Creating a safe place for students in our classrooms is so important as it allows them to take a break, develop coping skills, work through their emotions, and ultimately, feel safe, regulated, and calm so that they can learn. Safe spaces come in all shapes and sizes and help a variety of learners. Here are a few of my examples:
I typically incorporate visuals of emotions from the social-emotional program(s) we will be learning that year (such as Zones of Regulation, Mind Up, Inside Out + Zones, Circle of Courage, etc.), good/poor choices cards, and breathing/calm down/yoga activities. I like to keep the space cozy and sensory-focused with sensory bottles and/or fidgets, noise-cancelling headphones, weighted and non-weighted stuffed animals and blankets, and a personal space like a comfy chair, cushion, couch, or tent. As the year goes on, students will identify a tool-kit of strategies that works for them that is available in the area. The idea is that they can use the area as needed, identify how they are feeling, and self-select (or accept) a strategy to regulate and get back to the task at hand. I find that having a safe space actually increases student learning time as long as explicit instruction about the area/strategies occurs. Best of all, students are more regulated and calm!
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!
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
Numeral Match Counting
Counting and Turn-Taking
Numeral Match Counting
Color and Shape Matching
b) early literacy skills
Pre-Writing Shapes +Wiki Sticks
Shaving Cream Letters/Names
c) fine motor skills
Push-In Buttons and Shapes
Push-In Pom Poms
Lacing and Beading
Pre-Cutting and Pre-Writing Lines
Laces, Buttons, Zippers (practice while on the learner)
Push-In and Pull-Out
Grasping Pom Poms
d) life skills
Potato Head Body Parts
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Foods Sort
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!
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.
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!
Wow! I have no idea where the time went, but here I am a week away from my 3rd year of teaching. Over the last couple of years I have been working towards creating a positive, safe, and inclusive classroom learning environment. Here is what the room looks like this year:
I have divided my room into 5 zones: a) the guided reading zone; b) the instruction zone; c) the self-regulation zone; d) the student reading zone; and e) my teacher zone.
The guided reading zone is quite similar to how it was last year with a word wall featuring the Fountas and Pinnell words from the 25 and 50 lists, a moving whiteboard, a horseshoe table and large chairs so student have the option to sit or stand, and my “don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover” comfy green chair. This space is great for small group guided reading lessons, Fountas and Pinnell reading intervention, and playing the many beloved phonics and phonological awareness games.
The student reading zone has been updated with whiteboards for word work and writing practice. I added mats with Velcro (a bit heavier than cupboard liners) to make the reading cubbies an even better place to be! This area is a classroom favorite. It is the perfect place for learners to read-to-self while I am working with a small group in the guided reading zone (from this spot I can see what all of the kids are up to!). Students also enjoy Flashlight Fridays in these spaces and are often found cuddled up with a pillow, book in hand.
The instruction zone features the Letterland alphabet train, a letter carpet, plants, and book shelves that divide the guided reading, instruction, and self-regulation zones. This year I have add a curtain to one of the shelves to keep the contents out of sight and out of mind. I also reorganized my books into classroom collections and student resources; I am hoping that I have made it student-friendly enough that students can select books at their level and return them to the right bin… only time will tell. This space is where the whole-class instruction occurs and where we learn about rules and procedures, such as Whole Body Listening. One of my main focuses this year has been alternative seating. In this area, I now have a blue rocking chair, a blue swivel egg chair from Ikea, and 3 sit disc cushions. I have also used bed risers to turn one of my hexagon tables into a standing table. I painted all of the tables with Rustoleum Dry-Erase Whiteboard paint. I am excited to see the look on the kids’ faces when I tell them they can draw on the tables!
The self-regulation zone still has the black comfy couch, some pillows, Telemiracle teddies, and weighted dogs. This year I have added a weighted blanket and replaced my colorful tent (which is now in another calm-down area in the school) with a tipi that I won from One Tribe (check them out on Facebook to grab your own custom-made tipi)! I’m quite excited about this space and think it goes well with the Circle of Courage poster and teachings already in place. This space is a calm-down space for students and a space where students can work one-on-one with an educational assistant on task bags, reading, etc. The space is private due to the bookshelf and the pocket chart (with the daily schedule on one side and good/poor choices on the other side). From my spot in the instruction, guided reading, or teacher zones I can still see the students in the area without there being an entire audience. The students are given the chance and the tools – such as fidgets, timers, and Zones of Regulation and Inside Out visuals – to work out their emotions in a safe place.
Finally, there is the teacher zone. Nothing has changed (except for all of the knowledge learned). The stop sign remains on the desk but what student would want to be in that space anyways? Textbooks or a tipi? Reading rubrics or a reading cubbie? The choice is pretty simple!
I am looking forward to another year in the classroom and cannot wait to see how the kids respond to the environment, grow and learn, and build relationships with their peers. As George Evans notes, “every student can learn, just not on the same day, or in the same way” and this is the space just for that!
I asked my Grade 1s to share some of their favorite tools for learning! Here are their top picks:
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.
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.
A glimpse into my room! So far I am loving the calm-down area (equipped with a tent, a couch, fidgets, timers, and the Zones of Regulation!!), the reading cubbies, and the guided reading horseshoe table. I am very fortunate to have such a wonderful space to get to share the wonder of reading and literacy with my learners!
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.
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.
May your literacy and intervention planning be as joyous as your play-based teaching!