August 30, 2013

Writer's Inspiration

Last year during the first week of Writers Workshop, I had my kiddos fill out a "Heart Map."  I taught a lesson about how writers get their inspiration from the things that they love.  Then each kiddo drew pictures of the things they loved inside their heart, so they could refer to it whenever they needed an idea for a new story.

This year our first grade team debated the merits of the "Heart Map."  On the one hand, it served it's purpose, but on the other hand, it didn't quite seem complete.  My incredible teammate came up with the idea of using a person outline instead, and having each part of the person represent a different source of inspiration.  We decided to give it a try and they turned out great!  The kiddos thought of so many ways to fill in their "people."

Writer's Insipiration
Head: Writers get ideas from things they know a lot about
Arms: Writers get ideas from what they do
Heart: Writers get ideas from people/things they love
Feet: Writers get ideas from places they go

This was also a fun lesson for me because it was the first time that I got to model writing using my Elmo document camera. This is the first year our school has provided us with classroom document cameras and -- wow!  I don't know how I lived without one all these years. It was so convenient to take the exact same paper that the kiddos would see, and show them exactly how to use it.  Plus, the kiddos think it's pretty cool that I can write something on paper and it shows up on the computer screen and SMART board.  I can't wait to write many more stories under the document camera!

August 29, 2013

What do readers read?

This year I decided to make a "What do readers read?" anchor chart to start off Readers Workshop.  I've seen a few similar versions on Pinterest and other teacher sites, and I loved the message: reading is all around us and we are all readers.

We started with just the typical "words," "books," and "sentences," but then the kiddos started to get in to it. One little girl had just been to the dentist and had a "Great Check-up!" sticker, so we added "stickers."  We'd just talked about our how we "read" calendars and graphs in Math, so we had to add those. Then one kiddo shared that his mom had read the flyer that went home about Picture Day, so that led to adding "catalogs" and "posters."  One creative kid even came up "time"... but I left that one off :)

After we made the chart, I sent the kiddos off to explore reading bins at their tables. I made sure to include a variety of fiction, nonfiction, short, long, hard and soft cover books in each bin to reinforce the idea that readers have many options.  For the next couple of weeks, I will rotate these bins around the tables and add in some simple poetry anthologies, wordless books, and more decodable texts.  We will continue to use table bins until we make the transition into individual, leveled book bins in a week or two (once I finish their reading assessments!)

I think this anchor chart will become one of the staples in our room.  I know we will have many opportunities to return to it as we move through nonfiction, how-to, poetry, and persuasive units in reading and writing.  

The First Week

Our first week is coming to a close!

The first week of school is one of the longest weeks of the year -- every activity, every transition, every procedure takes so much time to explain and execute!  I repeat almost everything I say at least 5 times, and we practice each step in our day multiple times.  Each day this week has been dedicated to important foundational activities, including defining class rules, establishing the daily schedule, setting goals, and learning primary routines.  During the course of this week our classroom went from blank walls and empty seats to essential charts and busy bodies.

As part of the Responsive Classroom approach, our school uses "The First Six Weeks of School" to pace ourselves during this important time.  But every year I have the urge to rush through my plans, especially when things seem to be going well.  Nevertheless, I'm trying to step back and reflect on where we could improve, what procedures we need to review, which expectations need to be held even higher.

Tomorrow I will ensure quiet during our Morning Warm-up and send the kiddos back to their seats when they come up to me with questions;  I will insist that they are looking at me before I give directions;  I will make them practice walking through the hallways in a straight and silent line once again.  I know it will be worth it for all the hours it will save us over the next few months when we can start each day peacefully, transition smoothly, and arrive at lunch on time.

Then next week, I will do it all over again ;)

August 14, 2013

The Unknowns

Last year I had an amazing group of first graders!  They were curious, thoughtful, smart, flexible, and articulate.  I was blessed.  Our year together was bliss in so many ways (I particularly loved our American Symbols Unit, studying Veteran's Day together, and our weekly Class Meetings).

As the new school year approaches, I'm filled with mixed emotions -- I'm excited about the plans and goals I have for the upcoming year; but I'm also missing my kiddos who've moved on to 2nd grade; and I'm anxious about my new class.

There are so many unknowns with these new guys: Will they be creative or analytical? Will they be determined or relaxed?  Helpful?  Funny?  Loud?

This year, I'm even more nervous than usual because this is the first time, in the last couple of years, that I don't know many of my incoming students.  Two years ago, I moved from teaching Pre-K to teaching first grade, so for the last two years I've taught a number of former students.  Even before that, I often knew my incoming kiddos pretty well because the PK3s (3-year-olds) and PK4s (4-year-olds) play together frequently on the playground.  This past year, I had few interactions with the Kindergarteners so I don't know the upcoming group very well.

As I was stressing about these concerns last night (for at least the 5th time this week), my wonderful husband pointed out that not knowing my class simply means I'll have a group of kids I just don't know I love yet.

How true. (He's so smart!)  Now I'm trying to remind myself of all the unknowns I've faced in the past; there was a time when I didn't know any of my most favorite students.  Once, they were all just names on a list.  Now they are the kids that make me smile when I think of them; the ones who run up to me with hugs on the playground; the ones who wave enthusiastically when we pass in the hallway.  I know it will only be a matter of time before all these new kiddos will be added to that list too.

August 11, 2013

Back from the Summer

Celebrating the end of the school year!
When I left off with this blog, it was late May and we were starting to wrap things up at school for the summer.  The last month of school became a blur of assessments, meetings, cleaning, packing, and good-byes.  Then once school finally ended, I got a short break (two days!) before starting up Summer School for the next four weeks.  Fortunately, I had an amazing group of third grade mathematicians who made the summer session go very quickly.  In all of that, however, I never got back around to blogging.

Now It's hard for me to believe that I'm about to go into my seventh year of teaching, but here we are, and I'm still loving it.  This summer I've had the opportunity to get more involved with the leadership at my school and work on a number of projects specifically for the first and second grade team.  I've also been developing my own clipart (using the ArtStudio app) and learning more about creating interactive SMART board Notebooks.  Fortunately, I still found time to do some traveling, read a few good books, and attend a number of baseball games.

Summer is coming quickly to end though, I'm participating in a training next week hosted at my school by the Investigations Math curriculum, and then we start our "Week Zero" -- the week before the kiddos come back.  Ahh!  So of course, I'm busy planning my first unit, writing family letters, making labels, and trying to stock the freezer with meals to get us through the first few weeks, when I know I'll be either too busy or tired to cook on most nights.

I'm also looking forward to getting back into the blogging world for this upcoming school year (... and taking advantage of a few more days of reading in the sun and yoga in the park)!