Sunday, June 28, 2015

shopping in the classroom library

I've been teaching first grade for a long time and I've had so many guided reading groups, I probably talk about it in my sleep.  Doesn't your "guided-reading-talk" spill over into other parts of your life, too?  My own children, who are not in elementary school anymore, will ask me homework questions like, "What does perseverate mean?" and "What's an algorithm?" and I instinctively respond, "Well, what strategy can you try to figure that out?"  I know they wish I'd check my teacher-hat at the door.

(Confession:  Sometimes I don't know the answers to their hard homework, so my response is really a win-win for everyone.  My kids learn to be resourceful and I don't look dumb.)

The work we do during our guided reading groups is so important, I want to make sure the children have a lot of additional time to read a lot of books that are just-right for them... books that will help them grow as readers and continue to foster a love for reading.

It's critical that all of my students have a handy collection of books to read at any given time and I've structured our schedule and classroom environment to make sure that happens daily.  A well-stocked classroom library, with a wide variety of books, is the most important part of making this a reality for my kids.  My classroom library isn't just in one part of the classroom... I've got shelves and bins and cubbies of books all over the place.  (Don't worry... it's organized.)  There's a fiction section, a nonfiction section, a section of favorite authors and one for favorite characters, and we have a leveled books section, too.

When I first started teaching (forever ago), I made my fair share of rookie mistakes, one of which was letting children choose ALL of their own books, ALL of the time.  It seems like a good idea, right?  And don't I want "buy-in?"  I mean, what's so hard about choosing books?  I do it myself all the time.  

But I'm an adult.

And they're six.

And I soon figured out something important about new, emergent readers... they don't always know how to pick out books that are going to help them grow.  It doesn't really make a lot of sense to read with children in a guided reading group on Level E books and then watch them self-select 10 Junie B. Jones chapter books from the classroom library for their personal reading collections.  That offers them little chance of practicing proficient reading behaviors on their own. And then I realized, little kids need a little help when shopping for their books.

(You should know:  I take great care at the beginning of the year making sure our classroom culture is safe and encouraging.  We talk about individual strengths and needs and how people, including myself, set goals for areas where we want to continue growing.  We value differences and celebrate everyone's successes, big and small.  These are the kinds of conversations that need to take place so my students understand why different students have different books at different times.  They make great connections when we talk about how training wheels and swim floaties come off at different times for different kids.  And it's important that children are keenly aware of what their peers are good at and that there's a spirit of collaboration and camaraderie in the classroom.  When that is missing, competition creeps in and that's why some of our emerging readers are choosing 100-page Junie B. Jones chapter books and pretending to read them during reading workshop.  There is a place for chapter books in their reading lives, and I'll explain how I honor that in just a minute, but a large amount of time spent pretending to read isn't really helping anyone.)

This is when I started using "Shopping Cards" and I've been using them for years because they work so well for us.  Here's how they work in our room:

After I finish my initial running records at the beginning of the year, I make a shopping card for each student.  The last letter on the card indicates the child's instructional reading level... the level we're working on during our guided reading time together.  This is the level that "pushes" the reader just a bit because it's a level where they need to be actively using strategies to read and make sense of the text.  

The other two levels are just slightly lower than their instructional level. Reading books at these levels strengthens their confidence, helps them read sight words more automatically, and improves their fluency (both rate and expression).  

The cupcake represents something we call "Dessert Books."  (Hello, Junie B.)  To help them understand this, we have fun talking about desserts... about how they're not the best part of our daily diet, but how we want them anyway, don't we?  We talk about how it's important to have a balanced diet and how it's okay to have dessert once in a while as long as it's not the thing we're eating most often.  They understand how that's unhealthy for our bodies.  And then I make the leap to a healthy reading diet... and they're able to leap with me... they get it. They learn that a healthy reading diet has to be full of books that are just-right for us; that are good for us; that will help us grow.  Dessert books may not be just-right for us, but they're a fun treat to have if we have just a little.

Each week, my students go shopping in our classroom library for their own books.  (I have 5 student teams, so one team goes each day.  This prevents the library from feeling too crowded.) They pick their own books (buy-in) with a little guidance from me... so much better than what I did my first year of teaching. Students self-select 3 books from each leveled bin on their own shopping card and then they head over to the fiction / nonfiction sections of our library and choose ANY 3 dessert books they want.  All the books they choose go into a canvas book pocket that hangs on the back of their chair, along with all the books we've been reading during our guided reading time together. As they grow as readers, so do their cards and they begin to shop for different levels.

When we get ready to go home each day, each child picks one leveled book and one dessert book to take home.  The goal is for them to read their leveled book to a family member and then ask a family member to read their dessert book to them or with them.  

You can make your own shopping cards with a simple index card, but if it would save you some time, you can pick up these blank cards for free in my TPT store.   They go all the way up to guided reading level M, but a lot of students no longer need help choosing books after about levels J or K.  By that point, they're pretty good at knowing what's just-right for their reading diet.  I have also included a completely blank card in case you use a leveling system other than guided reading levels.

If this is the time of year when you think about updating or redesigning your own classroom library, check out this Pinterest board dedicated to special reading spaces for young children.  It is loaded with pictures and links to dozens and dozens of classroom (and home) libraries. They are cozy and inviting and inspiring to young readers.  You'll find great tips for not only reimagining your library space, but organizing it as well.

Happy teaching!  :)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Teaching: Making a Difference

This is Robin from Class of Kinders. It is summer break for me and I was just at the beach the other day. We can do that here in Paradise, because the warm sunny beach is just a short drive away. It is a great escape from the fast paced life to reflect. Most of my trips to the beach are during the summer…when school is out for summer break. I do a bit of reflecting about the school year…thinking about the things I loved about the year and things I might do differently.
I take a book, listen to music, soak in the water and work on my tan! 
(Why is it that tanner skin always seems to help the figure?…lol.)

Sometimes, I go just for the sunset. Equally as beautiful! 

One evening when I was there, I happened upon lots of starfish washing up onto the shore.
There were literally what seemed like hundreds of them! It honestly made my heart beat faster and faster, to see them there, knowing if they did not get back into the water….

But there were just so many to rescue. 

The Starfish Story immediately popped into my head. The one where the little boy was throwing things  back into the water as a man approached him asking what he was doing. He told the man he was throwing the starfish back into the ocean that had washed up onto shore. The man laughed at the boy and basically told him he was wasting his time. He said the boy was just one person and there were so many starfish. The boy listened, but continued his work throwing them into the water. He turned to the man as he threw one starfish into the ocean saying… see, it made a difference for that one.
This is how I feel about teaching. I am the boy. And the man, well, "he" is ALL of 
"those things" that get in the way of me teaching my students.  Regardless, we should continue our work as teachers, just as the boy did, throwing the starfish back into the ocean
…making a difference in the lives of our students!

I created a copy of this Starfish Story originally written by Loren Eiseley.
You can get this copy free from my TpT store as a tribute to summer, teaching, and the students we work tirelessly for. Give it to a friend to encourage them…hang it in your classroom so you don't forget.

Enjoy your summer.
 Recharge your batteries.
Continue making a difference!

Monday, June 15, 2015

I need a wAtEr BrEaK!!!

Each year at my school, our Firsties get to have a fun filled day of WATER!!
In honor of our summer vacation being HERE!!!! YAY!!!! I thought I would share some of our AWESOME Water Day Games.  In order to keep costs low for us, we asked all the parents to donate supplies for each of these games.  And boy did they followed through! We had more than enough of everything.

 #1. Water Squirters - We filled buckets with water, gave each child a water squirter, and they were off! (Of course we went over rules like no spraying in the face before hand AND NO water guns were allowed.)
#2. Bubbles - We gave each child a bottle of bubbles. just look at the excitement on her face!

#3. Car Wash - There are 2 buckets at either end of a line of kiddos.  One bucket is full of water and the other is empty. The first person in line squeezes a sponge and fills it with water from the first bucket. Then they pass the sponge down the line. The last person in line runs to the empty bucket and squeezes the sponge.  Then they run with the sponge back to the front of the line to refill it and start the sponge going down the line again. They get really wet with this one!

#4. Ice pops - We gave each child an ice pop as a fun snack. 

#5. Polar Plunge - We had 2 plastic pools filled with water and ice.  Brrrrr!!! The kiddos were in 2 lines and had to run down to the end of the pool, jump in the water, spin around on their bottoms, get back out, then run to their line and tag the next person. However, we live in FL and it was soooo hot that the ice kept melting and didn't stay very cold! One of our FABULOUS PTO moms decided that the kids should be squirted with ice cold water from a cooler in order to help us solve that problem!!

#6. Duck Duck Splash - We had 1 plastic pool filled with water, one small bucket of water, and 1 sponge. The kiddos sat around the pool and began a normal game of duck duck goose. The difference here is that the person walking around the circle is holding a sponge that is loaded with water. They hod the sponge over everyone's head as they say "duck". When they finally choose their "goose", they say "goose" and squeeze the sponge over that persons head.  Then they run around the pool. If the "chooser" catches the "goose", then the goose has to sit inside the pool until someone else gets caught!

These are just a few of our fun games. We also do a field day with more "DRY" activities but that I will save for another day!

Does your school allow you to have water games? How do you celebrate summer coming with your kiddos?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Life Is Better When You Are Laughing

I truly believe that 
Life Is Better When You Are Laughing 
Anyone who knows me knows this is how I roll.  
Every day with me has laughter. 
The giggles from my students (and my teacher friends)
 is truly music to my ears.  

Summer is here and my daily laughter jam with my students will halt for a couple of months.  I will certainty miss the daily giggles and toothless smiles but I look forward to meeting 20 more new funny kids who will say the darndest things. 

Here are some highlights from my hilarious students.
Student on the playground:  Teacher I have to go to the clinic
Teacher:  Are you sick?
Student:  Well I was laughing a little bit and now my panties are a little wet.
Teacher:  Welcome to my world!  (I did send her to the clinic)

Student rushing out of the bathroom:  Teacher my panties are gone!!
Teacher:  What do you mean?
Student:  I just went potty and my panties aren’t there!
Teacher:  Did you put panties on this morning when you got dressed?
Student:  I don’t remember!!

Teacher sneezes loudly
Multiple students:  Bless you!!!
Teacher:  Thank you, I must be allergic to children
Students have a puzzled look, then giggle
Teacher sneezes weeks later
One student:  Are you still allergic to us?

Student:  Teacher your hair is getting white again but just on the top.
Teacher:  Thanks it’s hard for me to see the top of my head.

Student:  Teacher you see this part right here?  (pointing at his chest)
Teacher:  Yes, you mean your chest?
Student:  Yeah the chest, well yours looks like bacon.
Teacher:  Oh thanks for the complement.  Are you hungry?

Typing this just made me giggle!!
  Did you have any giggles this year?