Sunday, August 16, 2015

The First Day of 1st Grade

Happy day, friends! I hope this post finds you well and loving (or about to love) your new group of friends. This year, it has taken me a few days to fall in love. My group last year was incredible and left SO high, that I am having to remember where they started. Tomorrow will be Day 5, so I wanted to take a few moments to share what Day 1 looked like in Room 134. 
My plans are very flexible for the first few days and honestly, I always plan too much. The first weeks are all about community building and procedures. The learning will come smoothly (and eventually) if these two are in place. You can grab a copy of my first day plans here, but please know I made it to only half of it (ha!) and the times are pretty much all wrong (My OCD-ness wouldn't allow me to just put them in a list). 
Since I won't launch Work on Writing for several weeks, I do lay out all of my materials for the few first weeks until our schedule normalizes. I love being able to grab whatever I need and easily trade something out if it's not working or we need something else (i.e. brain breaks).
With school-start times being pushed back this year, we had a 45 minute window when students would be arriving with families. 45 minutes?!?! It's a huge chunk of time and we definitely couldn't color/write/read/anything for that long. So, I pulled out Crayon and Whimsy's Ocean Animal Pattern Block mats and they were perfect! My friends loved creating ocean animals, and my new friends would trade mats when they finished. I had a few friends who weren't interested in ocean animals, so they played with the blocks on their table. It was a *simple* and perfect way to start our day. Plus, everyone could feel successful at the activity!
After our families left (note - I had 0 criers this year!!!!!!), we learned how to clean up/push in our chairs/come to the carpet. This took one million minutes and dozens of tries. Then, I introduced our day's "Game Plan" and taught our friends the Good-Morning song.

Now that we were all on the carpet, we read How Will I Get to School this Year? It is a very silly book and a great way to level the playing ground. At this point in the morning, I don't want to talk about going home because it will stress everyone out (myself included). But this simple, short book is a great way to talk about the ways we are the same. We then graphed how our friends get to school!
Now, it's already 9:30 and time for a bathroom break, which requires learning how to line-up, split into boys/girls, and practice bathroom procedures. 
Then, as an entire 1st grade, we have dinning room procedures practice with our Assistant Principals and staff that help in the dining room (Yes, I do have duty-free lunch and it's amazing.) Do you see our imaginary trays?
Coming back from the Dinning Room, it was time to launch Read to Self and practice our reading stamina. I introduced stamina as being able to do something tough for a long time without giving up. I talked about training for a marathon and needing to practice. Just like athletes, runners need to practice, too. We made our 'Read to Self' t-chart and decided reading was awesome because it is (1) fun and (2) makes us better readers and writers. We also briefly introduced 2 ways to read (1) with pictures and (2) with words. At this point, I read Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, so we could practice reading the pictures!
Our Back to School shelf is also in action and my friends love having access to 'free pick' and read-aloud books. Before stamina-building friends are aloud to pick one of these books but cannot return it until the end of stamina. Otherwise, I would have 23 friends up, standing, and moving during reading stamina! (If you search #1stgradebookshelf on Instagram you can see lots of our weekly bookshelves.)
After creating our i-Chart, I show students their book bins. They grab their bins, place their bin on their desk, and come back to the carpet. Then, when everyone has their bin I call a few students at a time to pick their reading spot... (That's right, I don't choose spots unless I need to. It cuts down on time, and for the past two years, it hasn't been a problem.)
I turn on our class timer and say, "Go!" This year we made it 1 minute and 58 seconds before stamina broke... a solid start! This graph is actually after the second day of school, but it works! You can download your own stamina graph here. (To learn more about how reading stamina works in our classroom, you can read this blog post.)
At this point, we were definitely ready for a brain break. We picked spots in the classroom where we had room to move and counted to 100 with Jack Hartman!
Are you tired yet? At this point in the day, it was time for lunch and recess. During recess, I snagged pictures of my friends with this sign (I picked up the chalkboard at Hobby Lobby and wrote on it with paint pen...low maintenance is the way to go). The photos will go in the hallway where students hang their awesome work!
After recess, 85% percent of our time was spent preparing for dismissal and practicing dismissal. I'm really not kidding. We reviewed how all our friends were getting home, practiced lining up, and practiced walking to our dismissal spots around the school. Then, after doing this, we did a whole-school dismissal practice. Friends, dismissing is NO JOKE! Thankfully, all of the practice must have worked because ALL of my friends made it home safely (#sweetvictory).

We did slip in a first-day self portrait that will be the front page of our Writing Portfolios this year. I love the idea of having a year-long writing progress to show parents and Cara Carroll offered a simple way to manage them, so I'm game this year! (You may grab this page free here.)
After a whole-school dismissal practice, we brainstormed what happened on our first day of 1st grade. (Note - I take a picture of this board and sent it via Remind Text to my families, so they have some talking points when their students arrive!)
Students wrote about their favorite part of the 1st day. I know it is a stretch to write sentences on the first day, but friends - I was AMAZED! All 22 of my students could write a sentence without crying. Our Kinder teachers must have rocked-it last year. Most of my friends didn't know how to use 'because' (i.e. - the word 'because' is randomly stuck in this sentence...hehe, but everyone had a basic sentence. :) Before having students put these into their home folders, I had a Speech Pathologist (who hasn't started pulling kids yet) make a copy for me. This will be a great writing reassessment for me and a great addition to our writing portfolios. (You may grab this page here.)
Friends, the first day is definitely a whirlwind with two main goals - (1) have the children leave smiling and (2) getting the children home safely. If you think I'm kidding, I'm really not. Those two jobs alone are hard enough - ha! :)

With 4 days under our belts, my friends are starting to become 'mine' and this is a great feeling. The first few days, I always worry if I will love this group enough or as much as the last one. Every day, with every new moment, the feeling dissipates and my excitement for a new year grows. 

So, tell me - how did your first day of school go?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Differentiating Your Classroom with Ease

Over the last year, my school and team have taught me so much about differentiating. In 5th grade, I so struggled with this and when I differentiated I was moving mountains. But really - I felt like I deserved a gold medal. It was exhausting and overwhelming and rarely happened.

This year my 1st grade team has taught me so much about differentiating and my thinking about DI has shifted. Today I wanted to share with you what's working in our 1st grade classrooms.
For me, differentiating no longer means creating separate games/activities/learning targets. It doesn't mean that some students do more work or students are being taught different content. It does mean tweaking activities, so they have the just-right scaffolds and pushes for my students. To me - right now - differentiation means...
(1) I know where my students are and respect that they are individual learners.
(2) I begin with the end in mind. I am a master of content in my classroom and know where students need to go.
(3) I trust that I am a professional and can create an environment in which students are able to grow and succeed. I can move my students from where they are to where they need to be (or higher) through intentional decisions in my classroom.
Believing these things, our team has developed structures and organization to help us be intentional in our planning. Today I'm sharing some ideas, resources, and specific examples that have worked in my classroom. They won't work for everyone (or even all my students), but they are a starting place, a place to start the conversation, a place to motivate us to do more.

Like most teacher stories, it all starts with school supplies. Now, you definitely don't need all of these materials to differentiate, but these are resources I use to keep myself and my students organized. If I could only pick one supply it would definitely be color-cardstock - three reams of Astrobrights colored cardstock - green, yellow, and blue. I also use the coordinating circle stickers for identifying materials for each group that aren't copies on colored-cardstock (i.e. playing cards, dice, etc.) bead container from Micheals (make sure to use a 40% coupon and then ask for the 15% teacher discount) holds my pound-of-dice I use for differentiating math games and centers. Then, I picked up colored folders and book bins for storage from Walmart!
We flexibly group our friends into these 3 groups - green (below grade-level), yellow (on grade-level), and blue (above grade-level) for math and reading. To make it easy to remember think of a first grade outside picture (green = grass, yellow = sun, blue = sky). Our kids can move anytime they are ready, no big deal. We group math based on unit pretests (every 4-5 weeks) and reading groups/colors are based on Guided Reading Levels. This year I had 2 yellow groups and slowly transitioned my 2nd yellow group into a blue group. This transition from grade-level to above grade-level happened by the end of March and my friends were SO excited. At the beginning of the year (before we're making choices on our own), we help structure our time with rotation boards for Daily 5 Reading and Daily 3 Math. (If you're interest in the below chart you can grab it here for free.)
Color-coding groups really helps with planning and organizing my small-group materials. Under my teacher table, I keep a black 3-drawer Sterilite container under each side of my teacher table (I snagged these on sale from Target for $9 a piece). I organize my guided reading materials by my colored groups - green, yellow, blue, as well as, the round the group meets. I add the rounds for any guest teachers (substitutes) we might have in the classroom. Keeping materials below my guided reading table, allows me to easily grab materials and get started when a new group joins me.
Right behind my teacher table, I also keep these color-coded bins organized and stocked for Guided Math. (I snagged my bins from Walmart) Often the manipulatives travel from bin-to-bin, but the assessments and mini-lesson materials are group-dependent. I love having my materials at arm's reach, and it's easy to restock them at the end of the day.
When planning centers, word work, and small-group activities, I try to make copies on colored card stock. This helps students immediately know what materials they should take from the bin or hook. 
There are times, when it doesn't make sense or isn't possible to use colored card-stock. In times like these, I use these colored dots to attached to the paper or ziploc bag. (If you didn't want to purchase stickers, you could always print a full-page of color on Avery Labels - easy peasy!) 
At the beginning of the year and/or when groups change, stickers are the perfect reminder to students what materials they should be grabbing. I would never print our reflection sheets/learning logs on colored paper because it's not cost effective and just unreasonable. A sticker is an easy alternative.
Also, when we're using center materials that are not printed on colored paper/cardstock, I'll put out these stickers. I typically print 100s boards, playing cards, etc. on white card stock because all my groups (regardless of level) will use them. So, I'll put the materials/cards/boards in a baggies with a sticker so student know which cards they are using. In the below picture, my friends are playing Go Fish. Green group is playing Making 10 Go Fish and Yellow/Blue are playing Making 20 Go Fish.
So, these are the basic materials that we use. Now, for examples of these resources in action!

Each part of our Daily 5 reading block includes elements of differentiation. Below is our Word Work center. (You can read more about how Word Work runs in this blog post.) The 4-5 activities in Word Work stay the same each month but the word rings are traded out. (These words come from our Reading Street program and are copyrighted. So unfortunately, I'm unable to share these. I'm so s0rry!!) During Daily 5 or centers, students choose the activity they can do (pyramid words, super sentences, etc.) and then the word-ring that is just-right for them. Students are able to work on the same activities, but with their just-right words.
One of our consistent Word Work centers is Sound Sort. Students need to be able to differentiate between different sounds and then, apply them to their own reading. Phonics helps develop automaticity as students read these patterns, and continuous exposure allows students to make the connection to their own writing, reading, and spelling. With that said, basic sound sorts of single-syllable don't offer 'just-right' practice for all our friends.

The first level of our sound sort includes mostly CVC and CVCe words, perfect for students who are approaching grade-level. The second level includes words that often include multiple phonics patterns or include blends (ex. celebrate, nudged), and, for patterns that sound identical, I leave blanks (i.e. power/pound would be p__wer and p__nd). The third level includes several phonics patterns, inflected endings, and higher-level sight words. On this highest set, I always include blanks where the phonics patterns belong.
After printing the cards on color card stock, I place them in a plastic bag above the Pocket Chart using a magnet. When students choose word sort, they know to grab their ‘just-right’ color and get to work!
Another of our favorite Word Work centers is Sentence Scramble. Each set includes 6 sentences and each sentence is centered around one of our must-know words of the week. I call each baggie a 'Level' because kids love the idea of playing a game and leveling-up. Level 1 is the easiest and Level 6 is the hardest.

When I am preparing materials, I make two sets of sentences - on-level sentences and above-level sentences. Both sets match their individual words for the week. Later in the year, I'll also add a third set for my approaching grade-level friends.
Green (approaching grade-level) - capital letters, punctuation attached to last word
Yellow (on grade-level) - no capital letters, punctuation is unattached to the last word
Blue (above grade-leve) - no capital letters, punctuation is unattached, the must-know word is a blank where students have to arrange the sentences and then, decide which of their must-know words fit
The first time I introduced the activity, I was SHOCKED that it was so difficult for students...but it is. To figure the order of words, ensure the sentence makes sense, and add punctuation/capitalization is a challenge! They love it. :) Most students work in partners and that is fine. Typically, it takes 2 rounds of Daily 5 for friends to unscramble all 6 sentences and record them.
One final example of differentiated word work is our colored folders for our Versatile Tubs in Word Work. Our skills for the week were Short E and Beginning Blends. The green folder is focusing on short e, the yellow folder is focusing on blends using picture clues, and the blue folder focuses on blends in the context of complete sentences.
Now, I never print recording sheets on colored card stock. Again, it just doesn't make sense. Instead, we place recordings sheets into colored folders. For examples, in our listening center, the 3 colored folders fit on top of the shelf. Students can choose any book to listen to. Then, after carefully listening, they pull a comprehension recording log out of their folder.
The papers in the green folder often include a word bank and space for drawing their ideas, the yellow folder includes more lines for writing, and the blue folder includes a recording sheet for a 2nd grade reading skill. (You can grab these differentiated listening to reading sheets here.)
In Math Stations, we use Sterlite Tubs to hold our materials. When students go to grab a math tub, it holds 3 folders - green, yellow, and blue. Students grab their just-right tub and get to work. If we were playing a game of Go Fish - the blue folder would have cards for Make 20/25 Go Fish. The Yellow Folder would have cards for Make 20 Go Fish, and the Green Folder would have cards for Make 10 Go Fish. Same game, just-right for all my friends.
Playing cards are fabulous for easy differentiating, as are dice. I ordered a 'Pound of Dice' from Amazon and was amazed to receive over 80 colorful dice. Each color-set included  3/6/8/10/12/20 dice, as well as, a place value dice (included multiples of tens). These dice allow me to have the same center in a tub with three different sets of dice - one for green/yellow/blue.
For example, in our Fact Family Center we loved using our Fact Family Triangles (they come in sets of 5) to relate addition and subtraction. I placed the triangles, a recording log, and 3 sets of dice in the bin (each set in a ziploc bag with a colored sticker). My green group is working with two 6-sided dice (sums within 12), yellow group is playing with a 12-sided dice and a 6-sided dice (sums within 18), and blue group is playing with two 12-sided dice (sums within 24). The learning target - "Students will be able to relate addition and subtraction." is being reviewed and practice with just-right materials.
Spinners are another fabulous tool for differentiating. We use all kinds of spinners - subitizing, within 5, within 10, within 20, +/-10...all perfect for playing Race to 120. As I watch students play this game, it becomes evident to me which students 'get' the 120s chart. If students are individually counting numbers larger than 10, I know they are still struggling with ten more and less. If students are having to individually count the dots on the dice, I know we haven't mastered subitizing. Using different spinners for different students (even if they are playing together) allows each student to practice the skills they need. If we build the foundation and provide the exposure, mastery will come! (You can snag these spinners and center for FREE here.)
Below is another example of spinners in action. This picture shows my on-level group working with double-digit addition that does not require making a ten (i.e. regrouping). These specific spinners actually were adding groups of ten.
 In my blue group, students were still working on the same skill (addition within 120...I believe my friend misread her first spin calling it 105....but oh well...the math is still solid!) but with larger numbers, many of them required making a new ten. You'll notice the materials are the same as the yellow group, but she chose just to decompose...whereas the friend above also needed the concrete model of base-ten pieces.
As you can see, structure and organization keep differentiation simple and meaningful. I'm not about reinventing the wheeling or creating 3 completely different activities for every centers/small-group activity. It just doesn't make sense and quite frankly, it would never happen. I am not planning 15 different reading/math tubs each week. Rather, I pull 4-5 Word Work activities each month and just change out the word rings each week. I plan 5 math tubs and just change-out the cards or numbers in the tub each week.

If you're interest in any of the resources I've mentioned, you can snag them below!


Differentiating gives students access to the content and material that is just-right for them, and it requires little management. This is what is working for my team. What works in your classroom? How do you manage differentiating with your friends? I'd love to hear about your system!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Daily 5 in Primary Classrooms

Over the last 8 weeks, we have covered a lot of ground. We've explored each other's classrooms, traded ideas, asked questions, and remembered why The Daily 5 matters. Creating lifelong readers requires daily, dedicated time to read. We, as teachers, must give students time to fall in love with books. 

In this post, I've shared where we have gone and given you a 'hub' for all things Daily 5. You can click on any of the pictures to be taken to take specific post for a refresher or reread! 
We started the study laying the fountain for what we need to actually begin Daily 5 in our classroom. What physical materials? This was a simple post with the nuts-and-bolts of Daily 5 - What do I need to get started? I've shared some of my favorite materials for Daily 5, and then, at the end of the post, you can enter for a chance to snag these things for yourself. With that said, know that the bare bones of The Daily 5 is BOOKS...and a lot of of them. If you want kids to love reading and spend time reading, you've got to have books from which they can choose.
We explored how we build independence throughout the first weeks of the Daily 5. Building independence is the most critical part of setting-up Daily 5 in our classrooms. Without independence, we would never be able to pull small groups, confer with students, or assess growth. There would be off-task children, there would be talking and off-task behavior, and most importantly, there would be no reading and writing taking place. As we're building independence, my 1st graders hear me ask (over and over) - "If we do __________, will that make us better readers and writers?" This is our driving question.
We talked about the explicit routines and procedures we teach students for each round of the Daily 5. These procedures set the ground-work for independence and are the lynch-pin of a successful reading block.
Knowing the foundation lessons that need to be taught and how to foster independence, we learned that the crux of the Daily 5 is students spending time reading real books. Read to Self is the first choice we introduce and the most important. Students don't become readers with computer programs and busy work. Students fall in love with reading when they are given time to read and learn in a classroom where books are valued.
Throughout the study, I have heard several teachers say - "I do Daily 5...I just don't let students choose. It's too much for them." Friends, I'm going to be really honest. If you have layed the ground-work, built stamina, and fostered independence, choice is the inevitable conclusion. If choice is 'too much' for your students, it's likely you need to go-back and practice. Choice is a CRITICAL part of Daily5 because it provides students with ownership of their learning and freedom in the classroom. Our students are capable of SO much, and we need to trust them. This can be scary and intimidating (especially with little friends) but it's VERY possible. 
Later in the study, we were introduced to the math component of The Daily 5, The Daily 3. The Daily 3 and Guided Math are a small-group approach to learning mathematics, just like we meet with students daily during Guided Reading, we meet with students as mathematicians. It is a deviation from whole-group math instruction. While there is still time for whole-group, you invest your efforts and resources into meeting with small-groups of students each day.
Although not an official chapter in the book, Word Work is a critical part of teaching children to read. Students need repeated practice and exposure to high-frequency words and phonics patterns. In this blog post, I shared some of our favorite Word Work centers - sentence scramble, word sorts, pyramid writing - and how I differentiate so all my students are working with just-right words.
Additionally, Listening to Reading provides students the opportunity to hear fluent reading and through listening to reading, students have access to more books than they are able to read independently. Listening to Reading provides an incredible opportunity to engage with any book they are interested in; rather than just what they are able to read at that time. 
With less than 2 weeks until my new 1st grade friends arrive, I am excited to hit the ground running with Daily 5. Are you ready? If you're not using a full Daily 5, what parts of the study are you putting into action? What do you want to make work this year?

I'd love to hear your ideas and your take-aways from this study! As I begin a new year of Daily 5, I'll make sure to share how it's going and what it's looking like with a new group of friends. Until then, good luck friends!