Sunday, September 16, 2012

Intervention Kits

I will be starting individual intervention kits in my classroom this week.  Each child will have a bag with his/her name on it.  Inside their bag will be cards addressing the skills they are still working to master.  Every time one our tutors comes in to work with the kids they will pull their intervention bag and go over these skills.  If you are interested in these tutorial bags then click the image below.  They are a freebie from the amazing Kim Adsit.  Click here to read her blog post for more details!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Meaningful Bellringer

The last strategy in our STAAR acronym is Meaningful Bellringer.  Bellringer is what some of you may know as "morning work."  It's what your students are doing in between the time you pick them up and when you start teaching.  This time frame is typically 10-15 minutes.

It's important that what our students are doing during this time is meaningful because it sets the tone for their instructional day.  The students could be working on an extension of something they learned the day before or some other form of spiraling skills.  We want to stay away from low level worksheets or "busy work".  It's not important that they finish the activity, we don't expect them to.  We just want them to be engaged in high-level material from the moment they walk in our room.  Marcy Cook has some wonderful resources that are perfect for bell work activities.

Teachers often struggle with coming up with "meaningful" activities.  We have to ask ourselves, "What kind of expectation is this setting for our instructional day?".  If it's not's not meaningful.

Are you an All- STAAR teacher?  I hope you learned something over the last week that challenged or inspired you!

I plan to start doing peek-at-my-week's in the near future!  Check back to see all the wonderful learning that's happening in our room!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Actively Monitor

Today we're going to focus on the next letter of our acronym....Actively Monitor.  This one is pretty self-explanatory but it really just means no seat teaching.

We need to be up, circulating and engaging with our kids.  When we send our kids to work in centers or on individual work, that's not our time to be checking email or stuffing folders.  It's our time to be questioning and challenging our kids on their thinking.

This part of the acronym really touches a part of all the others.  If we're not actively monitoring we probably aren't using student's names nearly as much as we should.  If we aren't monitoring we probably aren't teaching bell to bell or asking our kids to justify their thinking as much as we should.

It's more than just being up out of your seat though.  I can be walking around by room "monitoring" my kids while they work.  But I feel if we don't engage with our kids as we're circulating then we are completely missing the point of this strategy.

I'll be back tomorrow with our final strategy Meaningful Bellringer.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Answer - Right is Right and Stretch It

Our next letter in our STAAR acronym is the letter "A" which stands for Answer - Right is Right and Stretch It.  Right is Right and Stretch It are both techniques from the book, "Teach Like a Champion."  They are great tools for setting high expectations in your classroom.

Right is Right is centered around "setting and defending a high standard of correctness in your classroom."  Lemov outlines four categories within this technique:

1. Hold out for all the way - Great teachers praise students for their mastery but never confuse effort with mastery.

2. Answer the question - Students learn quickly in school that when you don't know the right answer to a question, you can usually get by if you answer a different one, especially if you say something true.

3. Right answer, right time - Students sometimes want to show you how smart they are by getting ahead of your questions, but it's risky to accept answers out of sequence.

4. Use technical vocabulary - Good teachers get students to develop effective right answers using terms they are already comfortable with.  Great teachers get them to use precise technical vocabulary.

These are excerpts from the book. For full descriptions and examples of these four categories please refer to pages 35-40 in the book.

Stretch It is based on the key idea that "the sequence of learning does not end with a right answer; reward right answers with follow-up questions that extend knowledge and test for reliability.  This technique is especially important in differentiating instruction."

Lemov details several specific types of Stretch It questions that are especially effective:

1. Ask how or why - The best test of whether students can get answers right consistently is whether they can explain how they got the answer.

2. Ask for another way to answer - There are often multiple ways to answer a question.  When a student answer a question one way, it's a great opportunity for us to ensure they can use all available methods.

3. Ask for a better word - Students often being framing concepts in the simplest possible language.  This allows them to use new, more specific words and develop their vocabulary.

4. Ask for evidence - Stresses the importance of building and defending sound arguments.

5. Ask students to integrate a related skill - In the real world, questions rarely isolate a skill precisely.  Try asking students to integrate that skill with other skills they recently mastered.

6. Ask students to apply the same skill in a new setting - Once students have mastered a skill, ask them to apply it in a new or more challenging setting.

These are excerpts from the book.  For full descriptions and examples of these four categories please refer to pages 41-47.

These techniques are centered around asking students to justify their answers and encouraging them to stretch their thinking.

This week we are focusing on sorting by shape and we are also learning how to read, write and create sets of the number 2.  Today I wanted to combine those two skills so we did a sorting activity with the numbers 0, 1 and 2.  I wrote those three numbers on dry erase boards and asked my kiddos to look at them for a minute and think about how they would sort them.  One of my sweet babes says he would put 1 and 2 together in a hula hoop and the number 0 in the other one.  I asked why he sorted them that way.  He then said that the bottom of the 2 is like the 1.  I said, "Can you explain that further?"  He then went on to tell us that the bottom of the number 2 was a straight line just like the number 1 was a straight line.  The number zero is shaped like a circle and there are no straight lines.  So he sorted the numbers based on those that have a straight line and those that do not have any straight lines.  I almost fell over.  I think I scared them with my excitement.  I was so proud that I almost cried right there in front of them.

So we cleared the board and I asked, "What is another way we can sort these numbers?"  Another little sweetie chimed in that we could put them back exactly like they were.  When I asked why he sorted them that way he began to explain that zero is nothing and 1 and 2 are something.  At this point I'm thinking I have to be teaching first graders right?  These little smarties are busting out with this kind of thinking on Day 8 of the school year!

By this point it is abundantly clear that we can take this much further with them, so we did.  I put out both hula hoops and placed the number 0 in one and the number 1 in the other.  We talked again about how zero doesn't have any straight lines and the number 1 is a straight line down.  I then showed them the number 2 and asked them where it would go.  "If we are putting only curved lines with the 0 and only straight lines with the 1, where would the number 2 go?"  After some think time, a few friends caught on that it has both curved and straight lines.  That's when I showed them how to overlap the hula hoops to make a Venn diagram.  We placed the two in the middle because it had both types of lines.  We then took it a step further by looking at other numbers and deciding where they should go in our Venn diagram and why.  Blow. Me. Away.  These kids are incredible!  We were not only sorting by shape (formation of the numbers) but we also incorporated the three numbers we have been working on for the past couple weeks.

Here is a picture of our finished Venn diagram.  It's nothing cute or fancy but it was effective.

I'll be back tomorrow with the next letter in our acronym....Actively Monitor.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Teach Bell to Bell

The second piece of our STAAR acronym is the letter "T" which stands for Teach Bell to Bell.  This strategy is designed to enhance your awareness of each teachable moment throughout the day.  Each minute we have with our kiddos is precious.  We want to make sure that we are making the most of that time.  We should be constantly teaching from the moment the tardy bell rings until the dismissal bell in the afternoon.

That's easy to do inside the four walls of our classroom.  Where we often fall short are those minutes in transition, where we are waiting in the lunch line, taking a bathroom break or walking to and from specials.  Those are precious seconds with our babes that we could be using to further their learning.  For the little ones, I like to keep high-frequency cards, ten-frames, domino cards, or even something as simple as alphabet flashcards to help with letter/sound fluency to use with my kids while we are waiting or traveling in the hallway.  Keeping them engaged in these activities will also curb some of the minor, or in some cases, major misbehavior that occurs during downtime.

I encourage you, if you haven't already, to think about how you can fill each minute with your students so that you are making every second of their day meaningful.

Check back tomorrow for my favorite of the 5 strategies....Answer - Right is Right and Stretch it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

STAAR Teaching Strategies-Student Names

Last year our district adopted the STAAR teaching strategies.  These are five things every teacher should be doing in his/her classroom daily and are adapted from some of the 49 techniques detailed in the book "Teach Like a Champion."  Many good teachers do some or even all of these things but the question is...Are you doing them effectively?  When implemented with fidelity, these strategies will push you from being that good teacher to a great one.

Each day this week I will talk about one letter from the acronym and its meaning.  We'll go into detail about how this looks in the classroom.  My hope is that you'll be able to take something away that challenges you to be a better teacher because with an increase in quality instruction comes an increase in student achievement.  And that's what it's all about....what's best for kids.

We'll begin with the first letter in our acronym...the letter "S".  "S" stands for student names...use them.  Many of you are probably thinking, "I do use my students' names."  Do you use them as often as you should?  We should be calling on our kids by name at least six times a day.  As a kindergarten teacher, I feel like that happens A LOT more than that!  It's almost impossible to be an effective teacher without using your students' names.  Instead of calling kids to the carpet by table group or back to your teacher table by reading group, call them by name.  The personal touch you get from calling someone by their name is a very effective tool.

To extend that strategy even further, let's look at how it effects questioning.  It's easy to get in the habit of calling on a student and then asking a question.  What we forget though that when that happens every other student is now off the hook.  They are no longer thinking about that question because you've already revealed who you are calling on to give an answer.  If we're challenging our kids in their thinking, why would we use a structure that just holds one student accountable?  When you pose a question, instead try this method.  Ask the question first, provide wait time for students to formulate an answer and then call on a student by name.  And don't be afraid to "cold call", which means you are calling on students whether or not they have raised their hand.  Sometimes it's easy for us to focus solely on who is going to give us the right answer.  Instead we should be focusing on a system that fosters engagement and that accountability piece that comes with knowing they could be called on regardless if they volunteer. 

What about how using student names effects academic feedback?  As you circulate the room, what kind of feedback are you giving your students?  Are you just simply telling them, "Good Job" or is your feedback academically focused?  When you go to provide feedback to a student, use their name and then be specific..." _____, I noticed that...."  When we are calling on students individually and providing very specific feedback it is much more effective than the generic praise.  We want to praise our students for their hard work and mastery but we want it to be high quality.

I'll be back tomorrow to focus on "T"- Teach Bell to Bell.  Have a Terrific Tuesday!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

First Week Recap!

I welcomed 17 bright, smiling faces into my room last Monday for the first day of school.  To say I am madly in love with these littles would be a HUGE understatement.  I have said to anybody who will listen this past week that these babes are so smart and we are going to be able to take them so far this year.

We focused a lot this week on routines and procedures along with building our school family.  We started off the week by reading "The Day a Monster Came to School".  We used Kathleen's monster expectations packet to review above, below and bottom line behavior.  Click the image below to check it out.

We then discussed our classroom rules and learned the motions that go along with each of them.  I wish you could see these sweeties reciting the rules and doing the motions because it's just adorable.  Especially my cutie that always says "Follow directions fastly" instead of "Follow directions quickly".  We also implemented some whole brain teaching call and response strategies and they are really catching on pretty well.  My class rules posters are free in my TPT store just click the image to grab a copy!

Our focus this week for word study has been on reading and writing our names.  I'll have to snap pictures of the finished projects and share with you later this week.  All of our activities came from Deanna Jump's Literacy and Math Fun with Names packet.  Click the image to check it out in her TPT store.

During our math block we have been working on sorting.  Our focus has been on sorting by color but I love making my littles really stretch their thinking.  During their exploration time with the math manipulatives, I circulated and stopped to question them about how they were sorting.  Most of them were sorting by color because that has been our focus but I challenged them to find another way to sort their objects.  I was so happy when some of my littles realized they could sort their 3D shapes by those that roll and those that do not roll.

We also started our math journals this week.  I cannot wait to read back over these in the Spring and see just how much they have grown.  I am using a mix of  Mrs. Wills and Deanna Jump's journal prompts.  It just really depends on our curriculum and the skills that need to be addressed.  You can find them by clicking here and here.  I am currently using these during our critical thinking time in the afternoon but will probably move them to another point in our day as this time becomes more devoted to Marcy Cook activities.  If you read  my Must-Have Monday post you know that I am obsessed with Marcy Cook books.

I'll be back later this week with lots of pictures of our learning.  Have a great week!