Monday, August 23, 2010

Memorable Moment # 9: I Need the Keys

Today was the first day of school for students. Since I learned my Harry Wong lessons on the importance of procedures long, long ago, the first few weeks of my pre-k classroom are spent on learning the centers, how to play in the centers and how to clean up the centers. That means I don't open every center every day at the beginning of the year.

Today one of the new students in the class asked if he could play in our puzzle center today. My assistant told him that "puzzles are closed." He stood for a second or two and then replied to her, "Ok, I need the keys."

I thought that was a pretty clever response. :-)

image from stopnlook@

Monday, August 16, 2010

Positive Behavior Support: Solution Board

Throughout my district (as with many others) there is a large push for the implementation of school-wide positive behavior support (PBS). I am also fortunate enough to work in a community that has received a large grant to support strategies that increase mental health for children in early childhood settings. One of the initiatives funded through this grant is PBS training and materials.

Our early childhood PBS training is based on the pyramid model and training modules from CSEFEL.

One of my favorite strategies that I learned from my PBS training is the "Solution Kit." The solution kit is a strategy that teaches young children the options they may try when a conflict or disagreement arises. It helps them to learn how to independently (or with less prompting) solve problems.

You can watch a video of a teacher modeling the "solution kit" here.

Two years ago, I started using the solution kit with my pre-schoolers. I had a small plastic suitcase very similar to the one in the video and housed the kit at child level near my circle time area. While I loved the concept of the solution kit, I found the implementation to be difficult for my students. The suitcase with the clips was difficult for some of them to manage with fine motor deficits and the solutions all in a pile became quickly disorganized and overwhelming for them. I didn't want to give up on the positive aspects of using the solution kit, so I had to figure out a way to make it work for my population. Our solution kit evolved into a "solution board."

I simply printed and laminated the visuals from the solution kit and then taped them to the side of my desk. They became a permanent fixture in the classroom. The board allowed me to organize the solutions in a manner that was easier for my students to track visually and also eliminated the need for them to be able to open the kit. Towards the end of the year, for many of my students getting ready to transition to kindergarten, I could be across the room and just verbally prompt them to try using the solution board. I even had two parents who saw us using the solution board in the class and asked for the visuals to use at home!

I think the power of the solution board or solution kit (however the concept evolves for you) is that it teaches the children skills for managing their own conflicts. It gives children a measure of control over the resolution to the conflict and does not require an adult to intervene and "fix" the problem. And, ultimately, that's what we want.....for children to independently be able to come to a peaceful solution to a conflict.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Moving Before and After

Last year my pre-k program was moved to another elementary school in my district. I had a choice to move with my program or teach a different grade level at the current school. I chose to move.

Since it was a district decision to move the program, they provided staff to physically move all of the boxes and furniture, but I was responsible for the packing and the unpacking.

When I walked into my classroom after the movers had all of the boxes placed, I knew I had my work cut out for me. This is one of the before shots:

Clearly, I had to figure out a plan of attack to get everything organized and ready for the first day of school. I started with my necessities: iPod, coffee and Gatorade and then got to work.

I organized my actions by prioritizing what HAD to be in place for the first day of school and what materials I would be using. I keep most of my units of study in large Rubbermaid tubs with labels. You don't see it in the picture, but in one corner of the classroom is a storage room.

I needed to to get some space in the room to move the furniture, so I started by taking all of the tubs for my units and organizing them in the storage room. Once that was done, I could push the tables to the middle of the room, put all of the other materials on and under the tables and start working on the physical layout of the perimeter of the room. Here's the start of that:

Thinking about the physical layout is HUGE! Your physical layout in the classroom can either help you diffuse problems or can actually make the problems worse. The following are some of the things I think about as I set up a new room:

What is age/grade appropriate?
What areas need to be included?
Where are materials stored for the teacher, assistant, students?
How are materials accessed? Does it support independence?
Is there a quiet space when needed?
Where are the electrical outlets and computer drops?
Traffic patterns to and from:
  • bathroom and fountain
  • backpacks and lunchboxes
  • time out, chill out chair, etc (if needed)
  • teaching tables and support materials
  • fire exit and alternate routes
  • line up
And most importantly,
  • Do I have visual supervision of all areas at all times?
At this point, I started moving centers around, figuring out how to address all of those questions regarding the physical layout and then unpacking materials that belong in each center.

It finally came together like this:

After living with it for a year, there are some changes that I'll make when I go back into school next week. But, I have found by thinking about the physical layout questions, I can address the most important issues first and do so efficiently....without having to do tasks twice because I "forgot" I needed to have a computer table near the computer drop or that I needed a wall for my housekeeping unit because it is too high to see over.

Moving and organizing a new room takes an enormous amount of energy and time. (That's why this post did not get posted last year when I actually moved! I was too busy attending to other things.) Make sure to ask your principal, department chair or mentor what is your responsibility and what the school/district provides. In the course of fifteen years of teaching I probably had to move classrooms 6 or 7 times before I found out that the district would provide boxes and I earned a comp day for moving. It took 3 days to organize my classroom last year. While the district didn't pay me for every bit of time I spent in there, it sure was nice to enjoy that day off that I did earn!

If you are moving or re-organizing your classroom this year good luck!

Counting Backwards and Subtraction

I'm working with a little girl who is learning how to subtract.

The touch math strategies were very successful in helping her learn to add, so we are continuing with those materials and cues. However, when she was learning to add, she
had already mastered the skill of counting up. She has not yet learned how to consistently and accurately count backwards from 20. So while she is learning the concept of subtraction with differences from 5 and manipulatives, we are also working on counting backwards from 20.

I created a simple power point that she likes to "play" when we practice. I have her manually click to forward the slides. You can download the manual click power point here. I also added an automatic slide transition for those of you who may want to use this in the classroom. You can download the automatic transition power point here.

In addition to using the power points during our tutoring session, her mom is also helping her count backwards during the many opportunities to wait during the day. They count backwards in the grocery store line, while waiting for her brothers at baseball practice, while the microwave is heating something, while a DVD is loading, etc. She has found lots of times during the day to practice with her!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Free Stories about Anger Management and Impulse Control

This site offers two free books that address social skills.

The first book teaches students a strategy to manage anger using deep breathing and "train yoga." I like how it actually teaches children the words and the actions to take when they are angry and then encourages them to think of a solution. (It's very similar to Tucker Turtle from the CSEFEL site, but it's nice to have another avenue to teach the strategy.)

Jennifer (the author) is planning to add two more books to the site in September.

Free Children's Stories