Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sight Word Writing

This sight word strategy is truly an example of how good ideas just keep getting passed along and how many children can benefit from one teacher's great idea.

I have two children who are in second grade and reading at an end of kindergarten level this year.  They need a lot of practice with phonemic awareness skills and sight word mastery.  At this point, they have been exposed to the district curriculum materials so many times; they really need something new.  I'm always keeping my eyes open for them.

A friend of mine who is a kindergarten teacher was telling me she uses this strategy in her classroom.  She got it from another teacher on her team, who in turn got it when she and a group of teachers were working on literacy centers.  Wow!  How many times has it been passed along?  How many kids are learning because of it?  I love that aspect of teachers sharing ideas!

It's very simple.  You take a piece of plastic window screen (can be purchased at Home Depot) and cut it approximately 10 x 13.  Then you use electrical tape to tape off the edges on both sides.  Finally, use a blank sheet of paper or a simple typed up sight word worksheet and some crayons so children can practice writing their sight words "bumpy style."

I have put this in some TEACCH task baskets for these two boys.  I'm also thinking of making some more and adding it to my Daily 5 Working with Words choices.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Differentiating....How do You Explain It?

I'm currently teaching a class for our local college that focuses on an introduction to the exceptional learner.  I love facilitating this class because the questions that are generated from my students often help me to clarify and articulate what I believe and what I practice in my classroom.  Sometimes it's nice to have to formally explain what you do and why you do it.

This week we have been focusing on strategies and differentiating.  There have been quite a few questions along the themes of how do you implement a strategy and not embarrass a child who has difficulty; or how do you do something different for one and not others; or how do you plan for a child with a speech impairment during read alouds.

Since these questions were addressed and clarified my for my class, I thought the information would be of interest for this blog, too. 

To me, these are brilliant questions.  They get to the heart of  "What does that look like in the classroom?" and I'm interested but I don't know how to do that yet.  "How do I do that with all of the other demands?"

The following is what I shared with my class:

".........Not every strategy is going to work with every child. That's why it's important to know how to research strategies and methods. You may come across a child who exhausts your "bag of tricks" and you need to find a new way to teach him/her a skill or concept.

HOWEVER, sometimes a strategy WILL work if you think through the challenges and set your classroom climate to be supportive. When your thinking starts with a problem solving and supportive approach, it will often help the child succeed.

So what does "a problem solving and supportive approach" look like? It can look differently in different classrooms. I'll share with you some of the methods I use.

When I think about a strategy and a specific child I think may have a challenge with it, I try to problem solve by thinking about questions like this:

1) What skill or concept do I want the child to master?
2) Is this strategy going to help him/her master that skill or concept?
3) What is the challenge I think he/she is going to face? Is there a way to adapt or modify the strategy to adress this challenge BUT still help the child master the skill? If so, this is usually the method I try first.

Here are a few things that I do to set a positive classroom climate at the begninning of the year:

1) We hold a class meeting and set our rules for the year. I pose them as "agreements" and explain to the kids that this is like a promise. This year the teachers agree to: be respectful to everyone, make sure everyone is safe, help everyone learn new things. This year the students agreed to: listen to the teachers, be kind to each other, keep hands and feet to ourselves.

Please note: If the students don't generate an idea for an agreement that I think is necessary, I usually try to guide them to it by posing questions and scenarios about if I let someone do something to them. For example, if they didn't generate an idea similar to being kind, I might ask them: What if someone kept calling you names? Would you like that? Would you want me to help you if you couldn't solve that problem by yourself? Is this important to us as a group? If it is,maybe we should come up with an agreement about that.

2) We talk about leaders. The United States has a leader, it's our president. Our school has a leader, it's our principal. Our classroom has a leader, it's the teacher. The leaders job is to make sure that everything works together smoothly. I remind them that I am the leader in our classroom and it's my job to make sure everyone is learning what they need to be learning.

3) We read lots of literature about differences. The books we revisited many times this year are: "It's Okay to Be Different" by Todd Parr; and "Little Louie the Baby Bloomer" by Jose Aruguelo.

These two books were chosen this year for specific reasons.   The first one addresses differences in general, not related to a disability. The second one addresses how a tiger can do things, it's just that the way he does things is a little bit different than how the other animals do things (which in a very indirect way teaches kids about accomodations).

4) We have a class discussion where I explain to them that not everyone is going to be doing the same thing or have the same work. That's okay! (Establishing the role of the leader and then talking about differences establishes a foundation of knowledge for my students to fall back on when I start differentiating lessons and assigning different children different work.) I hold up our books and remind them what we learned from each of those books. Then I simply tell them those are the things we need to remember when we do our work.

5) If you were ever to come into my classroom, you would hear me redirect somone by saying "Try again, please and remember we are a kind class." or "Oh gosh...try that one more time and remember, you are a kind person." I want them to internalize that we treat each other with respect and kindness. We support and encourage each other when we master something that was hard for us (even if it would have been an easy task for someone else).

When children have this kind of positive, supportive climate every day, it becomes a little bit easier to take an academic risk because you know that your classmates are not going to laugh at you and your teacher is going to help you. And when you can do it on your own, you will be proud of yourself and others will celebrate and encourage you.

The way that I believe this relates to the questions my college students generated is that it creates a climate that allows a child to take a risk and not do well; but be able to take that risk again and do better; and finally take that risk again and master a skill. These steps attempt to support the child towards growth both academically and emotionally.

One teaching experience that I remember very vividly didn't happen in a classroom, but I think it illustrates this point.  It happened at a cooking party we had with a chef at my sister-in-law's house.  We were all laughing and socializing and having a great time.  The chef was guiding us in preparing the meal and taught us some basic knife skills.  When it was our turn to try, one of us was chopping and the chef prompted her by saying "That was very good.  Can I show you how to do it better?"  I don't know that anyone else in the room really heard her, but I did and I thought: GENIUS!  What a phenomenal phrase that was non-threatening and encouraging, but also prompted her to do better....I'm so going to steal that.  And of course I have.  

I try to recreate that type of climate.....well, there's not any wine in my classroom, but you get the idea!  :-)  .........  It's safe.  It's supportive.  It's encouraging.   It's okay to make a mistake or not do something perfectly....the people around you will help you do it better!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reading Interventions

While browsing on Pinterest, I found this incredible resource from Jen Jones on Teachers Pay Teachers.   (It's free!)  It is a table that pairs a reading problem a teacher may observe with several reading intervention ideas that can address it. 

The ideas are all tried and true strategies we have all probably already used at some point in our teaching careers.  I love this aspect of the document.  We are not reinventing the wheel, we are thinking critically and planning systematically to address a problem.

Click here to check out Jen's If / Then Reading Interventions Menu.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Smiles from kids.......

Two things have happened this week that have really made me smile.

The first happened with a little boy I tutor.  We are reading the book Cam Jansen and the Circus Clown.  He's recording one sentence for each chapter to show how his thinking changes throughout the book as he gathers more clues from the story.  In the second chapter, Aunt Molly finds out her wallet is missing.  Most kids take the clues from the title and an incident in the chapter and predict that the wallet was stolen.  This child took the evidence that "her purse was on the ground under the chair, so maybe her wallet fell out and the janitor picked it up for her."  I thought this was so sweet.  He's looking for the good in the characters and people!

Here's the other:

It's bag of crushed tortilla chips.  One of the boys in my class pulled it out of his pocket this morning and gave it to me.  I asked him what it was and he says "I saved this for you because I know you like nachos."  How sweet!