October 30, 2012

Word Work

I've been wanting to share more about my Literacy Work Stations, and since I'm home now for Day 2 of Hurricane Sandy, I figured it was a good time.

In my first post about 1st Grade Literacy Work Stations I wrote about how I spent a great deal of time trying to come up with a way to organize and plan for Work Stations that would provide sufficient challenge and accountability, but also have a predictable routine that would allow for independence.  I love what I've come up with and it seems to be working really well.
Here's a close-up on my Word Work Station:

At the start of Literacy Stations, the "captain" for each group gets the bucket for their center and takes it to the table (each station has an assigned table and the groups rotate throughout the week).  Inside each Work Station bucket are two folders and the materials for the week's activity.  The red folder is labeled "1st" because kiddos need to complete that activity during Work Station time.  There are two labeled sides inside the folder for "Blank" worksheets and "Finished" worksheets.  On Fridays, I collect all the finished work, check it, and staple it together to send home, along with a score rubric (more on that later).  The purple folder is labeled "2nd" and has activities they can do if/when they finish their 1st activity.  

This past week the Word Work activity was "Build-A-Word."  The kiddos had to choose a sight word card, build the word with Unifix cubes (with the letter written on them), and then write the word two times.  Other activities in this center have included spelling sight words with magnet letters, writing sight words in alphabetical order, using letter and word stamps to trace and write sight words. (Check out the worksheets for these).  I should mention that this center is right next to the Word Wall so the kiddos can also reference the board to assist in spelling or alphabetizing.  Each week, I give them a spelling test on the weekly sight words and I also dictate 3 sentences which contain sight words from previous weeks, so it is really important that they practice reading, writing, and spelling these words in many different contexts. I encourage families to practice with them at home as well, but I also know it is important to provide hands-on practice in class.


More math...

Investigations has two units on geometry to first grade but this year I decided to combine them into one unit that will cover both 2D and 3D shapes.  So far the first part of the unit is going really well.  Most of my kiddos came into first with a strong knowledge of shapes.  They could name the basic shapes (circle, square, triangle) and define simple attributes about them.

Therefore, I have been working to introduce new vocabulary to describe shapes (vertices, polygons), and also challenge their thinking about what defines a shape.  On Friday, we had a great discussion regarding what defines a "quadrilateral."  I introduced the word and explained that quadrilaterals are 4-sided shapes with 4-corners, or vertices.  I asked the kiddos to name some quadrilaterals and, not surprisingly, they came up with square, rectangle, diamond (or rhombus), and trapezoid.  Then I sent them back to their seats to explore with geoboards.  As the kids were making shapes, I took some pictures and put them up on the SMART board for our discussion.

During our discussion at the end of the lesson, I asked the kids if they thought these shapes were quadrilaterals.  Although of course they are, this is a challenging concept for first graders to accept.  We talked about the characteristics of quadrilaterals and checked the shapes on the board.  The looks on the their faces when I explained that all of the shapes we'd seen were quadrilaterals were priceless!  It's so exciting to see them make this kind of mental breakthrough in their understanding.  I'm looking forward to the next part of the unit which focuses on 3D shapes because I know our discussions will continue to be lively and informative.

Investigations Math

My school uses the Investigations Math curriculum.  I was pretty hesitant about embracing Investigations last year because I had a seen some critiques of the program (such as this one from Out In Left Field), which certainly made it look like a weak program.

I have to say, though, that my kiddos frequently impress me with the depth and breath of knowledge they are developing as I work to follow the program with fidelity.  A few weeks ago we were working on solving addition word problems - a critical skill for first graders.  I love that I have a SMART board in my room because as the kiddos were working I went around and snapped a few pictures of the different strategies they were utilizing and displayed them on the board.  We had a great discussion at the end of the lesson about why some strategies work better than others and, regardless of the strategy used, why the answers should all be the same.  I think they are really learning to be fluent and flexible with numbers, while also understanding that there is a right answer that they need to reach.

This kiddo organized her pictures by making two rows.
This kiddo is using a number line to count on.

This kiddo drew pictures and then numbered as she counted all.

October 27, 2012

Guided Reading Video

I love teaching videos!  I really can't get enough.  When I find one I like I typically watch it again and again.  (This summer I motivated myself to get to the gym by only watching teaching videos while on the treadmill or elliptical!)  I recently found this video of a second grade Guided Reading lesson.  I think I've already watched it 3-4 times.

I love the work the teacher is doing with her group! I am going to be introducing inferring to my kiddos in the next week and I think the way that this teacher explains the concept to her readers works so well. I also like the way she pre-Post-its the kiddos' books so they know when to stop and think.  I'm definitely going to be incorporating this strategy into my lessons in the future!

Guided Reading

Last Friday, my school had a Professional Development day.  I'm one of those teachers who actually looks forward to these days because I love getting new ideas for my classroom.  (Plus, I tend multi-task quite a bit on my computer so I typically get some prep and planning done as well).   This time the focus was guided reading.

GR books prepped with Post-its!
I really like Guided Reading because it's a chance to work on specific strategies that really push kids forward in their reading.  I meet with one guided reading group per day during Literacy Work Stations time.  I wish I could meet with the kids more often, but we just don't have the hours in the day.  Instead, I follow up with individual students during conferring time in Reader's Workshop (while the rest of the class is independent reading).  My guided reading groups are homogenous based on our beginning of the year assessment.  As the year goes on, I will probably adjust them a bit but they are working great for now.

During Guided Reading,  I introduce the book (typically with a "picture walk"), discuss important vocabulary words, and share a strategy for decoding or comprehension that I want the kids to try during reading.  Then I set the kids off to read quietly.  I lean in on each one to hear them read out-loud briefly, encourage them to read fluently, and help with decoding issues as they come up.

Recently, I've started preparing a reading response for after the kiddos finish reading.  Depending on the level of the group and the skill we are working on the response varies.  Sometimes I have them work on reading new words, other times I have them retell the story or consider whether their predictions came true.  This is a great quick assessment to see if the kids are really getting the skill.

Safety Tips

I am finally taking down our first bulletin board!  It's been up for 8 weeks, so it's definitely time for it be switched out, but I'm still going to miss it.  It's been a great board to start the year.  I have limited wall/ bulletin board space in my classroom, so this board is in the hallway between two of the first grade classrooms and we share it.  I love creating hallway boards with favorite characters because all the other classes who walks by get excited to see familiar books and the kiddos really remember the stories.

Never [accept] a ride from a stranger
During the first week of school we read Officer Buckle and Gloria, by Peggy Rathman.  It's a great book about the importance of safety in schools.  I've read it will multiple classes and they always get a kick out it.  Then I gave the kiddos paper stars to make their own Safety Tips for our classroom (this was my colleague's idea last year and it's a really great extension activity from the story).  

Their tips were so cute, I just had to display them!  I'm definitely going to keep Officer Buckle and Gloria to use for next year's first bulletin board as well.  

October 22, 2012

Morning Warm-up Work

Morning Work is an essential part of my day.  When the kids come in to the classroom, I need to have something for them to do independently for a few minutes while I'll take care of all those little things that need to get done in the morning (attendance, checking folders for notes, the occasional check-in with a parent, etc.).  This year, I developed my Morning Warm-up after looking at a number of different versions online.  I wanted something that would be routine but also offer some challenge.  I came up with "Number of the Day" and the "Daily Fix-It."

In the beginning of the year, I gave all of the kids a copy of the Morning Warm-up page in sheet protector and gave them a dry-erase marker.  We've had to replace a couple of wrinkled pages and dried out markers, but I don't have to worry about printing out a new worksheet every day.  Plus, because it's the same page every day the kids have gotten really good at the routine.

...And the "Number of the Day" addresses so many math skills!  The "Number of the Day" is always the number of days we have been in school (38, tomorrow).  The kiddos have to break the number into hundreds, tens, and ones, then tally the number, add and take-away 1, and add and take-away 10.  Since the routine is the same every day, I get to see how the kids are incorporating new strategies that have been introduced.  For instance, some are now using the 100s chart to do +/- 10 while others are still counting on their fingers.  I think that after Thanksgiving, I may transition to a new version with tens frames instead of tallying (because tallying over 50 takes a long time!).

The "Daily Fix-It" is always on the board when the kids walk in to the classroom.  I write 2 sentences replete with mistakes, like sight words spelled incorrectly, missing or wrong punctuation, and incorrect capitalization.  What I think is great about this activity is that it's really open-ended to allow for practicing any number of skills.  As the year goes on I imagine we can do more with grammar and complex sentence structure.  So far we still need the practice with our capitalization and punctuation, but we're getting there!

October 20, 2012

American Symbols

This month we are studying American Symbols.  I introduced the concept by watching a BrainPop Jr. video.  (BrainPopJr. is a great site for videos, games, and lesson ideas on a variety of topics.)  Then we played an American Symbols BINGO as a fun review of the symbols we'd learned.  I also used this as a basic assessment of how well the kids could identify each symbol.

After the introduction lesson, I've spent each of the next few lessons exploring one symbol more in-depth. So far we have studied the Flag and the Bald Eagle.  I loved our Bald Eagle lesson.  We read The Bald Eagle, part of the American Symbols series, and learned about the Founding Fathers debate over which bird should be our National Emblem.  George Washington suggested the Bald Eagle, but Benjamin Franklin wanted it to be the Wild Turkey.  The kiddos got their own Bald Eagle to vote about whether they thought the Bald Eagle was a good choice.  (On the eagle they wrote things like, "Yes because it is a strong bird" or "Yes because it is a symbol of freedom.")  You can see there was no disagreement among my little patriots :)

I'm excited to continue this unit, especially as we approach an important election!  More to come on that...

Reading Helpers

One of the most important jobs of first grade teachers is teaching our kiddos how to "tackle trouble" while reading.  I teach my kids that they have a toolbox of strategies they can use as readers to help them when they are stuck.  But we all know that when you are in a tough spot, it's often hardest to recall all the strategies you know.

This year I am using "Reading Helpers" to introduce each strategy. These helpers are actually characters who personify each strategy, like "Eagle Eyes" who reminds you to look at the pictures for clues.  I have to give full credit to the newest teacher at my school who shared this amazing idea with me.  Apparently, teachers all over the place have been utilizing "Beanie Baby Reading Helpers" to introduce essential reading strategies to little ones, but I had never heard of this.    Well, thank goodness that now I have!  Reading Helpers are amazing!  Some teachers actually purchase beanie babies to go along with each strategy, but so far the posters seem to be enough.  I'm hearing conversations among my readers that I never thought I'd hear... comments like "I used 'Eagle Eyes' but the picture didn't really help me, so then I used 'Stretchy Snake' to stretch out the word but it didn't work, so I had to use 'Flippy the Dolphin' and when I flipped the vowel then I figured it out!"  I can't remember where I got all the cliparts from but I created my own posters (and corresponding bookmarks) to introduce each strategy.

I also found a few people who use Reading Helpers for comprehension strategies too.  I've made posters for these as well but we haven't introduced them yet.  I can't wait!

Word Families

I use Words Their Way to teach word study.  I think this program is great because it's so hands-on for students.  Each week I introduce a new spelling pattern and the kiddos get to manipulate the words within that pattern as they sort, match, read, and write their word sort pieces.  At the end of the week, students glue their sort into a Word Study Journal and write a list of the words to reference as their own word study dictionary.  We began the year by doing the word family sorts.  Many of these are review from Kindergarten, but it's important to go over the short vowel sounds and practice these common word families because they are essential to reading and writing.

I made posters for each of the word families as well so that the kiddos can easily reference them during reading and writing.   (I got the clipart for the posters online.)

Literacy Work Stations

Last year, I wanted to have Centers in my classroom, but somehow they never quite came together.  This summer I was determined to figure out how to implement centers in my first grade class.  Although our school doesn't use the Daily Five, I found a lot of great resources on centers from teachers who do.  My Literacy Work Stations resemble Daily Five centers in that each Station focuses on a different literacy skill: Comprehension, Writing, Word Work (sight words), and Phonics.  For each center, I have 1 weekly activity that students must do.  Then I have additional activities (such as the activity from previous weeks) that student can do if they finish.  While students are in centers I am able to meet with Guided Reading groups which is fabulous, because last year I had to meet with groups during Readers' Workshop which meant that I didn't get to do individual conferencing every day.

I'll have to post more about each station at some point, but I'm particularly excited about my Comprehension Station.  Each week during Read-Aloud, I focus on a comprehension skill (mainly from the Common Core Standards), such as main character, setting, perspective, predictions, etc.. Then the following week, students read their own Just-Right books and complete a Comprehension Worksheet related to the skill. I've never had students respond to their reading  in this way before so I wasn't sure how well it would go, but so far I've been really excited about the work they've produced!

Character Education

My school does not use a specific character education program so I have had to create my own "program" to introduce important values to my students.  Last year, I simply introduced each "virtue" on its own during the first few weeks of school and we used read-alouds, role playing, and class discussions to reinforce them throughout the year.  Some of the virtues we studied were integrity, attentiveness, cooperation, and patience -- all essential traits for academic success.

This year I wanted to do something a little different.  I love acronyms so I decided to create an acronym for the character traits I want my students to develop.  I came up with STAR which stands for Show Self-Control, Try & Persevere, Act with Integrity, and Respond Helpfully.  I began by introducing the idea of being a "STAR" as someone who is kind, helpful, and a good student.  Then I went in-depth about each aspect of STAR.  I used books and activities to provide concrete examples for each.  For instance, we read Lily's Purple Plastic Purse to talk about self-control and Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie to talk about integrity.  
Now that the kiddos all understand STAR, I encourage them often by pointing out when a classmate is demonstrating "STAR behavior."  I might say, "Tylique, you responded so helpfully by picking up those crayons when Izzy spilled them."  It's been great to hear the students start to echo my language my commenting when a friend acts with integrity or perseveres.

I continued the star-theme with the acronym for our listening position.  I learned early on that it is really important to be specific with the position that I want my students to have during learning time.  Saying "pay attention" just doesn't cut-it with the six-year-old set!  So I created the acronym SHINE.  SHINE stands for Sit up Straight, Hands folded, In your own space, No Noise, and Eyes on the Speaker.  In the past I've considered using Active Listening Position, SLANT, or Whole Body Listening which are all common, but none of them encompassed everything I wanted the kids to do.  I love that SHINE reminds them of every part of being a good listener!

Check out an updated post about STAR here!