Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Student Plans for Traditional Centers

In the Kindergarten world there are so many various types of "center time."  Its means something different to each and every teacher.  Some have specific spaces in their classroom devoted to each center and others prefer "take it to your seat" types of centers.  I'll never forget a situation when I began student teaching in a first grade classroom.  I was accustomed to specific areas being devoted to individual centers. My cooperating teacher was very excited when showing me her room for the first time. She was gushing over her centers. I was so confused and kept looking around the room for a science or math center. No...she had just put a lot of time and effort into creating a multitude of "take it to your seat" centers in coordinating bins. I was so embarrassed after asking her "where" her centers were. I had not had any experience in a room without designated learning spaces.  Ugh.

Space is not the only differentiating factor when thinking of centers. The focus or intention of the center time can mean something different for each teacher as well.    In my classroom we have three different types of "centers." Our literacy block includes activities based on the Daily 5 model but my kids still seem to refer to them as centers.   We also have math stations which again are another form of centers.  Finally we have our traditional centers which my kids just seem to refer to as "Center Time."  We just got a new student today and my kids excitedly told her that we had THREE center times! Her little face lit up and but they quickly informed her she didn't get to go to the house or block center during two of the center times. They  filled her in on the rest as the day went on. I just love my class! =)

Center time can often get a bad rap unfortunately.  For someone who has three center times in her classroom it's obvious that I enjoy teaching through the use of centers and small group work.  However I can recall in my early years of teaching (when the Constructivist approach was gaining popularity in our area) visiting some classrooms that even I was unable to see the purpose of the centers.  You know what I'm talking about.....chaos, kids running all over, a mess of materials and a teacher who is not interacting with the students at all.  I think we went through a spell where teachers who were not trained to teach using centers were told they must use centers and the result was a bad rap for center time for the rest of us.  Boo.

I've been fortunate to have opportunities to visit some wonderful  Kindergarten rooms in other districts. However, their use of traditional centers was being pushed to the side in favor of strictly math and literacy centers. That's a whole different post but let's just say that I'm not in favor of that approach.  So much learning can and does take place in a Kindergarten classroom that incorporates traditional centers into their daily routine.

I have found that it takes careful planning to keep my traditional centers fresh and interesting for my students.  I'm also always looking for ways to include literacy &/or math skills into my traditional centers as well.  I tend to focus on a theme in my traditional centers and I rotate materials and activities quite frequently.  Many times I include small group projects to take place during this time.  We may have a group working on an ocean mural in the art center, while others are in the science center reading ocean books and recording their observations of what they've learned.

Another activity that seems to help create more focus for our traditional centers is having the individual students write a plan for what centers they would like to work in.  I began doing this years ago and I would have the students just write on scrap paper "My plan is ________ and _________."  They would use our center signs from around the room to help them spell the names of the centers.  Also on the scrap paper I would have them draw a picture of what types of activities they planned on working on in their chosen centers.  Time permitting we would share our plans and at times I even had students work on plans together. The kids were engaged in their activities and often many activities were extended to the next day.  There was pride and ownership in the learning that was taking place during this time.  This system worked BEAUTIFULLY for me for YEARS.  I really have no idea why I quit having my students write plans other than the fact I had one very challenging class that caused me to do a lot of things differently in my classroom.  We just seemed to get away from writing plans.  Sad....but true.

But this year is a new year and I have a wonderful group of kiddos.  I decided that I would love to bring back plan writing. It's been a couple of years since I've had a class try this. My only issue for now is that I'm not sure that this class is ready to actually begin WRITING  their plans.  After talking to Mrs. B from down the hall I decided to try something that she uses at the beginning of the year with her kids.  She made a paper chart for each student that includes pictures of each center.  There is a section for each day of the week and the kids just circle two centers that they would like to work in that day.  I decided to create one of my own that you can check out.  This includes all of my traditional centers but is so easy to edit to include your own.

So for right now I'm asking my students to circle three centers that they would like to work in each day. They only get to work in two but I've asked them to circle a third as a "back up plan" in case their first two choices are filled up. =)  We begin center time on the carpet and everyone brings their plan paper with them. As I pull their clips from the chart they bring me their plan.  Time permitting I try to ask them what they plan on working on in their first choice center.  This encourages them to really think about what activity they would like to be involved in instead of getting to the center and deciding they are really wanting to change to their second choice center right away.  

As I'm pulling clips and discussing plans the rest of the group can monitor how many students are in each center by reading the numbers on the center cards. As you can see on the above card four kids can go to this center.  This helps them while they are waiting for their turn to think about if they will need to go to their second choice center first or resort to their "back up plan" center for the day.  I let my kids change their center once on their own during our center time.....but it must be a center they wrote their plan for. It does take some time for them to learn the procedure for this but once they do it's not a problem at all!

Everyone has their favorite centers but I do encourage them to pick different centers each day.  Later in the year I keep track of their centers in order to avoid having students pick the same centers daily.  If I see that a student is not getting to their first choice center for a couple of days I make sure to pull their clip early in our meeting in order to give them a chance to get to that favorite center!

I'm hoping with this amazing little group of smarties to begin writing our plans later in the year. For right now this is a great start for us.  I love to listen to their discussions as they are circling their centers and meeting together on the carpet.  Tomorrow is pumpkin carving day and we have a marshmallow ghost cooking activity.....lots of choices for my little friends!!

                                                                                      Have a safe and happy Halloween!
                                                                                                                    Mrs. M

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bob the Bat....A True Saga Of a Bat That Goes To Kindergarten

I do try to let my kids' interests guide what types of thematic topics we will be discovering in our centers and other times of the day. I always cringe when  snakes and other "eeww" types of topics become unavoidably popular.

Yes....I do try to sway their interests at times. I can't help it.  Mice are just not my thing.

But then there is Bob.

Bob for some reason just doesn't seem to bother me.  He has been part of our Kindergarten family for so long. I'm sure I'd feel lost in the Fall not focusing on him for a week or two.

Bob is a bat. A real live (well not anymore anyway...) petrified bat.

Here's the scoop on Bob and how he came to be part of our Kindergarten team......
Our old building ( the one that had my HUGE CLASSROOM I can't quit talking about even though it was years ago) actually had BATS IN THE BELL TOWER.

You could sometimes see them in our hall if you were up there at night time.

Fun huh????

Not really and Bob had yet to become part of our Kindergarten team so I was a bit scared of them to tell the truth.

So anyway one day our custodian found Bob the Petrified Bat in our art room. Who knows how long he had been there. Years I imagine.  I've heard he was found in the fireplace that was no longer used and I've also heard he was tucked away in some closet. No one really knows for sure. But Bob has been in his forever bat cave ever since and has been visiting many, many Kindergarten classrooms for quite some time now.  I'd say Bob has been part of our team now for over 14 years!!

Each year I begin my bat unit with

We then move on to various other books about bats. By the time I introduce Bob the kids have quite a bit of background knowledge about bats.  They are ALWAYS over the moon when they get to meet Bob! I always worry that I'll have a squeamish child but shockingly enough I never have. =)

Now we all know by blog hopping that there are some amazing blogs with some even more amazing bat activities out there for us to copy  put our own spin on.  When it comes to our bat unit I tend to stick more with writing activities and science center observations.  There have been years where my students have written about Bob ALL YEAR LONG. He's been like the mascot for some of my classes.  

In Kindergarten fiction Bob has been to outer space, castles and even played with dinosaurs!! 

This year after meeting Bob we created our Bat word list and wrote a class interactive story about Bob. 

We then moved on to recording our observations in the science center:

After discussing the importance of not shaking Bob's bat cave and even more importantly....DO NOT OPEN THE BAT CAVE....we were ready to begin our observations.

They LOVED observing his tiny little hands with the magnifying glasses. Some concentrated on his little scrunched up face. All were amazed by his wings and that one is not open as much as the other.  After taking some time to observe Bo they were asked to draw/write their observations for book we will keep in our science center.

This student was attempting to draw Bob's bat cave in her observation. I love it!

After we had some time to observe Bob we began writing our individual stories focused on him.  I took these photos last week. Today is Tuesday and almost all of my kiddos are STILL working on their Bob the Bat stories!

They are going back to add details to their pictures and are trying to out do one another with what types of adventures Bob can go on. Bob has gone trick-or-treating and Bob has even been to Wal-Mart!!

I'm amazed at their writing stamina! I love when children are truly invested in a topic. So much learning taking place from bringing one little petrified bat into a classroom.

Here are some of their writing samples from last week. Most were taken on the second day of writing about Bob. Of course it's early in the year Kindergarten and my students are at so many different writing levels. I'm so proud of the effort from all of them!

Bob flying over the school.

I love the bell tower in this one!

One of my little shining stars wrote the story above. He has since added details and has "filled in the white space!" I love his focus for so early in the school year! 

Now being a Kindergarten teacher that loves thematic units I couldn't help myself but to slip in a few math center activities focused on bats in this week!

Bat story problems......I used to use bat stickers that I cut out for this. This year I found little bats in the dollar section from Target! 

Well Bob has now moved on to visit some of our other Kindergarten classrooms. My students are sad to see him go!! I'm sure he'll be making some more visits to our room again this year. I can't wait to see what adventures this group of Kindergartners has in store for him!! 

                                                                                    Mrs. M

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lesson Planning to Promote Rigor and Student Engagment

As teachers we have a lot on our plates right now. Unfortunately in my case it's not cupcakes either.

Doesn't the pink one look delicious though?!

Over the last year many teachers have been transitioning to the common core. This is a huge job within itself. Choosing essential outcomes, aligning curriculum,vertical team meetings, etc, etc..............

The list goes on and on.

This past year my district also adopted a new reading series and several of my team mates and I  have  piloted two math series in the past two years.  That's a lot of things added to our plates....once again we are not talking cupcakes.

Although, a cupcake here and there does make things easier. =)

I also forgot to add we are also transitioning to a NEW TEACHER EVALUATION SYSTEM.

Can you say S-T-R-E-S-S??

However I am so blessed to be working in a building that handles all of this with grace, patience and smiles on our faces. Very positive, "can do" attitudes!

I think the cupcakes we bring in help with this of course.

So in light of all of the above our building has chosen to focus on RIGOR and STUDENT ENGAGEMENT as part of our professional development.

Lesson planning no longer means this ....not that it ever did anyway.

We began last year with collecting student engagement data (I P I ) and discussing our building results together. I was unfamiliar with this type of data collection at first and found it confusing. Basically it involves  trained colleagues who  pop into classrooms for short periods of time to observe student engagement. The engagement of the students at that time is given a number similar to DOK.  The numbers (levels) and how the results were tallied took some getting used to as a staff.  We were concerned when the observers always seemed to pop in during a bathroom break or when we were heading off to recess! However, after meeting to discuss our results as a building we learned that these times are not included in our data results.  We look at this data over the course of the school year and have been discussing ways to raise our IPI and DOK levels as a staff.

Now that our building has a year under our belts I'm finding myself really thinking about the engagement level of my students and the rigor of my lessons.  The next phase for us is to begin reflecting more on our individual lessons and discuss during team meetings.  The hope is that through reflection and discussion we can step our lessons up a notch or two and truly engage our students.  This is a long process that we are still in the early stages of but it got me thinking seriously about my own lesson planning.

So earlier this year I posted about lesson planning for Daily 5 , guided math and math stations.  I'm still using these sheets for my weekly planning. I'm a paper/pencil type of planner and they seem to work well for incorporating my new reading series with Daily 5 and my new math series with math stations. I do need to see and  plan a week at a time in order to know "where I'm heading" with my kiddos.

However with weekly planning I feel as if some of the lessons are not planned to their fullest potential.  After sitting through a professional development meeting focused on student rigor I began thinking about my early years of teaching.  When I first began their was no Kindergarten curriculum in my district!

We had a report card. That was it. The kids had to know how to write their name, letters of the alphabet, colors and numbers to 20. Amazing considering what all they are expected to know now.

Fast forward a couple of years and along came the GLE's.

And we had a curriculum. Finally!

However, I taught for quite a few years with no reading series or no math series.

So I became a very creative lesson planner! I also had a tremendous amount of fun doing it! As I look back on those years I feel that my lessons were VERY engaging and high rigor.  It was the days of thematic planning.  I often focused my lessons on themes which was easy to do considering I didn't have to follow someone else's recipe book of lessons.  I created a weekly "menu" of concepts I needed to cover, must do activities and other ideas I hoped to get to.  Every day after school I reflected on how our day went...what did we cover, what did we not get to, what went well and what didn't work. I would then write a daily lesson plan for the next day based on my reflections.

Then along came the "series."  All at once we adopted reading and math series.

 I must admit it took me FOREVER to become adjusted to using basals.

 I would present the lessons as described in the teacher's guide and try to get to as much material each day as it was outlined in the series.  I was excited at first to have all of these materials at my fingertips, but very disappointed when I wasn't seeing the results in my classroom the way I was used to.

I felt stifled but understood the need of having all of our teachers on the same track.

Of course I eventually got into my own groove of using basals and began letting my own creativity creep back into my lessons.

Now that my grade level in familiar with the common core we are moving forward! Once the craziness of all of the paper work settles down with our new teacher evaluation system I'm looking forward to meeting with my team and work towards ways to increase the rigor and student engagement of my lessons.  In the meantime I decided I needed to go back a few years and revisit how I used to design my lessons.  For right now this is a work in progress for me.  Each week I'm writing a menu of things (plans) that I would like to cover from our reading and math series.These are not extremely detailed plans....that comes later.  It's more or less a menu of the CAS that I need to focus on and things I feel I need to get to in our series.   I'm continuing with my planning pages for Daily 5 and Math Stations/Guided math groups but I'm adding a daily planning sheet each day.  I've added spots to jot down notes on how the lessons went, engagement, etc.  The quality of these photos are terrible but it gives you an idea of how I'm setting up my daily plan.

This added paperwork may seem like a lot of planning but actually it's making my planning time easier and shorter.  Once I complete my weekly menu of concepts and activities I simply spend a little time each day after school reviewing my day and planning for the next day.

As the list of things added to our plates grows and grows I'm always on the lookout for things to make my job go smoother. For me this type of daily planning is a tool that not only saves me time in the long run, but also improves the types of activities my students will be engaged in.

                                                               Here's to a great week sprinkled with a cupcake....or two!
                                                                                               Mrs. M

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Beginning to use our word wall!

One of my most favorite things to work on with Kindergartners is WRITING! However, even though it is my favorite even I must admit that during  this time of the year writing can be a challenging thing to teach.  Especially when many of your kiddos are still very unfamiliar with letters and sounds.

Despite having a few that are struggling with the letters that we have focused on so far we are moving right along during our writing time. I love to let writing evolve in my room no matter what level they are at. I still have a few that our only attempting stories with pictures. We are celebrating their work just as much as my friend that is able to write full detailed sentences. 

Today this teacher did her happy dance when she looked around the room during writing time and witnessed the children using THE WORD WALL!

On their own.

Without being reminded about the word wall.

I was thrilled!  Let me begin by sharing with you my process for my word wall.  I have two.

Yes. Two word walls.

One is our popcorn word wall and wall wall contains lists of thematic words we create together throughout the school year. The kids refer to these lists all year long.  Here is a post from last year about my word wall evolution. 

Before anything is added to the word wall we begin by using it in our literacy group area.  Here you can see the current popcorn word that we are working on (like), and our pumpkin thematic word list. 

Once we've worked with a popcorn word or a word list for a while it's time for it to make it's way to the wall! Our writing center and word work areas are located near here so the kids can use the walls as resources when working in these areas. 

So today we sat down to write a simple Fall book....

Before letting the students loose with their books we brainstormed things we see in the fall but we did not make a separate list for this. We simply discussed and brainstormed.

I was amazed as the kiddos sat down to write and began finding items from our various lists that they wanted to put in their books...without being prompted! Yeah! 

I also LOVED how the two boys spelled football...one correctly with a resource and one attempted his kindergarten phonetic spelling. =)

So we are not writing novels at this point but I am thrilled with their progress this early in the school year! We are getting ready to go to a pumpkin patch tomorrow. I can't wait to see what adventures they will be writing about once we return!
                                                                                                         Mrs. M

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fire Truck Excitement!

Wow. Fire safety time really snuck up on me this year! We've been so busy with apples, discussing the seasons changing and getting our Daily 5 time under control that I sorta forgot that the local fire fighters were coming to visit.  That is until I walked in the door yesterday morning and I remembered. Thank goodness.

Right away at 8:30 yesterday morning the fire trucks came rolling into our school drive. My kids were so excited! I barely had a chance to even talk to them about what was happening so it made it even more eventful for them since they really weren't prepped for it.

I myself was not prepped for the fact one of my former KINDERGARTEN students would be one of the firefighters showing us the fire truck. Oh dear.

I did begin teaching when I was only 10 you know. ; )

He was so nice and did point out that he was the YOUNGEST firefighter in the group.  Anyway, my kids loved the fire safety talk and tour of the fire truck.  Since we really hadn't discussed the fire talks  ahead of time they were very energetic and excited when the firefighters left. It also didn't helped that I had moved a bookshelf to accommodate two classes and firefighters in my classroom. During the safety talked I bumped into one of the moved shelves and knocked the entire thing over.

Seriously.  Not one of my most graceful moments. Also, not good for helping an already overly excited class calm down. So....we just went with the flow and had some fun!

Below you'll find a sampling of some of the "fire truck" activities I pulled together for this week.   We are squeezing many of these things in with the plans I already created. So far they are having a great time with them!

Mrs. B shared this adorable big book with me! If you've not read this story before you really should check it out...especially if you do any fire safety activities.  In the story the lowercase letters fix up an old fire truck and even spell a couple of c/v/c words in the book before saving the day by putting a fire out at the letter factory!

At the end of the story Charley, the boy who the alphabet belongs to, writes a thank you note. My class was very excited to write their own thank you notes to the fire fighters! One of my lucky little guys was able to go out and hand deliver our notes to the firefighters that were still outside.

For Daily 5 time I've added this to our ABC work.  On one side of the fire engine they fill in the uppercase missing letters and the other side is lower case.

Using the same fire engine cut outs (please don't judge...I was in a hurry)  we have a new counting activity for our math baskets.  I am going to be introducing this with a ten frame activity during our calendar time tomorrow.

One of my kiddos that has not written ANYTHING yet this year created this in the writing center during center time! I could hear him saying the sounds for each letter with a friend. We did begin discussing the "Super e!" at the end of words today when we talked about our new popcorn word "like." A friend working at the center with him reminded him of the "super e."  My kids loved the Mr. Harry video/song that goes with this concept!  

There is also a great one called "911!!" Just perfect for right now! 

After seeing there was an interest in writing about fire trucks I decided we needed to make a word list.  Here are the fire truck related words that the kids wanted to know how to spell.  They helped spell "hose" phonetically and remembered the "super e" again! Yay!!!

We then went on to write a fire truck story together.  They orally spelled the popcorn words for me.  It was amazing to see them using the word wall as a reference so early in the school year!  They even wanted to add more detail to the second sentence so the word "red" was inserted.

Finally, I couldn't have a fire truck thematic week without having some fun stuff in our end of the day centers! My kiddos LOVED turning our house area into a fire station today and wore various fire fighter hats and even a fire chief shirt!

I love how they have the firefighter saving the animals in the block area! Too, too cute! I think tomorrow I'm going to put in some alphabet letter manipulatives and see if they create anything to go with our big book from today!

A few of our firetruck paintings

I was so excited to find this adorable emergent reader (FREEBIE!!!) over at Mrs. Will's Kindergarten!  Go visit her blog and you can grab one for your kiddos too. Thank you Mrs. Wills!

Hope everyone is having fun and enjoying all of the excitement that Fall brings! We're heading to the pumpkin patch next week...I can't wait!
                                                                                         Have a great week!
                                                                                          Mrs. M
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