Writing Practice

Our school Learning Improvement Plan (LIP) focuses on writing. In Grade One the writing curricular expectation is that students write 5+ sentences on a familiar topic, with a main idea and details present in 6+ word sentences. The sentences must include capitalization, appropriate spacing, and beginning punctuation use. Students use new vocabulary learned, accompany their written work with illustrations, and engage in “fix-ups” with teacher support. The writing progress that Grade One students display from the beginning of the year when they are still working on writing their names and/or copying single sentence models to the end of the year when they are engaged in the beginning steps of the writing process is truly remarkable and one of the reasons I think teaching Grade One is the best!

In my room, I am ensuring that students have a strong writing foundation to work from. We are focusing on the basics of letter formation using prompts, songs, and materials from the Handwriting Without Tears program and a multi-sensory approach. My students have loved creating letters with the wood piece set that comes with the program and we are often found singing “Start Your Letters At the Top.” This week we put my whiteboard tables to use to put “pen-to-paper” so to speak but with a ton more student engagement! The students keep asking to write their letters again and they were able to work for a half an hour (I planned for 10 minutes tops but there was no stopping them)!

We will be writing our letters in shaving cream trays next week. We will also be using play dough and wikki stix for letter formation. With their engagement levels high and their interests peaked, it will be no time until they are reaching the writing goals! It makes my teacher heart oh-so happy!

Task Bag Learning

Today we will be talking about learning with task bags. I worked alongside my Educational Psychologist, Jenn Osberg, and my Consultant, Michelle Michaluk, to create literacy, math, fine motor, and life skills task bags that would meet the needs of my learners. As a primary Student Support Teacher, task bags are part of my regular intervention and we love them because they:

  • are play-based and hands-on
  • cover a variety of curriculum and/or individual outcomes
  • are simple to use and model (if another teacher or Educational Assistant will be implementing them)
  • include high-interest materials
  • promote student engagement
  • can be accomplished quickly (5-10 minutes of practice)
  • can be used with 1-3 students to add social goals, such as sharing and turn-taking
  • are quick interventions that reinforce previously taught outcomes
  • are easy and cost effective to create
  • can be created from “Busy Bag” idea books, simple internet searches, or unused items around the classroom

I have used my task bags with a variety of students, particularly a student who could only say two words when they started in our Kindergarten program. Task bags became an easy way to develop this student’s vocabulary, name recognition knowledge, and keep them engaged. What I like most about these task bags is that after modeling the use of the task bags a few times, they are easy for any other adult to take and use and they fit nicely into any schedule. I use my task bags for intervention times. I have also used them for additional literacy and math practice with Kindergarten students who need additional practice time after our centers. It is quick and easy to pull them for 5-10 minutes and target the specific concept and can be done within their classroom. In the classroom, these task bags could be set up as a center after teacher modeling/explicit instruction. I recommend using task bags with 1-2 students but I have used them with up to 3 learners.

 

I have organized my task bags into two shelves and four categories: 

 

a) early math skills

 

 

b) early literacy skills

 

c) fine motor skills

 

d) life skills  

There are countless other tasks bags that could be made and I hope you find use for them in your own room. Please find the task bag labels and instructions attached: Task Bag Instruction Templates. Happy teaching!

 

Classroom Library

Today we will be talking about classroom libraries! The Saskatchewan Reads document states that “libraries play an important role in supporting and engaging students as readers. “They provide environments rich in information, literature, and technology that, together with effective instruction, enable students to achieve curriculum learning outcomes and acquire the attitudes and skills for lifelong learning” (Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2008, p. 1).” It is recommended to have books around the room, in addition to on the shelf, and students can assist with this book selection. I plan to display books on top of the shelves once I have read them aloud to the students. Another option is to switch out books based on current units of study and/or student interests. Routman (2014) states that “excellent classroom libraries” should be of top priority “ahead of the latest technology, resources, programs and standards. It is only through wide, self-selected reading that we will produce proficient and joyful readers as well as writers” (p. 99). It has been one of my main back-to-school priorities, as I know the importance of a well-stocked and organized classroom library for student literacy achievement.

 

My classroom library has both leveled books (blue bins) and interest books (green bins). Students select from both blue and green bins to fill their individual pouches so that during guided reading they have books to keep them engaged and improving during read-to-self and partner reading. Having students self-select these books regularly helps avoid interruptions to my guided reading lessons, as students are excited to read. Students get to choose where to sit, whether it is the reading cubbies, couch, Tipi, swivel chair, standing desk, carpet, or pretty much anywhere but the roof! We even get to enjoy the outdoor classroom space in the fall and summer.

 

When students are both comfortable and interested, classroom management takes care of itself. Well… pretty much. We do have to go over stamina training (graphing time on-task to meet a class duration goal) and lessons on the “Right Fit” books using the 5 Finger strategy. 

Scholastic notes that “experts claim a classroom library should have at least 20 books per student, so a typical class of 28 students would have a classroom library of close to 600 books.” While that may seem like a lot of books, 20 books per student is on the lower end, especially when considering the diverse learning needs in our classrooms. I am proud to say that I have grown my classroom library to 500 books over the past three years. I found the best sources are garage sales, family members and friends with young children, and talking to administration. As a Student Support Teacher, the number of students that I serve varies so 500 books feels like the right amount… for now!

The changes I made this year to my classroom library were to my green bins, or interest book sections. I created more sections so that books can be found easier. I used to put multiple categories in a bin but this just didn’t work for student put-back. Using the labels I found, I created 12 categories: Friends, Family, Cultures/Canada, ABCs, Math, Weather/Seasons, Animals, Fiction, Feelings, Good Character, School Stories, and rhymes and poetry. There are many other categories but I found these worked best with my previous system. The labels were easy to use and I printed the bin labels on Avery 8168 labels. The corresponding book labels were printed on Avery 8293. Everything printed well and it looks visually appealing but not too distracting (in case you are interested in these labels for your own classroom).

 

My hope is that students will be able to select books that they are interested in and also put them back in the correct bins. I will explicitly show them how to select and re-shelf books. At this time, I will also explore with students the books that can be found in each section and we will move books around if needed so that it makes sense to the kids. The system is self-explanatory enough that educational assistants, substitute teachers, co-teachers, administrators, and parents will be able to come into my room and select and re-shelf books to read with learners without me having to explain things. This should help books stay where they should.

My blue bins, or leveled books, are relatively the same as last year with a color-coded dot that roughly correlates to 2 levels of Fountas and Pinnell. I am not too worried about each book being precisely leveled as students will learn how to select “Just Right” books. The idea is that they are reading books that are within their level so that they can build fluency, maintain comprehension, and feel successful, albeit while still being challenged.

Class 18

I am beyond excited to share the classroom library with a new set of learners and some returning friends! As I always say, reading is succeeding!

Our Favorite Learning Tools!

I asked my Grade 1s to share some of their favorite tools for learning! Here are their top picks:

Emotions/Classroom Community:

This year I combined Inside Out lessons with our Bucket Filling, good/poor choices, and Zones of Regulation emotional programming. I have found that the students are more engaged with the lessons and are able to relate better.. (this could be because we watch the movie together with some delicious popcorn!?). The “Let’s Talk About” book series is also a learning tool that we utilize.

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Zones of Regulation Curriculum by Leah Kuypers

 

Reading:

The Grade 1s enjoy Flashlight Fridays and using our slinkies to sound out words, our ropes to retell a story, and our mirrors to visualize our pronunciation of words and letter sounds!

 

 

Sight Word and Alphabet Learning:

The students love forming letters with magnets, salt, play dough, and shaving cream. Writing on our Buddha boards and chalkboards is always fun, too! Some alphabet and sight word games that they enjoy are: upper/lower match boxes with popsicle sticks, bowling, fishing, balloon pop, ball toss, golfing, toppling bunnies, scavenger hunts, fly swatter, cup stacking, bingo dabber, egg flip, and toppling towers sight word/alphabet games. We enjoy sounding out CVC words on our pool noodles and by jumping in our hula hoops. As a teacher, my favorites are the word walls and my Lakeshore rhyme and alphabet buckets with initial sound or word family toys/examples. The picture cards are also a great find! As always, I recommend the Florida Center for Reading Research for engaging, research-based phonics and phonological awareness games.

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Books, Books, Books

Here are some classroom Book Teaching Resources that I am fortunate to be able to share with my learners. I have found that having a categorized system ensures that no book gets left behind!

What are some books that you love to use in the primary grades? What organizational system works for you!? Happy reading!

Reading Intervention Planning

This year I had the opportunity to attend a Joyful Literacy Reading Summit in Saskatoon. We learned all about helping struggling readers thrive through a games-based approach. I spent the next couple months trying to implement my newfound knowledge into my teaching, as it positively applies to my work as a Student Support Teacher. So far the kids are loving the games and our Grade 1 reading scores are improving!

With my brain full of great ideas and seemingly not enough hours in a day, my first step was to read Putting on the Blitz by Janet Mort. The text offers ideas about setting up meaningful interventions and there are great game-based resources and examples to learn from. My task was to try and figure out how this would work for my students and within my environment with the resources allotted to me. The next step was to approach my room and resources with a different lens. I had to figure out what I already had in my room that could be used to create game-based phonics and phonological awareness interventions. Suddenly fly swatters were looking like tools for learning in our Sight Word Splat instead of for their intended use! However, I did also have to purchase resources and took advantage of great finds at the Dollar Store, as well as, the Teacher Tax Credit. It is amazing what resources you can find when you look at things with a different perspective.

With significantly less  money in my pocket, my next step was to pull everything together and create a phonics and phonological awareness intervention year plan. This year plan utilizes the games that I have already created in my classroom, as well as, the Florida Center for Reading Research’s Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading curriculum. If you are a primary teacher and especially if you are a primary Student Support Teacher, I highly recommend taking the time to utilize this resource. It does take a lot of time to create – printing each game on cardstock, cutting, laminating, labeling the resources in Ziploc bags, and filing – but in the end you have hundreds of age-appropriate lessons, games, and assessments that focus on phonological awareness, phonics, comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary. The best part is that it is research-based and the kids are highly engaged by the games! They ask me to play them again and again!

The intervention plan is flexible in regards to the proposed timelines and activities – the students’ understanding will dictate the speed in which you proceed or review concepts and your classroom resources and game creations will vary from my own but can easily be incorporated into this plan. There are Saskatchewan curriculum connections. And since reading intervention is one piece of the literacy pie for my Grade 1’s, I have included guided reading plans with reading strategies and resources.

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I find that having this intervention plan posted in my room allows for easy planning in my Weekly Planner, which can also be adjusted to meet your planning needs. This planner helps when you need a substitute teacher due to an unforeseen event, such as illness. At a quick glance, my substitute teacher is informed about our daily activities, where to find the materials, who I am teaching at what time, and the behavior and academic needs of my learners. So far I am finding that the two resources work nicely together.

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May your literacy and intervention planning be as joyous as your play-based teaching!

Early Literacy and Guided Reading Lesson Plans

Attached are three lesson plans I use for Early Literacy and Guided Reading intervention times. I recommend using Dawn Reithaug’s letter recognition and sound assessment and The Phonological Awareness Aligned to the Hierarchy assessment to form groups based on need. Then divide your learners into early literacy groups (red) and guided reading (yellow) and change groups according to assessment results. I like to check each month formally (summative) using the assessment. For daily (formative) checks, I recommend creating an excel document with all the children’s’ names and all the letters. Pick a letter each day to test them at random (make sure it has been explicitly taught before) and note if the child knows the sound and/or letter. For instance, Child A might be shown letter ‘m’ and Child B might be shown letter ‘c.’ You can do the same thing with basic sight words for your yellow group.

Early Literacy Lesson Plan 

Guided Reading Intervention Lesson Plan

Guided Reading Intervention Lesson Plan – Option 2

Note: I print multiple of these lesson plans out and put them in a folder, which I clip after each day. By keeping a similar format and having copies easily accessible I can plan my next lesson in 10 minutes (depending on the activity)! I can easily highlight what we will be doing the next day and note any letters that need reviewing based on the data or any adaptations for specific kids. It also helps to keep the “I Can Statements” up in the room to save time. Please view Resources for a First Year SST for specific early literacy and guided reading resources.

Happy planning!

Flickr 5 Card Picture Stories to Spark Creativity in ELA

Here is my example:


Five Card Story: Parking in a Delivery Zone

a Five Card Flickr story created by Kourtney:


flickr photo by bionicteaching


flickr photo by bionicteaching


flickr photo by bionicteaching


flickr photo by bionicteaching


flickr photo by bionicteaching

Due to the overflow of humans on the planet we call earth, parking can be a real nightmare. In a haste to get your morning donut, you ignore that “no parking: delivery zone” sign.” You rebel, you! But as luck would have it, today is delivery day! The Pepsi worker/deliverer is definitely unimpressed. They park down the street but just as they are about to start hauling the boxes of delicious goodness, they decide it’s too early in the morning to deal with this garbage! The driver gets back in their semi still full of product and burns some rubber on the pavement. Just as you walk out of the store, you hear a screeching sound and the smell of rubber. “Uh-oh” you think. The owner of the store comes out in a fury and tells you that you are no longer allowed to buy donuts or order those weird looking leafy things that you always devour. Was it squash? Was it zucchini? You didn’t even know but you loved them. Furthermore, the store owner takes the Lord’s name in vain and points at the sign: “we bill you with toll-by-plate.” The worst part is the owner took the donut right from your hand. How can all this happen before 9 a.m., you think? Back to following the rules… but first to get away before the cops arrive!


I think this can be a great activity to use in ELA classrooms to spark creativity, introduce the writing process, and help with breaking the ice a bit. You could also edit stories and work on grammar/spelling, etc. Plus, it is a great opportunity to add humor into the classroom, which strategies such as SHEMR (sing, humor, emotional connection, movement-based, and repeat) by William Bender encourage.

What ways do you bring humor and creativity into your classroom to engage learners?

ELA and Digitial Citizenship Resources and Activities

Resources (as suggested by Donawa and Fowler in Reading Canada Chapter 6).

 “Fan fiction writers use pre-existing fictional characters from an original work to develop alternative relational, situational, and plot events which they self-publish for one another… fan fiction makes up 33 percent of all content revolving around books [on the web]” (in Boos, 2008)”” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 186)

“Carlie Webber (2009) points out that school assignments like writing a letter from Mercutio to Romeo are fan faction: “You put your own spin on someone else’s story”” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 186).

Activities (as suggested in Reading Canada by Donawa and Fowler 2013)

  1. Role-play
  2. Use Cross-Country Bookshelf to get students to present about authors
  3. Movie trailers
  4. Canada Read’s to debate and defend book of choice

“The concept of play (good for the brain and emotions) requires the students to know the story, setting, characters, and themes to be able to participate. The result tends to be higher order thinking and more elaborated conversation, including more extensive understanding by the young adult readers” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 187).

Vocabulary through College Talk and Participation through Talk Moves

College Talk: Improving Students’ Vocabulary”

The College Talk strategy from the Teaching Channel allows teachers to use complex vocabulary words in simple phrases. For instance, instead of “stop talking” it is “stop socializing.” Students eventually repeat this over time. Although this is gauged for younger students, I think it is something to try in secondary classrooms. Vocabulary walls are also important!

What ways do you improve students’ vocabulary? How is grammar instruction implemented in your classroom?

Improving Participation with Talk Moves

To make sure students do not check out as another student answers the question, this teacher calls on students to repeat the answers. This means that all students must listen because they never know when they are going to be called on! This  is not used as punishment or to embarrass a kid for talking; anyone could be called. They also use a silent signals (waving their hands) to show that they have the same answer or idea. This encourages the student who is speaking because they can see that their classmates have a similar idea. However, no interruptions are made. Students get a chance to revise their ideas when they are confronted with new information. Students learn that coming to a new understanding by merging information is normal and expected. This, once again, shows an elementary school class but I think the same strategies can be applied in secondary classrooms (ie. Cold Call).

What other strategies can you think of that foster participation?