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My room is finally ready for the first day of school, and I'm finally getting a chance to share the process!  Here's what the room looked like when I finally got in last week:

Luckily, the wonderful custodians put the furniture back in the room, and most of it was in a logical place, so that's where it stayed.  I moved a few things, but I just didn't have time to be creative this year. Just a little quick shuffling.  (It was really nuts having this little time to set up!)

The large group area and library corner.  Like my new purple and green book boxes? My calendar definitely needs an upgrade, but perhaps later in the year!  

My new sports themed Super Improvers Wall.  This book shelf never got straightened out.  I just didn't have time.  I'll have to straighten as I use the stuff!

The reading table.  I find it so handy to have that bulletin board behind me.  I keep the essential questions, phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension skills we're working on in Reading Street right there.

Don't blink.  My desk won't be this organized again!

The writing shelves.  These shelves contain their writing folders and plenty of paper and supplies.  Writer's Workshop is big in my classroom!

See my new sports themed posters?  That bulletin board will be a word wall soon.  Unfortunately we only have 2 laptops for the kids, but they're quality.  We have a big old dinosaur of a printer.  It only prints in black and white, but I've had it for years, and it's very dependable! 

The view from the reading table.  Yes, I have beanie babies all over the classroom.  I let the kids keep them on their desks when they behave.  Yep, bribery works!  Since I have such a small group this year, I'll only use the front desks as kids' desk.  The back desks will be used for centers and activities that I can leave set up.  (I've never had extra space like this before!)

My desk area.  I think I'm going to like the classroom set up this way.  We are on the south side of the building, which means we get sun all day.  That's great in the winter, but this time of year gets pretty hot, especially since they lowered the ceilings.  (That was the delay in getting into the room to set up.  It will save heat in the winter, but I definitely notice a difference!)  We have a total of 4 windows looking onto the playground.

My teaching area and my library corner.  This chair has been "loved", but it's comfy and it works.  For years, this chair has been nicknamed "the drop chair".  Whoever sits in it ends up dropping stuff.  I always do! I'm not crazy about this easel, since it doesn't fit chart paper, but I love the shelves.  

I love to look at pictures of people's classrooms!  Honestly, I'm so relieved mine is done!

My First Day Promise

I've had a traditional "first day" promise I've given my students for years.

We start with a nice talk about why we have school.  The children have no trouble coming up with "we're here to learn".

They know it's their responsibility to learn.

My "first day" promised is based on that point.  I always say the promise exactly the same way each time I say it, with the same gestures.

Later in the year, if I do these same gestures, they are reminded they are here to learn, and I don't even have to remind them aloud.

Here's the promise, with my gestures:

We are here to learn.   As long as you do your best to learn, (Move right hand across body.)

I'll do my best to make it fun.  (Move left hand across body.)

That's it!  It's simple!

Whenever the little ones get a little silly or unfocused, I remind them about the promise.  They manage to pull themselves together and show their learning behavior.

Of course I manage to keep the "make it fun" part of the promise. I like the fun, too!

Meet the Teacher Night!

I'm starting to get nervous about Wednesday's "Meet the Teacher" night!  Although I still haven't decided what to wear, I've pretty much narrowed down what I'm going to do!  Here are my ideas:

  1. Play fun music so that all who visit will smile and know that my classroom is a fun place!
  2. Play the Open House Power Point I've prepared.  It's an updated version of what I did last year, and tells about myself, what second graders learn, and our schedule.  (I will put it on a timer so it continues to loop while visitors come in and out, that way I'll be available for hellos and questions and it will allow for people who arrive at different times.)
  3. Have the children do a little "Scavenger Hunt" to get to know the classroom.
  4. Give out some papers that say pretty much the same thing the Power Point says. I'll also give out a book order and a questionnaire for parents to return at a later date.
I've attached copies of some of these papers  Click HERE or click the image for copies of my Open House pages.  Although my name is on some of them, feel free to use these ideas for your own Open House and introduction to the students and their families!

Click HERE to see the post with Open House ideas when I wrote a guest post for Really Good Stuff's blog, The Teachers Lounge.

LETRS Training - Building Vocabulary and Oral Language

Today I had a great training!  The LETRS training I've been going through has been fabulous, and I'm somewhat sad to see the last session of 4 days has arrived. The best part?  It was so good, I forgot about the stress of not getting to set up my classroom! 
LETRS stands for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling.  Our instructor, Carol Tolman, has been guiding us through the 6 modules:
  1. The Challenge of Learning to Read
  2. The Speech Sounds of English:  Phonetics, Phonology, and Phonemic Awareness
  3. Spellography for Teachers:  How English Spelling Works
  4. The Might Word:  Building Vocabulary and Oral Language
  5. Getting up to Speed:  Developing Fluency
  6. Digging for Meaning:  Teaching Text Comprehension
Before I'd had this training, I'd never have believed how complex these topics were!  Now I'm starting to realize how little I actually know about them!  (But I'm definitely learning!)

In the past sessions we've worked on Modules 1,2,3, and 5.  Today  we did some review of what we've learned so far (very much appreciated, we hadn't been together since April!)  Then we started work on Module 4.  

Some interesting little tidbits I learned today about Oral Language and Building Vocabulary
  • There are 3 ways to build vocabulary:  direct instruction, indirect instruction, and word consciousness.
  • There are approximately 500,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary.
  • The average second grader knows 5,000 - 6,000 words.
  • Vocabulary accounts for approximately 50 - 60% of the variance in reading comprehension.
  • Teaching vocabulary improves both verbal IQ and reading comprehension.
  • Second graders should be learning 2 new words a day (based on 365 days) to apply this to the 180 day school year, double it.
  • We couldn't possibly do direct instruction for that many words.  Luckily, indirect instruction is very effective for increasing vocabulary.
  • Children who are reading below grade level still need to be read to at a higher level in order for vocabulary and language to develop.
Some ways to expose children to vocabulary (Indirect teaching)
  1. Introduce new words as you discuss a shared experience.
  2. Elaborate on what the child has said.
  3. Confirm and clarify the child's attempts to use new words.
  4. Deliberately use unusual words in conversation.
Suggested Readings:

Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children
is about a study where the language in the home was measured and compared to reading success.  (Click the image to read more at Amazon.com)

Delivering on the Promise of the 95% Reading and Math Goals tells how a school district in Kennewick, WA improved test scores by increasing parent knowledge of developing language in the preschool years.

Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us tells us about scientific evidence concerning what really motivates people to high performance.

Here are some other posts about my previous LETRS experiences:
Random Tidbits About Our Language Reading Teachers Should Know
More Random Tidbits About Our Language Reading Teachers Should Know
Assessing Reading Difficulties
You've Given the QPS, Now What?

My Classroom

As many of you know, I haven't been able to get into my classroom, and I'm trying very hard not to stress about it.  The rest of this week is out, because of LETRS training. (This is the last 4 days of 12 training days.  It's been fantastic, and I'm looking forward to these next days.)  Next Monday is my last chance, and I'm planning on working miracles. I'm going to HAVE to work miracles, there's no other choice!

But in the meantime, I want to remember my room when it's set up, so I'm going back to last year's photographs.

Here's my reading table, with my library behind it. I plan to keep the library in this corner, since it's the only corner I've got, and it works! I also like the reading table right in front of the bulletin board, since I keep that bulletin board updated to go along with what we're studying in Reading. I put the weekly spelling patterns, the weekly vocabulary, and our comprehension targets. Since it's right behind me, it's super handy!

Because I use the projector frequently, I need to have the children's desk close to the whiteboard in the front of the room. I do change the formation several times a year, as well as rearrange the combinations of kids. You may see the beanie babies on the kids desks. These are an important part of my classroom, and the kids look forward to earning the privilege of keeping a beanie (or two, or three) on their desk for the day.

My desk is where everything gets thrown, but I never leave school until it's back in order. It's really more of a "teacher reference/ supply area" than a work spot for me. nce or twice a year the kids see me sit at the desk (usually if I'm looking for supplies in the bottom drawer) and they always giggle!

Here's another view of the reading table with the reading bulletin board in the background. To the right another bulletin board where I showcase children's work, and the computer table with 2 laptops and a huge dinosaur printer.  

Here's one of the favorites from last year's kids... my Super Improvers board! They were mighty proud of how much they improved from the beginning of the year to the end! 

And, of course, my favorite poster:

I refer to this poster all the time. After a while, the kids recite it themselves. It lives on the wall right above the bookshelves.

Now, about my sports theme! Here are a couple of my new inspirational posters:  a soccer scene that says "To be a winner, give all you've got". And a hockey scene that says "You miss 100% of the shots you never take".  
Here's a baseball theme that says "Dare to try". I also bought a bunch of sports mini-notes. These are part of my welcome bulletin board outside the classroom. It says "The DeCost Team", and has the children's names on different sports mini-notes.  

Finally, I bought some adorable sports themed nametags as well as some cute decorations for the windows.  

I promise I'll put up more pictures once I'm finally allowed to get into my classroom. Honestly, looking at these pictures and writing about my plans makes me feel a little better, and a tiny bit less stressed! I WILL have a classroom to teach in this year!  

Praise - Good or Bad?

Praise - Good or Bad? This post discusses the kind of praise that helps children grow as learners.
I've heard a lot on the topic of praise lately, and it's not always good.

Recent discussions were about the specific kind of praise we give children. Of course praise is valuable, but certain kinds of praise can have an adverse effect on children.

Here's what the experts say: Don't praise a child for something they have no control over. Praise the child for something they can control. Praise the child for effort, strategies, or perseverance.

Here is an example: Don't praise a child because he is smart. When that happens, a child tends to feel disappointed in himself when he doesn't do well. He thinks, "I'm not as smart as she thought I was!" It can actually lead to a child giving up or giving less effort.

Instead, praise the child for something they've done. "I like the way you worked at that problem until you found the solution." Or "I noticed you figured out what this word meant, how did you figure it out?"

One of the things I've loved from Whole Brain Teaching is the Super Improver's Wall. The idea is not to reward children for being smart, it's to reward them for effort. It can be effort on anything! I  actually had a kid move on the board last year because he worked at remembering his snack. Seriously, it can be anything!

Here's what my Improvement Board looked like last year. I've seen much fancier walls, but this did the trick. They start the year at the lowest level, and have to earn 5 stickers at that level before they worked their way to the top. I really did take them all year, but many of the students felt this was their favorite thing about second grade. There was no question about them all growing as learners! (Not just the smart kids... although I have to say I get all smart kids in my classroom!) This helps children build their self esteem in a positive way. It also gives them the important feedback that is essential to learning.

For more information about the Super Improver's Wall, go to the Whole Brain Teaching Website. The more I learn about Whole Brain Teaching, the more I love it! It's all about the things I love as a teacher...  what works best to help the brain learn!

Standards for Mathematical Practice 101

Today I had my third of three days looking over the district's materials and seeing how they aligned with the Common Core State Standards.  It was most definitely another worthwhile day!  

Today's focus was math.  The CCSS in Math has two parts. There's the Standards for Mathematical Practice, and the Standards for Mathematical Content.  

The Standards for Mathematical Practice are the same for all grades. Today we compared them to Science Process Skills, as opposed to the Content skills. They are definitely valuable skills!

Here are the Standards for Mathematical Practice:  (for a full explanation of each standard, see this link.)
  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.  The words "making sense" kept coming up all day, as did the words "persevere" and "stamina". I know I've had plenty of kids who could solve math problems, but their answer didn't make much sense! Then there were others who didn't stick with it long enough to solve it! Definitely a skill worth working on!
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively. This is about knowing what one needs to do to solve the problem, and explaining it. I immediately thought of those kids who solved tough math problems easily, then couldn't explain what they did to figure it out. Both parts are important!
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. This is another thing that kept coming up in 3 days of discussing Common Core... sharing opinions, supporting opinions, speaking and listening.
  4. Model with mathematics. This is the "application" of the skill, applying mathematics to everyday life. Again, this one is about thinking, "does it make sense?"  
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically. This can be as simple as measuring inches with a ruler to designing and analyzing graphs using technology. Mathematicians need to know which tools are needed in which situation, and use them appropriately.
  6. Attention to precision. Mathematicians need to be clear, careful, accurate and exact. After all, "almost" counts in horseshoes, but not mathematical situations.  
  7. Look for and make use of structure. This standard is about looking for patterns in mathematics, and building on what they already know.
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.This one is all about finding patterns, short cuts, and making it make sense!
We had some great discussion at the workshop today, which really helped me understand these better! In the three days, we noticed certain things kept coming up... stamina, making sense of their work, giving supporting evidence for opinions, looking for patterns, speaking and listening skills, accuracy, and explaining one's thinking. I found myself referring to these as the "Process" skills, where the other ones I referred to as the "Content" skills. I also noticed that these Standards for Mathematical Practice kept making me remember the levels of Bloom's Taxonomy.   

What do you notice about the Standards for Mathematical Practice?

The Common Core Standards - What About Them?

 I'm becoming more and more familiar with the Common Core State Standards.  I've read them over a lot this summer, particularly the second grade standards.

Today I went to a district workshop on the Reading CCSS. Our task today was to look at our reading series (Reading Street) and figure out which lessons aligned with the CCSS.  We had supplement sheets the publisher sent us, and found, for the most part, they were accurate, but not always.  As the year goes by, all the teachers will take notes as they teach the lessons and decide what needs to be changed or adjusted so that all the standards are met.

In tomorrow's workshop, we will go into more depth on the Writing CCSS, and on Wednesday we'll address the Math Standards.

I find it helps me to organize these standards in my head.  This is what I've focused on:

There are 6 strands to the English/ Language Arts Standards (ELA) Standards

  1. Reading: Literature- This includes 10 standards for comprehending fiction literature.  They fall under the anchor standards of  Key Ideas and Details, Craft and StructureIntegration of Knowledge and Ideas  and Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity.
  2. Reading:  Informational Text-  This includes 10 standards for comprehending non-fiction text. As in the Literature section, these standards include these anchor standards: Key Ideas and DetailsCraft and StructureIntegration of Knowledge and Ideas  and Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity.
  3. Reading:  Foundational Skills- This has 4 anchor standards:  Print Concepts (none for second grade), Phonological Awareness (none for second grade) , Phonics and Word Recognition, and Fluency.  As we were going through our reading program today, we found this section to be very "busy", even though there are no standards on print concepts or phonological awareness.  I think a reading program heavy in phonics, word recognition, and fluency to be very appropriate for the primary grades.  Without the ability to figure out the words, they won't be able to read fluently.  Without fluency, there is no comprehension.  
  4. Writing- There are 4 anchor standards in this area:  Text Types and Purposes, Production and Distribution of Writing, Research to Build and Present Knowledge, and Range of Writing.  There are no standards in the Range of Writing area until 3rd grade.
  5. Speaking and Listening- These have 2 anchor standards:  Comprehension and Collaboration and Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas.  In our work today, we realized that so much of what we do as far as building community at the beginning of the school year fall into the "collaboration" standards.  Whew!
  6. Language- The 3 anchor standards are Conventions of Standard English, Knowledge of Language, and Vocabulary Acquisition and Use
Whew!  Just getting all those thoughts organized was exhausting!  But it helped me, I hope it helps you!

I have a few games I've been working on, that are related to the Foundational Skills, in particular, the phonics standard.  I've been having fun connecting them to sports.  So far I have Par 3- Short Vowel Sounds (golf theme)

Hat Trick - Long Vowel Sounds (hockey theme)
and Touchdown- r controlled vowels (football theme).  I'll be making more of these games. They're great for practicing these skills during reading group (each set has 9 game boards) and during Word Work or Centers time.  I'll definitely be making more games along this format, and I'm open for suggestions on skills as well as sports!

Speaking of Word Work and Centers time, I've also reorganized and revamped my recording sheets for reading and writing conferences.  I've packaged up everything in my Literacy Center Recording
Sheets.  Since reading the Daily 5, I realized I needed more sheets for all of the 5 steps of the Daily 5.  These will help you and record steps that lead to the Common Core State Standards in English/ Language Arts! 

Be sure to put these on your wish list at Teachers Pay Teachers!  They'll be a great help at the beginning of the school year!

You might also be interested in this post:  Common Core Standards and Some Resources.

Celebrating 15 Favorites!

Tomorrow, August 4, 2012, is my blogiversary! I can't believe I've been doing this for a year, but I'm sure glad I decided to do it! There is no question in my mind that I've become a better teacher from blogging. I'm more reflective about everything I do. I have more resources now. Everywhere I go, everything I read becomes a potential blog post. Even working at a golf camp became a blog post!  (And a series of learning games!)

I'm so grateful that blogging is part of my life. I'm grateful to all the people who read my blog, which makes it all worth it! (That's just another reminder, as a teacher of writing, the importance of the audience!)

I wanted to share some of my favorite blog posts in the past year:

1.  Brain Facts - Since I'm a big fan of Brain Research,  I often post interesting facts. This one has valuable teaching points as well as interesting little bits of brain trivia.

2.  Giving Feedback - Giving Feedback is such an important part of teaching. In this post I shared a simple system I use to give feedback on daily classwork and homework.

3. Band aid or Lasso - This has been one of my most popular posts. It contains a couple of stories I share with the children to help them remember when to use an apostrophe. These silly tricks really work!

4.  Lessons Learned - This post contains a personal story from when my daughter was little. It's a story I repeat often to parents every year.

5.  Ten Brain Based Learning Strategies - This is another of my most popular posts. I read it frequently myself so that I can re-think those important strategies that help learning happen!

6.  Ten Ways to Motivate Students - This is another post that I re-read frequently. I wish students came self-motivated, but it doesn't happen often enough!

7. Developing Open Response Answers - I work hard each year helping children improve their ability to answer open response questions. These are some of my strategies.

8. Ten Easy Learning Games - Games are an important part of my classroom. Here are some fun games that are easy to teach the kids and include in a classroom.

9.  Seven Brain Based Learning Principles - The more I learn about the brain, the more I want to share with the world. This is another one of my favorites!

10.Twelve Strategies to Get From Working Memory to Long Term Memory - Isn't this what we're really trying to do?

11.  Assessing Reading Difficulties - I was lucky enough to have some great training this year, and this is some of what I learned.

12.  Random Tidbits About Our Language Reading Teachers Should Know - Still more I learned from training this year.

These last three posts don't have a whole lot to do with teaching, but they are special to me because I'm sharing very personal stuff!

13.  When Bad Things Happen, Make Lemonade - This one is about some health issues I have.

14.  Tell Me More, Tell Me More - More than you ever wanted to know about me!

15.  Speaking of Heroes - This one is about my hero, my dad.

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