April 8, 2015

Just-Right Reading

Have you ever picked up an article or text book, read a page or even an entire chapter, and then realized that you have no idea what you just read? When kiddos attempt to read books that are too challenging or above their level, they may think they are reading, but they may not be fully understanding the text.  This can lead young readers to have a false sense of what it means to be a reader.

When they read "just-right" books, kiddos are simultaneously learning and practicing reading skills, including decoding, predicting, connecting, and analyzing.  When they read books that are not just-right, they may think they are doing these things, but often they are doing just the opposite!  Instead of decoding smoothly (blending sounds into words), they may skip over words that are too long or confusing.  Instead of making logical observations, they may notice unimportant details.  Instead of making helpful connections to the characters or situation in the story, they may miss details and nuance.  Instead of analyzing the text as a whole, they may simply get the gist and then move on.  

Early in the year, I use the analogy of riding a bike to help my kiddos understand the importance of reading just-right books. When you ride a bike downhill, you ride so fast that you don't have to work at all; similarly, when you read a book that's too easy, you read quickly and may not think about what you're reading.  When you ride a bike uphill, you have to work so hard that you get tired easily.  Likewise, when you read an "uphill" book, your brain has to work too hard and your reading sounds "bumpy."  Riding a bike on a mostly flat path allows you to work your muscles and the more you do it, the stronger you get.  That's how just-right books work too -- you "grow your brain" each time you read!
Get this  Just-Right Book chart and more!
Especially when kiddos are just learning to read, it is essential that they spend the majority of their independent reading time with just-right books.  Just-right books are books that they can read with strong accuracy and fluency and comprehend deeply, using a variety of skills appropriate for the level of the book.  My kiddos know that "when books are just-right, we can think, talk, draw, and write about them."

Friends Move On

Our school isn't in a particularly transient area, but we still typically have one or two kids who leave before the end of the school year.  It's always hard to know how to say good-bye and good-luck to these friends mid-year, but this year I created a little "scrapbook" to record memories and wishes.  It was a big hit with all of the kiddos, and a special memento for the family.

A few days before Luca's last day, I sent him to another teacher's room to read while the rest of my class worked on their pages.  The kiddos drew pictures and wrote kind words to remember their friend. I compiled all of the pages and put them together in a report cover.  On Luca's last day, we invited his mom and little sister into class and presented him with our scrapbook.  He was thrilled (and mom cried). We miss them already!

These aren't the best pictures, but you get the idea.  I actually realized that we needed a picture box next to favorite memory so I updated the pages after this.  Download your own FREEBIE copy!

April 7, 2015

Word Study Updates (and UPDATED FREEBIE)

This fall, I changed up the way that I do Word Study in my classroom to try to make it "stickier" for my kiddos.  (I blogged about it here: Words Their Way Vocabulary).  During the first semester, I liked the new routine and on my mid-year Spelling Inventory assessment the kiddos showed growth as well.  However, I noticed that not all of the my kiddos were making adequate progress.  

As I thought about why this might be, I realized that some kiddos were not using their practice time efficiently or productively.  In the building stations (like letter magnets and letter cubes), some kiddos were just playing with the materials, not actually spending time practicing the words from their sort.  In other stations, the kids were quickly writing a few words and then spending the rest of the time drawing.

I decided to make some changes for the second semester to ensure that all of the stations were equally productive.  First, I added an extra day to our routine to focus on writing all the words in the sort.  The kiddos write the words and underline the spelling pattern.  After they have written all the words, they can highlight over them or "rainbow write" (trace over the words with three colored pencils).  The kids love these options and it ensures that they have all write all of the words at least once.

I also created a new recording mat for students to use in the building stations.  When the kiddos choose a station, they have to start by writing 6 words that they want to build.  Then, as they make each word, they have to check it off on the recording mat.  When they use stamping letters, they can actually stamp the words right on to the mat! 

With these additions, I'm more confident that my kiddos are getting adequate practice writing their new words.  Given that my ultimate goal for Word Study is transferability to writing, this is very important.  Plus, I've increased the accountability so I can follow up with any kiddos who do not complete their work during Word Study time.

We've been using this system for the past 9 weeks and I can already see the improvements!


April 6, 2015

Geography Tools

One of the Social Studies expectations for first graders in DC is to interpret the use of map elements to organize information about places and environment. Last year, the kiddos explored various map tools, including globes and atlases, and we had a discussion about their similarities and differences (see post).  This year, I did the same activity but created a worksheet to let the kiddos make their own observations.

I set out each of the tools on a table around the room and divided the kiddos into groups. They travelled around the room with their graphic organizers filling in each column as they explored each tool.  They did such a great job!

Grab this graphic organizer here for FREE!

April 5, 2015

Finally Spring!

It's finally starting to feel like Spring in DC!  It's been a long winter, which has meant a lot of indoor recess.  Indoor recess is rarely ideal (kiddos need to get out of the classroom and run), but when it's freezing or raining, indoor recess is the perfect opportunity to break out some of my favorite games.

Set: This game has been a favorite in my family for years.  The object of the game is to find 3 cards that make a "set," which either means they have something that is in common across all of them or have nothing in common across all of them.  It's challenging, but so fun!

Scrabble: This game can tough for first graders who don't have very large vocabularies, but it's actually great for practicing sight words and phonics. We allow "invented spelling" so the kids can build words with the sounds they know.  An added bonus is that keeping-score is perfect for practicing multiple-addend addition (i.e. 5 + 6 + 3 + 4)

Checkers: A classic.  Most of the kiddos know how to play this game since it's so easy to learn.  They can set it up and manage it all by themselves which is helpful for me.  We have lots of extra pieces because inevitably a few get swept up or slide under a shelf every time we take it out.

Chess: My little brother could beat me at this game when he was 4 (and I was 20), but I still enjoy it. I typically have a few kiddos who already know how to play, and I put them in charge of teaching the others.  I'm always impressed by how they can remember all of the rules for each piece.  I'm not sure the kiddos ever get through a whole game after all of the explaining, but they still seem to have fun.  

* I didn't receive any compensation for these endorsements.  These are genuinely my favorite games and the best way to keep everyone sane during the endless weeks of indoor recess. -- Sarah :)