Monday, November 28, 2016

Personal Narratives: Writing Stories that Matter

I have a confession: 

I’m sort of the meanest narrative-writing teacher ever. I just couldn’t read another story about birthday parties adorned with hearts and rainbows. And it’s my fault, really. My expectations were too low- I own that! It was hard enough to get my writers who were used to writing about sparkle princesses and Jurassic Park to make the shift to a real story- and I think I settled at that. 

One day we went to the fair. We rode the rides. We ate popcorn. It was so fun. The end. 

23 more. Rinse and repeat. 

This year I decided to make the shift. I couldn't settle for just a "true" story anymore. I needed more.   I was determined to make my writers tell stories that matter! So...

Step 1: Figure out what a true personal narrative is. 
So, genres are sort of divas! I looked up the qualifications for personal narratives because I thought my idea of them was correct- but I quickly found that that wasn't true. A lot of the books on personal narrative lists are actually memoirs, for example. Picky, picky! I wanted to find books that were the in the truest form. I read a lot of qualifying lists and the common threads that I found were that personal narratives need to be 1) in first person 2) true 3) vivid and clear 4) emotions/feelings evoked. 

Step 2: Identify real texts that meet those qualifications. 
I used to use the go-to books to teach narratives. Like Keats. But most of his stories are told in 3rd person. Sad day. I really wanted to stay true to the list and provide my students with a concrete example of what they would be writing. The books that I ended going with were Owl Moon, Big Red Lollipop, A Chair For My Mother, and Come On, Rain.  Below you can see the 4 qualifications that I drilled down for kindergarten. 

Step 3: Create my own version of a personal narrative to share with my students. 
They need to see both published works and unpublished versions of this genre- even better: student versions from years past.

When I sat down to make my version of a story that was worthy of telling,  it was HARD! Like I said before, if we are honest, no one really and truly is moved by my "birthday party" story. It's nice and maybe you'd be glad that I had fun buttttttt.... I'm sure it wouldn't stir your emotions. So, I took to my camera roll on my phone. I started scrolling through my pictures until I landed on a photo that I sent to my husband of a really bad morning where I spilled my coffee everywhere. I remembered the rest of the events from that day and a personal narrative came forth! 

I made this version as bare as possible because I wanted to be able to grow it with my writers as the unit progressed. I made a smaller version and stick it in a sheet protector in my conferring mini-binder. Then when I'm conferring with writers, I can model strategies by writing and drawing with a wipe-off marker. 

Step 4: Provide tools that will support them in finding their tiny truths. 
I remembered how I found my story by using my camera roll. I thought it would be fun to ask students to create  camera roll memories that they could use throughout the unit.  In kindergarten, I actually sent the camera roll home so that their parents could help their children recall times in their lives that were meaningful to them. 
I also wanted my students to understand the concept of "turning up" the emotions/feelings in their books. I made them a "feelings-o-meter" to use while they are writing. I have them read their story out loud and then we talk about how their reading felt. They turn their arrow to the appropriate slot. Then, we talk about what we could add to make sure their feelings show through as much as possible. 

Click the Image Below to check this resource out! 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thanksgiving Week in Primary!

For Thanksgiving, I just really couldn't bring myself to teach the way I was taught. I really have an unsettling feeling about dressing up as pilgrims and Native Americans- and I'm not really here to get into why but I just sort of avoided it altogether. I decided to focus on gratitude and traditions. I just wanted to  make sure my students understood that it is important to take time out and reflect on all of the wonderful things that they have in their lives.

I had a student bring me to tears when we did a gratitude circle. She's a language learner and we've been really working on letters and sounds. When it got to her, she began to cry. She said, "I thankful you are my teacher and you tell me I can do it." Annnnnnnnd I'm done. Full blown tears. So was half of the class.

I wanted to create a poem that would allow my students to understand these concepts of gratitude and reflection. We focused on those kinds of words for our vocabulary instruction. Click any image to see more!

Now MATH! I'm so excited to share what we did for math. I wanted to think of something that my students could do that would actually be helpful in their real lives. As I was thinking about what young friends could help with, I thought about setting the table. There is tons of math that happens when you set the table! So, I created a week long project that would allow my students to get some things figured out that they can share with their families.

On day one, you just create your family and table. I have them color and write their family members' names. Then, they fold the paper back and glue it down to the table!

On day two, they figure out how many knives and forks they'll need. In primary, it isn't always obvious to them that if you have 5 family members, you'll need 5 forks and 5 knives. They need that direct modeling. I did bump up the difficulty level by telling them that adults get a knife and fork but children only get knives.

On day three, they figure out how many chairs they will need or will have left over if they only have 5 chairs at their table.

On day four, they get to help with dinner rolls. I gave them a "pack" of twelve dinner rolls and they had to figure out if they have too many or not enough.

On day 5, we package the whole project into a book and get it ready for home. There is a parent letter that I send home that tells the family that they are all ready to help set the table!

If you'd like either of these resources, just click below! They are CHEAP! You can get them BOTH for 5 bucks. I'm grateful that you have been following along and I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hearts at Ease, Minds at Peace: A Mental Health Check-In for School

One way we can check in with our students every day is by simply talking to them. Another thing I like to do is provide a way for our young learners to check in with themselves. Our brains learn best when we feel calm and safe.  I believe that little kids are capable of self regulating and monitoring their feelings at school if we show them how.

I give students a binder and I place this sheet on the inside of a sheet protector. I provide a cup of dry erase markers. This allows them to erase and repeat everyday without using a new piece of paper. After the students complete their activities, they leave this page open on their desk so that I can walk through and see it. This allows me to check in with students who say that they are sad, angry, etc...

The next page is NOT in a sheet protector because I want them to keep track of how they are feeling across a period of time. This is good for them to see but also good for me AND their parents! I once convinced a parent to put their child to bed earlier because I showed her her own son's data that said he was sleepy a lot of the time.

Later in the school year, I ask students to think of a focus goal for the day. This could be behavior based or just something they are working on- like showing kindness.  This is really helpful when a student is struggling. I can remind them that they set a goal that they really wanted to reach for the day.

As a group, we do a daily empathy check. This is in a sheet protector as well. I read a scenario and I ask them to think about how they might feel, think, or want. I've complied over 40 prompts to share. 

All of these activities can be found in my store! Click the image below to see more. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

How to Fall In Love with the word RIGOR

I felt really frustrated with word study so far this year. My class is made up of two types of kids right now: ones that know ALL their letters and sounds and ones that literally know like, three.  Everyone around me is teaching via centers/stations but friends, if you've followed me at all then you know that centers are NOT MY JAM. I was jaded my second year teaching when I worked at a school that had a solid 5 center a week rotation. I printed, copied them on 5 different colors of paper, laminated, cut, baggied, and labeled them all so I could spend my time screaming at poor children who failed return all of the pieces that had been printcopylaminatecutbaggied and left them on the floor.  HOW DARE YOU LEAVE THE GREEN WORD CARD ON THE FLOOR! IT GOES IN THE GREEN BAGGIE! IT'S LABELED! Poor kids. And to make the situation even better, the next year I was moved to another school and guess what- they didn't do centers. All. That. Work. All that to say, I don't do centers anymore. Like, at all. I even tried it once this year. I thought, let's just make one week's worth and see how it goes. Nope, still jaded. WHAT WAS I GOING TO DO THEN? It was the worst part of my day.

We've been studying the work of Dr. Marzano. All things learning scales, learning goal targets, success criteria, monitoring for learning...all that stuff. Heavy stuff, but GOOD stuff. You should know my misconception about the word RIGOR. My Marzano trainers kept using that blasted "r" word and I would roll my eyes and try to listen.  I think I've always hated that word because everyone started saying it at the same time and that safely puts it into the "buzz word" category. Also, from my ignorant understanding, to me it meant more, harder, and the least true: NEXT. I thought, "ok if they've mastered the skill, I need to be rigorous and teach them the next thing faster." My lightbulb moment came when I was in the middle of my tango with making centers and studying Marzano. I kept hearing that rigor lives in the space where kids are working at increasing levels of independence at higher cognitive levels.

That's when what they were trying to tell me FINALLY hit me: I don't always need to move kids on to the NEXT thing...I need to take them deeper. I mean, I'd heard that over and over but for some reason, something clicked this time!

Then the wheels started turning. What would that look like in word study? With 5 year olds? My kids either know their letters or they don't. Shouldn't I move the kids that know their letters and sounds on to CVC words? Everyone else is...

So I decided to do two things. I knew I needed to get my 8 friends with little to no alphabet knowledge up and running in an ABC challenge club. (I may blog on that later. For now, I want to focus on how rigor saved my word study block for the kids that already knew their letters and sounds.) I decided to keep the SAME skill for the entire class- but put them on different cognitive levels. So my whole class is STILL doing letters and sounds. But if you've mastered the skill, then there is no reason why you can't do some work in the knowledge utilization area. That's the HIGHEST level of thinking we can ask our students to do and I've got 5 year olds killing it.

You're like, ok seriously, just tell me how! Ok so I was scanning the list of possible products that students might do to show knowledge utilization and one of them said CREATING GAMES. That was literally all it took. I was so fed up and frustrated with word study that the very next day I had a meeting with my friends that knew their letters and sounds (the other kiddos were off doing some ABC work). I had no real plans (yet) but I told them that today they would be making games. I gave them a purpose because I told them that we weren't successful until ALL students in our class could master letters and sounds and that I needed their help. I told them that they could help by making a fun game that would help our ABC club learn their letters and sounds. I literally said, "you guys are smart, creative, and helpful. Go make a game." Would you believe that this was the most engaged, exciting work that I had seen all year? It was incredible. They set to work immediately. Because I didn't really know where this was headed, the first day all I offered was a blank game board that I printed off, index cards, and dice. That was it. I was so amazed that I walked around and listened in. Here are the things I noticed:
*Cooperation. My "behavior" problems weren't a problem. They were invested immediately.
*Critical thinking. I heard 5 year old saying things like, " Well, for that to work we would BOTH have to make the alphabet on our index cards."
*Purposeful planning. I heard little children making plans like, "I'll lay out the capitals and you lay out the lowercase and we can make sure they all match."
*And most importantly, the QUESTIONS! I was able to ask things like:
  • What is this game helping the players practice?
  • So did you both write the ABC’s and hold them all? Was that too much? 
  • How can you design the card so it's easier to hold and see?
  • Won’t you always have a match if you both use your own set of ABC's? 
  • How can you avoid that?
  • Do you want the winner to collect cards or get rid of them?
  • What happens if you don’t land on the letter? 
  • How can we tweak it so that that will be successful?
  • How will your players write their letter? 
  • How can they be sure they know what letter they are making?
And so many more! I mean, WOW. All of that thinking work. I see what they mean by rigorous! The thinking deeper, not harder. Deeper not more- and deeper, not NEXT. Of course we will move on to "next" but for now, we are camping out as a class right here at letters and sounds. I have other ideas for rigorous work as we progress throughout the year! I'm thinking, plays, commercials, books, jingles- all things that they can take their knowledge and utilize it.

Like I said, the first day, I threw some index cards and dice at them. I ran home and designed some more items that I could put out to help my game makers. They were floored when they walked into this...

I created phases that they would go through. Things like planning, creating, testing for quality, testing for quality with another group, making a fancy version, recording the directions so that I can create a QR code card that students can scan and listen to the directions...things like that. They move their sticky note to the section that they will be working on.

And accountability tools to help with the phases...

A place for me to track their progress and celebrate their work...

And here are some snapshots of these games created by the brilliant minds of littles.

When they record their directions, there will be a card inserted in each game. We will offer the games to all of the primary classes in our building so other students can play. They are DARLING.

My students feel empowered and they know that their work matters. They are thinking deeply, being creative, and working hard. It's not hardER, it's rigor. And we love it.

Here are a few more photos. You'll see some sample games that my students created.

Two of my students created a game that asks students to practice handwriting. You roll a die and move your pawn that many spaces. Whatever letter you land on the the letter you have to write that many times on a white board. So if you roll a three, move three spaces and land on a "B" then you write B three times. AMAZING!

This is a simple letter/sound match. The thinking work that went into this game was so much fun to watch! 

This game practices upper and lowercase recognition. You draw a card from the deck that contains an uppercase letter. You find the letter on the board and mark it with a chip. Then your partner does the same thing. The first player to get three in a row wins! Can you even deal? I couldn't!! 

I surprised them by laminating the games. They were in shock! 

We released the game in our class before sending them out to the other KG classes. Our ABC club needed the practice and they loved playing their classmates' games! 

Our plan is to send the games to other classrooms next week. I wanted the game makers to be able to get feedback on their game, so I created a survey sheet that can be tucked in the game bag. 

I've been talking for SO long. I hope I was able to share how I am able to ramp up the cognitive complexity for primary skills and have FUN! These game makers are engaged, informed, decision-making learners that have thrived in the name of RIGOR!! They are smart. They are creative. They are capable. Let them do their thang! 

If you'd like to try this out, I've complied all of my game-making printables into one file! You can clip the image below to find it in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store!