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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!

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?

I've heard a lot on the topic of praise lately, and it's not always good.

Praise - Good or Bad? This post discusses the type of praise that helps children grow as learners.

Recent discussions were about the specific type 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 to bring his snack. Seriously, it can be anything!

Praise - Good or Bad? This post discusses the type of praise that helps children grow as learners.
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!

For more posts about how to give feedback and how NOT to give feedback, see:
The Importance of Failure
Five Useful Tips and Tricks
5 Rewards That Don't Lead to Entitlement
5 Reasons NOT to Reward Students
Clip Charts: Yay or Nay?

Praise - Good or Bad? This post discusses the type of praise that helps children grow as learners.

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