Monday, June 27, 2016

What's The Secret To Sucessful Reading Groups In Kindergarten?


They say that teaching kindergarten is a lot like herding cats. It is! But it doesn't have to be. Getting behavioral control of a class is the first step to a successful year.  

Who doesn't love a new beginning. One of the best things about teaching is the clean slate every fall. Sharpened pencils, crayons that have never been used. Caps on EVERY glue stick. It's also a time to look at what has worked and what hasn't. 

The first few weeks are when I spend that extra time estabishing routines. The routines that will make my life and the kids' learning so much easier. I honestly think the most important part of a guided reading group has nothing to do with reading. It has everyting to do with structure and routine.                              

The best teachers can get their class to run like a well oiled machine. It all starts on the first day. Lots of people will tell you don't even think about reading groups until after Halloween. I have to disagree. I believe a successful reading program starts day one.  Here's the secret.....  it has nothing to do with reading.
My first tip.
Have a Lucky Duck. Yes a lucky duck! Every day I choose one student to be a lucky duck. They get to wear a tag telling the world they are the lucky duck. 

You will be surprised how many staff members will begin to comment on the lucky duck  as you walk down the hall. It will become the most prized possession in your class. What's a lucky duck you ask? Anything you want. In my class the lucky duck is always the line leader. The lucky duck always gets to choose centers first. The lucky duck gets to open the gate to the playground.  Whatever is valued in your class-let the lucky duck have it. It doesn't take long ( usually a day or 2 ) for every kid in my class to want to be the lucky duck. 

By the first parent open house every parent knows about the lucky duck tag. Their kids may not tell them much about the daily events at school, but you can bet they will tell their parents when they are the lucky duck. You know what this gives you?  A barginning chip! Control! Power! You'll never once have to raise your voice.  You want to be the lucky duck? Then sit quietly, stand in line, keep your hands to yourself. In my class the conveted lucky duck tag goes to a student who is trying very hard, who turns it around, who is kind, who follows directions the first time. I can't tell you how many times I say something like " Billy is sitting criss cross apple sauce - he must want to be the lucky duck", "Emily is working quietly she must want to be the lucky duck", "Jayden just shared his toy with Joel he must want to be the lucky duck" Try it you will seriously be amazed. It's a great opportunity to recognize what you value in your class. Even the custodian in my school knows it is a high honor to be the lucky duck. 

Make that tag worth gold and the kids will literally jump through hoops to get it.  It's one of my strongest behavior managment tricks.  Don't forget to  share the tag. Very quickly the best behaved will show themselves, and just as quickly maybe quicker, those who struggle with behavior will become obvious. The lucky duck tag is meant to be shared. Everyone gets a turn. You must find a reason to let even the most challenging kids earn the right to wear the lucky duck tag. I believe strongly in kids who "turn it around" We all make mistakes. Make sure everyone has a turn!

 Don't miss my next post in this series about Guided Reading Groups in Kindergarten, it's all about tip #2 "The problem solver" and tip #3 "Vacation" time. 

You can get a free download of my lucky duck tag by following this link. Don't forget to sign up for my newsletter here to receive exclusive blog freebies.


My top 4 reasons for using Google Drive in kindergarten

What's the best way to integrate technology in a kindergarten class? Is kindergarten too young to start with Google Classroom?
My top 4 reasons for Going Google.

1. More and more districts are going 1:1. I see so many administrators purchasing chrome books, and I pads. I remember just a few years ago when no one in my school had an I Pad. Now they are in every classroom. We may not be 1:1 yet in my school but technology is becoming more and more abundant. 

2. It's paperless!!!! Yay, yippee, halleujah, no more long lines at the copy machine. I can't tell you how many lunches, and planning periods that have been cut short because of that dreaded line at the copier. Not to mention everyone's most feared phrase - paper jam!
Just think you can send homework, notes to parents and worksheets all digitally. No more lost papers. No more mountains of papers.

3. It's so much easier to differentiate. Even the youngest learners can see their work just doesn't measure up to the child next to them. As the saying goes...comparison is the thief of joy. Once kids start comparing their work to their neighbors they begin to see themselves as "less than". Less than! In kindergarten, sad but it's true. When you use technology the difference between students is less obvious to the kids. But for the teacher it becomes so much easier to adjust work for our struggling learners and increase the rigor for our more confident learners. 

4. Kids will take risks with technology that that just wont when using a traditional strategy. We all achieve more when we push ourselves out of our comfort zones. That great researcher Vygotsky taught us about the zone of proximal development. We all strive to hit that sweet spot with our students. That moment when it's no longer easy, but it's not too hard. We should all strive to push ourselves- kids and teachers alike.

Check out my video that shows how to Go Google

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If you're ready to give it a try check out my best selling Google products.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The secret to loving teaching for 30 years.

"I love my kids." Every teacher I know has spoken those words. I do love my kids, but I NEED my summer break. I know all my non-teacher friends become increasingly jealous this time of year. I know they work hard too. But no one, I mean no one works as hard as a teacher, a kindergarten teacher to be exact.  Well, maybe our brave military,  cancer nurses, air traffic controllers, ok I admit it there are people who work harder than us.  But we work hard!!!!  

I've been teaching for 30 years. 30 years, I know thats more than some of you have been alive. Teaching is exhausting. It's like being on stage for 6 hours every day. Then going home and learning all the lines to a new play for the next day. Years ago I read a line that says the difference between a CEO and a teacher is that a CEO manages her decisions from a seat and a teacher manages from her feet. It can be mentally, physically and emotionally draining. I honestly wouldn't have lasted 30 years teaching without those 2 little gems- July and August.  You know what I do during the summer??? Wait for it....

Nothing! I do nothing and it takes all day. I lounge by the pool, I go to the beach, I read a book,  I have lunch with friends, I make elaborate recipes, I stay up late, I go for ice cream at 10:00 in the morning, I literally stop and smell the roses, and I LOVE it. It recharges me, relaxes me, and it allows me to reclaim me. I love those lazy days when you really have to think for few moments to be sure what day it is. 

Guess what? My boss should thank me for it. Because I can't wait to get back to my little darlings in September. I get so excited thinking of all the wonderful adventures we'll have. I can't wait to teach them to read. I can't wait to have them start their love affair with school. I have no intention of retiring. I love my job. I feel so lucky to spend my days with my kids and I'll love it when the end of June comes and I know I get my summer break.

Happy Summer, and if you do only 1 thing this nothing!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Graduation Day

I sat through my oldest son's high school graduation last night and I had a lump in my throat the whole time. I fought the tears and almost won until the  principal told the kids to turn around and wave to the people who love them the most. After a moment of scanning the hundreds of eager parents, he found me in the crowd, we locked eyes- he smiled and waved, I blew a kiss. Cue the tears and tissues. 

Whether it's kindergarten, 8th grade, high school, or college; every graduation tugs on our heartstrings the same way.  As teachers we sit through countless graduations. Our hearts fill with pride to think how far our students have come.  Only we truly know the work that went into getting those little ones from not knowing any letters to actual readers. Every year it shocks me as much as it shocks them that they are actually  ready for first grade.  However, it's totally different when you are sitting in the audience straining to see your own child cross the stage. 

So to all my teacher friends, I know it's about the kids, but please remember the parents. Today is  a milestone, and as a parent we only have so many. Let them take the extra photo, be patient when they ask for just one more. Forgive the paparrazi like frenzy. This is as much their day as their children's. 

Commencement means beginning. And it is a beginning, but honestly as a parent it feels like an ending. With each milestone our children go through, our grasp on them becomes lighter. They need us less and less. Our whole relationship starts out with them needing us completely to stay alive. I remember leaving the hospital with my first born thinking "How can the doctors and nurses let us leave with this tiny person? We have no idea what we are doing. How can this be safe?" 

Somehow my husband and I were able to keep not only Michael alive but his brother Matthew and his sister Katherine. I should have had more faith in us. We did it, if we are to believe his college recommendations we raised a bright, independent leader, who is kind - basically a pretty good kid. 

Michael is leaving in August, and I'm so proud.
 I find myself giving Michael the same advice today as I gave  him 13 years ago as he started kindergarten. Smile, make new friends, be kind, look out for those who look nervous, make good decisions,  find friends who make you happy, try hard, follow your teachers directions, stay away from kids who cause trouble, remember I love you. I'll be here when you get home and I can't wait to hear all about it.

Congratulations graduates!!!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Don't forget to write! Avoid the summer slide.


So, a well deserved summer vacation is almost here. Thank goodness! Adults and children both need a break from the hustle and bustle that is a school year. But that doesn't mean learning has to stop. I know I plan on catching up on some reading while sitting on a beach. My favorite thing for kids to do over the summer is read and write. 
    If we can keep up with these skills during our break, we can avoid the "summer slide".  I love having kids read for pleasure over the summer.  Reading what you want or what interests you is a great way to build a  life-long love of reading.

But what about writing???   My own kids struggled with writing in the summer. They usually left it to the last week then made a mad scramble to journal about what we did.  It wasn't exactly their best writing. I have a solution. Summer writing prompts! These visual writing prompts help even the most reluctant writers. My parents love receiving a summer writing packet instead of a journal.  It makes it so easy for the parents. Half the battle is coming up with a topic to write about.  No parent wants to battle during the summer - we get enough of that all year. Let's make it easy for the parents, tutors, and summer camp counselors. Give em' something to write about.   Here are my favorite summer prompts.