Sunday, October 23, 2016

Miles On The Tongue: First Steps to Literacy

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” ~Ludwig Wittgenstein
When it comes to teaching there really are no truer words. 
Our classrooms are becoming more and more global, diverse and cosmopolitan.
As much as things change, some things still hold true. 
All learners must have multiple opportunities to speak: talking, singing, reading,
 saying, telling ---- all contributing means to “miles on the tongue” also known as fluency when speaking.
The ability to speak fluently cannot be underestimated in its pre-requisite value both before and as learning to become a fluent reader. It is estimated that children need exposure to approximately 30,000 words a day by the time they begin school to be fully ready to learn. (Both quantity and quality of words matter).

You can imagine how different households offer different opportunities for language, or not so much. A second language learner who has been exposed to rich language interactions at home, in his native tongue is much more prepared for school, and for learning a new language.

Fluency in the first language equals preparedness to learn a second language
successfully at school. We have all known every kind of learner in our classrooms, with every kind of background. It is staggering to think of the vast differences our students come equipped with. Language skills that have developed enriched vocabularies, critical thinking skills, and abilities to relate to others, or alternatively, depravation that cannot revel in any of these competencies.

All of that being said, good instruction for second language learners
is good instruction for all. Making sure that little learners have multiple opportunities
at school to become fluent with their oral language is just as, or possibly more
important than all other instruction. It is sometimes forgotten, sometimes assumed they already have it,  and sometimes just misunderstood, but it truly is the foundation to which all other learning can occur. It is imperative to deliberately plan for and provide opportunity, time and resources to help bridge the gap for many of our little ones.

I met with parents of my students last week at conferences. I needed the assistance of a translator with every single conference this time. I am always 
surprised at how they don't think they can help their child to learn language just because they can't speak English. I encourage them to read books in their native 
language and talk to their children as much as possible. All of the same things I 
encourage with my English speaking parents. They are surprised to hear how important a role they play. (I wish I could have talked to them 5 years ago!).

I have many little books that I have written in a very predictable way, to facilitate
oral language practice for my kids. I am slowly making them pretty enough to share
with you! I have two so far, but have many more in the works.
It is my sincere hope that your students can put many “miles on their tongues” with
my Oral Language Practice Predictable Readers. I wrote them with every little learner
in mind! 
                  
                          
In my nearly 30 years of teaching both English speaking and second
language learners, there is no greater joy I have found in the classroom than
observing students achieve more oral language proficiency than they started with. The comfort, the repetition, the oral language proficiency, and confidence that is gained
and then realized again at home when practicing their little books is truly priceless!
(Not to mention the valuable literacy skills!)

We use our little books all the time. I teach my kids to practice pointing to the words (and looking at the pictures for clues, wink, wink!) every time they read, so they are always practicing good reading behaviors. After reading at school several times,
(whole group, small group, partners, to self) they take their book home to share. I recommend to them that they put a little star (asterisk style) on the back every time they read it, and try to fill it up with dozens of little stars! I place extra copies of each predictable reader in our Browse Box for
students to pick up and read in the classroom when they are finished with work or at centers etc. They love it! 


             
                                Pumpkin, Pumpkin Oral Language Practice Reader





                  
                                  Brown Bear, Brown Bear Oral Language Practice Reader

                                   Hello Farm! Oral Language Practice Reader

                                   Fish, Fish, In the Ocean Blue: Oral Language Practice Reader

If you are lucky enough to have students come and visit you when they are in third grade, you will be so glad you spent the time it took to intentionally plan oral language activities! There is no greater reward than hearing a hesitant kiddo become a proficient speaker!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Literacy Anchor Charts for Little Learners

I love using anchor charts in my classroom! I love having information so ready and easy to access for my kids. It is so much fun to see even my little kinder kids so adept at knowing where in the classroom to find the information they need!
I us my Alphabet Sense Anchor Charts everyday for instruction and review. I also post them around the room for "writing the room" (they LOVE this!) The smaller version is great to have in the writing lab on a ring. They can find the chart they are looking for and use it much like a picture dictionary, but in a super kid-friendly way!

When my kids are doing letter work at their seats one of my favorite things to do is to display the
PDF of the letter we are working on up on the Smart Board! Seeing it really big is so helpful for the kids and really brings it to life!
It is so great being able to print out extra copies whenever I need it! (Hello HP Instant Ink!!)




When I teach vowels I find it very frustrating and confusing when long and short vowel sounds are mixed together, so she I created these anchor charts I separated the long and short vowel sounds on their own anchor charts! This has been SO helpful for helping my students to listen for and hear the differences in the sounds! (All are included in my resource).


Writing the room is a big part of our center time. They love the opportunity to look and find letters we are working on and write down the words that go with the picture. After all, walking around with a clip board is a very grown-up and official thing to do! (#hot-stuff)

My newest anchor charts are for teaching the tricky digraphs (ch, ph, sh, th, wh). I have always explained to my kids that a digraph is a "super sound" because it is when 
one sound + one sound = a new sound. I created anchor charts in the same style as my Alphabet Sense Anchor Charts to provide continuity when teaching these sounds. I love using them and they are really helpful to provide pictorial representations of each sound.



In this resource I have also included picture cards for sorting, and practice pages for students to apply the skills they are learning. One of the practice pages engages students in looking at pictures to pronounce and listen for the sound, with an open-ended space for them to draw and write about the illustrations that have that sound. The other practice page provides several pictures to cut and sort by the sound or NOT the sound. (They love this!)


I have also included the smaller version of each anchor chart, which I like to use in the writing center, laminated and on a ring (just like the Alphabet Anchor Charts). Write the Room recording sheets are also included!


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Parenting Pep Talks - Best Practice Articles for All Year Long

If you read my last blog post, you probably already have a sense of how passionate I am about teaching kids about responsibility and emotional intelligence. I really, really, am!! 
So much so, that for over a year now, I have been writing parenting articles to send home each week with my students. I really believe that most parents really do the best they can, but as Maya Angelou put it so well . . . .



Back in May I wrote about "10 Things Teachers Absolutely LOVE" I got a lot of great feedback here, as well as on Facebook, so I know that my feelings resonate with a lot of other teachers who face so many challenges in the classroom. So many variables we cannot control. 
So many wishes, so many worries. So much hope.





Parents of today are: busy, stressed, over-worked, and sometimes distracted, but like parents of the past who parented in simpler times, they want the best for their kids.
It is my sincere belief that raising children in this technology filled – too easy to
be distracted life is one of the great challenges of our day. Being deliberate
about thoughtful parenting practices is imperative for our kids to grow, thrive and succeed. It has truly been a labor of love, frustration, concern and hope that I have written these parenting newsletter articles with the future of our families and country in mind.
From my 27 years of experience in working with under resourced parents, I have found that the vast majority have never read a parenting book, magazine, or attended any type of parenting class. What better way to reach our parents than in their child’s folder/backpack? :o)
We as teachers only have so much time, but we have so much to share.
The topics covered in these newsletters are written in a non-threatening format
in order to reach parents where they are at, from us to them as if we were sitting down together for a chat and had time to talk about everything under the sun (but don’t and can’t!) I cover modern topics such as technology, as well as character traits and behavior management. The articles are written with much thought and consideration for addressing common educator concerns with gentleness and respect for parents wherever they are at in their parenting journey.
Even if readers are well equipped, amazing parents and have all of this stuff down pat, validation is as sweet as honey when you are doing an important job that came with no instruction manual! Validation breeds confidence, confidence breeds
even stronger parenting and of course we all know the benefits of strong
parenting!

Writing this resource does not make me an expert parent! It does, however,
make me an expert of my own experiences of being a parent and a teacher for
many, many, years who has seen many examples of parenting over the years, the good , the bad and the well, you know. My husband and I have raised two sensitive, kind, and well educated young adults that I am so proud of.  :o)

An expert, no. A person who wants to help other people with the struggle, yes.
I have been a working mom/person my whole life. It is HARD to do it all. I hope to communicate through my writing the perspective of someone who has been there, but has also been on the side of seeing the adverse effects of the less
than desirable parenting behaviors.
I have written LOTS of close reading passages for little learners that I am honored to say have been used by thousands of teachers all over the country and
I like to think of this resource as close reading for parents!  :0)

Can I get an AMEN?!!



May parents read these articles and find inspiration, validation, understanding, and hope for the greatest, and most noble adventure life has to offer. Each newsletter also has an inspiring quote to go along with the theme of the passage. The newsletters are appropriate for parents of Pre-K through the elementary grades, and I’m quite sure even high school parents could glean a thing or two!
This resource provides 35 “Trending Topics”, simple, to-the-point, purposeful articles - (pep talks if you will!) one for each week of the school year, offering tips, advice, gentle reminders and inspiration for the most current parenting topics and dilemmas as well as a thought provoking and inspirational quote for each topic. Each article is written with thoughtfulness and respect for the difficult job that parents face.
Whether you copy and share as a stand alone Parent Communication OR copy on the backside of your weekly newsletter, you are imparting important information that parents may not have access to otherwise. 
The newsletters are not written in any particular order, or consecutive at all, they could even be shared as needed by topic (wink, wink!)

I began sending the articles home in my kids' backpacks last year. I received good feedback, and I think the ones that read them looked forward to getting them each week!
I know that some will not read them, but hopefully the ones that do, will find some comfort in knowing that I (we) care about, and understand the challenges they face as parents. 

If you decide to send these articles home to nurture and support your parents each week, let me know how it goes! Thanks so much!


School Site License also available HERE.






Sunday, July 26, 2015

Classroom & Behavior Management: How to Start Right and Keep it Going!



As we all know, going back to school brings with it so many thoughts, plans, and emotions! There is nothing better than a fresh start! Starting out right with classroom and behavior management is always at the top of my list! 
Without it we really can accomplish nothing else. Mindfully teaching kids about how to behave in our classrooms and on the playground is how we set the tone for the year. 




PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY: GOOD CHOICES/BAD CHOICES
A deep quote when thinking of teaching little ones? Maybe. Maybe not though. If you are thinking about the big picture.
Whether you agree with this statement or not, I bet we can all agree that in the classroom we want our kids to be respectful and treat others with kindness. We need it to teach, they need it to learn. We all deserve to have a safe, friendly environment to enjoy everyday.
Even the littlest students can learn about personal responsibility, and that your choices, good and bad, all have consequences. It has been my experience teaching in a Title 1 school for over 27 years that many of our kids come to school without some of the basic ideas of right and wrong, at least from my perspective. We, as educators, teach our own children these things, so we assume that most parents do to. Right? As with everything else, yes, and no. I have been teaching long enough to see former kindergarten students grow up, go to college, have children of their own, and even be in my class!

Unfortunately, I have seen former students who have made bad choices in life that led them so far astray that they will never be free again to do as they choose. There is much debate and talk these days about how to handle classroom management. 
As a new teacher, many years ago, I remember it to be my biggest challenge. Whether you use a behavior chart, a clip chart, Class Dojo, or whatever system you use, or choose not to use, consistency, and fairness are the key. Clip charts or behavior charts are not bad in and of themselves, they can provide structure for teachers (new and experienced)!  Some folks with challenging class circumstances, really like the concrete visuals they provide for students.  I really believe there are so many different ways to approach this, and I feel a little sad when I see so many generalizations and negatives written about the use of clip charts etc. If they work effectively for you, and you use them with respect and integrity, you shouldn’t be shamed for it. We need to stop telling each other as educators that there is a “best” way. There are many ways. It’s not so much what strategy or system we use, but how we use it. New teachers especially should not be made to feel that they are doing something wrong. There are best practices with everything, but there are also many approaches and ways of doing things that work for different people. My goodness, this world is hard enough on teachers without our help!

That being said - I do not agree with overt ways of dealing with behavior issues that belittle, embarrass or poke little holes in little ones' self esteem. Absolutely not! My go to is "the look", a whisper in the ear, a private heart-to-heart conference (my favorite), and meeting with parents if necessary. I really believe people can successfully use lots of different kinds of systems if their heart is in the right place, and they are thoughtful and respectful about it. 

How do you start out on the right foot?
1. Building relationships. 
2.Teaching/demonstrating clear expectations directly and indirectly through modeling and also directly through instruction: lessons, games, anecdotes and stories.
3. Classroom climate and culture

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS
Building relationships with kids takes time. Letting them get to know you, to feel safe, and know that you are the same person all day long in the classroom as you are when you are step out on the sidewalk (talking to parents after school). They know. It matters. 
We all know that feeling we get when we know someone genuinely likes us. It makes us feel good. It is validating. One of the best things a student ever said to me was this: “I love the way you look right at me”. Melt. My. Heart. That genuine feeling of knowing that someone cares about you, and that how you feel and what you have to say matters. When they know you like them, they are much more apt to want to please you. These relationships take time and effort, but they are worth it for our kids both emotionally and academically. Ultimately, years down the line, they will remember how we made them feel. 

TEACHING
No matter what, to be successful, any classroom management must start by nurturing good behavior by teaching right from wrong. We cannot just assume that our kids idea of right and wrong is the same as ours. Plain and simple, in life there are good choices and there are bad choices. Talking about bad choices seems to have become, somehow, politically incorrect, I disagree with this notion because we, as their teachers, may be the only person being ‘real’ with them, and talking to them about it. We can teach that we may make bad choices sometimes, but that does not make us bad people. Think of a seventeen year old who made bad choices and is serving time for those choices.  A lack of education and information about right/wrong, good/bad, and the consequences that accompany each may be something he/she wishes someone had taken the time to make them really aware of.  If we want our students to follow classroom rules, be respectful, kind, courteous, and work hard, we must show them HOW, and tell them WHY, and facilitate meaningful conversation to deepen critical thinking about how we can identify emotions and control ourselves. 

Ultimately, we are growing citizens. I believe it is the greatest responsibility we face as educators. Growing good citizens. There is nothing more important. In simpler times we taught them mostly academia. It is now our duty to teach them so much more.  We live in a very complicated world, and as educators, this is probably the greatest challenge of our day. 

EXPECTATIONS/CLASSROOM CLIMATE & CULTURE
In order to be effective, expectations for conduct, behavior, and personal responsibility should be modeled through indirect instruction daily and taught directly through lessons, discussions, and visual reminders.
Many of our students live in homes and neighborhoods that operate much differently than our own. Their “rules” at home may look very different than our own homes and our classrooms. Assuming they are the same is a huge mistake. Every environment has it’s own culture. Every culture has acceptable and unacceptable norms.
To understand this, think of a student who, according to our standards, may not have a good home life. In order to “survive” in his/ her home and/or neighborhood, he/she may have to act a certain way that may not be acceptable at school. Many kids who come to school who are “survivors” at home, and may have trouble assimilating into the school environment because it is so different from their home. 
We must teach them that at school we have our own culture, and our own norms, and that it’s okay to assimilate into each as needed. “At school we _____________”.  It’s fair, and it’s honest to teach them that things can look, feel, and be different at home and at school, and that it’s okay.  When we respect what their home environment looks like, we  are validating them and telling them “you come here as you are, we accept you, and this is how we do it at school”. I believe with all my heart that there are many, many kids that learn in school, with a kind, caring and thoughtful teacher at the helm, that there is a different way of living than what they may be use to. Providing them a peek into a different way of life, even when they are very young, can give them a vision for a life they may have never otherwise known could exist. Directly teaching right from wrong, good choices vs. bad choices provides a standard for which to live and behave, and that those choices come with positive and negative consequences. There is power in knowing that you have some control over outcomes of situations based on choices you make on the front end of any given situation, even for little kids.
Indirect:
Building a classroom community takes time. It takes talking, sharing, caring and a common understanding of the culture of the room, and the expectations for behavior and conduct. This is not really a lesson. This is everyday, threaded into every interaction. They are watching how you handle problems and challenges. You are role modeling the how, they are learning every minute of everyday what you accept, tolerate, and celebrate. This indirect influence is how you lead, it matters most of all. 
Direct:
Conversely, there are many ways to approach building community in the classroom in a direct way. Lessons, books, games, anecdotal stories, and discussions that are absolutely deliberate in approach. These are very effective because they provide concrete, hypothetical examples of the social norms and virtues that lead to positive relationships, self pride, satisfaction, happiness and academic success. (Check out this great blog post on direct instruction of rules
by Pamela Carson Wendt (Hedgehog Reader) from last week)!

HOW DO YOU KEEP IT GOING?
Review, review, review. 
I developed a resource to use for explicit instruction of classroom and behavior management because I needed visuals that provide clear  illustrations and simple, kid-friendly explanations to teach my little learners the basics of how to behave and get along in school. I have lots of second language learners as well, and the visuals are a must for them!

When I start out at the beginning of the year I assume my kindergarten kids know nothing about being in school or how to use any of the materials in our room. Every detail of every minute of the day is explained. From how to stand up and push your chair in nicely, to how to hold scissors when we are walking. Everything. It is tedious, tiring, and time consuming, but it is worth it. You can’t maintain procedures that were never there in the first place. The first month is so crucial for nailing down routines and procedures! The pay off is around the first part of October when things start running like clock work and reminders become much less frequent!

I LOVE using these as anchor charts and also as a slideshow. To be able to have something I can show physically or digitally to my kids is priceless. They get it.  I keep the “Duck Tails & Bubbles” anchor chart right on the wall near my door all year long. “Show me your duck tails and bubbles!” They love it, and it's positive and fun! Pulling out the other anchor charts as reminders with the class or individually as needed with students becomes a mini social story of sorts. It takes them back to the time when we learned about it, and makes it easy to recall and connect the discussions we had prior, to the current situation. Re-visiting the slideshow when new students arrive helps them to assimilate into our environment and also serves as a great review for the whole class.




I truly hope you have a great school year, and whether you are brand new to teaching or have some years under your belt, I hope this blog post will inspire you to approach your classroom management deliberately with intention for growing great little people!

Here's a little management freebie for you!