Sunday, July 31, 2016

How do I start reading groups in Kindergarten??

Whether your new to kindergarten this year, or you're a veteran. The question remains, where do you begin reading groups when the kids can't read??  Kindergarten reading groups often don’t involve any “reading” in the way parents typically think. They may not actually read “I see the fat cat.” until the end of the year. But don’t be fooled, the ground work that is laid in the first half of kindergarten is crucial to being a successful reader.
  But where do we start? The answer is simple...letter naming.  I don't just mean they can memorize the letters. That's just not enough. Kindergarten students need to identify the letters out of order, in both upper and lower case and in different fonts. A child’s ability to quickly name letters is an indicator of whether they will be a successful reader or one that struggles. Don’t race through this critical step!!! 

This is where we start. The very first step in learning to read is knowing how to recognize the characteristics that make a letter different from other letters. Our youngest learners need experience noticing these small differences. Don’t skip over this step or rush through it, if you do you children will struggle later on. Are you starting to notice a trend? Don't rush, kids need to truly see all the features of a letter. Children must be able to make the distinctions in letters before they begin to match sounds to letters. It’s worth spending a little extra time on this crucial step. Our goal is for the children to have experience with letters. To really notice the differences. To hold letters in their hands, to draw letters in sand, to make letters out of play doh. Does this letter have a long stick? h or a short stick? n. Is there a circle? a or no circle? t Do they realize a letter is the same regardless of the font? Do they notice that g  is the same letter regardless of the font? These are all very important abilities when learning about letters. Children need experience seeing letters in different fonts, sorting letters by their characteristics, and matching upper to lowercase letters. They not only need to know the name of each letter, but each unique shape. 

 Whether you agree with the common core or not, for many of us, it will dictate what our administrators expect to see in our classes. Under the category of Print Concepts we find the goals for letter knowledge. 
 CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.K.1.D Recognize and name all upper- and lowercase letters of the alphabet. 
 I agree we need students to name all the letters of the alphabet, but I think this simple goal glosses over such an important skill. It’s not enough to just name the letters. Simple drill with flashcards can get kids to memorize the names. We need to go deeper. We need kids to really see the characteristics of letters, to understand they look different in different fonts. We need them to have experience in hands on centers. 

 What about NAEYC??? For anyone who works in early childhood education you already now that NAEYC is the gold standard for everything kindergarten. So what do they say about learning to read and letter knowledge? How does this align with building your NAEYC portfolio?
 2.E.03 Children have opportunities to become familiar with print. They are actively involved in making sense of print. They have opportunities to become familiar with, recognize, and use print that is accessible throughout the classroom: 
 2.E.07 Children are given opportunities to recognize letters. 

 It should be our goal to be intentional when we teach. If we know why we are doing what we are doing and the children know what they are doing our goals can be met faster and more accurately. I use student objective sheets for my letter activities. I just copy, laminate and place these in plastic frames as a table top reminder to the children.

 So many people who do not teach kindergarten think we “just play all day”. I can honestly say my students work hard, and frankly so do I. We have goals and objectives just like everyone else. These sheets help other staff and administrators understand we teach with intention. My principal loves to see these table top objective sheets when she visits. It helps her understand my goal.

For a complete resource of how to teach letter knowledge to kindergarteners, check out my comprehensive Letter Knowledge packet

Sunday, July 24, 2016

5 Ways to Start Off The Year Right With Parents.

That time of year is getting closer. Whether you go back to school in August or September (or gasp!) July, the kids are starting to get ready to come back. This time can be especially exciting if your child is going off to kindergarten. You can bet that at every party and cookout this summer the little kiddos have been asked if they are excited about going to kindergarten.  Not to mention the parents. Sending your child off to kindergarten is such a happy time it's also a time filled with a little trepidation. 

This year the poem I send out every year is a little more poignant as I send my "baby" off to college. (sniff, sniff)

Thoughts at the Bottom of a Beanstalk

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Jack who was about to climb his very first beanstalk. He had a fresh haircut and a brand-new book bag. Even though his friends in the neighborhood had climbed this same beanstalk almost every day last year, this was Jack's first day and he was a little nervous. So was his mother.

Early in the morning she brought him to the foot of the beanstalk. She talked encouragingly to Jack about all the fun he would have that day and how nice his giant would be. She reassured him that she would be back to pick him up at the end of day. For a moment they stood together, silently holding hands, gazing up at the beanstalk. To Jack it seemed much bigger than it had when his mother had pointed it out on the way to the store last week. His mother thought it looked big, too. She swallowed. Maybe she should have held Jack out a year...

Jack's mother straightened his shirt one last time, patted his shoulder and smiled down at him. She promised to stay and wave while he started climbing. Jack didn't say a word. He walked forward, grabbed a low-growing stem, and slowly pulled himself up to the first leaf. He balanced there for a moment and then climbed more eagerly to the second leaf, then to the third and soon he had vanished into a high tangle of leaves and stems with never a backward glance at his mother. She stood alone at the bottom of the beanstalk, gazing up at the spot where Jack had disappeared. There was no rustle, no movement, no sound to indicate that he was anywhere inside. "Sometimes," she thought, "it's harder to be the one who waves good-bye than it is to be the one who climbs the beanstalk."

She wondered how Jack would do. Would he miss her? How would he behave? Did his giant understand that little boys sometimes acted silly when they felt unsure? She fought down an urge to spring up the stalk after Jack and maybe duck behind a bean to take a peek at how he was doing. "I'd better not. What if he saw me?" She knew that Jack was really old enough to handle this on his own. She reminded herself that after all, this was thought to be an excellent beanstalk and that everyone said his giant was not only kind but had outstanding qualifications. "It's not so much that I'm worried about him," she thought, rubbing the back of her neck. "It's just that he's growing up and I'm going to miss him." Jack's mother turned to leave. "Jack's going to have lots of bigger beanstalks to climb in his life" she told herself. "Today's the day he starts practicing for them... And today's the day I start practicing something too: Cheering him on and waving good-bye."

--Author Unknown

Meeting the parents can be exciting or filled with mishaps. It does almost feel like meeting the in laws for the first time. As a teacher you are responsible for your kids, but we also have a responsibility to the parents. Trust me, I've sent 3 of my own kids off to kindergarten and this summer my first off to college. You can't forget the parents. If you're hoping for a terrific year, you NEED the parents on your side.  First impressions are everything so here are my top 5 tips taken from 30 years of experience.

Let them know you care about their child.
Duh, right?  But, seriously, you need the parents to know you care about THEIR child. Get down on your knees, look the child in their eye, spend your time talking to the little one. I'm not saying you should ignore the adults, but your focus should be on making the kids comfortable. Even though my kids are older, I can tell you I have a soft spot for anyone who is kind or has been kind to my kids. 

Let them know you're smart.
You are in charge of teaching their little love to read. The parents want to know you know what you are doing. Now is the time to brag a little. If you're a new teacher tell them where you went to school, if you are a little older (cough, like me) tell them about how many years of experience you have. Channel your mother and pretend she is introducing you. You won an award? Let them know. You spent the summer learning a new skill? Tell them. Tell them all the wonderful things about you that your mother brags about.  They want to know you know what you're doing. They want to know you have a plan for their child, whether they are already reading or they don't know any letters yet. Parents want to know you have a plan for addressing their child's unique needs. Be careful, don't use lingo. Educators LOVE acronyms, we use them for everything. Don't use them with parents!!!  

Let them know you are "in charge" 
We all have heard horror stories about bullies in school and even worse, school violence. Luckily most of us will never face those issues, but we will face kids who tease, push, tattle, are noncompliant, and who frustrate not only us, but also the other kids. The kids will go home and tell their parents about "that" kid who always seems to be in trouble. Let the parents know you have strategies for developing a culture that is supportive to all kids. Let them know your values about classroom management. If you have need a couple extra strategies check here. Your parents want to feel confident in your ability to have control of the class.

Let them know you are available.
We all have different levels of comfort when it comes to how available we want to be with parents.  I give my parents my cell phone number with the caveat that I like texts, not calls. I let my parents know I don't always check my phone until I get home, so texts may not be responded to immediately.  Set the boundaries early, I let parents know that I will get back to them within 24 hours, but don't expect immediate responses. A great way to stay in contact with parents is Class DOJO if you haven't signed up yet, do it now. Seriously it's an awesome way to communicate with parents. If you haven't checked out Google forms you need to educate yourself on how helpful they can be in a class. As long as your parents know how to contact you and they are clear with expectations you'll be fine.

#5 Let them know what to expect
Make sure they know the routines and schedules. What door do I pick up my walker? How much does lunch cost? Do we need to send a snack?  How do I know about picture day? Can I volunteer? How many field trips? Will there be daytime concerts?  You think the kids ask a lot of questions? Yikes, parents can have tons of questions. Get in front of the questions and write down the answers, and hand it out, again, and again. Seriously the parents are being inundated with paper work at the beginning of the year, send this information every month for a couple of months. Prepare for long lines at the copy machine. 

 I love teaching because it's a fresh start every fall. We get to work like we are in the Ground Hog Day movie. Take advantage of starting off on the right foot.  Remember "Sometimes, it's harder to be the one who waves good-bye than it is to be the one who climbs the beanstalk." Let's have a great year!!!

You can get a copy of the beanstalk poem here

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Classroom organization made easy. Really!

There are some people who are just naturally organized.   Everything is in its place. It comes to them instinctively. If that's you, you're lucky. I envy you. I'm not that person. I have to work to be organized. I have to be intentional. After all these years I feel like I've tried everything. I start out great; I'm committed. But I have to confess, I don't follow through. I don't put things away. It just becomes a big mess.

 I've found there are some things I'm good at and some things I'm not. For all those things that I struggle with, and organization is one of them. I need help. Since I work alone, the only other people who can help me are the kids!  They are my saving grace. I NEED them. My favorite trick I've learned is to delegate. Once I learned to do this we actually starting having less (I won't dare say none, but less) missing glue stick caps. Honestly, it was the ban of my existence. Constantly having to throw out perfectly good glue sticks gone bad,  because we couldn't find the cap. I hear you, "Oh I just keep a little baggie full of caps" I do too, but where is that bag when I need it?!?!?! Missing socks Huh! Amateurs missing socks have NOTHING on missing glue stick caps.

So I use color codes. I love color-coding things. For the most part my kids all come in at the beginning of the year knowing their colors, it's really visual and to be honest, it looks good. So I color-code everything!

One of my most effective and easiest tips to keep up with is color-coded tables. I know simple right? But if it's going to work it has to be simple. I have red, blue, green (you get the idea) tables. I found these great caddies at Amazon and they match my tables. I put everything the kids need in the caddy: pencils, crayons, glue sticks, scissors, everything they need goes in the caddy. Then I make a table captain.  The captain then takes that caddy and puts it on the shelf on top of a matching piece of construction paper. This part is key, because the caddy ends up in the same place every day. Are you seeing a pattern? Simple is the way to go. 

 Here's my dirty little secret, I have the captain in charge of making sure all the caps are on the glue sticks. The captain is my savior. They keep the supplies organized. Forget door holder, line leader what you really need is a keeper of glue stick caps. Every kindergarten teacher I know has a love/hate relationship with glue sticks. We love them seriously how can you not? But oh my goodness nothing hurts more than having a brand new glue stick all dried out because the cap is missing. 
So delegate this role to a student. Make them a table captain, put them in charge. Don't let the activity end until all the materials are neat and in their place.  The very best bosses know, put someone else in charge and get out of their way. You'll look great and in reality you just have increased your kid's independence. Like all things... give everyone a chance to be the captain.  You can download my free captain signs here. Check out my table sign and name tag resource in my store by clicking here.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

4 tips to actually having reading groups the first week of kindergarten

 There will be those who tell you don't have reading groups before Halloween unless you have an assistant, 4 parent volunteers, and a death wish. Not true. There will be those who tell you, you won't smile until Christmas. Not true. I honestly believe the longer you put off starting groups the harder it will be. So rollup your sleeves and let's figure this out.  

 So last week we talked about my biggest secret to successful reading groups in kindergarten if you missed it, check it out here. The kids are at fun centers; blocks, water table, dramatic play. You've  just called 4  kids to the table for our very first "reading group". But as soon as the 4 little sweeties sit down. There is a problem at the water table. Billy stole Emily's teapot. Jason knocked down Sarah's castle. Caitlyn needs to go to the bathroom. Yikes, you can't even begin with the 4 in front of you because the class is falling apart. You abandon the group and just try to "police" the larger group.  You go home and say to your family I'll never be able to teach them to read, because I have no time to actually teach them to read. 

Don't give up. Not all of us are lucky enough to have an assistant or 4 parent volunteers. You're just going to have to figure out how to give your attention to the 4 in front of you while the 18 others are working quietly and independently. Cue eye roll.  I know what your thinking,  "working quietly and independently???  Have you ever even been into a kindergarten class the first week of school? Not only will they run amok they will actually run!!! Your perfectly planned reading group is a disaster because you can't be at it. 

Something has to change. It all goes back to that little secret from last week structure and routine. Trust me those two little beauties will be your best friends.  I have found a couple easy strategies that actually work. But it takes proper planning you know the saying "proper planning prevent piss poor performance". It's true. You need to get out in front of your little darlings.  

These are my tricks. 

#1 The problem solver. The problem solver is a lifesaver. Check out my post about the problem solver here and click here  to get a free download of the cards. What's a problem solver? Glad you asked, it's a student that solves all those pesky problems. Billy knocked down Sarah's building go talk to the problem solver; Jason broke Amy's crayon talk to the problem solver. Honestly there are a 100 little dramas that happen before lunch and if you don't delegate you'll never have peace. Give the kids the tools they need to solve their problems then let them do it!

#2 Go on Vacation.  No I don't mean leave all those little darlings. You just came back from 2 months off. I mean tell the kids when your on vacation they can't bother you. Then give them a way to know you are off limits. I wear a lei, or I put a pair of sunglasses on my head, my neighbor wears Mickey Mouse ears. You could even open a beach umbrella. Just let them know with a visual cue that you are off limits. They must go see the problem solver to fix any issues. Start slow go on Vacation for 3 minutes. Praise them big time for not interrupting. Then increase the time, 4 minutes, 5 minutes, 7 minutes. You get the picture. Be firm - no one I mean no one approaches you while you're on vacation. 

Side note.....Once the principal came in to ask me something and one child yelled out "You can't talk to her know she's on vacation." That required a slight explanation. This vacation time is when you can have small groups without interruption. 

#3 Don't have groups during active center time if you are the only adult in the room. Seriously read that again. Don't! Don't open the block area, water table, and easel when your trying to have groups. That's just crazy.  Have the kids at their tables writing, coloring, reading, listening to books on tape, choose any activity that can be done quietly. I mean it, read that again!!! I love to use this time for interactive notebooks. All that coloring, cutting, folding oh my. Check here to read my  post about why I love interactive notebooks.  

#4 The Special Crayons.  I have 5 tables in my class, and I have 5 containers of Special Crayons. They are only special because I call them special, and I put them in a cute container with a colorful trophy on it. Sometimes they are twisty crayons sometimes they are skinny crayons, sometimes, they are not crayons at all but colored pencils. It doesn't really matter. What matters is the kids know they are special and will do anything to get them.  If a table is quiet they earn the Special Crayons. I don't say a word. I go to the Special Crayon shelf pick up a container and slowly walk to the table that is working hard and quietly. You'll be amazed at the lull that comes over the room as the anticipation grows. Which table has earned the honor? I ceremoniously put the crayons down in the middle and say "Great job working quietly you have earned the Special Crayons." It works; the other tables will be dying to get something special they will quiet down immediately. The most wonderful thing about the Special Crayons is the kids earn it as a group. So they encourage each other to be quiet. You can access my special crayons herehere     

Bonus: All those other great ideas. My school uses a universal behavior system with colors and clothespins. We also use class Dojo it works great. Make your class filled with "Bucket Fillers". There are literally 100s of behavior management ideas out there. You should use any and all. 

I hope your biggest take away is this, you can have successful reading groups the first weeks of kindergarten but spend less time on the actual lesson the (reading part) and more time on the being in a group part. I often just sit with the kids and chat during the first week. The reading groups the first week is really setting the routines, explaining the expectations, spending time in a group. Without that, the reading part wont be easy and you just might not smile until Christmas. 

Oh, one last thought, make sure you take the Mickey Mouse ears off before you go to the teachers room or you'll look a little loopy.