Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What I Learned on my First Day This Year

Well, I survived and made it through the first day.  My classroom is put together, I made it through Open House and 2 days of teacher meetings. 

Here's what I learned about my students:  I've learned they like to talk, except of course, when I ask them to talk. 

I learned they like to repeat my name over and over and over.

I learned they love to listen to stories, and ask lots of questions that show good predicting skills.  (I read Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse.  Who doesn't love that?)

I learned when the story gets long, the children get restless. I learned that some of the children don't follow directions until they have eye contact.

I learned that the children believe me when I tell them they're the best class in the school.  I learned they enjoy each other and care about helping each other. 

I learned they want to do well, and need to be told they're doing well.  I learned they love having a beanie baby on their desk.  They really love trying to earn a second beanie baby for their desk, and even a third.

I learned they get tired by the end of the day, just like their teacher.

In a way, they're like most other kids I've had.  In other ways, they're like no class I've ever met before. 

I learned this is going to be another year that I love my job.

What has your class taught you?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Brain, Memory, Emotions, and Hurricanes

I've been in the mood to tell about my very first day of school.  Yes it was a very long time ago, but if you recall, the memory is connected to emotions, and I had some VERY strong emotions that day.

My mother was a teacher, my dad was the Phys Ed director in my town, and my older sister went to school.  I had to stay home with the babysitter while everyone else in my family went to school.  Needless to say, I wanted to go to school just like everyone else. 

I kept asking when I could go to school.  My mother showed me on the calendar how many days had to go by before I could finally go.  I counted, and counted, and finally, the day came.

School was cancelled because of Hurricane Donna.

"But you promised."  I was inconsolable.  I remember my mother bringing me out to the front porch, trying to convince me that they wouldn't let children go to school when the weather was that bad. 

I must have gone to school the next day, but I really don't remember. 

It was the intense emotion that I remember to this day.  Yet another lesson on the brain and emotions.  And another hurricane story.

Click here for more Pictures of New England during Hurricane Donna.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

"Perfect is the enemy of good".  It's a quote I heard years ago, and I truly understand it, as I am the queen of perfectionism.  No one is harder on herself than I am.  I like things to be "just so". 

What's wrong with that?  Well, nothing is ever really perfect, so therefore, I'm constantly disappointed in myself.  When you're aiming to be perfect, you'll always be disappointed in yourself.

I worked in my classroom all week.  We couldn't get in until Monday, and we had to leave early on Friday.  We have meetings all day on Monday, so we won't get any time in there Monday before we have company at the Open House on Monday night.

I did manage to clean the stuff off the desks, but there's a lot I didn't do!
I got a couple of bulletin boards up.   I picked up most of the clutter.  I have all the math materials arranged for the first day.  I sorted the individual supplies. I put down my mat in the large group area. I got most of my signs up.  I ran off almost everything I'll need for Open House.  I washed off the desks before I left today.

I really did a lot this week.  I pretty much burned the candle at both ends, preparing signs, cutting out laminated stuff, writing out letters and forms and materials I'll be needing. 

My favorite poster, still in the box.
But all I can focus on is all that I didn't do:  label the individual supplies, arrange the beanies, put nametags on desks, assemble homework folders, schoolwork folders, and writing folders.  I still have an empty bulletin board and I haven't put up my favorite poster. And I still haven't planned for the first day of school!

Perfect is the enemy of good.  My room looks good.  I have to take time to breathe.  I have a great Power Point planned for the Open House.  My room is clean, and I'll get the nametags cut out and placed on the desks by the Open House.  That's what the kids really want to see.  (Plus, which friends are in the class!)

I need to learn to work faster.  I need to learn not to spend so much time on details that don't matter, like those home made desk name tags.  I need to learn to be proud of my accomplishments.  I have a lot to learn!

After all, practice makes perfect.  (Perfect?  <shudder>)

But I sure am proud of my class Library!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Getting to the Fun, Not the Tedious

Almost empty!
Well, I'm making progress! I spent several hours in my classroom again yesterday, and I'm beginning to see my actual classroom unearthing itself from the "explosion" it's been!

I've emptied out most of the stuff from the cubbies and coat rack area that was stuffed there last June, and found a home for most of that stuff. 
Matching baskets!

I've rearranged my class Library so that all the books are organized in coordinating baskets!  This was no easy task, but I'm feeling mighty proud of this!  There are still a few labels in the laminating process, but it will be ready for Open House. 
I even have my calendar bulletin board up, and the large group area set aside.  Once a long time ago, I remember young teachers (I was one at the time) making fun of older teachers because they put the same furniture in the same place every year.  I vowed then that I wouldn't be one of "those teachers." 
This year's change:  Large group area to the right
I understand now how, after being in a classroom for a few years, there are certain arrangements that work.  My computers have to be on a certain wall.  My desks need to be near the whiteboard, since we do so much board work in Reading Street and Everyday Mathematics.  I like my reading table near a bulletin board, since I usually post vocabulary and learning targets on that bulletin board.  But I try to "shake it up" every year by putting different things in different places.  This year, I've moved my whole group area to the area right behind the computer table.  I'm excited about this change!

Today's tasks:  find the classroom!
Today's plan:  put up the rest of my bulletin board, put down the "mat" (sort of like a rug, but rubber), and start sorting the supplies for the students.  I have a ton of laminated stuff to cut out, and folders to put together for homework, classwork, math tools, and writing.  Whew!
But at least my classroom is starting to look like my classroom.  The stuff I have left is the fun stuff, the most tedious stuff is complete, whoooo hoooo!

An Exceptional Resource

I have had the privilege of reading Laura Candler's book Power Reading Workshop: A Step by Step Guide.  Laura's book is unique in that it goes into detail about each step along the way of the Reading Workshop.  She gives a clear structure for the first ten days, including a reading inventory for the children, read aloud suggestions, and a structure for mini lessons.  These first ten days start from getting to know your students' reading habits, and progress through modeling conferences and responding to reading.  Once you've established these routines, you're ready to move on to Reading Workshop daily in your classroom!

Laura's book has just about everything you'll need to run a Reading Workshop in your classroom including lists of skills, reading response activities, assessment ideas, and even tips from Laura on nearly every page.  She has clear instructions and ideas about how to conduct individual reading conferences with your students, complete with forms for weekly reading goals for each child and lists of skills to work on individually with each student. (Many of these forms and sheets are available free on her website.)   It's clear that she is an experienced teacher and has been using Power Reading Workshops successfully. 

My district uses Reading Street for our reading instruction, but we are still required to have our students read independently daily, and we are expected to conference with each child on their Independent Reading.  I assure you, I'll be using this resource to set up the Reading Routines the first few weeks of school, and through the rest of the year as I conference with individuals.  I predict my students' enthusiasm for reading will surge as quickly as their skills.

Please visit Laura's website to discover more about her accomplishments.  You'll find out more about her resources including more books as well as videos and webinars.  Go here for more about Laura's book, Power Reading Workshop: A Step by Step Guide.  It's an exceptional resource.  If you subscribe to Laura's newsletter you can get the cheapest price PLUS the digital version for free when they buy the print version? Thanks, Laura for the opportunity to read your book!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Putting Together the Class Library

My body aches and I'm struggling to keep my eyes open, but I feel like I got something done in my classroom today.  I organized my classroom library.

When I first got there yesterday, this is what my classroom library looked like.  I tend to get the ickiest furniture.  I have a couple of wooden shelves, and these awful metal cabinets.  I wished I could have painted them, or lined them with some pretty paper, but I don't have that sort of time (or talent... or money!)  We only have 5 days total in the classroom, and I have a whole lot of work to do!  So I got to unpacking all the books I packed in the cubbies 6 weeks ago. 
I splurged this year and bought matching purple and blue baskets from the Dollar Store.  I still had some of my labels, but some need to be redone, and I've done some reorganizing, so I'll need some new categories as well.  It was a challenge to make the tubs of books visually appealing to the children, and also easily accessable for the little ones.  I began taking out tubs, wiping out the old tubs, and putting the books into the new plastic baskets.  Of course I found a few books completely out of place, and I found a whole lot of dust.  My daughter dropped by to help me Monday afternoon and did her share of rearranging, dusting, and placing the new baskets onto the shelves.  We left Monday, exhausted, and my room looked like an explosion. 
I stayed up too late last night  typing and printing copies of papers because my printer at school isn't hooked up yet.  (I finally got to my school files on Monday, and emailed myself several documents so I could print them at home.)  After a late start this morning, I pulled out the rest of the books, went through every book in every file, and got all the books sorted.  I also sorted out several books so I'd have some "new" books later in the year when the supply is getting stagnated.  I also pulled out four of my favorite author collections for the beginning of the year:  Rosemary Wells, Kevin Henkes, Gail Gibbons, and Mercer Mayer. 

I have a few labels left to make and laminate, but I'm very happy that one of the most important parts of my classroom is complete:  my library.  My students always have a good attitude toward books, and  I work hard to make sure they have plenty of good choices so they continue that positive attitude!

In the meantime, I still have miles to go before I'm ready for Monday's Open House.  And only 3 more days to work in the classroom.  Yikes!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to Have Them Happy When They Walk Out of the Classroom

It's important to have the children leave happy for so many reasons.  For one, you want them to feel good about school so they'll want to come back tomorrow.  Maybe even more important, if they're feeling bad, that's how they're feeling when mom asks, "How did school go today?"   This can lead to bad feelings and/ or bad communication, which we just don't want to happen. 

I start my day on a high energy note (see my previous blog post:  How to Have Them Ready to Learn When They Walk Into the Classroom)  I prefer for the kids to leave on a calm, reflective note.

I play soft music as the children are packing up.  (They tend to have trouble focusing by the end of the day, and the music calms them down and helps them focus on their responsibilities.)  When they are all packed up, we meet in a circle for "High Low".  While they are waiting for the others, they reflect on their school day.

When most of the children are ready, I usually start "High Low".  I pick up a beanie baby.  (Whoever is holding the beanie is allowed to speak.)  I tell the class my high of the day and my low of the day.  It might sound like this:  "My high of the day was how everyone enjoyed the story I read.  My low of the day was that someone hurt Susie's feelings at recess."  As the children decide their high/low, they raise their hands.  I'll pick one child and toss the beanie to them.  And so it continues.  

A few procedures I've followed during "High/ Low".  

  1. No one can be raising their hand while someone is talking. 
  2. Don't raise your hand until you've planned what you're going to say.  
  3. Say the person's name BEFORE you toss the beanie.  
  4. No one has to have a low, you can do two highs instead.  If you want to participate, you have to have at least one high.  
  5. No mentioning names if it's not good news, just say "someone".  If it's good news, use names!  
  6. Don't toss the beanie to the same person every day. 

Often people wonder why I even do a "low" for the day, why focus on the negative?  Well, I've found that sometimes things bother the little ones and it's important to let it out.  As long as it's anonymous, letting it out is a good thing.  I also find that when I tell my low, it gives the children an idea on how much I care about them.  My lows usually have to do with someone who is absent or someone who got hurt.  A lot of thought and "modeling" go into my "high/ low".

I do find the children love it, and it's a great motivation for them to finish packing up so they can participate.  I also find it's a great way to learn what is important to the children.  And, of course, sometimes I find out things I didn't know were going on in the social circles of my classroom.  This is all valuable information for me!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How to Have Them Ready to Learn When They Walk Into the Classroom

Everything I've read about brain research and memory tells me that there are strong ties between the memory and emotion.  As an experienced teacher, it's clear that children will remember events that are associated with emotional events.  Personally, I prefer to keep that emotion a happy one while in the classroom.  (Although I'll bet everyone reading this remembers events from extremely unhappy times, I'll leave those negative emotions to a power higher than myself... hopefully it's not the principal!)

I remember, a long time ago, I walked into a workshop after a long day of workshops.  It was a long morning, and we were fed a good lunch.  This was mid afternoon, the time when many countries like to take a siesta, and the rest of us wish we could. 

As I walked to the room for my next workshop, I was seriously thinking of sneaking out to find a place I could slip in a little nap.  I walked into the room, and I heard music playing.  Not your typical "little kid" music, but fun music, the kind you'd hear at a party.  Immediately I started smiling and happily found a seat, smiling at the other teachers in the room, who were also smiling.  I saw lots of other people do the same... looking around, smiling, moving to the music, chatting happily... can you picture it?

When the workshop started, we were all in grand moods.  I still wonder if I would have enjoyed that workshop as much, or even been able to stay awake, if it weren't for the "feel good" music while we were arriving. 

I've remembered this moment many times.  I've collected a number of classic "feel good" songs that I like to play when the children enter the classroom.  These songs always bring smiles to faces.  Even though they hate to see it end, they settle right down ready to work after the happy music. 

I find this music is great for Open Houses, too.  It's nice to see those parents smiling.  I'm preparing my music for this Monday's Open House... it's their first impression of me, and I want it to be a good one!

What music makes you feel good?  Here is one of mine!  I can't help but smile when I hear Aretha!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Developing Class Rules as a Community

If you've been reading my blogs, you know that I'm very focused on using recent brain based learning in my classroom.  One of the things that recent research has taught us is that letting children make some of their own choices helps the learning process.  I try to do this as often as I can.

At the beginning of the year, working together as a class to develop our class rules is a big part of the process. 

 I remind the children that we are in school to learn, and rules should be focused on how to make a safe learning environment.  I encourage the children to stay positive with the rules.  For example, rather than say "Don't hit.", they should say "Keep hands to yourself". 

Then I have the children brainstorm on their own. They brainstorm the rules we should have, the rewards that will come to children who follow the rules, and the consequences that should happen if children don't follow the rules.  The form I use is available free on HERE or click the image.

After brainstorming, I let small groups share.  If they heard an idea they like, they are welcome to add it to their own list as well. 

After the small group share, I collect the papers and briefly read the highlights from each child's paper to the group.  We all agree that most of the rules fall under certain categories such as "Follow directions" and "Be kind to your classmates." If there's a rule that I feel strongly about that no one came up with, I'll bring it up in class that day and ask if they think it should be on our list.  (I often have to point out to children that participation in class is expected.)

I tell the children I will take the lists home and type up a list that will include everyone's ideas.  Honestly, I almost always use the same form. If you're a follower of Whole Brain Teaching, you'll notice my rules are almost exactly the same. Once in a while they'll give a new idea for a reward, but typically, I rarely have to change the form from the year before.  Click the above image for a copy of last year's list.

I present the list to the children the next day.  I give them a day or two to practice the clip chart (strikes one, two, and three)  before the consequences "count".  (I start rewards the first day of school, including the "beanies on the desks", which is a favorite!) 

When the rules are well practiced, I'll send home the copy of the rules home with each child, along with the second page to be signed. "only if they think the rules are fair".  (I've never had a child who didn't believe they were fair, but again, that "choice" really makes a difference!)  I also make an extra large copy for the class.  We all sign that, too.  I usually invite the principal into class to sign our rules as well.  (They enjoy making a big deal out of it, and play along when I tell them they don't have to sign if they don't think the rules are fair!)  I've been known to ask other adults in the building to sign as well.  Again, I make sure the children understand that people only sign things they think are fair.

The developing of the rules as well as signatures is a valuable Social Studies activity in our grade level.   It's also a great "pre-activity" to Constitution Day, which will come up in just a few short

When a child gets up to the third level, they write a note to their parents about what happened, which is signed and returned.  The kids rarely get down to this level.  In fact, they rarely move their clips to the strikes at all.  I make sure they know it's a far better choice to behave.  After all, when children are following the rules, children are happy, and children are learning!  What could be better than that!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Three Quick Math Brain Activities

There are lots of quick things teachers can do to activate the brain while teaching math.  Remember, the brain needs movement and active engagement in order to activate those dendrites.  Keeping things fun along with social interactions are putting the brain in the best place for learning to happen.  Here are some tricks I use.
  1. Skip Count beanie toss:  Skip counting is big in second grade.  Beanie babies are huge in my class.  Pairs of children pick up a beanie and start counting.  The children say a new count every time they catch the beanie.  They keep going as high as they can until time is up.  This could be done with Math facts, too!
  2. Musical Math Facts:  Work in groups of 4 or 5.  Put one less fact card on the desk or table.  As the music starts, they walk around the table.  (Dancing is optional!)  Works just like musical chairs, but when the music stops, each child picks up a math fact.  The last person to say the correct answer to his/ her fact becomes the "cheerleader".  (I use cheerleader rather than loser, as I insist they say positive things to their classmates, even if they're out.  I always remind the boys that, in my class, "cheerleader" doesn't mean wearing a short skirt and shaking pom poms, it means supporting their team mates.)  I like to have several groups going at once, since more kids are practicing more frequently, and it goes more quickly.  The teacher can keep an eye on those kids that need more guidance. 
  3. Calendar March:  My students need to practice the days of the week and the months of the year until they know them by heart.  From their desk position, they all chant the months of the year and march in any direction.  (Of course, I remind them to keep their distance from furniture and people.)  Then I challenge them to find their way back to their seat by marching to the Days of the Week. 

Of course, feel free to adapt any of these ideas to your own grade level.  I use most of these as a warm up at the beginning of math, or as a break to keep the brain focused.

Of course, these three activities can be adapted for anything that needs to be reinforced.  Rather than skip counting, math facts, or days of the week, try the same activities for some other subjects.  Here are some ideas
  • Spelling:  practicing their spelling words, or "igh" family words
  • Reading:  Name all the characters in today's story, or tell the main events in sequential order
  • Social Studies"  Name the 7 continents, or name as many states as you can
The possibilities are endless.  And this is only the beginning of Brain Based Learning in the classroom!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

September 11, 2001

September 11, 2001: What do you remember? This post compares my experience in 2001 to another experience, way back in 1963.  What do you remember about this horrendous day?
What do you remember about this day so many years ago?

This is one of those events where people would always remember where they were, and what they were doing. (Again, brain research tells us that memories are associated with strong emotions!) 

I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot. (Yes, I really am that old!) I was 8 years old in my third grade class.  The principal got on the intercom and told us to pray. She didn't tell us why, she just told us to pray. (Yep, Catholic School!)

I got home that afternoon to find my mother watching the TV, talking on the phone and crying. I watched a little bit of the TV to find out what was happening. I saw that clip in Dallas of the famous motorcade, with President Kennedy falling over and Jackie reacting... I saw that over and over. 

I sensed the huge sadness of the event, said something like "aw, that's too bad", and went out to play with my friends.

Almost 40 years later: One beautiful September morning, I was in my second grade classroom. My student teacher was about to have her first evaluation by her supervising teacher, and one of my students was about to get a baby sister. 

One of the teacher assistants in our school stopped into the classroom and said she'd cover the classroom, both my student teacher and I should go to the office. She quickly whispered something to me about a plane crash.

I went to the principal's office to find several teachers watching the TV. Some were crying, some looked quite shaken. The first tower had just collapsed. They kept showing the second plane hitting the second tower over and over. Then the second tower collapsed. It was surreal. Teachers came in and out to find out what was going on.

We decided not to tell the children. They were rather young to "get it", and this was the sort of thing that was best coming from parents. Before going back to class, I stopped into my daughter's classroom and gave her a big hug.  (I never did this! I tried very hard to stay out of the way of my daughter's class, so she was quite surprised... but her teacher understood.) I told her, "I just needed to give you a hug today."

We took the kids out for an extra long recess that day. The teachers all huddled together, trying to stay strong. The kids all played on that beautiful September day in New England. A couple of children were dismissed early that day. We gave them all a break from homework that night.

When I got home, I told my daughter about what had happened.  I watched it on the news over and over. I called my sister and we talked and cried. My daughter went outside to play. History repeats itself. 

What happened over the next few weeks was interesting. Flags flew everywhere. People were warmer to each other, even total strangers. Patriotism became stronger. People were proud of their country. 

About a week later, I was at a local apple orchard listening to blue grass music and celebrating fall on yet another beautiful fall day in New England. I remember one man pointing to the sky and saying, "a plane". The crowd was silent. Seeing a plane in the sky wasn't unusual, but this was the first one we'd seen since September 11th.  We all watched the plane go by silently, then turned and smiled at each other. They were hopeful smiles. 

Fast forward to the present. Right now is one of the roughest times our country has been through that I can recall in my many, many years. People are angry. Unemployment is high and morale is low.  People are doubting the strength of our government. People are doubting the strength of our economy. People are scared.

But I still believe. Maybe it's that Catholic school upbringing in the 60s or living through the Vietnam war protests of the 60s and 70s.  Or maybe it's something that my parents taught me. But I believe in my country. I believe we will work out all the problems and be a stronger country in the long run. And I'm still proud to be an American.

No matter how many times I hear this song, I'll end up weeping by the end: 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Handwriting for the Brain

This morning I went to a handwriting workshop.  My district is adopting a new Handwriting program (Handwriting Without Tears) so this morning the primary teachers in the district were trained to use the program.  Being the queen of multitasking, not only was I learning about the program, I was thinking about the brain.  I was thinking about those tricks that we can use so that learning is more apt to happen.  Here are some ideas that crossed my mind based on yesterday's blog ideas:
  • Move:  Yep, there was movement.  Several times.  We started with a moving activity (moving and tapping the straight lines models from the program, which are about the size of rulers.)  He did some "echo activities" (my turn, your turn) during the movement activities which make that sort of thing fun for little learners, and made sure they watched or listen to the model before they jumped into action. Of course, the primary teachers had no problems playing along.  He got us moving several times during the 3 hour presentation, nicely spaced at regular intervals so we never got too antsy.  It was, after all, the first time most of us had to sit for any period of time in a while.  (We work with primary children, we never sit!) Even when we were seated, we were physically involved with many of the manipulatives that are part of the program.
  • Work together:  Yep, we managed to do some working together.  We took turns being "teacher and student" for one of the activities.  He also discussed a couple of other ways we can have the little ones use their social skills while practicing their Handwriting.  Those social interactions really help the brain make those connections!
  • Coping with Stress:  With all that moving, things hardly got stressful.  Movement within itself is a stress reliever.  I think the only stressful part of this morning's presentation were the side conversations teachers were having about not being able to get their rooms set up.  But all the movement eased that stress.
  • The Arts:  Music was the art of the day today.  We heard several songs on the CD and got to sing along to a few.  Of course, movement (and dance) are another art, which also played a big part of today's presentation.  As he was describing how to use the materials, he also made mention of other arts such as drawing and painting, as well as the use of items like clay to help those little ones develop their handwriting muscles.  The Arts are definitely an important part of Handwriting. 
  • Make 'em Laugh:  There were several funny things that came out during today's program.  The presenter did mention that it's hard to make Handwriting funny, so he sticks in jokes wherever he can.  He snuck in all sorts of silly little things, like calling the miniature sponges we used for tracing on chalkboards "Barbie sponges".  Yep, they were just about the right size. 
Well, these aspects of brain based learning were well covered.  As expected, my brain was engaged and I learned! 

I also noticed the presenter was focused on the use of multi sensory activities and using activities that were developmentally appropriate for the children.  He also had some clever stories that the children could connect with to help remember the steps of making each letter.  I particularly liked the lower case e story. 

I definitely applaud this presenter for using his brain... and our brains... for today's presentation.  Now if he'd learn to choose the right baseball team! (He was a Yankees fan,  Not a good idea to let out that information so close to Boston!)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Five Tips for Teaching Reading Using Recent Brain Research

Five Tips for Teaching Reading Using Recent Brain Research - This post connects recent brain research to learning to read with some helpful tips.
I've read so much about the brain based learning lately, I thought I'd share some tips that connect the two.
  1. Move:  Kids need to move.  The moving helps the brain build dendrites.  Dendrites help the parts of the brain connect, which helps the memory.  If the children involve moving as part of the learning, it helps the learning to stick.  I find the more movement, the better.  I use a lot of Brain Gym in my classroom, as well as lots of other types of movements, just to keep the dendrites flowing.  Little tasks such as "take a walk around your desk", or "touch each wall" are great for the little ones.  If combined with a skill ("say a short e word as you touch each wall") will help even more!
  2. Work together:  Social Interactions are important in learning.  In reading, it's important that these pairings are done at similar levels, if possible.  Sometimes I let the children choose partners, but more often than not, I assign partners.  (I do a lot of team building exercises the first few weeks so they are comfortable with each other, and understand their responsibilities as a partner.)  Children can read in pairs, or practice spelling words in pairs, or use new vocabulary words in pairs.  Sometimes I'll have the pairs teach each other something I just taught.  (Teach your partner what sequencing is.)
  3. Coping with stress: 
    Teach children to deal with stress.  Stress is unavoidable, it happens, even to children.  But it prevents learning, so we need to help the children cope with stress in acceptable ways.  I've done several yoga, guided imagery, and deep breathing exercises with the children.  One of my favorites with children is The Tree.  The children stand straight with their hands at their sides, and imagine they are a tree.  First, the children take a deep breath in, while raising their head, imagining they are facing the sun.  (I have to tell them, if I can hear the breath, it's too loud.)  Their hands should stay at their sides, focusing on the sun shining on their "leaves" as they take in the sun's energies.  Then they lower their heads and exhale slowly while they imagine the energy going out through their roots (toes) into the soil.  A few inhales and exhales and they are good to go!
  4. The Arts:  I've always been a fan of arts in the classroom, and the research supports this.  Arts help attention span as well as working memory.  I'm not just talking about visual arts (although I encourage these).  Arts also includes performing arts:  singing, dancing & movement, and acting.  Reader's Theatre, drawing or painting pictures to reflect parts of a story, or making up a song about the setting of a story are some ways to connect the arts to reading.
  5. Make 'em Laugh: 
    Emotions play a huge role in memory, especially happy emotions.  I've always been a big fan of humor in the classroom.  (I doubt I would have survived this long without it!)  As long as the children are happy, there's a better chance for learning to be happening.  I make sure many of my Read Alouds are humorous books.  There are plenty out there!  Robert Munsch is a favorite of mine, as well as many children.  (I LOVE The Paper Bag Princess!)  Here's another list to start: funny-read-alouds .
All in all, keep them happy, keep them busy, and keep reading to them.  Reading to children is the very best way to help children learn to read.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Desks or Tables?

Many of the primary level teachers prefer tables to desks.  When I taught Kindergarten, I used tables, but in all the other grades I've taught, (which is most of them) I've used desks. 

I find the desks to be far more flexible.  Here are some ideas:

  1. Desks in a circle  If your class focus is group discussion, this is the way to go.  I remember classes in high school and college where there was a lot of group sharing, and the desks often stayed this way.  At my present level, it's not something I would keep.  I use my laptop/ projector frequently, and most students need to be facing the board.  If we are doing group sharing, I'll have the children bring their sharing items to the mat and have them sit in a circle.
  2. U shaped  I find this works great with the little ones with one exception:  it's hard to fit!  I've been known to make a U shape, with a line or two of desks inside the U.  This way, almost all of the students are facing the board for whole group discussion.  I've had to be creative when it came to small group work, joining 3 or 4 kids near each other to work together.  This setting also calls for plugging anything in (like an over head or the projector cart) in a different way.
  3. Classic rows   This reminds me of my "Catholic School Days" growing up, but there are advantages to rows.  It is ideal for independent work time or testing.  It is also ideal for whole group work, as all the children are facing the board and the teacher.  There are variations of the rows.  The desks could be in horizontal rows... touching.  They could be in groupings of two or three, in various spots around the room. 
  4. Small groupings  This would be groups of 4 or 5 student desks facing each other.  This is ideal for working in small groups and cooperative learning communities.  It's not quite as ideal for whole group lessons, since the students are facing lots of different directions.  Nor are the small groupings ideal for individual work, since the students are facing each other.
Whichever way the desks are arranged, teachers are, of course flexible enough to make it work.  A few things to keep in mind about desk arrangements:
  • Keep in mind those students who have trouble attending and following directions.  They should be placed close to role models, and in a spot the teacher can keep a close watch over.  (Although we do tend to keep a close watch on all of them!)
  • Allow room behind desks for the children to get in and out.  (I often forget this one!)
  • Allow spaces for traffic flow.  This one is especially true for the U formation or the whole circle.  They'll need room to get in and out, and from one place to another. 
  • Kids tend to lean on their desks, so by the end of the day, the desks are not where they started the day!  Try this idea from Charity at   The Organized Classroom Blog:

How do you plan to arrange your desks?  Do you prefer desks or tables?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Why I Love Teaching

I've been a teacher for a very long time. I plan to continue teaching for a very long time. Why? Because I love it, of course! I've always felt that I was born to be a teacher. I feel so "at home" in the classroom. I enjoy interacting with children, and I enjoy watching them grow. I love reading to children, and I love listening to them read. It's a thrill when former students come back and visit. I've even had a couple of former students bring me children of their own to teach! 

I love the smell of new pencils in the fall.  What can be better than a box of brand new crayons, or brand new journals? I think I get even more nervous than the kids about each new year, and rarely sleep that night before the kids first come. I love when a few weeks have passed and the children are getting to know my expectations and things are settling into place. 

Teachers have been through many phases since I first started teaching in the 1970s.  I remember the days of Whole Language and the days of Basal Readers, reading phonetically and reading sight words, learning centers, developmental learning, learning styles, and pretty much everything in between. And you know, it's all been good. Through each phase, I've learned more about what works in the classroom, and what works with individuals. 

But I couldn't do it alone. I've been blessed with delightfully talented colleagues. I've learned lots of little tricks of the trade from each and every one of them. I'm proud of my school, as well as my district. They have managed to hire some of the best teachers I've ever seen. My district encourages teachers to try new things, and my district doesn't hesitate to find money to support materials necessary as well as training. I'm one very lucky teacher.

Probably my favorite part about being a teacher: Never does it get boring!  Every day brings on new challenges and adventures. Each year brings a whole new crop of little ones with their beautiful smiling faces. What do you love about teaching?

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