Sunday, September 1, 2013

August in Review: Establishing Community

So I've just survived the first month of school with my new group of Firsties.  It's been both exhilarating and exhausting!  I'm sure that many of you will relate to that sentiment!  

I'd love to blog regularly as I love to write, so to get started I thought I'd write a series of blog entries to chronicle the first month of the new year.  Here goes.  :)

August 2013 in Review:
Establishing Community

Perhaps there is nothing more important than the atmosphere a teacher establishes in her classroom.  Because I realize that students will either thrive or fail within the four walls of our home away from home, creating a safe, fun, and challenging learning environment begins on day one.  

~I greet my students by name each morning at the door.  The benefits?  First of all, my students learn to expect me at the door and that I love their hugs!  They often tell me tidbits about their lives, which I remember to follow-up on the next day.  If a student has had a bad morning, I learn real quick by their body language and/or facial expressions.  This allows me the chance to inquire about their morning and offer any words of encouragement and support to help their day take a turn for the better!!  

~I dismiss my students at the door every afternoon.  The benefits?  Again, students leave me with hugs and tidbits of info about what they're doing.  Gives me something to talk to them about the next morning.  By greeting and dismissing this way, my students know that I love and care about them each individually.

~First Day of School Secret!  On the first day, I let my Firsties in on a secret...they are in my class for two reasons and two reasons only.  They are the {smartest} and {cutest} kids in the entire first grade!!  When I tell them my secret, I make them lean in real close so I can whisper.  Then I make them pinky promise to not tell the other teachers and/or first graders so their feelings won't be hurt.  

~Speaking and Listening is the very first focus lesson on the very first day of school!  It's more than common's about establishing respect for one another.  Eyes on the speaker and hands still (listener), voices loud and clear for all to hear (speaker)...and we build on from there.  Although my young students may not realize it, what they're learning in this initial lesson is that in our classroom, each student has something to say and it's worth hearing.

This isn't our Speaking and Listening chart, but one created to help ask questions. 

~Morning Meeting takes place every morning as soon as the tardy bell rings and the pledge has been recited.  Without fail.  We never, ever skip morning meeting!  I keep this time very simple.  First we use a greeting to say hello.  Many of my greetings are from the Morning Meeting book or have been found through google searches.  After the greeting, we begin the year with a Share time.  Each week, Firsties are required to sign up for a time to share.  They can bring something or simply tell something.  Once they give an initial statement, three classmates are called on to ask questions about the share.  The student sharing learns to respond in complete statements. Speaking and listening skills are a huge part of the share time, and this time allows us to become more familiar with one another.  By the end of September, share time will become Problem Solving time.  More on that later.  :)
Morning Meeting with my Peeps
Smartest AND doubt!!
~Story telling leads to great writing, so I infuse our days together with stories from my life.  I share funny stories about the trouble I got into as a child, stories about my children, and trials and triumphs of my life.  Sometimes instead of just telling my stories, I write them in front of the students.  Then I save my drafts to use in Writing Workshop focus lessons on editing and revision.  

~Do it because it's the right thing to do!  This becomes our classroom mantra!!  Instead of presenting a list of rules and then talking about consequences for breaking them and rewards for following them, we talk a whole, whole lot about "normal" behavior in the classroom, hallway, cafeteria, bathroom, playground, etc.  We compare normal behaviors of one environment to the normal behaviors of another.  Students practice and act out normal and not normal behaviors.  And they learn slowly but surely to do what's right simply because it's the right thing to do.  When I see them being kind and helpful I let them know how happy it makes my heart to see them taking care of one another.  

~Cookies just because!  At least every other week I pass around a treat at the lunch table.  For no reason other than I just love my Firsties!!

~Reading lots and lots of books is a natural way to bond with my students.  Some of my favorites are Lily's Purple Plastic Purse, Chrysanthemum, Edward the Emu, Edwina the Emu, Epossumondas, Charlie Anderson, That's Not My Hat, I Want My Hat Back, etc.  Actually, every book I read aloud is my favorite!!  I begin all read alouds by telling students "You won't believe what happens in this story!!" And before turning a page, something like, "Are you ready for this??"  Sharing my love of stories and getting students excited joins us all together in magical moments, strengthening our connection as a classroom family all the while creating a love of reading.

One of our first read alouds...already citing evidence from the text.  

~Students call each other by name.  I cannot say how important - in my opinion - this is to the unity of our classroom.  Especially the first three weeks of school,  when I can see the children need a break, I'll let them get up and practice greeting each other by name.  There is no finger pointing in our room: "That girl right there!"

~Just let loose!!  Dance, sing, tell jokes, laugh, be silly!  Have fun!


Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I clearly messed things up real good.  :(  I have no idea what went wrong but I'm hoping it's fixed ASAP.  My poor blog.

And 10 Years Later...My Next Post!

Oh.  My.  I'll never ever understand why I always think I'll be able to do everything in the summer!?!  No doubt it's a common teacher prob-lem-o!

There are several reasons for me not blogging, and I've spent many a sleepless night in bed thinking of all the topics I'd {like} to blog about.  But on those nights I was too tired to actually get out of bed and walk to the computer.  Sound familiar?  I thought it might for some you, too!

Reasons 1-3:
My 4-year-old, Bella, and her service dog, Dana.  They are always up to something!!

My almost-6-years-old, Ainslee, and softball All-Stars

And here he beautiful nephew born on July 5th, reason #3.  My little sister's first baby!  I just can't get enough of baby Max!!!  

 A couple of weeks ago I blogged about Read for Writing time in my first grade classroom, which I adapted from Ann Marie Corgill. 

BTW, Ann Marie wrote Of Primary Importance and spoke in my district last summer about writing workshop.  And guess what?!?!  I attended her workshop!!  And even better?? There's one more day to go!!  Woo hoo!

Tonight I'd like to blog about the rest of the early morning routine my Firsties followed last year and will hopefully follow this year as well. 

1. Good Morning!!!
Greeting each child at the door is a must for beginning every school day.  I treasure this time with my students.  They give me lots of sweet hugs and keep me informed of what's happening in their lives outside of school.   I can ask them about that doctor's appointment I knew they had or if their team won the football game.  I know immediately which students may have had a rough morning and try to make them feel better so their day can begin to improve.  I want my students to know that I care about them as indivduals, and greeting them at the door every morning is just one way to give them that one-on-one time.  By listening, remembering, and following-up.  And all with a heart-felt smile on my face.  Wouldn't we all like to be greeted like this every day?  :)

2. Word of the Day
After Christmas last year, I put up a "word of the day" board just inside the door. 

Your eyes do not deceive you!  This isn't a real word!  Every once in a while I invented a word using phoics rules we'd learned and parts of other words they should already know.  Made it a little fun!  :)

Students would read the word each time he/she passed it and at some point during the day we'd discuss it's meaning(s) and how/when this word could be used in reading and/or writing.

Up Next: Book Returns
The book lending system I used this year was a last minute idea and turned out to be super-duper easy.  After packing in the afternoons, Firsties recorded their name, date, and titles of books they were borrowing on sticky notes.  Sticky notes were placed in this basket by the word of the day.  Since I stand at the door every morning for 10-15 minutes greeting students, I could easily pull out the sticky notes for returned books and throw them away.  Sticky notes for books not returned remained in the basket until the child brought it back.  Easy peasy.  I'll take it!

Wish I could say that awful lookin' thumb wasn't mine! Geez!

Question of the Day
Next on the morning To Do list was Question of the Day. 

Sometimes the question would be completely random, but often times the questions were related to previous class discussions, current studies, or were seasonal.  I also have answer cards for "possible" and "impossible."  I tried to incorporate sight words, too.  Usually my Firsties would cluster around the charts and read questions together.  Definitely a fun part of our mornings!

Whew!  That seems like a lot when writing about it, but by September the little ones know this routine perfectly.  So after greeting me at the door, word of the day, unpacking, book check-in, and question of the day the students get busy with Read for Writing.  (That's all in a previous post.)

I think I'll save Morning Meeting for next time.  I'll leave with a picture of our Listening and Speaking Anchor Chart (CCSS) we created the first week of school. 
This anchor chart set the tone for establishing a respectful learning environment for all students. 

Laters Friends! 


Friday, June 29, 2012

Blog Award!

Teacher Mom of 3 passed on her Lovely Blog award to me and 14 other fantabulous blogs.  I now have the honor of passing it on to 15 more.

It was super sweet of you to think of me Teacher Mom of 3!  Thank you!

Once you receive the award, you must follow 3 rules:
1.  Follow the person that gave you the award
2.  Link back to the person that gave you the award
3.  Pass the award on to 15 new bloggers

Here are the amazing bloggers I am passing the award to.  Some of them don't appear to be brand spankin' new, but they're all new to me!  :)  I hope they haven't already received this award!!  Click on their badges to visit their blogs!

Glitzy in 1st Grade

Buzzing along in first grade

Little Priorities

 Grade 2.0 with Mrs. Adcock  

Mrs. Dwyer's a+ firsties

Teachin' first

Tonyas Treats for Teachers

Kickin' It in Kinder

Fluttering Through First Grade

 Liv to Teach


Fanatically First Grade


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What book made you fall in love with reading?

So I realize that I'm breaking bloggin' rules by posting twice in one day, but the post from this morning was really from yesterday.  It just happened to take a kazillion hours to finish it.  :(

I realize now that I probably should've spread that post about Read for Writing over 2 sorries!!  It was a little very long, huh?  I'll remember this next time...

And look what I finally learned to do:

It's so exciting!!!  I can upload a download button.  Woot!  Now if I can just figure out the Google Docs thingee...

One more thing --I couldn't believe it when Scholastic Teaching tweeted the following question today:

"Think back...What book made you fall in love with reading?"

Well of course I had to tweet about Sr. Juanita, Free Reading, and Beverly Cleary because all 3 played a huge role in my reading life.  

So if there's anyone reading this, how about sharing your answer on here?  I'd love to read what book/person/habits made you become a life-long reader.

And now I'll end with a few pics from when I taught 3rd grade.

Fiction Library in a back corner
I loved those reading tires!

Non-Fiction Library in a front corner
The fish tank was so very awesome...until it sprung a leak over Spring Break and made a huge, stanky mess!!

Gutter Library

Meeting Area


Get Your Groove On--Read for Writing Style!

How do you begin your  day at school?   I typically begin my day by visiting Sonic for a much needed Route 44 Coke with extra ice, checking emails and blogs I follow, maybe even Pinterest.  And then I get to the important part - visiting!  My assisstant, Kasey, and I had our chat time each morning before students came into the room.  I often told Kasey that the only *bad* thing about us working together was that we had too much important stuff to talk about.  Ha!

So true!  Found this on Pinterest!
Oh yes!!

Once upon a time, my third graders completed "morning work" when they arrived, but  years ago I decided to try something different.  I thought maybe students would like to ease into their days just like I did. 

Free Reading
Perhaps my fondest memory from elementary school is of Free Reading (FR) in Sister Juanita's 4th grade class.  Each day we had 20 minutes to read a book of our choice (while eating snack, might I add).  Oh, how I lived for those 20 minutes!!  (The only drawback was the smacking coming from the girl sitting next to me as she devoured  snack.  Gross!)    I began my love affair with books during FR, so why not try it with third graders?  So one day I gathered them on the rug and we created an anchor chart for Fe procedures.  Basically, students could read anything of their choosing either independently or with a friend.  I made sure students understood their conversations had to be centered around their reading.  After practicing, I turned them lose to enjoy FR.  It was a hit! 

Fast Forward
Last summer, I had the opportunity to attend a day long workshop by Ann Marie Corgill, author of Of Primary Importance.  (BTW, she's fantastic!!!)

Of Primary Importance

She talked about her Read for Writing (RfW) time which is similar to Free Reading.  Ann Marie set aside books her students would use as Mentor Texts in upcoming Writing Units, and they read them in place of morning work.  This prepared them for the genre of writing they'd soon be immersed in.  I tried this with my Firsties, and we all loved it!  At first, I strictly held them to the procedures on our RfW Anchor Chart stating only two students reading together at a time.  But as the year went on they just seemed to gravitate towards one another in groups of 4 or 5.  At times the noise level could get to be too much and I'd glance across the room in search of guilty Firsties.  What I'd find gave me goose bumps almost every dang time!  Despite the noise level, all I could see was 18 Firsties gathered in groups and totally caught up in either reading or discussing a text.  Did I say anything?  Nope!  No way!!

 Lil' cuties!!

Gracious, where do I begin?  My students bonded with one another during RfW time.  They didn't always stick with the same friend(s) either.  Groups seemed to form mostly on book interest, despite reading abilities.  The students especially devoured non-fiction books.  They learned multiple strategies for organizing books, how to care for books and share them, how to work together to read a book, and to recommend books to one another.  And did I mention what it did for their fluency?  Ah-mazing!  R4W time played a huge role in fostering a love for reading in my students. 

A Read for Writing shelf for CCSS Unit 6...along with a few other student favorites

By the last grading term, I had Firsties approaching me during the morning and throughout the day to share interesting facts from their non-fiction reading.  In fiction reading they were making text-to-text connections, recognize story elements, and beginning to notice character traits.  This is when I was able to direct students to graphic organziers they were already familiar with from previous lessons.  I'd say, "Grab a fact sheet and record interesting facts from your book.  Then you can share it with the class!" or "Grab a story comparison sheet and complete it with your friend.  Then you can share it with the class!"  We called this work "projects" for lack of a better word.  The fact sheets became so popular we could barely keep up with sharing!  They were added to a class book (binder) and became a part of our Classroom Library.  It's important to remember that students should have had ample practice with any graphic organizer before being turned lose with it for independent or partner work.  (I follow the gradual release of responsibility model which preps the students for being able to complete assignments independently.)

If you're wondering what I'm doing during RfW time, you only have to look to the door.  I {love} greeting my Firsties one-by-one at the door every single morning -- while sipping my Sonic Coke, of course! 

If you'd like to try Free Reading or Read for Writing, take time to think through your expectations of student behavior.  I firmly believe that we must be specific with our students if we're going to hold them accountable when they get it wrong.  Create an anchor chart with your Littles and post it on the wall.  Role play --Who can show me what RfW doesen't look like?  Who can show what RfW does look like? 

Questions for Reflection:
*What is your tolerance for noise level? and How will you hold them accountable?  (One of our favorite things to say was,"First Grade is Fun-tastic!"  I would count them off 1-2-3 in my quiet voice and we'd repeat that phrase in our quite voices.  Worked like a charm...usually!  Ha!)

*Where will books RfW books be housed? 

*Do you want to limit the reading to upcoming Mentor Texts?  Or do you prefer to open up reading to anything?

*Where will students be allowed to read?

*What will be the consequences for individual students who continue to do their own lil' sweet thing?  (I simply "grounded" these students from Read for Writing, and for x number of days they had worksheets waiting on them at their seats.  Believe you me, this very rarely happens!!!)

*How will my RfW time grow with my students if I'm teaching a lower grade growth is huge?? (Be using those graphic organizers and/or thinking maps throughout the year so they'll be ready to use them on their own.  I found lots and lots of resources on TpT!  The fact sheet and compare/contrast organizer I mentioned came from Michelle Oaks of Fabulous in First.  You can find it here.)

*How will you get the class' attention when it's time for Morning Meeting or whatever you'll do next?  I used several of these attention getters I found on here on Pinterest.  While we repeated the "getter" students moved their arms in a sunburst motion and had their hands clasped in front of them by the end.  No exceptions!  I didn't give my instructions for what to do next until all were in this "listening" position.

Pinned Image

And finally, I've spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out how to share the cover of our Fascinating Facts.  That's why you see the purple bubble border below but nothing else.  Ugh!!!!!!  Anyway, you can find the cover as a free download here on TpT (hopefully)! 

My next post will be about Morning Meeting.  Yay!


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Getting Started and Classroom Pics

Hello all!  Or no one!  Because as of right now I have one follower.  That's okay, though!  :)  I'm excited to just get started!

I originally created this blog {last}summer!!  It's now one year later.  I've survived (and loved) my first year teaching Firsties, had a blog make-over, and transferred to a new school. 

I follow lots of teacher blogs and love them all.  The first blog I came across a couple of years ago was The First Grade Parade -- Thanks, Megan!!  So last summer, feeling inspired from everyone else's amazing blogs, I thought, "What a great way to  document my year in first grade."  I have a lot of sharin' to do before the new year begins!!

About me...
Professional: I taught third grade for 11 years before moving down to first last year.  I totally fell in love with my Firsties and will be teaching first again this year.  It breaks my heart to think about not seeing my past students since I've moved, but I'm beyond excited about my new school!!  :)

Personal: I've been married for 13 years and have two girls.  Ainslee is almost 6 and Bella is 4.  Our lives are crazy for the typical reasons - full time jobs, ball, gymnastics, Pinterest addictions, blog stalking, etc. - but also because my Bella is a Type 1 Diabetic.  She was diagnosed on Christmas Eve at age 2.  Our lives revolve around checking blood sugar and monitoring carbs.  It's very tiring, frustrating, heartbreaking, and so on, but I'm so thankful she's still here for us to take care of.  :)

Blogging - I know just about nothing when it comes to blogging.  I'm a "baby blogger" and hope I don't break too many blogging rules as I learn the ropes.

For my first official post I thought I'd just post pics of last year's classroom.  Here goes.

 2011-2012 Classroom Pictures

View from the door

View from my assisstant's corner...and might I add...the best assisstant and friend ever!  Miss you, Kasey!

View from the Classroom Library

The Classroom Library - one of my top three fave spots in the classroom.  Arranging books in baskets with covers face-out by genre, author, and/or series makes it easier for the children to browse.  I also believe this  supports children in discovering and/or developing their reading interests.  The chair and couch add to the homey feeling of our classroom.  I just love it!  :)

Another pic of the classroom library.  On top of the black shelf are book tubs.  Students shop for books each week by following a schedule which hangs on the wall.  When I taught third grade, students book shopped first thing in the morning in place of Free Reading.  This past year, my Firsties were able to shop during their Finished Early time throughout the day.  I just loved watching them browse and help each other find particular books.  They knew our library inside-out.  I.  Love. That.

Book shopping schedule can be seen above the chair in the corner.

This spot is in my top 3!  I have such fond memories of my Firsties gathered around this table reading and writing together and working on special projects.  It's so satisfying as a teacher to see students work so well together learning from one another.  And without me leading them!!!

A non-fiction shelf

Another non-fiction shelf.  I've never had a group of students read so much non-fiction!!!

And here it is!  Perhaps my absolute most treasured classroom area.  No!  Wait!!  It has to be a tie with the Classroom Library.  I can't help it!  Anyway, this is where we began each day together during Morning Meeting.  This is where I met with small groups.  This is where Quinton displayed his magnificent break-dancing skills and students read together and played together and wrote together and applied math skills together.  And yes, this is where the baby goat peed on the state of New Jersery.  Sorry, but it's true!!

The red shelf to the left of the easel housed more non-fiction books. White shelves under the Promethean housed more book tubs.  This year I tried to spread out book tubs and writing and math supplies so that retrieving them wouldn't be so time consuming. 

Above the book tubs in this picture are the Word Wall pockets.  Words are moved into appropriate letter pockets after being displayed for a while on the Wonderific Words chart.  I'll write more about this in a future post.

The Rockin' Guitar behavior clip chart was developed by Abby of The Inspired Apple.  You can read more about it here

Writing folder on top and supplies
 on shelves

My genius assisstant turned a cubby on its side to create more storage.  The purple (girls) and red (boys) trays hold unfinished work.

The crate on the left held extra handouts and copies of the Gumball timed tests from Made For 1st Grade.  You can read more about that here on TpT.

The crate on the right held Finished Early activities, such as Read and Write the Room sheets and graphic organizers.  I'll write more about this in a future post.  :)

Gracious!  That took a while to get through because every time I tried to delete a picture, several disappeared.  I'll be back tomorrow (actually, later today since it's after midnight) to share more.