Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Independent Centers ~ Getting Started

One of my favorite times during the school day is guided reading with small groups. It is a time when you can really focus on just what your students need. Plus, working with just a few students at a time allows you to get to know them a little better.

My small group table ~ it's not always this tidy looking!
But... (Yes, there is always a big but.) What about the other kids? I'm lucky to teach in a district with small low class sizes. (I typically have 18.) So, when I'm having fun working with the four kids at my table, what about the other 14 kids? That's where lots and lots of practice comes in.

I like to introduce working in station the first week of school (NOT the first day ~ geez, I'm just trying to survive & get them on the correct bus home.) Depending upon my group, we start building stamina on the second or third day. That first week of school isn't really academically rich; your time is spent mostly practicing procedures over and over. (...and over and over...) I've found that my students LOVE to work on building independent station stamina.

In order to get them to the place where I can meet with my small groups, I need to get everyone working at their stations. This is a daunting task! There is no way to get around the fact that you need to practice, practice, practice.

First, we cruise around the room and look at the different work stations so they know where they are located. Some stations are at tables, some on a shelf, some are in bins that can be taken to various spots around the room. The following photos are from past years ~ once the kids knew how to work independently.







Once we've taken a quick tour of our room, I ask the kids if they would like to try out the stations. Of course, this question is met with an enthusiastic yes! Before releasing them to stations, we discuss our classroom rules (I use the rules from Whole Brain Teaching.) We talk about how we also have rules for working in our stations: 1. Walk to your station. 2. Get started working right away. 3. Work quietly for the entire time. (We talk about how they are allowed to talk with their partner, but need to use quiet voices.) 4. Stay at your station. (If it is something in a bin, they can put it back to get another one when they are finished, but they can't roam around the room.) 5. When the timer goes off, quickly & carefully clean up your materials, and meet on the carpet. (I use a chime ringtone on my phone's timer.)

I assign my students the stations they go to each day. The stations have lots of choices within them. (When we are working on stamina, there are far fewer choices.) Typically, two students work at a station at a time. I've tried different numbers at a station, and have found that the kids are more likely to actually work when they have a partner rather than a group. Get my Literacy Station Rotation Cards Freebie  HERE.

Ok, so by now we have had a quick tour of the work spaces, and gone over the rules. Yay! We are ready to go. The kids go to their assigned stations & start to work on building stamina. Because the work of building stamina is pretty hard, the tasks need to be pretty easy. Your little beginners need activities that require little to no instruction, don't take a long time to set up, do, and clean up. It's important to remember that at this point, the task isn't as important as the practice working independently is.

A few cans of playdough, puzzles, picture books, coloring books, and small building blocks are good choices for your practice sessions. Simple to use card activities also work well for your little learners. I have a set that contains four sets of five different activities that are perfect for early learning stations. Check them out HERE.  The cards can also be used in morning tubs or for early finishers.







Your first "rounds" of station work will probably only last a few minutes. If you have a lot of off task behavior, gather the kiddos together and discuss the rules again. You may want to make an anchor chart to serve as a visual reminder of your expectations. Set your timer again & let them try it again.

As the kids get adept at staying at their stations, working the entire time, and staying on task, you will want to replace the more "toy-like" materials with things that are a little more academic. (You will still want to keep it simple, though.)

After the first week of practice, if the kids are able to stay on task for five or more minutes, I like to pull individual kids to my table to do some quick checks to see what they know so I can eventually form my small groups.

It takes lots of diligent practice, modelling, and reminders to get your kids ready for independent work. But, it pays off big time! Every class is different, so don't try to set a specific time frame for when you begin your guided reading groups. I've had groups ready to work independently while I pull small groups after about three weeks of practice, some take more time. Don't rush it! Taking time to practice, practice, practice will create a class that knows how to work independently. Good luck & have fun!

PS: If you want to quickly gather info on what your newbies know, you may be interested in my "What Do You Know Quick Check Bundle." Check it out HERE


Monday, May 7, 2018

I Appreciate You ~ TpT Gift Card Giveaway!

I know that we teachers don't do what we do for the accolades (or the money), but it is nice to be appreciated once in a while. So, Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Today our awesome PTO kicked off the week with an adorable Trail Mix Bar. The table was covered with a textures "bumpy road," complete with grass growing in the cracks & potholes! The bags held things like popcorn, M&Ms, nuts, and pretzels, etc. for us to create our own snack mix.


Pin this! Isn't it seriously cute?? It would be a fun construction themed birthday party tablescape.


The end of our "Road Work" is coming up soon! Out last day is May 25! (Where did the time go??)


I can't wait to see what goodies PTO has planned for the rest of the week! 
Hopefully, you are being spoiled, too! :-)

It may not be a street full of snacks, but I want to give away a $10.00 gift card to one lucky winner. 
Good luck!




a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, March 5, 2018

Podcasts ~ Who Knew?

Recently I went on a trip to Cleveland with my daughter who owns a cute boutique in town. We attended a makers' fair so she could find some new artisan products for her inventory. (Her store, Aster + Gray, features American artisan made products ~ check out her Facebook page HERE.) When we hit the road, Gabrielle asked me if I wanted to listen to some Disney podcasts as we traveled. I have to say I was a bit skeptical about listening to what I thought would be boring. To my surprise I found them to be very interesting. Our family's love of all things Disney goes way back, and the podcasts provoked some fond memories & sparked some good conversation for Gabrielle and me.

When I came home, I decided to check out some podcasts on my own phone. I had to look on my "Utilities" screen of my phone in the folder that contains those apps I never look at, but can't delete. After locating the podcast app, I set about searching for interesting things to listen to. Was I ever surprised to see the variety of topics! There is something for everyone: Entertainment, inspiration, education (could this count as Professional Development?), etc. After browsing through all the categories I put several "shows" into my library & to listen to as I do housework, get ready in the morning, workout, etc. So far I've only listened at home using WiFi (no need to actually save to your phone if you are on WiFi.) If I wanted to listen when I work outside or drive somewhere I would download them to my phone instead of using data.

The road trip to Cleveland not only let Gabrielle discover some new artisans (I can't wait for her new jewelry & tea to arrive!), but opened my eyes (umm ~ ears) to the amazing world of podcasts. I'm actually thinking about taking that little lost app out of the "Productivity" AKA "boring stuff I can't delete" folder & moving it to my purple page!




Here is a peek at Gabrielle's custom made counter ~ made by a local carpenter from deconstructed barns. Just about everything you see in this picture was made by American artisans; many of them from area. If you haven't checked out Gabrielle's store's Facebook page yet, HERE it is again. Better yet, if you happen to live in NW Indiana stop in!

Happy Listening!





Tuesday, February 6, 2018

What Do You Know? Progress Monitoring


The need for data on your students never ends ~ whether you need to provide scores to your admin, you are planning differentiated instruction, or are forming small groups. But, gathering all that data can be a time consuming task!

I wanted a way to get the info I needed without having to block out large amounts of time, so I created my Quick Checks & Progress Monitoring set. None of the assessments take more than 10 minutes, and some of them really only take about a minute or two. Many assessments can be done whole group to get a quick benchmark on everyone. Progress monitoring can then be done to keep tabs on your kiddos' growth.


I have found that a binder is the best way for me to keep all my testing materials organized. Use page protectors to hold the masters of each assessment. I like to tape the tabs directly onto the page protectors with a little clear packaging tape. (I also put some on the back side of each tab to keep the them securely in place.) For assessments that have half sheet record pages, I like to keep a dozen or so copies in the binder so they are ready to go whenever I need to do a quick check. Because the pages are in clear pockets you don't have to take them out of the binder! (I like this ~ I'm less likely to lose the pages if they stay IN the binder!)


Some assessments have more than one version ~ like the letter naming assessment. For those, you can save paper by printing on both sides. Keep the record sheets in the next pocket.


You can easily get benchmark scores on your whole class with many of the assessments. Have everyone do the quick check at once & progress monitor those kiddos who need extra practice. My team uses these forms to help us to gather information for our quarterly report cards. It's a real time saver to be able to assess everyone at the same time!




The quick checks come with a variety of progress monitoring assessments.Choose whichever best fits your needs.


Assess & monitor both literacy & math skills! See the slides below for more details on what's included.
















This set is available in a bundle with my Beginning of the Year Quick Check set ~ read about it HERE.
Get your bundle HERE.




Thursday, July 6, 2017

What Do You Know?

We give our incoming Kinders a screening in the spring to get a little glimpse of what they know & to make dividing them into classes a little easier. But, while it is helpful for making up the class lists, the spring screening doesn't give me an up-to-date picture of just what my little newbies know. I wanted a quick way to check on some key skills as early in the school year as possible. Because beginning of the year kindergarten is so calm and orderly crazy and hectic, I created a set of quick checks that were quick & easy to do. Really, each quick check only takes a minute or two per student & can be done while the other kiddos are working independently. (Stuff like playdoh, manipulatives, coloring ~ simple activities that will keep them engaged for a little while.) If you are lucky enough to have an aide enlist her to  help! Our teaching assistant is super fast & gets so much done while I am working with the rest of the kids. This year I will have a student teacher from day one. Guess what she is going to help me do! 


Because incoming Kinders are all over the place as far as exposure and what they can do I like to  do some simple checks after the first few days of school. We are still getting to know each other & naming colors, drawing a person, and sorting are usually pretty low-stress for the students. They generally are able to fly through these checks. The only things I laminated were the pages with color because I wanted to protect my "toner investment" ~ everything else is printed onto card stock or regular copy paper.


I like to keep a check list of the students' developmental skills. Most of the time they are right on target, but it gives good data if you need to seek RtI for anyone.



Pick whichever format works best for you ~ pages or cards. Some children are easily overwhelmed by a page full of numbers, so looking at one card at a time might help them to be successful ~ or at least a little less nervous. 


If you want to see how high they can count you can write it in the corner of the top record sheets. Once I've heard a kid count to 100 a couple of times, I declare them able to count to 100, so I like to  keep track of how high they can count. Time saver at the end of the year!


Use the page as is, cut apart for cards, or give your students little picture cards to count. 


I do check the kids on solid shapes just to see if anyone know what they are. I usually get one or two who know some of the 3D shapes. **Even though my set includes a picture page for solid shapes I usually use actual solid shapes.


Some kids know all their letters, and others, well not so much. Like counting to 100, once a student has correctly named all the uppercase & lowercase letters I declare that they know all of them. As the year goes on & the skills get harder it saves time when testing my kiddos if I don't have to listen to everyone name letters.


If you find that your students get overwhelmed by a sheet full of letters, you can use these letter cards. The cards are also great for a quick review ~ keep them handy & pull them out to review with all of your students, a small group, or one little cutie.


Technically you could use the same pages from above, but I like to have a separate set for each skill. When I'm ready to do a quick check it's handy to be able to grab everything I need. 


Each quick check is clipped together as a set, making your life easier! Be sure to attach a master copy of each record sheet. That way if you need to progress monitor students you can quickly make some more sheets as needed. 


I happened to have this Rubbermaid storage container. (I tried to find a link to purchase it, but couldn't. Maybe it's no longer available. This container from Sterilite might be a good alternative.) Anyway, I have this container that fits all of the quick check materials AND, my clipboard. It's sooo difficult (at least for me) to keep everything organized at the beginning of the year ~ and maybe later in the year... Knowing that everything I need for BOY quick checks is all in one place makes me happy. 




When I'm ready to check my kids on their skills, I grab the materials from my bin and get started. This data sheet is included with my set. The name fields are editable, but I couldn't figure out how to rotate the editable fields for the top part. Maybe it's not possible (does anyone know if you can rotate editable fields with Adobe?) 


Get this editable student record sheet when you subscribe to my newsletter! Click HERE to get it now.


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