade teachers a week or two to get almost everyone settled.  Sure, there's that one student (or three) that don't tow the line, march straight, or remember when it's time to listen instead of time to speak, but compared to the kindergarten teachers who herd cats/chickens every single day for the first month of school and continue to coax sharing, negotiating, bravery, and safety behaviors out of students for the remainder of the year, I think they've got it easy.

Or... easier.

Which is why, every August, when encountering the exasperated expressions on first grade teachers' faces that hint at the question, "Didn't you teach them *anything*?"  I simply tell them, "you're welcome."