Sunday, April 26, 2015

It's Never Too Late

We are coming towards the end of the school year… Only two months left to go… and yet I find myself revamping and redoing my entire curriculum! When something is broken you don't just leave it be and let it sit there broken, taking up space… NO, instead you find a way to fix it or throw it away. That my friends is what I have decided to do.

Let me give you a little refresher… I was on leave for the first two months of school (gasp!!) I know EXACTLY what you are thinking, and you'd be correct. I came back in November to a giant mess!!! And I mean a M-E-S-S!!! While my kiddos were safe, and loving school, there were no expectations set for them, well at least not up to my standards. So for the two months of school I had to "retrain" my little ones on how to do EVERYTHING - from how to unpack, no we do NOT hand the teacher each paper out of our backpacks one at a time, to review bathroom rules - no we cannot all go to the bathroom every ten minutes. It was quite the uphill battle and I'm still facing some struggles now at the end of the year but each day we are getting better, we are learning more, and we are becoming smarter! Another unique characteristic of my little class is that 21/25 of my students are seen by the ELL teacher four days a week. Because I have such a high number of students who receive services I work closely with the ELL teacher and she typically pushes in once a day… at times she will pull my most struggling students out to work in a smaller group in a quiet setting.

That being said I realized after our second benchmark assessments for the year that my kiddos just weren't making the grade, so to speak. I found this both disappointing and frustrating! Most peoples first reaction might be to blame my circumstances - well you missed the beginning of the year, you work in a Title 1 school with high needs students, the majority of your students don't speak English as their first language and most of their families cannot read, write or speak English so there is little help and support at home. And yes, in some respects they would be right. But it's too easy to place blame elsewhere. SO I sat and I sat and I sat and I thought and I thought and I thought some more… I was at a loss… what can I do, how can I change this. This my friends, is where the blogging world was my biggest resource! I started scouring the Kindergarten blogs to see what everyone else was doing and I started reaching out to other Kindergarten teachers for advice. My greatest source of help immediately was Mr. Greg over at The Kindergarten Smorgasboard. THANK YOU MR. GREG!!! Not only was he patient and kind in answering my questions his advice to purchase the book The Next Step In Guided Reading was AMAZING! I can't sing his praise enough. I took this book and I have made it my most prized possession (for now!)

After reading the book I then got down to making literacy centers. They aren't perfect and they are a work in progress but they are something, and the kids are independent at them!! So to me that is a major plus! Using this book I began my guided reading… well, let me just say that my kiddos have LOVED the new curriculum. They are enjoying meeting with me at least once a week (I'm working on managing my groups and my time better to meet with them two or three times a week - I CAN DO IT!!) and I'm seeing such positive changes in them. They are beginning to develop a love for reading. They are feeling empowered because they are completing their centers on their own.

You'd think with two months left of the year I'd just keep going the way I'm going since things are running smoothly… if you believe that, then you don't know me very well! Now that I've got a decent handle on my guided reading I'm on to make my centers even better. For this I've reached out to Marsha at A Differentiated Kindergarten. First off she already has amazing centers that she makes and sells, but again I found someone who has been patient and kind and willing to share her knowledge. I am currently reading EVERY (yes I said every) post she has written about Daily 5. Not to mention on my wish list to purchase next is the Daily 5 book. My goal is to hopefully get at least one, if not two of my 5 independent centers differentiated by the end of the year. I'm also working to get a sensory station up and going in the next week or two! I cannot wait for this, and Marsha was my inspiration. I went out on a limb this past week and asked if I could try one out. I didn't get a two thumbs up, but I did get a give it a try and I'll come see what it's about… for me that's good enough! (At my former school a sensory bin would have been frowned upon!)

I've gotten so push back from some people about the logic of changing so much so close to the end of the year. But here's my logic - 1) Don't these kids deserve to get the best I have to offer? So if I find something new that I think will help them shouldn't I give it a try? 2) These kids are great and they are flexible, they adapt well, and they understand the ideas of how to work in centers - so why not try new things with them? I'm not talking about totally changing their centers - but rather make them differentiated!

And guess what - while some teachers might be shocked at the thought of changing so much so close to the end my administration is smiling! They are loving it! They have given my their blessings. They come in often to see what I'm doing and are hoping to have others come and visit me too! I'm no expert yet, but that is my goal! I'm hoping to be the best I can be and expand my knowledge and learning even more to better help my students succeed!

I'm looking forward to continue my adventures of centers and guided reading - and hopefully, eventually daily 5… (I do know I need to work on getting certain supplies, like items to use for listen to reading, guess I'll be looking in to Donors Choice soon)…

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What We're Reading

One of my favorite parts of summer is the local library's annual reading program. I've always loved reading and it was so exciting that over the summer I was rewarded for reading! Even as an adult I join the adult summer reading program. I'm excited to say that my daughter, while she can't read yet, shares my love for books and we read at least one book every night and go to the library to log her books so she can earn stickers and prizes! We are just about half way through our summer break and I thought I'd share some of our favorite books so far.....

1) Fancy Nancy Explorer Extraordinaire
Why we love it: aside from loving Fancy Nancy for all fancy words and exciting adventures, this book adds an element of learning. My daughter was excited to learn about the different types of leaves and the difference between a moth and a butterfly. It sparked her curiosity as a scientist and I know these are subjects we can and will explore more this summer.

2) The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Vacation
Why we love it: it was a humorous book about a vacation that has gone terribly wrong. But it was also a book we can learn from, we talked about how to make the best of any situation and that sometimes you just have to laugh about what is happening.

3) Nancy Clancy Secret Admirer
Why we love it: this was our first chapter book!!!! The chapters are short which makes it easier to holder a young readers attention. The friendship between Nancy and her best friend Bree is a great examples of friends being there for one another. I also liked how the story ended... I won't give it away but it kept it PG which was perfect for my little girl!

4)  Pirates Don't Change Diapers
Why we love it: the young boy in the story has to watch his baby sister while his mom runs to the store and his dad takes a nap. We are expecting our second child and this book helped my daughter see the humor and joy of having a younger brother or sister. We laughed through the whole book!

5) Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun
Why we love it: this book my daughter picked all by herself. I had never heard of it before but boy am I glad she picked this one out. I will be purchasing this for my personal collection ASAP! This book focuses on how we are all different and it's ok. It encourages children to always do the right thing, even when others around them aren't making the best choices! 

What are your top five children's books of the summer so far?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Self-Evaluation Equals Becoming a Better Teacher!

Confessions: I miss blogging, I miss connecting with other teachers in a way that only happens in the virtual world of teacher blogging! I want to be at the I Teach K conference in Vegas! I want to be asked to be a presenter! I want to share with the world my joy of learning and help other teachers the way I know I can…. I just don't know where to start!

To help me get back into blogging I decided to take the #Kinderblog14 blogger challenge. Challenge 1,  write the blog post you've been meaning to write, or have had on the draft board and never finished. For almost a week now I tried to figure out where to start, where to jump in… then I checked my draft board and found this one I started back in NOVEMBER! Like I said, I haven't blogged in a LONG time!!!!

So here is what I started writing back in November 2013:

As many of you know I've been posting a lot about my excitement of working in a new school... well 39 days down and that excitement hasn't changed. I'm finding that this new school is pushing me to become a better teacher than I ever imagined! Both my APs (assistant principals) have set the bar pretty high for me and I am doing everything in my power to reach that bar.

This past week I started doing math centers. Our math curriculum is centered around the use of a text book, which for my ELL students I have found to not be very engaging. I got permission to use the textbook as I see fit and teach the concepts in various ways, including centers, games, and hands on learning! I still have to administer the mid-chater and end of chapter tests from the program... which if all goes well my kids should be able to do because my centers and hands on approach will hopefully help my kiddies learn the math concepts. So center based math it was. We are focusing on the numbers 0-9 as well as the terms, greater than, less then and introducing simple adding and subtracting (without actually introducing those terms: I have three apples, my brother has 2 more apples than me, how many apples does my brother have).

I met with one of my APs last week to share what I was doing and he challenged me - how are you holding the students accountable to what they are learning? How are you tracking what they are doing? Good question! I have 6 tables in my classroom - so I made 6 centers.

This is what I used to do: One center was a teacher lead center where I work on the skills each group needs. Right now my big focus for the majority of the class is to master the idea of one number at a time. My high fliers are working on counting on, and addition problems using the terms more and less. This center always had some sort of product I could keep and file - whether it was a page stapled in their math journal or their math tests. I had one center that was math books - we don't have a lot of time to read/look at books and I thought this might be an interesting way to bring books into another part of our day. I had a number writing center, and a few games of matching numbers.

After meeting with my AP and his questions about accountability I started to think... hmm... I need to find a way to make these centers have more meaning. I scoured the internet and found some great teachers who were willing to help me out! One teacher in particular: Crystal @ Kreative Kinder was amazing!!! I mean above and beyond when it came to answering my millions of questions (and she's willing to answer even more of my questions!) I've spent most of the time picking Crystal's brain about literacy centers (because, yes trying one new thing at a time is just not going to work for me!) but one great idea I got from Crystal was to basically have two centers in one. First the kids would do a paper and pencil activity which would be followed by a quiet activity.

And here is my current follow-up:
The reality - my goal of doing centers all the time fell much shorter than I like. Lack of supplies and cost were only part of the problem. Trying to learn a new curriculum AND trying to invent and incorporate centers was challenging to me at times. I decided that I needed to slow down and not jump in without looking. I spent most of the year embracing the new curriculum I was teaching and trying to learn the ins and outs of it. I wanted to get a good handle on the curriculum, figure out what I love and what I hate would like to improve upon for the next school year.

I think I have a good idea now on what our literacy and math curriculums are all about and I'm excited to spend time this summer planning and trying to make them a bit more interactive. Do you have any suggestions or favorite teacher bloggers who have great kindergarten math center ideas?

I really hope this blogger challenge helps get my creativity for blogging flowing again! :)

Monday, November 4, 2013

With Great Risk Comes Great Rewards

What a great day I had! Today was my formal observation and boy have I been panicking!! We had a choice this year to pick 6 informal observations OR 1 formal observation with 3 informal observations. I opted for the 1formal/3 informal because I really had no idea what the administration was looking for. I figured by doing the 1 formal observation I'd be able to meet with one of my administrators and really get a good idea of what they are looking for. Well it worked!!!

First I met with one of my Assistant Principals and discussed his expectations for me for teaching math to my kinders. To my great surprise and delight I was given the go ahead to take my math teaching to a whole new level. I was allowed to do a center based approach to math using the teaching point from the book but not actually using all of the workbook pages! WAHOOO!!! Next I handed in an outline of my proposed plan. I handed that in on a Friday and got it back at the end of the day with 2 pages of suggestions and ideas. Now most people might have seen all of those notes and gone a little looney. Not me! I was excited to see all those notes because they were there to help me become a better teacher, NOT to put me down. Let me back up and explain that before my AP handed me my lesson plan back with all his notes he made it VERY clear that he added suggestions and things that he has seen in other classes that he liked.

Here are some of the things that he wrote down:

  • Safe environment
  • Clear directions
  • High expectations
  • Accountability in each center
Clearly some of these things are not things that can been seen in a written lesson plan. With my two pages of suggestions I was given an extra week to get my act together for my observation.... which I was truly grateful for since the day I was originally supposed to be observed I was feeling quite under the weather!

I made sure that 4 of the 6 centers had some form of accountability. The other two were self-checking centers. I made sure my routines were down pretty good and I made sure I had a clear directions.

Well, right after lunch my AP came in for my observation. I won't lie... my knees were shaking and I was a bit nervous. I had such a rough/bad/terrible/rotten difficult year last year with my administration that I wasn't sure how today was going to go. BUT in the end it went awesome!!

Here are some of they key components that I feel really helped make my lesson rock. We started with our normal calendar routine and the moved on to the game Mingle. I cannot take credit for this awesome game, one of my fellow bloggers (sorry I forget which one of you lovely ladies it was) posted this awesome video not too long ago and I KNEW I could use it to help children count and learn their basic numbers. So to whomever shared this video on Facebook THANK YOU!!! You totally rock because my AP LOVED this game. He loved it so much that while we were playing he called the other AP in our building to come down and check out what we were doing!! I was super excited about that!

I also had some awesome centers that were from some other awesome bloggers.

  • I used Mrs. Hoffer's Spot's Mega Sort Bundle {Numbers 1-10, 10-20, and Letters} for my cut and paste center. The students only had to complete the page that matched the number 9 since that was the number we were working on. This activity was great because I had a tangible product that I could see if the students understood the various ways to show 9!
  • I used The Moffatt Girls' Fall Math and Literacy Packet (Kindergarten) for another center. I used the fall leaves ten frame page. Which was perfect because the students needed practice writing the numbers using ten frames. 
  • I made a center with drawing and writing each number in various ways. I made this center based on Crystal over at Kreative in Kinder's Zero the Hero Classroom Counting Fun!
  • The last item I used from another great blogger, Abby at The Inspired Apple, is Babbling Abby's Kindergarten RTI: Number Sense #0-20 This packet I used in three different centers!! SCORE! 
    • I printed and made binders with the majority of the pages in this packet for the numbers 0 to 9 since that's all we are up to right now. I will add the other numbers are we get to them. I use these binders for my RTI groups.
    • I printed the number writing pages for the numbers 0-9, put them back to back in sheet protectors and used binder rings to hold them together. The children used dry erase markers to practice writing the numbers.
    • I printed and cut apart the number "puzzles" pages and the students sorted the pieces after they finished the ten frame fall leaf page from the Moffatt Girls!
All in all the centers and lesson went AMAZING!!! I saw my AP at the end of the day and we will formally sit down on Friday and discuss it BUT he said he had a few suggestions but was proud of me and thought it was awesome!

I want to give one last shout out and thank you to all the wonderful bloggers and TpT teachers whose products helped me do an amazing job today!!! I hope everyone else's day went as awesome as mine did!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Observations and the New Teacher Evaluation

As an educator being evaluated has always been part of the system, the principal/supervisor comes in, observes what you are doing, takes some notes and then writes it up. If you're lucky and have a supportive supervisor you might even have a post-observation meeting in which you discuss ways to better your teaching.

For the past 6 years I worked at a school where observations were done randomly without any warning. Formal observations (you know, the ones where you had a pre & post-obervation meeting) were unheard of. The principal popped in for informal observations whenever he wanted and stayed for as long as he wanted. If he didn't like what he saw he stayed longer, if he liked what he saw (or liked you) his visits were short and sweet and to the point. We were often observed as the students were walking in to unpack, the day before or the day after vacations, etc. Certain teachers were observed more than others, and things were very subjective!

Now the administration is under strict rules to follow a 22 part scoring rubric! Yes 22 parts! WOW! That's a lot!!! From the way we act as professionals to how we interact with parents. From how our classrooms are set up and organized to whether or not we ask higher level questions with our students. In theory principals/supervisors are supposed to write down everything they hear and see while they are in our rooms and then use this cut and dry scoring rubric to give us a grade.

Four weeks into the new school year... and my first year in my new school... with a brand new reading/ writing curriculum that is in its very first year and no one knows anything about the program and a brand new math program... I was observed! I'm not going to lie, after my experiences last year I was a bit jittery and a bit nervous. I didn't know what to expect! I took a deep breath and just tried my best! I acted as if my supervisor wasn't in the room and went on with my lesson. It took almost 3 weeks but I finally got my observation write-up back. I can see the pros and cons of this new system.

The pros: the feedback was clear and to the point. I know exactly which of the 22 domains I need to "improve" upon and which I am doing an excellent job in! I can clearly look back at my write up and see what I should be focusing on to make my teaching better. I can honestly say I left my post-observation meeting feeling like I was truly being supported! My supervisor wasn't "out to get me" but was looking for ways to help me become an even better teacher!

The cons: my biggest complaint right now is that I was graded on my questioning technique... which in my opinion wasn't exactly very fair. Let's take a look at this from the outside. The rubric states that using only recall questions is not an effective teaching practice, yes I agree. Teachers, even Kindergarten teachers, should be using higher level questions to get their kiddies to think! But does the rubric take into account the time of year, or the fact that I am teaching 27 students, 16 of which are ELL whose primary language is Spanish, oh and I don't speak a lick of Spanish? No the rubric does not take into account things like this... the rubric is black and white, cut and dry... what we (supervisors) see and hear is what we can score on. The real kicker was when my supervisor stated that she realized it was early in the year and that my students in particular were not ready for a very deep conversation regarding A House for Hermit Crab, and yet, knowing this she chose to score me on this domain rather than writing N/A with a note stating that it was too early in the year to score this. I guess the only positive is that I can only improve from here! My other complaint is that 22 domains is A LOT! I mean how can anyone wrap their head around all 22 domains at once. It might have been nice of they decided to roll out this evaluation system in pieces. This year we will focus on mastering the domains in category 1, then the following year add in the 2nd area, then the 3rd and finally the 4th. It would have been nice to take this slow... but then again look at the district I'm in... they took on using a literacy program that is still being written and has not been tested in any classrooms EVER!!!

Has your district rolled out a teacher evaluation system? What do you think about it?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The First 28 Days

Wow! I can't believe 28 days has already gone by... where has the time gone? It has been quite an adventure getting used to my new school, which I am loving by the way. Sometimes taking a blind leap of faith really does work out for the best in the end!

My new school is nothing like my old school... here's a breakdown of some of the major differences (in now particular order):

  • I am now in a Title 1 school - this has been a big change for me. We are lacking many basic supplies and I have had to reach into my own pocket to purchase supplies for the classroom that I never thought I'd have to buy. I've also had to adapt many of my practices to make them work with the supplies I do have. It's been a learning curve but it's pushing me to be a more creative and engaging teacher!
  • The students wear uniforms - personally I think this is a wonderful thing. I never have to worry about someone coming in wearing inappropriate items.
  • There is an unspoken dress code for teachers - while our contract does not outline a dress code the teachers in this school dress with pride, nice clothes and nice shoes every day... jeans and sneakers are frowned upon. 
  • Take Risks! - We are encouraged to take risks and try new things. We are encouraged to take our curriculum and make it work for our students. We are encouraged to do what it take to get through to the kids so they can learn! We are encouraged to be creative and make teaching and learning fun! 
  • Learning Centers - We are expected to have literacy centers 4 days a week and teach guided reading during this time. While I'm still doing assessments my students are loving the idea of having center time and are thriving on it. 
  • Copies are limited - We have to submit our papers a week in advance and have proof of why we want to use it. I have not yet taken risks with my copies and have been making copies at home which isn't cheap!
  • No printers - We don't have free access to printers. I am used to having a printer at my ready all day long. Now I have to be extra prepared - everything has to be printed out at home and brought in. This is taking A LOT of getting used to for me!
  • Collaboration is limited - I'm used to meeting and planning together every day... here we are working towards that but I often find out about projects and activities that the other teachers are doing after the fact and have to rush to figure out how to make the activities they are doing work with my class.
  • New Curriculum - The school took on two new curriculums this year - math and literacy.
With all these differences it's been a struggle the first 28 days to get organized and figure out how I want to do everything. I am finally getting into a nice groove.

It's taken me a while to figure out the best way to teach our new literacy curriculum. There isn't any research on this new program that has been widely adopted and it's the first year it's being used so everyone is learning as they go which means there are no "experts" to go to when you have a question. I've got a good handle on the reading aspect of this new program - but I'm still struggling with figuring out the best way to teach writing based on this program. I'm also trying to figure out the best way to make cross-curricular connections with social studies and science. The best part though - PROJECTS!!! We are encouraged to do projects, lots and lots of projects. My goal is to get ahead of the game in my planning so I can figure out some great projects for SS and Science!

I'm also trying to find some great math projects/activities that tie into my math curriculum. We teach math for 2 periods, which is longer than I've ever taught math... so I'd love to spend part of that time doing hands on projects to reinforce what I'm teaching.

It's been a struggle to keep up with all the planning that I have to do this year but I'm hoping to get ahead of the game at some point. I'm also trying to plan everything out so that come next fall everything is ready to go!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Culture Shock and Donors Choose

I've been at my new school so far for 5 whole days! Three days were designated as unofficial set up days, and 2 days were official meetings and set up days. Everyone warned me that switching to this school would be a change... and they were 100% right, but the changes are in unexpected and surprising places!

Lets start with my room - it's HUGE!! I have two double door coat closets for the kids. Then I have two single door teacher closets. One with shelves and the other is more of a coat closet. I also have cabinets about my sink. I have a teacher desk (WOW! Haven't had one in years!) and a small 2 drawer file cabinet. I also have more book shelves than I know what to do with (no I'm not complaining because I am certain by the end of the year they will be filled to capacity!) I have 6 kiddie tables in the room and theres room to spare! I have a small round table for conferencing and a small extra desk for my computer. Did I mention that I have 12, yes 12 bulletin boards!?!?! Oh and 2 more in the hallway! Do you know how hard it was to cover all of those boards and figure out what to put on them? I still have one blank board and I have no idea what I'm going to put on it!!! The stores are all out of sets I like so that board will have to wait another week or two.

Another huge change - the atmosphere. Everyone seems so relaxed and happy at this school. Yes I realize the kids haven't come in yet and that feeling may change but for now... it's a warm, inviting, relaxed atmosphere. Even the administration have been warm, welcoming and helpful! One of our AP's actually helped me hang bulletin board paper on my hallway boards! I don't think in a million years I would have ever expected that! This same AP has made it a point to remind me that in this school I wont have to walk on egg shells or look over my shoulder wondering if I'm going to make a mistake. He has reminded me over and over again, make a mistake, so what! Learn from it, move on (and never make that same mistake again! HA!) I'm loving this philosophy! They also believe that the weekends, holidays, etc. should be family time... leave your work at the door and go enjoy your family. What an opposite feeling than my other school where the admins would have loved for teachers to stay at least 2 hours extra every day to do work every day of the week! I can feel the tension and stress starting to slip away, the uneasy feelings I used to have of being afraid to try new things slowly disappearing. The eagerness and excitement of a new year is gradually sinking. I'm actually looking forward to a new school year!

The last big change has been a bit of a shock for me. At my old school we were spoiled (I didn't realize this until the last few days). Anything we wanted for our classrooms we got - you need chart paper, no problem, scissors, pencils, markers, pens, computer paper, construction paper, copies, colored copies, books for your library, math manipulatives... we even had laptops to bring home and use for work as well as classroom printers. I spent very little money on my own supplies for my old school - the philosophy was anything in the building should belong to the school not the teachers. Don't get me wrong I bought bins and posters and rewards and fun stuff.... but the necessities were always given to us. Not so much now... I've already spent a couple hundred dollars and I'm no where near ready for Monday! I've had to buy every single supply that you can imagine - chart paper, teacher scissors, staples, tape dispenser, I even have to purchase notebooks for my kids! (Insert shocked face!) This weekend alone to get ready for the kids coming in Monday I need to go buy at least 10 (probably more) baskets from the dollar store for my library which is unleveled and all stacked in piles (did I mention I have to level the entire library on my own time! What a job that is going to be!) I also need to locate a ones, tens, hundreds pocket chart for counting the days in school, I need bins to organize pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, table top bins.... then I need to purchase a ton of ink for my home printer as I will be printing like a mad woman this weekend so I can finish my bulletin boards and have my first day of school papers ready! We can't get everything copied so I'll be paying for copies this year.... which leads me to a question - Donors Choice... has anyone every requested anything? How does it work? Could I request help for the basic supplies I need for my kids (you know like the notebooks, a classroom sharpening, etc?)

I may be spending a LOT more money than I ever intended to for my classroom - but I'm hoping the payoff of working in a nurturing, caring, loving, fun environment is what I will get! I'm excited to see what the year brings and can't wait to meet all my kiddies on Monday!