Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Day Fun!

Hi friends!  Whew!  It's been almost two months since my last blog post!  Can you say CRAZY.  TOWN.  I forget how insane the first quarter of kindergarten can be.  I am finally starting to feel like I can breathe.  A little. 

What better time to get back into the blogging rhythm then the presidential election!  While my personal feelings regarding the election are preventing me from getting too pumped (I'm honestly thinking about fleeing the country...think Canada will take me?...) I have been excited to share the democratic process with my students!  Here are a few fun and easy ideas!

In a typical school year, my students have many opportunities to vote and express their opinions and choices in our classroom.  However, for today, my kindergarten team wanted to kick it up a notch.  We decided we would have all of our kindergarten students vote on their favorite cookie - Oreo or chocolate chip.  We set up a 'voting booth' in the hallway using old testing cubbies and hung curtains on them for privacy.  Then students from each class took turns making their vote.  The results will be tallied this evening and our kindergarten students will get to enjoy our yummy winner in the morning!  I'm secretly hoping Oreo wins!  ;)


While I was excited about the idea of the entire kindergarten voting as one (especially on a cookie...) I felt that I needed to do something additional within my classroom to help my students understand just how important the presidential election is and how long term the results are.  While scanning Instagram one night, I came across this blog post from Crayons and Cuties and I instantly fell in love!  Take home reading buddies has been something I have been wanting to start for some time now.  Students will be able to take home a special storybook character, along with several books starring that character, for a few days to read with their families.  I love the idea of putting literature into the homes of my students, as well as getting my lower readers excited about spending time with a book.  Jennifer's idea for an election to choose the class reading buddy for the year was PERFECT!

I started by choosing three characters by students would know and love - Elephant and Piggie from the beloved Mo Willems books, Clifford, and Bear from the Karma Wilson series.  I then created 'campaign speeches' for each of the candidates to explain why that candidate would be the best take home reading buddy, and why my students should vote for them.  

We discussed the importance of our votes being private and using our own mind to make the decision - not being influenced by what a friend is choosing, but using your heart and brain to make the best choice.  We used a collapsible writing center set on our stage as a make shift voting booth.  All of my students were very serious about their peers not seeing their answers and they were so proud to have the opportunity to vote in such an important election!  (P.S. Elephant and Piggie were the winners!)

After voting, we talked about how proud people in our country are for the chance to be able to vote for their president - not everyone has this opportunity and that's why we show our pride by wearing stickers.  Of course, then  we HAD to have stickers to show off how proud we were!  :)

We read My Teacher for President and discussed the qualities a president needs to be a good leader - which were very similar to being a good teacher.... ;) 

We also make an American flag snack....because why not?!  I found these blue Sixlet candies in the birthday party section at Wal-Mart!!!! #winning

We wrapped up our election focus by discussing our future and that anyone can be a future president.   You just need to be a good, kind person and work hard!  Can't wait to see where the future takes this class of sweet little Kindergartners!  Cheers!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

10 Things To Do Before Back to School: #10

I know I know, I haven't posted my 10th thing to do before you start back to school.  Guess what?  It's because I've been doing it - FULLY.  The final item I have is remember to take time for yourself and your family.  

Back to school is not only hard on you, but your whole family.  My children don't get the well rested, refreshed mommy they had over the summer, they get the tired, worn out, overworked back to school mommy - and it's no fun for anyone.  I feel overwhelmed - with a to do list that never ends and the worry and stress of the upcoming year keeping me up at night.

While I know it's difficult (TRUST ME, I KNOW!) try to remember to take time to just have fun.  Enjoy a movie night, read a book that isn't professional development, take a day trip, eat the ice cream, laugh, and smile.  

This summer, leading up to the beginning of school, my girls and I enjoyed a trip to the Science Center in STL, some shopping, days at the park and evening walks in our neighborhood.  We also multiple movies nights and sleepovers in mommy's bed.  Whatever makes your soul happy, do it.  Life's too short not to!  You need it!  You will be a better teacher for it in the end!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

10 Things To Do Before Back to School: #9


As you get closer to your school year starting, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and maybe even negative about the beginning of school.  The first day/week/month of school can be STRESSFUL for everyone involved and it's hard not to get caught up in our own little overworked bubble.   

I am fortunate to work in a building and district where everyone truly supports their teachers and comes together for the greater good.  Before school even begins, we come together to discuss the upcoming school year and get pumped for job ahead of us.  My district has a "Welcome Back" breakfast the day before school starts every year.  Teachers from all over our district come together and eat breakfast, catch up, and get excited.  This year was no exception.  We celebrated together a teacher who fought and survived brain cancer over the past two years and is now back in the classroom.  We celebrated a high school student who has won national honors with a speech he wrote.  We celebrated and welcomed new staff to our district and we look at our district's strategic plan so we know exactly where we are headed.  

I look forward to this breakfast every year.  Some view it as something else staff have to sit through before school starts, but I view it as an opportunity to celebrate a fresh start, another year, another chance to make a difference.  This year, my favorite part was when we were asked to write down why we were proud to work in the district we do.  For me, there are so many reasons.  Both as a teacher and parent, I am proud of the teachers our district has and the work that is done to take care of the whole child.  It's truly awe inspiring.  After writing down our thoughts, we took pictures and put them on social media with the hashtag #jr2proud.  It's so fun to look and see all of the reasons on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter why we are proud to work for our district.  

♥ My Kindergarten team is the bomb!!! ♥

No matter what you do or your district does to get pumped or excited, jump in head first.  Have a positive attitude.  Let go of what happened last year.  Look forward to the year ahead.  Maybe this will be the year you start feeling really good about teaching that concept that used to scare you.  Or maybe you join a new committee and you really start feeling like you are making a difference.  Not only do you NEED and DESERVE a fresh start, students and families do too.  Maybe this year, you'll be the teacher that child finally connects with, or that teacher a mom feels she can really express her concerns to.  What ever good is going to happen, is needs to start with a positive attitude.  So start your year ready to rock and roll rock star.  You got this!  

Friday, August 12, 2016

10 Things To Do Before Back to School: #8

The next tip I have for getting ready for back to school involves setting goals with students.  While students may not be in your classroom yet, you can begin to think about what you want your students' goals to look like, how you will track them, and how you will celebrate successes.  

Goal setting is the process of establishing an outcome (a goal) to serve as the aim of one's actions. 

It also gives students a clear explanation of where they are going and why you are doing what you’re doing in your classroom – a purpose for their learning.

Goals may be relatively close at hand (proximal) such as reading one chapter tonight, or more long term (distant) such as reading one chapter by the end of the current week. Proximal goals lead to higher motivation directed toward goal attainment than do long-term goals (Bandura, 1986). 

I have found that implementing student goals in my classroom dramatically changes student learning.   When students are a part of the decision making process regarding what they would like to work on, what the goal should be and what happens when they reach that goal, they are more motivated to work toward it.  

Here are some steps to help you get started:

1.Decide if you are going to have one similar long term goal for all students or individual long term goals.
2.Choose 1 – 2 goals that are TOP PRIORITY.
3.Decide how you are going to measure/track those goals.
4.Decide how often you are going to check on progress
5.Celebrate successes.

Choosing a long term goal with a student or class is important, but you should be able to break down that goal into smaller, short term goals.  

Long Term Goal: Every student will increase the number of sight words read by the end of the school year.
Short Term Goal: Max will increase the number of sight words read by ten by the end of the first quarter.

Deciding how and how often you will track student goals really depends on you and your students.  Typically I check student goals every other week.  Higher risk students are checked more frequently - maybe even once or twice a week - to be sure they are progressing toward their goal. 

The important thing to remember is that, although each student may be working toward the same goal (increasing number of sight words read) that can (AND SHOULD!) look different for each kiddo.  A struggling reader may focus on having the goal of increasing only two or three words over the quarter, while another may increase by 12.  It's important to make the goals challenging - yet attainable - for each student in your class.  Otherwise, students will not reach goals and their motivation to learn will suffer. 

I use my student goal tracking forms to set goals with my students.  They are very teacher and kid friendly!

To look at these forms just click on the picture below!

If you want to have a place in your classroom to track student goals and celebrate as a whole class, here are some things to consider.  Do you want student data and information to be displayed?  Do you want each student's goal to be displayed?  I personally don't like having individual student goals available for everyone.  That should be kept private and be a conversation between teacher, student and family.  I do, however, like to give students a way to see how their friends are progressing on their goals.  Students are great motivators for each other and it's an opportunity to teach children about supporting one another.  

In our early childhood classrooms, our teachers have done a FABULOUS job of making student goals exciting for their young students.  

This teacher has a space theme.  When students make their goal their picture is placed on Earth.  When they are halfway to their goal, they are in a rocket.  And when they meet their goal they land on the moon!  All students are working on the same standard (i.e. counting) but each student has an individualized goal to work toward so they can be successful. 

This teacher did the same concept with superheroes.  When a student sets their goal their picture is place on the board.  When they are halfway to their goal, they earn a superhero mask.  When they meet their goal, they earn a cape!  She even lets students wear a special cape in the classroom when their goal is met.  How fun?!

Breaking down larger goals in smaller tangible goals for students can prevent them from feeling overwhelmed and like they may never get there.  This teacher took the long term objective 'counts' and broke it down into it's precursors.  There are descriptions under each section that explain what a student must demonstrate to be considered meeting and a student places their marker or symbol underneath.  The goal is for students to visually see themselves progress across the standard toward the big goal.  

When students or your class reach a goal - CELEBRATE!!!  Have a class party!  Brag on your students!

I love bragging on exactly what students worked hard to learn.  Crowns or stamps that state "I know my letters!" are great ways to celebrate successes while communicating it with parents!

Whatever you do to celebrate, get your kiddos involved!   They worked hard!  :)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

10 Things To Do Before Back to School: #7

Happy Saturday morning friends!  I am a little behind on my 10 Things To Do Before Back to School posts so today I'm playing catch up.  Next up - creating a daily schedule and beginning your lesson plans for the school year.  

While for most of us, our daily schedule is at the mercy of our administration, we do have some control over when we teach certain subjects.  Our biggest chunks of time should be directed to reading and math instruction.  I personally like teaching reading in the morning while my students are still fresh for the day.  I save math and science - typically more hands on subjects - for after lunch.  It's also important to consider the flow of your day.  As I began working on my schedule for this year, I knew I wanted to put my read aloud right before my writing block.  Often we take what we've discussed in our read aloud and incorporate it into our writing so to pair them together made sense. 

Once you have a daily schedule in place, you can create or set your lesson plan template.  Mine might not be fancy, but it works for me!  I like viewing my day vertically.  It allows me to go down the activities through the day and check them off. 

I type in my lesson plans each week then print them off and stick them in my planning binder.  This binder holds my lesson plans, student information sheets, pacing chart from our district and our pacing calendar created by our kindergarten team.  

The pacing chart is created each year by our instructional facilitator team.  It lays out what we should be teaching each quarter for the year.  It also lays our what standards are report card items.  

While the district tells us what to teach each quarter, it is our discretion to decide what to teach when during that quarter.  Our district has 16 different kindergarten classrooms and, as a kindergarten team, we decided it would be helpful for all of us to be on the same page as far as what we were teaching each week.  This would help with students transferring to other buildings and would help teacher share ideas and resources.  We typically choose a day each summer and get together to decide the kindergarten pacing calendar.  We decide what we are teaching each week, the focus sight words each week and when we are assessing report cards items.  This has been TREMENDOUSLY helpful for consistency within our team!  This year, I used Google Sheets to create the calendar.  It took a little while at first, but I figured it out!  Each subject is color coded so teachers can easily read what we are teaching in ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Writing.  

Be sure to consider any and all curriculum calendars into your pacing calendar.  We specially follow our Handwriting Tears Guidelines when deciding what letters to teach in handwriting and we use the guide in our Go Math curriculum to determine how long teaching a chapter should roughly take (note: all classes are different and we allow teachers/classes to move a little faster or slower through the calendar).  Our Social Studies curriculum is new this year and I am excited to check it out!

Beginning next weekend, I will be sharing my weekly plans with you each Sunday - that's my goal anyway.... ;)  Be sure to come back and check out the resources I'm using!