November 27, 2012

Morning Meeting Greetings

My school uses the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching and classroom management. The premise behind this approach is that children learn best when they have both academic and social-emotional skills. Therefore, the practices within the approach are designed to teach students prosocial skills that will support their academic learning.

There are ten core classroom practices at the heart of Responsive Classroom, one of which is Morning Meeting.  Morning Meeting is a time when the whole class gathers together, greets one another, shares news, and gets ready for the day.  Over the years, my Morning Meeting has looked differently depending on the time of year, my students' interests and needs, and how much time I had available.  However, we always start with a greeting to make sure that every kiddo is acknowledged and welcomed by at least one peer.

We have a lot of "standard" greetings, like passing a handshake around the circle, and as a class, we love learning new greetings and re-visiting old favorites throughout the year.  In the beginning of the year, I typically introduce two new greetings a week and we do each for 2-3 days.  Before we start, we always review the importance of being respectful by using a "strong speaker" voice, using each other's names, and making eye contact. We also talk about how the class needs to quietly track the greeting around the circle to be ready for our turn.  After the greeting, we discuss what went well and what we could do to improve for the next time.  I have found this brief reflection to be very valuable; it helps the kiddos to be accountable during the greeting and also helps me see what stood out to them as successful or challenging.

Today was our first day back after a few days off so we did the "Handstack Greeting" -- a familiar but popular greeting that encourages eye contact, strong speaker voices, and listening/looking. In order to do this greeting, two people create a hand stack (one hand on top of the other), they then lift their stacked hands above their heads and look below them to greet each other.

A few of our other popular greetings are the "Ball Roll" and "Closed-eye Greeting" (where we start with our eyes closed and open them when we hear our name across the circle).  So far this year, though, the class favorite has been the "Grown-up Greeting" (aka the "Formal Greeting").  In this greeting, instead of using first names, which is typical, the kiddos address each other as "Mr. ____" or "Miss ____."  They get the biggest kick out of using last names and it is pretty funny to hear them greet each other so formally.

I also recently discovered a new greeting known as the "Puppet Greeting," and I suspect this one will quickly climb to the top of our favorites list as well.  For this greeting, we passed around a puppet (I happened to use a ridiculous-looking orange cat I found in our storage closet).  The kiddos got to greet the puppet by shaking its hand. This greeting has potential to get quite silly so it's not one that I will pull out very often, but it's a lot of fun to do every once in awhile.

Wow, this post has gotten long, so I'll save the rest of Morning Meeting (and more about RC) for another time!

November 22, 2012

The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag

Thanksgiving Stereotype
Thanksgiving is one my favorite holidays. Thanksgiving is typically one of the least commercialized holidays, but little guys still tend to pick up a lot of misinformation, especially about the Pilgrims and Indians, from images and stories.  I found an article from Understanding Prejudice which had some great suggestions for talking to kids about Thanksgiving at home and at school.  I also found this site which provides guidelines for teaching about Thanksgiving in culturally sensitive and historically accurate ways.  I used a lot of the suggestions from both articles to guide my instruction around the holiday this year.

In particular, I really wanted to be sure that my kiddos understood the origins of Thanksgiving.  We started by doing K-W-L (What We Know, What We Wonder, What We Learned) Chart.  Not surprisingly, the kiddos had random pieces of the story, including "We eat turkey" and "The Pilgrims had a feast."  However, they still wanted to know things like, "Who were the Pilgrims?" and "When do we celebrate Thanksgiving each year?"  We read the book Thanksgiving Is..., by Gail Gibbons to look for answers to our questions. The book begins by describing harvest festivals from around the world.  We discussed how almost all cultures celebrate the harvest by giving thanks for food and the land.  

Then we went on to discuss the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.  For this, my fabulous first grade co-worker put together a SMART board presentation full of facts and interactive lessons about the Pilgrims' journey to America and the first Thanksgiving Feast.  She shared pictures of Native Americans from the past and today to provide perspective for the kiddos.  

Then she explained that the Pilgrims left England to pursue religious freedom but got off track on their voyage to Virginia and ended up landing at Plymouth.  The kiddos learned that the Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts taught the Pilgrims how to harvest corn, squash, and pumpkins (but no pumpkin pie).  We also found out that at the first Thanksgiving they probably had a lot of seafood, venison, and wild geese, in addition to turkey.  We ended the lesson by doing a comparison of the First Thanksgiving and a traditional modern Thanksgiving.  I am very grateful for thoughtful and intelligent colleagues who are always up for examining new ways to teach old lessons!

November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Teacher Appreciation

This year I wanted to do something a little special for my co-workers for Thanksgiving.  I'd seen a lot of cute Teacher Appreciation ideas on Pinterest lately, but none of them were quite what I had in mind, so I adapted a few and created my own idea.  I happened to be watching two of my favorite kiddos (the adorable children of one of my colleagues) earlier this week, and they were very eager to participate in my "secret project."


After I explained the idea, the kiddos helped me figure out how many treats we would need for the faculty.  They looked at our staff picture to count all the teachers and also figured out who was absent from the picture so we didn't miss anyone.  The Kindergartener was pretty amused at the idea of making one for the principal!

Then the second-grader calculated how many pages of shipping labels (10 per page) and how many Smarties (2 per treat) we would need for 50 gifts. We set up an assembly line to stick the labels on the index cards, trim and hole punch the "gift tags," tie the candies, and cut and curl the ribbon.  I think they turned out really cute and it was a wonderful way to entertain two kiddos for an hour!

Shipping labels on index cards for the tags
Tie the tag to 2 rolls of Smarties 
Made enough for our entire staff!

November 20, 2012

3D Shapes

One of my brothers is currently in graduate school, studying math at Penn State.  This weekend, I was home in PA with my family, and he was filling us in on his first few weeks of teaching a vector calculous class.  He told me how, during the first class, he challenged his students to draw a shape in 3D to point out that there are multiple ways to see a shape.  Wow, I just taught the same lesson to my kiddos!  Obviously, we had different intentions but still, it's pretty cool.

We just finished our Geometry unit in first grade.  I rearranged the units slightly so that we could do 2D and 3D shapes at the same time.  As I posted about a few weeks ago, this unit had a lots of "ah-ha!" discovery moments as the kiddos learned to see and understand shapes in new ways.  We started out introducing 3D shapes by having the kiddos examine the "footprints" of different blocks.  They were shocked to discover that a pyramid actually has one face that is a square.  Even more surprising was that a ramp block, has one face that is a rectangle.

After the kiddos had a fairly solid grasp on this idea, I asked them to attempt to draw a block in 3D.  This had some fascinating results.  Some kiddos drew the base, sides, and top all stacked on top of each other; others drew the faces of the shape in a row; others drew slanted lines to show perspective.  This lesson was also very frustrating for many of my little guys, because while they know what they want to draw, they can't figure out how to make it on the paper.  We talked about some traditional ways to draw 3D shapes and also tried to explain that there is no "one right way."

The next step of the lesson was to attempt to draw a building of 3D blocks.  This was also an interesting and often frustrating task for the kiddos.  They struggled to figure out how to show depth, angles, and height.  After they had something on paper, I had them switch with a peer and try to create the building they saw on paper.  This really showed them the importance of accuracy and perspective. As a class, we discussed the challenges of this activity and why it was valuable to learn from both our success and mistakes in drawing 3D shapes.

Next week, we are back to focusing on addition and introducing subtraction.  Let's see how that goes!

November 19, 2012

Editing and Re-Writing

Personal Narratives continued...

Yesterday I posted about the revising process that each kiddo went through to improve his/her personal narrative story.  After we had completed our revisions, the next step was editing.  I found a great teaching video that I used to model my introduction of editing.  We made the same "Features of Easy-to-Read Writing" Anchor Chart.

Again, the kiddos relied on their writing partners and red pens to check their work.  After the little writers felt confident about their stories, they had to get their stories checked out by a teacher.  Then they could begin to re-write.  

The re-writing process seems to drag on forever, but I feel strongly that re-writing is a valuable skill to learn.  Through re-writing, the kiddos incorporate the revising and editing changes that they made earlier, while ensuring that the message of their story still comes through.  Plus, they carefully check their handwriting, capitalization, spelling, punctuation, and spacing to ensure that their stories are "easy-to-read."

Today we finally added our cover pages and an "About the Author" page to complete our books. Most of the kiddos have now finished their stories (finally!) and they are ready to go for our school-wide Publishing Night next week.  Publishing Night at our school consists of inviting the school community to read our authors' books.  We pin each book on our bulletin board and put a little envelope (or library card pocket) next to each piece and leave index cards for visitor to write "Notes to the Author."  It's very exciting for the kiddos to get feedback from friends and family members.  Can't wait!

November 18, 2012

Selecting and Revising

This post is a follow-up on my earlier "Personal Narratives" post.  In that first post, I explained how we got started introducing Personal Narratives through Mentor Texts and teacher modeling.  After about two weeks of exploring different types of personal narratives and drafting various stories, we were ready to select one story to prepare for publishing.  In order to do this, we asked ourselves a series of questions as we read through our drafts (I modeled this process with my own drafts as well).  Then we chose just one draft that we thought we could write a lot about and would be most interesting to our future readers.

Once everyone had a draft selected, we began revising.  In this unit, we focused on adding sensory details and vivid words to our writing.  The kiddos came up with some pretty interesting descriptors, like "it's smelled like garbage" and "opening presents was very enjoyable."  I encourage them to read and re-read their stories during the revising process to make sure their story still makes sense, but it's often not sufficient.  (I know the feeling after noticing many typos in these blogs posts long after publishing them!)  We discuss how it's hard to check and improve your own work because you know the story too well, which is why we rely on writing partners.  

I create my writing partnerships mostly by ability -- strong writers support other strong writers and weaker writers are paired together.  I know the weaker writers will need more guidance, so they often revise in small groups with myself or my assistant teacher.  The more skilled writers are typically able to read through each others' work and notice places that don't make sense or suggest improvements independently.  They work together to cross out, change, and add to their stories.  It's kind of amazing to watch!  

The next step in the process is editing and re-writing... but this post is getting long so I'll save that for next time.

November 13, 2012

Asking Questions

As I've posted before, I love finding new teaching videos.  I recently found this one about asking questions before, during, and after reading and decided to try it in my class.

I made a few adaptations to the lesson to make it work a little better for my first grade kiddos.  I used the book Milo and the Fire Engine Parade (although Supermotamus looks like a fun book!) and I started the lesson by modeling how I would look at the book and generate "Before Reading" questions.  Then I gave each kid two post-its.  One said "During reading, I wonder..." and the other said, "After reading, I wonder..." As I read the story, I paused and gave the kiddos a chance to write down their questions.  At the end of the story, I went through the same process as the teacher in the video and we considered whether or not our questions had been answered.  I really liked this aspect of the lesson because I think it was an important point to make -- while we look for answers in the story, sometimes we don't find the answers and that's okay if the question wasn't essential to our understanding.

Then, I took the practice a step further by asking the kids to do the same process in their Independent Reading.  I gave them a sheet with three boxes to practice asking questions before, during, and after reading a "Just-Right" (Independent Level) book.  This was a good check to see if the kiddos really got the idea.  Asking questions about their own reading is an important Common Core Literacy Standard so it's something I will revisit frequently this year, but this was a great start!  Plus it went right along with our newest Comprehension Helper: Questioning Owl.   

I'm so glad I found a video to inspire yet another lesson.  As it happend, the day I was taught this lesson, I was being filmed as well.  A few months ago I volunteered to participate in a program with my school district to gather footage that will be used as part of a training for new teachers in the district. I'm pleased to say that the folks from the district were very impressed with my kiddos! :)

November 11, 2012

Veterans' Day

Tomorrow we have off of school for Veterans' Day, so on Friday I took the opportunity to teach the kiddos about this important national holiday.  This actually fit in perfectly to our American Symbols Unit in Social Studies because we've been talking about the Armed Forces and civic values of bravery and freedom.  I've really loved this unit, especially because we live in DC and it's great to point out all of the national symbols right in our city.

To begin the lesson I read The Wall, by Eve Bunting, a poignant story of a boy visiting the Vietnam Wall looking for his grandfather's name.  Some of the kiddos were familiar with the memorial, but others were excited to learn that it is so close to us.  Throughout the story, I stopped frequently to break down the story.  We talked about why people bring momentos to memorials and why family members feel proud of people who died fighting in wars.  After reading the book, I explained that we were going to write letters to veterans.  As a class we brainstormed some ideas of what to write in our letters.  The kiddos had some great ideas (like "thank you for protecting our country") and some funny ones (like "I'm glad you didn't die").  I tried to steer them toward respectful and appropriate comments but also tried to let them use their own ideas.  I told the kiddos that I would pass on their letters to veterans in our community and they were thrilled! (The adorable paper was a wonderful freebie from Fun in First.)

Our school is located across the street from an American Legion Post, and we've been fortunate to work with their members in the past for various community activities.  I thought this would be a perfect place to share our letters so I took them over after school.  I intended to just drop off the letters and call it a day, but as I was explaining this, an older gentleman at the bar called me over.  He wanted to know all about our class and how the kiddos had written the letters (he even said, "They can write in first grade? That's great!")  Then he asked if I would be willing to let them share the letters as part of the Post's Veterans' Day Presentation.  I was so touched!  I emailed with the Commander of the Post who is so excited to present the kiddos letters.  I never guessed this lesson would make such an impact, but I'm so glad it did.  I will definitely be doing it every year!

Personal Narratives

This week we are going to be wrapping up our Personal Narratives Writing Unit.  This is the second year I've taught this unit, and I'm pleased to say that I'm feeling more comfortable with it this time around. The kiddos are really into it too!  

Our first grade team used Lucy Calkin's Personal Narratives Writing Unit to plan this unit, but also got a lot of ideas from Writing Fundamentals K-1 Personal Narrative Unit.  We started by introducing a few "Mentor Texts." These books guide our work throughout the unit.  Our favorites were The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco and The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant.  In both of these books, the authors tells compelling stories about family and tradition.  They describe special items and places with rich details and vivid language.  As we read our Mentor Texts, we developed an Anchor Chart to remind us of the important features of Personal Narratives.  At the beginning of each mini-lesson we review the Anchor Chart to remind the ourselves what type of story we are creating.

The kiddos started their pre-writing by thinking of special scenes and stories from their childhood (however short it's been).  I modeled thinking about teaching my younger brother how to ride his bike.  Then we moved on to thinking about traditions and rituals from our families.  I modeled writing about my family's tradition of going out to eat on the first day of school.  The kiddos really love to hear my personal stories and it's a great way to demonstrate the steps of the writing process that I want them to mimic.  One of my wonderful co-workers designed a graphic organizer to help the kiddos outline the beginning, middle, and end of their stories. Once they had their plan, they took off drafting their personal narratives.  It's so cute to see them get excited to share stories of losing their first teeth, going to movie theater for the first time, spending summer vacation with family, and visiting grandparents for the holidays.

We are now deep in the writing process and the kiddos are busy revising and editing. I'll post about how this goes soon!

November 10, 2012

Chill Spot / Hurricane Relief

Last week, the northeast got slammed by Hurricane Sandy.  Our area was very fortunate and I was able to spend our two days out of school making soup and brownies.  My apartment building had no damage but my classroom wasn't quite as lucky.  When I got back to school on Wednesday, I discovered that my carpet and a corner of my classroom had been flooded.  I helped the lovely custodian move the carpet out so it could dry out and be cleaned, but I had to toss the small rug and pillow that I kept in the corner.  The corner of our room is where we have our "Chill Spot" so I figured now would be a good time to post about this invaluable part of my classroom.  The "Chill Spot" is basically "Time Out" but it's not a punitive area. 

Early in the year, my students and I talked a lot about feelings.  We read some of my favorite books, including Wemberly Worried and When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry.  We talked about different ways we can deal with our feelings in safe and appropriate ways.  Then we decided to create a place in our classroom where we could go and deal with our feelings.  This year, our Chill Spot has a very soft teddy bear, a box of tissues to dry away tears, a book about feelings (The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too!), and a sand timer to help distract students and give them a sense of time when they are in the Chill Spot.  I do have guidelines for the Chill Spot: students can go here to calm down when they feel sad, angry, or nervous; it is not a place to play or be noisy.  Students are still responsible for all of their work when they are in the Chill Spot and they are not allowed to go during mini-lessons.  I have had a similar spot in my classrooms as long as I've been teaching, and I'm always surprised and impressed by how well students utilize the area.  Some student will ask to go the Chill Spot and sometimes I will encourage a student to go here if I notice him getting angry or upset.  If a student has been in the Chill Spot for awhile, I'll tell her to turn the sand-timer over two more times and then re-join the class.  Sometimes I talk to the student in the Chill Spot, other times I'll ask another student to check-in on a friend.

I've gotten most of the ideas for my Chill Spot from Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelson.  (I'll post more on how I use Positive Discipline another time.)  Jane stresses the importance of making your "Time Out" a comfortable place.  Hopefully our Chill Spot will be back to full comfort level soon!

In the meantime, we're getting by with tape marked on the floor to remind the kiddos where they would normally sit on the carpet. One of my very good friends and I hit up BJ's to get some items to donate to the Hurricane Relief efforts so others can get back to full comfort as soon as possible as well.  And in the future I will remember to fold up the carpet and put the pillows on top of the desks when a big rain is predicted!