Monday, August 1, 2016

Journals for Pre-K

Last year I started looking for ideas on Pinterest about journaling with preschoolers.  I came across a few pins that helped me get started:

Ten Tips for Keeping a Journal in Preschool

Pre-School Journaling

J is for Journal

After reading about how others started, organized and maintained their journals; I started making the decisions about how I would use the journals in my classroom.

I chose to use simple black and white composition books for our journals.  I used a name label sticker on the front of each child's journal and also made one for myself.

My class typically is most successful when I model expectations for them before they attempt a structured task like this.  Before the kids ever used their journal, I had all of the journals prepped and in a basket and I modeled drawing a picture in my journal.  Since most of the students in my class have language impairments, I wanted the focus of our journals based on increasing their communication skills.  After I drew my picture, I talked about it.  I labeled the picture, told the class a sentence about my picture.  We did this a few times, using the word journal and modeling how to draw, turn pages, choose the next page, etc.  The first time I passed out their journals at circle time, all we did was look at the journal and turn the blank pages.

We used our journals in a small group, structured center with adult support at first.  After all of the students started to understand the purpose and became more proficient at drawing their pictures, I would also put them out for a table activity or "morning work" first thing in the morning in a large group.

Since my goal was to help increase communication, every time the students worked in their journal, they talked to an adult (me, my assistant, a volunteer) about it and we wrote their exact words on the paper.  Through this, we also had ongoing documentation showing how their language skills improved over time.  You can see the length of utterance increases, use of age appropriate vocabulary, use of pronouns and use of action words.  This became a great way for  me to show parents what language skill I might be working on with a child and how they could help.

I also found that our science center was a great inspiration spot for lots of writing and observation.

Here are some photos of some of  our journal work:

And here are some from a different student:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sensory Bin: Left Over Rice Krispies

Our local grocery store sucked me into buying two boxes of Rice Krispies when they were buy one get one free a few weeks ago.  Two pans of Rice Krispy treats later, I swore I was not going to make any more that I would then eat!

I decided to turn the leftovers into a very simple sensory bin for my two year old nephews.  I simply added the Rice Krispies, some sea life manipulatives from Lakeshore, and some left over small containers from individual applesauces.  Cheap and easy!

Since they are two years old, I made one bin for each of them as sharing and turn taking can still be a bit of a challenge at times.  They both started off in their own bins finding sea life, exploring the textures, and scooping the Rice Krispies with their hands into the applesauce containers.

Then something wonderful emerged!  They gravitated towards each other and playing together in one bin.  Scooping, pouring, filling, dumping, exploring and giggling.

Bubbles and Problem Solving

I have 2 year old twin nephews.  They both love bubbles right now and have a lawn mower bubble maker as well as several no-spill bubble containers.  We ran out of re-fill bubbles one day when I was watching them and one of the boys really wanted his lawn mower to have more bubbles.

He kept saying "more bubbles?"  I had to tell him "bubbles all gone.  no more."  He cried (he is 2) and then was able to be redirected to his train for a bit and then went back to the bubbles.

The next thing I knew, he was attempting to fill his lawn mower with the no-spill container.  He knew he had bubbles left in the no spill container and he was doing his best to get them where he wanted them.  I thought that was pretty good thinking and problem solving for a 2 year old! (even if it didn't work.....I loved the process of his thinking.)

(The little guy in the picture has delays in the communication and social/personal domains.  So fun to see his strengths clearly evident, too!)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Simple Visual for Change of Schedule

Sometimes students just need to "see" how the changes of a schedule will affect them.

During our standardized testing window, specials and lunch changed school-wide, which prompted a change in my reading and math blocks.  I had one student this year who mainstreamed for a large portion of the day, but she started her day with me to organize her schedule and any known changes, and then returned to me in the late afternoon.  Under normal circumstances, she knew when she would have time to "hang out with her BFF."

Although she is very bright, she didn't "see" when she was going to be able to have time with her best friend within all of our schedule changes.  This particular child is very high functioning on the autism spectrum and we have found that often writing things down helps her process information.  She was quite anxious about the multiple schedule changes and started to move into her "whiny" voice. This is usually a pre-cursor for more intense behavior (throwing books, tipping chairs, yelling), so if we can catch her during the "whine," we can usually prevent the major meltdowns.

I loved this intervention because it was "quick and dirty."  There is nothing pretty or fancy about it, but we completed it in about 3 minutes during our morning check in and it resolved her anxiety. When she started to whine about when she was going to have time with her friend, I simply asked her, "Would you like me to write down both afternoon schedules so you can see when you have time together?"  She said yes and then added her comments on when they could "hang out."

Quick and simple but very effective!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Pre-K Again

As this school year draws to a close, our principal has sent out our "most likely" assignments for next year.  She calls them "most likely" because, as we all know, things can change over the summer.  If the needs of our students change, then staff assignments sometimes have to change too.

My "most likely" assignment for next year is back with the pre-k special needs population.  I'm ready for a change again, but I LOVE my school, so I didn't want to change that!  One of our pre-k teachers retired this May, so an opening came up at our school.  I love the language development and developmental play aspects of pre-k, so I"m excited.

I've started culling through some of my old pre-k files and rediscovered a blog from a pre-k teacher, Christi Seward in Cobb County.

She hasn't posted in a few years, so perhaps her teaching assignment changed or something else in her life changed, but she has a WONDERFUL collection of picture books with essential vocabulary and comprehension questions that she discusses.  She also has created many power points to support her lessons.

One of the books she highlights is "Bear Wants More" by Karma Wilson.

In addition to Christi's resources, there is also a YouTube read aloud with the book, too.  (This version is really sweet.  A boy received this as a birthday present and his family recorded him reading it out loud for the person who gave him the book.)


This has been a busy year and I haven't completed too many posts, but hopefully that will change this next year coming up!

Interrupting Chicken: A Social Skills Lesson

Last week one of our social skills lessons started with a read aloud of "Interrupting Chicken" by David Ezra Stein.

This is a great book to help children learn about controlling those impulsive moments of wanting to interrupt or blurt out during our whole group time.

We completed our read aloud, had a class discussion and then also completed some activities similar to those found at Happy Teacher, Happy Kids.

I can also be a little bit goofy and I want our social skills lessons to be fun, so the kids can really practice the skills and enjoy the results of prosocial behaviors.  Not just dread one more lesson with a bunch of rules that are hard for them to follow.  So as a result of my Pinterest addiction, I found a link to "Chicken Names" from Tilly's Nest and thought it would be fun to pair with this book.

The rules of the activity were pretty simple.  We were going to practice NOT being interrupting chickens.  If we could work on that, we could make a list of everyone's chicken name.  (I'm Yolko Scrambledore, by the way.)  It was fun.  One of the little girls in my class has the same birthday month as my assistant so she dubbed my assistant as her "Chicken Cousin."

There is also a YouTube video that has a read aloud.  I like to use the videos in addition to my read aloud because it gives my students one more way to access the text.

With a simple Google search, you can find many, many online resources and ideas that support this book.  These were just a few of the ones we used.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Rainforest Riddles...So Fun!

My class has been working on a unit that revolved around a Rainforest theme.  I chose this particular theme at this time because:

a) Students are usually very interested in the Rainforest theme and can be easily encouraged to read and write.
b) We have an expository text on the Rainforest in our reading series and I am required to base lessons off of our core curriculum materials.  (So I would have to do this anyway.)
c) There are hundreds of free resources and extensions available online.
d) Our school was in the middle of FSA testing.  Although I don't have any students testing this year, the resource teacher next to me is testing every day which means my class needs to be close to silent for the entire morning block.  Brutal (for the kids and I held out the carrot....if we were super quiet in the morning then we could do some fun, noisy rainforest activities in the afternoon.)

One of my favorite things we did with the unit was to write our own Rainforest Riddles.  I found a free pdf from First Grade Hip Hip Hooray on Teachers Pay Teachers.  The set gives several rainforest riddles already written that the students have to solve.  It has a nice set of graphics for a simple read, then cut and paste activity.  Finally, it also includes graphic organizers to help students write their own riddles.

My class really loved writing their riddles "in secret" and creating their animal from pieces from our arts and crafts scraps/materials.  We then combined all of our animal creations to make a rainforest bulletin board.

Here's our bulletin board.  Sorry!  The picture is a bit fuzzy and I still need to add "forest floor" to our layers.

Below are some close up examples of the writing samples they did.  You can see the different levels within the writing samples, but this was an activity that all of my students could participate in.  I like these types of projects because it brings our class together as "a whole."

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Telling Time

My class is currently working on telling time to the hour, half hour, fifteen minute interval and five minute interval in math.  We always need lots of different ways to practice a skill.  Below are a few of the resources we're using in addition to the materials that came with the unit in our district's math series:

Touch Math Time  (I looked for this on google.  It used to be part of the Upper Grades set, but I can't find it anymore.  I really like it because it's visuals are clean and simple with a lot of white space.  It also integrates time before and time after within each interval.)

Clocks from two paper plates from E Is for Explore

Simple morning work worksheets from Math Fact Cafe.  This site has a worksheet generator that shuffles the problems and you can also set the parameters for what skills you want on the worksheet.  Love that!  Again, the visuals are clean and there's a lot of white space so it's not really busy and overwhelming.

I also have quite a few file folder games that I have made and collected over the years.  Those are coming out too.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

You won't believe it.....

When we have problems with technology in our classrooms, we submit a help ticket to our central office and then based on the filters, it is sent to the tech that can best help us resolve the problem.  I recently had one that our tech said she was going to frame.....she had never seen this request before:

Additional Info: Have you ever had this one???  A student had a nosebleed at the computer and there is blood in between and underneath the control key and the key next to it.  I've unplugged the keyboard from the computer and set it on the gray counter.

Categories:      CompDev : Other

I knew the keys needed to be popped off and the keyboard sanitized, but I didn't know what was safe to use to get rid of the blood and what was safe that would not ruin the keyboard.  She gave me a new keyboard for the time being......she didn't know either!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Satin Hands and an Intervention....Strange Combination

I never used to need lotion for my hands.  However, ten years ago, I started teaching my varying exceptionalities pre-k class and I found myself washing my hands 100 times a day.  And let's face soap is not gentle on your hands.

About that time, I discovered Satin Hands from Mary Kay and could probably have been their poster child.  (I'm not a Mary Kay consultant, I just happen to really like this product.)  The ladies that I work with found out how much I like it, and it is now a frequent gift for me during the holidays and at my birthday.  So now, I actually have a set a home and at school.

Little did I know that my Satin Hands would become an intervention this year!

I have a little girl in my class who tends to scratch her arms when she perceives work as being too difficult.  It can be pretty bad on occasion and she has picked scabs and opened old scratches.  Bleeding in the classroom is not a good thing!  Interrupting reading groups or math groups 3-4x every week to deal with bleeding is also not a good thing.

One day, I was using the lotion while she was at my table and she asked me what it was.  I told her it was lotion and asked her if she wanted a little squirt.  She said yes and "mmm, smells good."  Then I got my bright idea.  If she likes the smell and the feel of the lotion, maybe we could replace her scratching behavior by asking for some lotion.  I asked her if she would like to do that and of course she said yes.  So I told her she could use the lotion but she was not allowed to scratch.

I now have a tube of lotion at my reading table.  She still sometimes starts to scratch in moments of academic frustration, but with a simple verbal prompt of "Mary, do you want some lotion?"  She will stop and gently rub her arms.  We haven't had a bleeding episode since we started. It is MUCH easier and less distracting to give her a quick squirt of lotion than it is to deal with washing, drying and band-aiding arms when she scratches and draws blood.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Funny is Funny

I've worked with the paraprofessional I am assigned with for the last four years.  She is amazing.  Every year within one of our social skills lessons we talk about things we like and don't like.  This leads us into how different people have different opinions.  Which in turn leads us to lessons on respect, caring  and tolerance.

Every year, my para tells the kids how she does not like frogs.  We live in Florida.  Once during the rainy season, she was laying on her couch reading her book and a frog that got into her house jumped on her face.  She tells the story and the kids laugh but for the most part understand why she doesn't like frogs anymore.

This year I have a little girl who is very bright and on the autism spectrum.  She and I do a lot of social stories to help her learn new skills.  Her mom sent me this link because Mrs. B.  (my para) has to watch this video.  According to our student  "we can teach her to like frogs again.  They're not bad.   They can be our friends."

We cracked up laughing when we watched the link.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Accountable Talk

As my reading instruction continues to evolve over the years, I keep adding new strategies to my "bag of tricks."  It's funny how I get ideas.  (Honestly, I very rarely have a completely original thought when I start to figure out a new strategy or a lesson I haven't implemented before.)  I recently told a first year teacher that one of the greatest gifts a teacher can have is to be a good synthesizer.  If she can learn to take all of this overload of information we are bombarded with and somehow synthesize it together and use it when it's appropriate and useful; then she will be able to continually add to her bag of tricks.

I'm adding to my bag of tricks.

For the past few years my 1st-3rd grade students have loved having "Nacho Karaoke" day once a month.  On the day the cafeteria serves nachos, I let them all eat in the classroom and we sing karaoke to songs with lyrics that I have saved from YouTube.

I'm reviewing my list of songs before this year's first Nacho Karaoke and was re-introduced to the song "Brave" by Sara Barielles.

As I paid attention to the lyrics, I really noticed the refrain this time: "Say what you wanna say.  I wanna see you be brave!"

I thought this would be a great way to introduce "Accountable Talk" to my students!  For the past few years, it's been challenging to teach children how to agree or disagree with a peer based on text evidence.  It can be hard to raise your hand and speak up during a group, especially if you are disagreeing with a friend.  However, when students DO engage in accountable talk, I have found that they truly start to engage with each other and the text in a purposeful and meaningful way.

My class has already set our essential agreements (rules) including one that states "We will be kind to each other."  With that as a foundation and also practice of the roles of "speaker" and "listener,"  I think we can use this song to talk about how important it is to speak up and "say what you wanna say" during an accountable talk discussion time.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fair vs. the Same

This summer, I came across this visual on Pinterest. To me, this shows why we assess and plan for individual differences for our students.

What is FAIR is not always the SAME thing for everyone. At the beginning of the school year, my class has a meeting and we generate our class rules. We call these "agreements" (and sometimes for little kids I call them "promises.") The students agree to follow the rules we generate. Then my assistant and I make agreements with the class too. One of our most important agreements is to help make things fair.

I find the concept of fairness to be one that even my youngest three year olds could understand. When the adults promise to be fair, it sets the stage nicely for differentiating your lessons according to your data. When someone asks me why something is different for one person or one group, I simply reply "Because I promised you all that I would help make things fair; and you have what you need right now, and so do your friends."

Clearly the boy who is tall doesn't need a box to stand on (even if he wants one) and clearly the child who is the shortest needs 2 boxes if he is going to be able to see the game. What is fair, is not always the same thing for everyone.

My Pinterest link led me back to this post by Phil Artman. He found it on Facebook and could not determine the original writer.  If it belongs to you and you do not have a "noncomercial share alike" aspect to it, please leave a comment and I will remove the post.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Chapter Book Read Alouds 2nd and 3rd Grade

My class loves to listen to me read to them.  Since my students are 2nd and 3rd graders now, I like to try to expose them to chapter books as read alouds.  The following is a list of some of the books we read this past year with some brief comments about each.

1) Boxcar Children #1

I chose this book because it was one of the extended complex texts that was recommended to go with our first unit with our reading curriculum, Wonders.  The students liked it and enjoyed the adventure of the children living in the train boxcar.

2) Stuart Little

"Stuart Little" was our next read aloud because of a play we were scheduled to see.  My district is very fortunate to have a lot of support for education for children within the arts.  Part of that is experience at our local theater for live performances.  "Stuart Little" was actually a very difficult book to read to my students. The language and vocabulary that is used actually puts it much higher than a second or third grade level (I think it's more like 5th or 6th grade.)  However, my students loved the story.  We  went through this book pretty slowly and stopped to explain a lot of the words or phrases in the book.  By the time we got to the play, my class loved that they could "see" parts of the story they already knew and we had great discussions about the parts that were different.

3) Horrible Harry and the Drop of Doom

Horrible Harry has a great series of introductory chapter books.  I read this book to my class to introduce Harry and Song Lee to my students.  I have found that once students are familiar with some of the characters they are more likely to make the transition between picture books to chapter books.

4) Santa Clause Doesn't Mop Floors
We read this book as a purely enjoyable read at the holidays.  As we progressed through the story, we had some great conversations for our social skills lessons.

5) The One and Only Ivan
Oh! How I loved this book.  The story is told from Ivan's point of view.  Ivan is a gorilla that was once wild and is now kept in captivity in a shopping mall.  My class loved hearing about Ivan's thoughts and feelings and solutions.  They also loved learning that the story was based on a real gorilla.  This gave us the chance to talk about what they phrase "based on a true story" means (how often the main idea and the theme of the story stay true but frequently the author changes some of the details to make the plot of the story work.)  **This was my favorite read aloud this year.

6) Little Dog Lost
We all enjoyed this story too.  It is written in the style of a poem, even though it is also presented as a chapter book.  This was the first time my class had seen a free verse poem this long.  That was a great way to show them there are many different ways a writer can share their thoughts and ideas with the reader.

7) How to Eat Fried Worms
If you have read any my previous post about "How to Eat Fried Worms," you will know I love this book.  I first was introduced to it when MY second grade teacher read it out loud to my class.  I remember simultaneously loving it and being grossed out by it!

8) Charlotte's Web
My students loved this book...well except for the one who hated it and the one that it stressed out (but she still loved it!)....For more information on this read here.  Overall though, the class really did like this classic!  This was a novel that we had plenty of copies of throughout our school.  I was able to get a copy for every student in my room and the liked tracking our progress in their own book as I read it to them.   We ended our school year with an "old school" thematic until based on this novel.  My class loved that kind of structure to our day.  I wish we could do more of it.

Photo credits:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Doll House and Choice Time

At the end of the day this past year, my class enjoyed "Choice Time."

If you were to walk in my classroom, "choice time" looks remarkably similar to "free time."  I don't call it "free time" however, because the children are not "free" to do whatever they want...they have to make a choice from the leisure activities we have available and then stay productively engaged, unless they have asked permission to make a different choice.

Unproductive wandering throughout the classroom is one of my "teacher pet peeves."  It drives me crazy and I have found that unproductive wandering leads to lots of management or behavior issues. Hence, we have "choice time" and not "free time."

One of my older third grade girls wanted me to buy a Barbie doll house for them to play with during choice time.  I explained that Barbie houses cost a lot of money and we didn't have enough to buy one.  She accepted this and went on to play with something else.

A few days later while browsing on Pinterest, I came across this pin that uses a 3 ring binder to make a Barbie doll house from Southern Disposition.  Take a look.  Kendra includes lots of ideas and instructions.

How serendipitous!

When we got to choice time the following day, I asked that little girl if she would be interested in looking at a possible solution to our Barbie doll house problem.  We looked through the website and directions.  She was hooked!

I happen to have lots of scrapbook paper at home that I don't use anymore because I now do most of my photo albums digitally.  I also have a scrap craft bucket of ribbon, lace, beads, etc that I keep for projects at school.  I purchased some scraps of cheap fabric from the scrap bin at Jo-Ann's.

I also happened to know that our bookkeeper has A LOT of old binders that no one wants to use because they aren't perfect.  They were "perfect" for us because they were free!

So for about $8 for fabric scraps and some Stitch Witchery (no sew tape that fuses fabric together), we were in business!

Two girls wanted to make doll houses but they didn't really know where to start.  We talked about how sometimes people use an "inspiration room."  I asked them what colors they wanted their rooms to be.  One chose blue and the other chose pink.  We googled images of girls bedrooms.

One girl choose this blue room from Amecdes as her inspiration.

The other girl chose this pink and green and cream room from Bess.Net as her inspiration.

Our choice time lasts for 15 or 20 minutes at the end of each day.  For about three weeks, the girls spent their choice time creating, figuring things out, problem solving and adding details to their doll house.

Here's one girl making a mirror out of a file folder, aluminum foil, and lace ribbon she cut apart.

Here's her room after she covered up a granola bar box for her bed.

And here is her final product.  The curtain rod is a pipe cleaner with some blue beads we had in our craft bucket (I think they were table scatter beads from the Dollar Tree.)  The curtains are just lengths of lace ribbon she cut and then threaded onto the pipe cleaner.  The rug is a scrap of felt. We printed an image of a dresser off of another Google image search and she glued it to the wall.  The bedspread is a scrap of fabric that she cut.  I helped her make the pillows and the column of fabric that covers the 3 rings with an iron and the Stitch Witchery. (Hot irons and young children are not a good combination!)

Here is the other girl after she finished her mural and began working on her window.

And here is her final room.  She decided to make her bed a daybed.  We used a Girl Scout cookie box for this and scraps of fabric that she cut.  Her curtain rod is a pipe cleaner with some of a pearl strand that she twisted together (the pearls were is my scrap bucket.)  The curtain ties are more of the pearl strand.  The rug is a scrap of felt.  She also cut some mat board to frame her butterfly mural.  Again, I helped with the iron and Stitch Witchery of the column of fabric in the middle and the pillows.  

The two rooms together looked like this (sorry the photo is a little fuzzy!):

The girls had so much fun making their own doll house bedrooms.  They also had a lot of fun playing with them during choice time once they were completed.

I know I can't prove that they practiced their social skills or their problem solving skills and I certainly don't have any data to justify letting them spend 15 or 20 minutes every day making a doll house.  However, these little doll houses have been one of my favorite memories from the year.  To me it shows:

1) Willingness to accept and handle disappointment and the word "no" (We didn't buy their doll house that they wanted.)
2) Willingness to accept a compromise and take responsibility to follow through on the compromise
3) Ability to think in a problem solving process (Watching the one girl work for 2 days to get her mirror to stand up by itself was awesome!)
4) Ability to persist at a long term task (relatively speaking)
5) Thinking creatively
6) Using materials for another purpose other than its intended use

****One little girl is in my class for help with an emotional and behavioral disorder (EBD) and the other is in my room for  help with a severe learning disability.  I'm pretty happy with all of the skills they practiced in an authentic and personally meaningful way.

Many, many thanks to Kendra at Southern Disposition for her great idea!