Sunday, October 12, 2014

Streamlining Words Their Way

I know many of you are WTW experts out there.  Kudos to you!!  Seriously!  This post isn't for you.  It was written for those of you who may feel a little frustrated with the program or looking for a way to streamline it...

I seem to have a love/hate relationship with this program. I do a ton of word work in my class- what first grade teacher doesn't? But managing parts of the program has proven a challenge for me. For the last three years, Word Study WTW homework has been "required" to be given.  I know, I know...not really how the program is designed. 

On top of that, despite clear directions, the parents didn't seem to follow through or understand what to do.  It came back a mess and done any which way.  That's not how my other HW came back.  Ever.  I finally realized it came back the way it did because I wasn't vested into the HW the way I should have been....I didn't believe in it.  I didn't want to send it home but had to.

This year, I've streamlined a bit and am NOT required to send home.  I already feel a huge sense of relief on so many levels.  One thing I HATED was that we used a black marble composition book.  I feel asking my firsties to write on those tiny lines is unfair. 

So, I had them write on proper paper and glue the page in book.  Wasted time.  This year, here's what I'm doing:  Booklets.  Already made for the year.  Each week is only a 2-sided sheet of paper.  (Feel free to grab it on first pic.)

Day 1: Introduce, cut, sort.  TIP: No more having kids write initials on back of each cut out.  Instead, teach them to use a crayon and run a line down the middle of the sort. (Tip courtesy of my son who said that's what his teacher did when he was in first grade.)  I modeled and remodeled for some.  Every child has own color.  After 12 kids got a color, I decided to have the rest of the kids use TWO colors together.  In the first week, we had five wayward pieces on the floor and getting them back to the right owner was a snap.
This is the back of a sheet but you can see the words through it. 
This child was assigned the green crayon.

Here's a double line.  So much faster than writing initials, isn't it?
I have them write the words in the journal.  Then they must use a colored pencil to retrace the letter combinations/rules of the week.  All words go into a baggie.  TIP: Only give half a sheet if kids are overwhelmed with words.  Can always give other half another day. Also: if more words than spaces, that's fine.  That's all I make them write down.  No biggie.
Day 2 is always various sorting activities.
Day 3 is sorting and then completing the top half of the second page in booklet: sentences.  ( I only make them pick one word per header.)
Day 4: Sort and then apply new combinations to new words which is the bottom of the second page. For now, I don't care if they are made up words as long as they follow the pattern.
Day 5: I have small group dictation which I use as my assessment.  The words I select are NOT the words they cut out.  Again, I'm looking to see if they can apply rules/combos to new words.  And my biggest change?  They DO NOT glue words into book this year.  This way, they get to re-sort over and over again until I feel they have truly nailed it. 
Hope it helps someone out there!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Few Bargain Goodies

Don't you love when you find something in Michaels that's totally unexpected but yet oh-so-perfect?  That's how I feel about these clip on flowers (that match my room!) that I just had to have:

They were only 17 cents each in the 80% off bin. Do I need them?  Nope.  But won't they look cute clipped around the room? 

And I can never resist zebra Chinese Food boxes, can you? :)

Since I can't find the glow bracelets I bought back in June and school starts on Thursday, I grabbed three cans to make:

How bright and shiny are my students on the first day of school? Bright enough that I have to wear big sunglasses to protect my eyes!

I usually go into Michaels needing one or two things and come out with a ton of stuff.  Not today. White cardstock was the only must-get item on my list and I was in a bit of a rush so the damage above was only 5.24.  But when I do hand over half a paycheck, do I fret?  Nope...I just come home and look at this...

And it's all good!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Two Fun Biographies for Younger Students

I'm always looking for cool/high interest bios for my class.  Look what I got today!


These books, written by Abby Colich and published by Capstone Press, would be great to introduce Text Features or to use as mentor All About Books.  Here are some pages inside:

(Sorry for sideways shot.  I like the Fact Hound/secret code in
each book.  It's just Capstone's site that allows you to enter a code (WAY too long!) and see what pops up.  Basically, author websites.  I can see my kids dying to see what the code leads to!)
Are you familiar with Grace Lin's books?  I admit I'm a recent fan having only having read them in the last year.  While I haven't read her Newbery book, I can tell you that her picture books and early readers are wonderful!  Great Mentor Texts!  Each time I read one, I feel that Grace has personally invited me in to take a peek into her childhood.  My students give them two thumbs up, too! My two favorites are The Ugly Vegetables and Lissy's Friends which is a fun read aloud for the beginning of school with a friendship theme.  Here are some pics of her books... my first Pic Monkey creation!  Hey- you gotta start somewhere!
Also offered in the series: Jeff Kinney, Dav Pilkey, Shel Silverstein and Barbara Park.  (Did you know she recently passed away?  Sniff, sniff.  Sidenote: If you teach third-fifth grade, read Mick Harte Was Here.  Not only is it my favorite Barbara Park book, it is one of my top five all-time books.  Try to listen to the audiobook.  AMAZING. A must for this age group.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Great (and easy!) Field Trip

While I haven't started school yet, I know many of you have.  Looking for an easy field trip?  Go to your public library!!  It's free and I bet it's pretty close to your school. 

September is the perfect time to schedule a trip since it's Library Card Sign-Up Month.  You can bring your little ones, take a tour, listen to a few books, and have them leave with their very own library card!  A proud moment and a big accomplishment!

I tell my Firsties that my family...well, we're pretty smart cookies because of these:

Many of my students tell me they use their parents' card but I make such a big deal about owning your own card and explain to them that it's the most powerful card they will ever own.

I heart my kids' signatures above.  Both got their cards when they were four with lots of fanfare that included pics.  But having two parents as School Media Specialists will do that, I suppose!

When I started to do author visits in schools, I needed a song about library cards.  Could I find one?  Nope.  But no problem! Grab the one my son (who was in third grade at the time) wrote for me and share it with your class.  We put it in our poetry binders.  If you bring your class to the library, they can sing it for the librarians!


Friday, August 15, 2014

Grab & Go Word Work Center (Freebie)

A few months ago, I thought I needed these:

Turns out, not only didn't I need 30 CD Cases, I lost the receipt and couldn't return them.  So...they've been sitting on my table at home annoying the heck out of me. But yesterday? Inspiration struck!

Nothing earth-shattering but I'm happy with the outcome: Grab and Go Make-A-Word Centers.

I'm a huge fan of Make-A-Word Activities in my classroom.  We do a few together in September before I start giving one weekly as part of their Tic-Tac-Show What You Know Board each week during Guided Reading.  Many of my Firsties regularly make 50+ words from the given word/phrase.  If the word contains an "S" well, hot diggity dog!!  Plurals galore!  That's the jackpot in Make-A-Word land!

While I give one sheet a week to the kids, I'm now going to have them in a basket for the kids to grab and make more words when they finish their work, during Free Time, Meet and Greet time in morning, etc.  If they grab a phrase/word they've already used, no worries!  They probably have progressed and can use more letter combinations to make bigger/more words now. 

You can grab free editable labels  and click on the pic below for the Welcome Back Sheet:

I'm going to have a recording sheet available (check back soon!) AND teach them how to care for the cases/letters inside.  I've already cut out the letters and placed them inside the cases.  When they open up the case, they will have to make the word (as the title appears on the case) and when they're finished, remake the word to make sure letters aren't missing as they go back in the case.  I'm going to have extra letters available as replacements in a small bucket.  I think it's going to be a hit!  Fingers crossed!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Five Tips For More Effective Conferencing During Writing Workshop

"In the classrooms of some teachers, children grow in leaps and bounds, while in the classrooms of other teachers, children make only modest gains.  I am utterly convinced that the difference has everything to do with the two teachers' abilities to confer."

~From the wise Lucy Calkins in One to One


While I totally agree with her statement, I also want to say that finding my groove in conferencing has been TOUGH and sort of a journey of discovery. 

Here are some changes I've implemented over the years that have helped elevate my kids' writing and have helped me focus more on strengthening my focus on how I can best help my class.

1: Build Writing Stamina: 
Increasing their stamina gave me much needed conferencing time.  We do it for reading with success so I knew it was time to implement in writing as well. Simple fact: More time spent reading equals better readers.  More time engaged in writing results in stronger writers.  When did I have this revelation?  Not too long ago.  Read on!

While attending a Professional Development course, my supervisor simply said, "Spend the next twenty minutes writing about your favorite vacation."  About six minutes in, one teacher got up to go to the bathroom.  A few minutes later, another teacher closed her notebook and started reading a book.  Another finished, took out some yogurt and ate it.

After twenty minutes, (the duration we were told we'd be writing for) said supervisor wasn't too happy.  Were our kids taking bathroom breaks? Moving on when done to reading a book (During WRITING time). When kids were "done" did we let them get snack, move to game, etc?

She told us that when it's writing time, kids need WRITE.  Period.  No bathroom breaks, trips to water fountain, etc.  I wasn't too sure how it would work with my Firsties.


The next day, I explained how we needed to write and write hard during WW time.  Within a few weeks, our daily writing time was a 45-minute block.  I didn't think it would work but it's been a beautiful thing, my friends!  I play my music and they write.  If they are done (which we know they aren't!) before I can conference with them (or even if stuck) they simply start another piece.  Yes, that is clutch.  It is writing time so there are NO OTHER OPTIONS.  (I want to add that the "no bathroom" rule worked.  Amazing.  Has never been an issue.)

2.Expand Use of Roving and Formal Conferences 


             I use this form to keep track of my formal conferences.  (Click to Grab!)
Roving conferences happen each day during WW.  I do a quick walk around at the beginning, middle, and end of session.  This is a quick check-in that helps me assess what kids are doing/accomplishing and keeps them focused.  They KNOW it's only a matter of minutes before I come around so they write to produce. This is QUICK.  Sometimes I stop and highlight a gem, other times I may just say, "You're missing punctuation."  I can get through my class in record time.
Formal conferencing has been much trickier to fit in but ever since I have a M-F schedule, it's been smooth sailing.  I formally meet with every child twice a week and use the form above.  It's up to ME to stay FOCUSED for best results so recording is a must for me and keeps me on target with meeting their needs.  One problem I had: hard to meet 24 kids TWICE a week. (I manage to fit 6 kids in a day during WW time)  But I did figure out a way...
Increasing these opportunities for both was easier than I thought. Although I have "official" WW five days a week for an hour, we obviously write other days.  I use Family Journals, Filling Buckets (writing compliment to friend), Love Note Time (each week they write a letter to a friend, teacher, family member on fun stationary) to help with roving but mostly FORMAL conference opportunities. Family Journal time alone gives me the best opportunity to do this.  What do you do to carve out some extra formal conferencing time?  I'd love to hear it!
TIP: I take home and read the stories that are longer and pretty polished off the bat to give a quick read through. Saves TIME and makes my time with them more effective. Usually the advanced writers in my class...
TIP: I arrange my conferencing binder according to daily conferencing schedule so all kids for the day are grouped together. And although I use the above mainly for FORMAL assessment, I do, at times, use it for roving to jot down a note such as who had tough day, awesome day, offered super "gem" to class.  Helpful to have.

3. Focus on ONE Teaching Point

I have been oh-so-guilty of trying to fix everything at once.  Why do that?  It's ineffective and such a motivator drainer for the kids.  Zapped the energy of all involved.  Still, I battle the impulse to point out a list of things from time to time especially when it's later in the year.  The TP may not be the same as the one that kicked off WW that day.  It's usually individualized to writer/what's on paper.  After all, that's the beauty of the individualized conference! 

4. Use/Reflect on Your Notes!
If you are taking the time to write down notes, reread them before meeting again so you don't fall into same type of conference with your student.  Three years ago, I complimented  a child one day and she said, "You always say that to me."  Ugh!  It was a struggling writer so I went for the "easiest" compliment at the time.  (Spacing!) I surely wasn't helping her grow as a writer and I doubt she was eager to conference with me and my insincere compliment. Who doesn't love a good compliment?   Substance is a must!  (I started to take home her writing so I could give better feedback and set goals when we met again.)

5. Conversational Tone
I try hard to make this a time where kids are eager to discuss their progress and are eager to set new goals.  I feel much less stressed now that I've expanded my conferencing times as it gives us both time to breathe.  I LISTEN more to them.  I talk slower.  I feel that I'm not as "frantic" in my quest to "fix it all" and our meeting, with sheet above in front of me, allows us to chit chat a minute before we even look at their writing.  It's often during that first minute of chatting that the kids get a lightbulb moment for their next writing topic.

If you have any tips for me, I'd appreciate hearing them.  My WW program is always being tweaked!  Always a WIP! How about yours?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Two Great CDs for Writing Workshop

Do you play music for your kiddos during writing workshop?  I always do.  It truly sets the tone and soothes the soul! My first year (way too many years ago to count!) I played music with WORDS.  Um.  No.


It makes it nearly impossible for the kids to concentrate. You'll get bopping heads and lots of singing and disrupting the others. And then the kids will imitate you and the other teachers :)


So I soon switched to playing lots of classical music with Vivaldi's Four Seasons being my favorite.  But then this year, I was introduced to these gems:

I actually found the Beatles CD online for $1 including shipping.  How cool is that?  While I like the Beatles, I'm not one of those crazy fans that thinks all things Beatles are as good as gold.  But, this is BETTER than gold!  Magic!  The kids are transfixed and write, write, write, and write some more when this is playing.  Simply fantastic results.

Mentioning this to one of the parents, they sent in the Simon & Garfunkel CD above.  Again, love it BUT not for brainstorming or drafting stories.  It's much more upbeat.  It's actually a great motivating CD (first few songs) so I play this one when we are editing our work.  I'll challenge them to circle five silly mistakes that they want to change before the song is done.  Because of the tone and rhythm of the music, they tend to focus and look more intensely for their mistakes.  It's almost Rocky-ish as they race through their writing finding all of their errors.  It seriously has upped our game!

This year?  My friend, Kelly, swears I'll love her Grateful Dead Baby CD.  :)

A New Blog Design by Christi Fultz

Knock, knock, knock...anybody out there?  Yes, it has been almost a year since I've blogged.  My last post was written on the FIRST day of school LAST year!  Gulp! In it, I wrote about how tired I was....well, I must have been more tired than I thought to be away for so long! 


I am thrilled to be back with a blog that I love so much that  I simply wouldn't want to stay away from it!  Major props to Christi!  It's EXACTLY what I wanted!  Her name was given to me in the forums and I feel like I hit the jackpot!! You're the best, Christi! Looking forward to blogging and reading blogs again!

Looking for a redesign?  Click on the picture!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Day 1: Success!

Is anyone else exhausted?  I sure am!  I got to school at 6:30 yesterday (we start at 8) and by 2:45 when my last kiddo boarded the bus, my FitBit buzzed showing I had walked 10,000 steps.  Last time I did that was back in school! The FitBit Flex is one handy way to track your steps, sleep, calories, and much more.  Check it out!  There are lots of us at school who "follow" each other and we can see who has walked how much each day. The friendly competition has been a hoot!  This is what they look like:

I have to get ready for school now but wanted to pop in and post a picture of my First Day of First Day Frame.  There are so many cool variations out there, aren't there?  I wasn't sure what mine would end up looking like: border? DuctTape?  Paint?  In the end, a 99 cent frame, red paint, and yellow and black construction were my materials
of choice. The pics turned out cute!  Here's the frame minus their sweet faces...  Have a great day!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Teeny Tiny Classroom Pics

In just 11 hours, I'll be welcoming my Firsties to a new school year!  Yep, summer is now officially over for me.  I'm excited to greet my 23 kiddos, though.  Twenty-three is the most I've ever had.  In fact, I was at 22 until two minutes before leaving on Friday. 

Twenty-three may or may not be a large number for you.  I've never had more than 21.  Ahhh..the more the merrier, right?  We will be comfy and oh, so cozy because my classroom is tiny.  Teeny.  Teeny Tiny.  Seriously.  I don't even have a sink. (or a desk!)  I don't have the luxury for cute nooks or crannies.  Sigh.  But, you work with what you have, you know?

Here are some before picks: (Not many...sorry!)

 And here is my class from my door now:

I so heart my poms this year! My theme is really color: red, black and yellow.  However, I have LOTS of primary baskets (too expensive to buy new ones!) and my rug, of course.  Here's  a closer look at my class:
My lovely carpet that I bought because I can't live without it and my class library.  The three BB will be used for anchor charts/work this week.  My math board is only partially finished.  I'll add to it this week.  I love the yellow paper so I have it on all boards.  Brings sunshine to my tiny room.  By keeping the walls all the same color with the black apple borders that pop, I think it makes the room LOOK a little bigger.
My stuffed animal friends are kept in these cute buckets that I bought at HomeGoods.  Kids snuggle with them for "Read to Self" or "Read to a Buddy."  So cute!
This is on library top shelf near my easel.  Marble jars record days in school and left.  I have 182 marbles ready to be plunked one by one into the empty jar.  My smart beads get lots of use.  I allow them to go home and then kids return them the next day.  I lose a few here and there but they are cheap to replace. 
Mailboxes and Birthday Balloons.  I use clips on boxes and then use a yellow sticker with names types in.  Lots of people just use numbers but I like having their names on them.  Help kids learn them, too.
The kiddos get one of these bracelets tomorrow.  Love the glow!
 I sit in this tiny chair!  Yep- I'm short and my feet touch the ground when I sit on this so I'm good to go!  Not ideal to have the chair in front of the books but really no other option. 

 Simple morning message for now with some of my planned read alouds tomorrow. To see how I usually do my Morning Message, click here.  Have you ever read Children Make Terrible Pets?  Pure genius!  A must!  The baggie in the middle is loaded with slinkys that I use to s-t-r-e-t-c-h- out words with my kiddos. Quite helpful!  Those two large bins in back are holiday books that I don't include in my library due to space constraints.

Simple Bravo Board ready to highlight work.  This is right inside my door.

 Math tubs/supplies. 
 Love an estimating area so I squeeze one in here.  I always show what 5 or some amount looks like to help the kids along.
 This year I want SOMETHING science related out even if not related to our unit at the time.  Something that makes the kids THINK and EXPLORE! 
I have to thank My Classy Collaboration Blog for this.  I saw it on Pinterest which led me to her blog post.  Love it! My district is big on Teacher Reflection and to include the kids- no matter how young, makes sense.  At the time, she didn't offer it for sale in her TpT Store but was planning to in the future.  Go buy it!

 My writing supplies/area  It wasn't completely set up yet but you get the idea.  I so wish I had a table for the kids to sit down and create!  At least they have lots of fun supplies and papers available to them.  See the black trashcans ready to go on desks when necessary under the zebra table on the left? Love them!  A little zebra tape makes them fit right in!
Yep- I have the zebra thing going on.  I sort of went a little crazy with the tape last year!  This year I added more red to my storage containers that you see above.
Bins on desks.  Four kids share.  Inside: glue sticks, pencils, scissors, dry erase markers and erasers (both pink and dry erase erasers) and little trophies that I explained in this post.  The kids have crayons in desks and I pass out markers and colored pencils when needed.
 Side view and you can also see my deskplates that I've ordered for years from Really Good Stuff.  Love them!  Best ever!
Across from writing area is my desk/reading table.  Made the chairs last year.  Storage inside!  The bookshelf is zebra, too.  Took 20 minutes!  I have a lot of stuff behind my desk!  (You can see my boxes in my closet!)

Book jackets above.  It was dead space.  Looks bright and cheery now.

 My buckets for my little Bucket Fillers. Note to self: add another.  (The compliment sheets are located on top of writing area.)
Closer view. Not everything unpacked and here yet.
I have two of these.  Missing spots are books my colleague just had to borrow! Sharing is a good thing! :)
Another little chair!  When kids need a little break, this is where they relax.
I now have these up on every window.  Cute!
Eek!   Here is a wasted board that is behind my easel.  Although wasted space, I still meant to put paper on it.  How did I forget?
None of those containers are mine and I hate the way they look.  But we have no storage in our school so there they stay!
I have lots of leveled books on my shelf in my closet.  All are mine. Most from Scholastic.
Aren't these cute boxes? 
 Right inside door.  I have small boards for my jobs and schedule.  My Real Estate is valuable in my small room so I rather save what I have for kid work and things we do together like anchor charts.  That's why I use a small Birthday Board I bought from Erica B. outside my room.  Just waiting to add pics tomorrow.
While I have more to show, I need to get some sleep.  Last two pics are my Reading Charts which I offer in my store (not all shown) and these free Quotes that you can grab by clicking on that pic.

Small but sweet. I hope you enjoyed the tour!  Have a GREAT SCHOOL YEAR!