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Friday, June 30, 2017

My First Year in First Grade

Hi! I am still alive! I know it has been a LONG time since I posted. To say it was a challenging and overwhelming year would be the understatement of the year. I would also say that it was most meaningful year of teaching, to date.

I was both nervous and excited to be entering the classroom after 6 years of teaching intervention. It had always been my goal to be a classroom teacher. Becoming an intervention teacher was really unintentional. I do not regret those 6 years at all. They helped me be successful in the classroom by providing an instructional foundation.

As someone moving from out of state, I will say that I was slightly unprepared for the dynamics of the community I was entering. I had worked in Title 1 schools my entire career. As an intervention teacher, I usually worked with those students with the most disadvantaged economic conditions. However, I did not have experience with the level of poverty that I faced this year. The school had 100% of students on free breakfast and lunch. I don't think I truly realized just how different this is than a community with 60% of students on free and reduced lunch. The difference is very stark, in case you are wondering.

My students faced a number of obstacles, including a lack of resources and unstable home lives. In my mind, I expected a certain dynamic in classroom management from a povery stricken community, but surprisingly that is not exactly what I experienced. My students wanted to learn and they were mostly willing to work hard. In fact, half the class made it to the middle of second grade reading benchmarks. They did amazing work, and I am extremely proud of them. What surprised me, was their emotional underdevelopment. I did not expect to be explicitly teaching self control, kindness, and mindfulness in the classroom.

I was fortunate to have had 6 years to hone my teaching skills as an intervention teacher, because I was able to give the necessary amount of attention to teaching valuable non-cognitive skills. I never expected to teach my students yoga or meditation, but that is exactly what I did. GoNoodle was such a valuable tool for this. 

I'm finally starting to feel alive again, dare I say well-rested. I am optimistic that I will share more experiences this year, but I make no promises. It was a successful year for me and my students, but it was also all I could do to keep my head above water some days. I am hoping for a little more balance this year! Enjoy your summer, teachers. You earned it.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

I'm Moving to First Grade!

I know it has been awhile...I hope you all didn't forget about me. After 6 years teaching intervention, I am finally getting my own classroom! is in first grade! I am extremely excited, but also very nervous. Please share any and all advice! If that wasn't enough, I am also moving back home to Ohio after three years in New Jersey!

Here is a picture of my classroom the first time I saw it. I love it, but was completely overwhelemed. The first thing I did was tackle the classroom library. I had no idea how much of a book hoarder I was. I have tons of books! I labeled some by level and some by subject.

The Word Wall so far..

Part of the library

I'm slowly developing an idea of how I want everything to run. I am sure there will be plenty of changes along the way, but I am looking forward to the adventure. I've been doing plenty of reading and brushing up on my Daily 5, Writer's Workshop, and guided math. Please share any tips about first grade or the classroom in general! Looking forward to sharing this adventure with you! It's good to be back.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Getting Creative!

Despite what many might think...guided reading is not the answer to everything in reading intervention! I have a particularly challenging group of first graders this year. They are really struggling. I have been re-evaluating my instruction and making some creative choices!

Now, before you call blasphemy, I still instruct these students with a heavy dose of guided reading in the morning, but in the afternoon we really let loose. Here are some of the things I have been doing with my students:


We have been doing a weekly poem. This provides a lot of repetition and fluency practice. I have been choosing poems that work on specific sight words to help increase automaticity. The kids really enjoy the rhyming and melodic qualities of the poems. A poem is also significantly less overwhelming than a book and gives struggling students access to grade level content.

This is a great resource for finding sight word poems. They are organized around different sight words and skills, such as breaking words into chunks.

After reading the poem for a couple of days, I remove some of the sight words and have students practice adding them back to the poem. We also take turns reading with the pointer.
I am a firm believer that writing needs to be incorporated into reading instruction. Sometimes we compose an interactive writing  based around the content of that week's poem. Other times, we compose our own poem based upon a template of the week's poem. We have also written cut up sentences and switched with partners.

Phonics Games
I love playing file folder phonics games. My district is heavy into Fundations, but sometimes a scripted program just doesn't get the job done for everyone. Nothing beats a good old fashioned game. Right now we are working on r-controlled vowels. I am starting to see progress!

This is one of my favorites!

Sight Word Movement Games
We have been so busy having fun in the gym, that I keep forgetting to take pictures! We have been playing sight word basketball and sight word relay races. They are so simple, but the kids love them. Students must identify a sight word before they shoot the basketball or before they start their leg of the relay. A competitve edge is highly motivating. I carefully select the teams so they are equally matched and each race is very close.. That way no one is too upset or discouraged.

How do you get creative with your struggling students?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Running a School Wide Reading Program

This year I took over as leader of the school's reading incentive program. It has definitely been a learning experience, but I would like to share some of the things I have learned along the way

Build a Strong Team
Maintaining a program for the entire school requires a lot of manpower. Take all of the help you can get. For something that involves the entire school, you need the entire staff to make it successful. Some might be hesitant at first, but it is important to always emphasize that this is a community effort.

Build Excitement
The key to getting kids motivated to read is building excitement. You need kids to be excited about reading and excited about participating in your program. Which leads me to my next point...

Focus on Non-Monetary Incentives
Kids do NOT need expensive things to get excited. This is about the experience. Really, students should not need to be rewarded for reading, but there is no denying that rewards can be motivating. We have chosen to do a monthly raffle. When students read a certain amount, they get a raffle ticket. This goes into our "gumball" machine. Once a month, I draw 15 winners for some sort of "experience-oriented" prize. Some of our prizes have included: reading outside, free play in the gym, extra computer time, and lunch with the principal. Kids have LOVED this aspect of the program.

Steps are equivalent to a certain amount of hours in our district.
This is one of the ways to really get school-wide support. Initially, a few teachers were hesitant to give out the tickets. It was just one more thing to do. When their students did not win any prizes, though, they quickly changed their minds. Students talk to each other, and momentum grows quicker than you can imagine! Excitement is key! It really is the small things that matter!

A Little Healthy Competition
The key here is a little. Do NOT get carried away! This sort of thing isn't meant to have winners and losers. By being part of a team though, classmates can motivate those students who might be more reluctant readers. For March, we are having a reading tournament. The class that reads the most this month will advance to the next round. The winning class gets a pizza party!

Recognize Student Achievement
Unfortunately, as a first time leader of the reading program, I inherited a purchased program. There are some aspects of the program that I like, but next year I will change more. This first year, I felt I had to follow the program for the most part. One thing I like about the program is that it recognizes student achievement at an assembly. Students get to stand in front of their peers and be recognized for how much they have read. Students really enjoy this. 

Set Goals
We set a schoolwide goal for a certain percentage of students to read a certain amount. Halfway through the year, we had a movie and hot chocolate party to celebrate those students that were halfway towards meeting the goal. At the end of the year, we will have some sort of outdoor party.

Like I said, I am no expert, but I have certainly learned a lot this year. This is a big responsibility to take on, but it makes a huge difference to the kids. The key is working together as a school and inspiring kids to read!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Comparing and Contrasting Text in the Digital Age

These week I am working on a very important standards with my students: Comparing and contrasting two informational texts about the same topic. In the past, I have had students read two informational texts and compare these texts in their reader's notebooks. With the PARCC test looming around the corner, I thought it was time to venture into the 21st century!

I was lucky enough to attend a workshop earlier this month about using the Microsoft suite to update instruction in this digital age. After the workshop, I was itching to give these new tools a try. This is my first attempt!

For this lesson, I used OneNote. Unfortunately, my district only purchased accounts for the teachers and middle schoolers. Elementary students will receive accounts next year. For this reason, I had to make a few adjustments to my plan.

I created an "online binder" for this lesson. Normally I would assign elements from this binder to my students, but since they do not have accounts, I created a page for each students in my "binder."

To begin, students watched a video about how a robot called the VGo is being used in schools. The students had very little background knowledge about this topic, and the video really sparked their interest.

Then, students read two articles using the OneNote app on the iPad. Both of these articles were about how schools are using the VGo robot. Each article had one question that required students to type a response, while also highlighting evidence from the text.

We continued to use our RACE technique! Then, students created a Venn Diagram on the iPads comparing and contrasting the two texts. As the final activity, students answered a short answer question requiring students to analyze the way information was presented in each text, including the text structure. This answer was also constructed using the RACE strategy on the iPads.

Overall, the students were highly engaged in this lesson. They loved using the iPad for every step of this lesson. They're typing skills definitely need some refining. I am going to continue using OneNote for many lessons in the future!

How do you prepare students for reading and analyzing texts on the computer?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Role of Technology in Intervention Instruction

Today I am guest blogging over at Learn2Earn! I would love for you to stop by and let me know your thoughts! I am writing about the role of technology in intervention instruction.

How do you use technology in your intervention groups?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Guided Reading with Chapter Books!

For the past couple of years, I have been a little unsure about using chapter books during my guided reading intervention groups. I was nervous about the interruptions and breaking up the book too much, and I was also worried about being limited in which skills I could teach.

Now that I look back on it, I have no idea why I was so worried! Chapter books were just what my intervention groups needed! I picked two really great books from my grant this fall. My level L group read Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. The Uranium Unicorns from Uranus. This is a science fiction/graphic novel that my students were obsessed with. My level M group read Oh No! It's Robert! which has a great mystery that my students did not see coming at all!

Students used this graphic organizer to analyze the characters.

Using chapter books has given my students wonderful opportunities for cumulative review. We were able to practice several different skills at once. Choosing rich, complicated texts is key, though. These two chapter books had complex characters that provided several opportunities for meaningful analysis. The books also had interesting plots with problems, solutions, humor, and fantastic illustrations. 

Students used their reader's notebooks to keep track of problem and solutions encountered throughout the story, as well as cause and effect relationships.

We also continued to work on our written response questions. The chapter books gave us so many more opportunities for deep, meaningful questions! My students are getting better with the RACE strategy as well!

Keeping track of all the vocabulary, comprehension questions, skills, etc. can be complicated in these long chapter books. So...I made my own template! I am all about templates! Click on the image above for your own copy of the template!

At first my students were very nervous about reading the chapter books. Some of them even said they couldn't! Most students said they ended up loving the chapter books. They couldn't wait to read what happened next!

What are some of your favorite chapter books to use in guided reading?

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