Tuesday, April 15, 2014


This year, I have a group of little friends who can sometimes give up a little too easily. And maybe some friends who want to do the minimum required. And some others who give up after one try. And maybe some more who only try one way at problem solving before quitting. Do you??!

I have my classroom rules about kindness and respect, but I have never had a list of rules about effort and persistence before! I went to visit Teachers College in March and had a workshop with Kristi Mraz (co-author of Smarter Charts), and it was all about teaching persistence and grit in early childhood classrooms. It was the best workshop I visited that day, by far! I came back with so much to share with my kids.

Kristi recommended teaching the character traits persistence, optimism, resilience, and flexibility through children's books. I also think effort and stamina are important, so I include those as well. For example, in the book "Worm Builds", a super easy reader for a K or 1st grade student, worm shows so much persistence! His tower gets knocked down again and again, and worm builds! This simple text has such a powerful message. "The Carrot Seed" teaches persistence, optimism, and effort, all in one book! "Dex: Heart of a Hero" teaches about stamina, resilience and persistence! The Pete the Cat series is all about optimism. Fabulous for teaching that character trait!

I decided to teach each trait exclusively, and with each trait, I introduced a superhero themed poster for our classroom. I call these our "brain superpowers"! To grab yours, click below.

 Clip Art and Fonts are from Ashley Hughes, Krista Wallden, and Kimberly Geswein Fonts.

I also do a lot of work to make sure we don't forget about our brain superpowers. Currently, when students are demonstrating one of the six brain superpowers, we make a big deal out of it. I have two owl themed chair covers (coveted in our classroom!), and a student demonstrating the brain superpower gets to have the special chair for the day. Kristi Mraz made crowns for her students that read the name of the powers (maybe something to try for next year!) I'm currently in the process of creating little certificates for each brain superpower (sort of like A Cupcake for the Teacher's cute clip chart certificates!). I can't wait to use these! I'm thinking of so many other ways to integrate our brain superpowers :)

Next year, I plan to introduce these during the first week of school, and I will also talk about it in detail with parents at curriculum night. This year, it was introduced much later, and it's working so well, I am excited to continue it next year! I've definitely noticed my students trying to put forth more effort and persistent, and I love that they are using words like this (great for vocabulary!) in first grade.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Will you have me back? Return from (another) lengthy absence

I've missed the blogging world. In my last posts back in January I was vowing to be a better teacher and a better blogger. I was creating for TpT again. I was taking photos and I had so many posts planned. Everything changed on January 14.

My dad passed away suddenly at age 61 while waiting for a heart transplant. He was a fire captain, an avid boater, my biggest fan, and the greatest dad anyone could ask for. He drove me to school almost every morning when I broke my leg and couldn't drive. He built my classroom shelves, came in to set up in the summer, and was always my biggest supporter during the (long) journey I had trying to find my place and trying to establish my teaching career.

If I've learned nothing this year, it's that there are more important things than my job. I love teaching, it's my passion. But after breaking my leg and losing my dad, all in 4 months, my priorities are crystal clear. I can love teaching, love blogging, and love creating for TpT. But, my class will survive. Somehow, a sub can get them through without me. If I don't have plans, so be it. People will help. The kids will be fine, and life in the classroom will continue.  

So, will you have me back? I've missed the blogging world!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Math tools

One of the things I've been trying during my current math unit is helping my students to explore different ways to solve story problems. I noticed that many of my first graders struggle with the task of showing their work! Their work space was so disorganized. A colleague introduced me to "EWS - equation, work, solution". My kids' math work is so much more organized! We set it up like this: 

Many of my kids use number lines, hands (to show counting on), or ten frames to solve story problems. I noticed they were really struggling with the task of drawing these items on their work space. Here's my solution:

I keep a supply of "math tools" on our supply shelf.

These little cut outs have been a huge time saver! For me, their thinking is more important than perfectly drawing a number line - especially for my kids struggling with their motor skills. The kids are really loving using the tools on their papers when solving story problems! If you think this will work for your class and want a copy of my hands/ten frames/number lines, let me know and I can link them here or e-mail :)

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Spelling and Word Work Cycles

Do you have a spelling program? We do. And a phonics program. But not really. And we have to mesh them together. When I started teaching first grade, that became difficult. Balancing both and fitting it all in was really hard. Then I went to Teachers College over the summer, and had a life changing spelling and word work experience! Teachers College recommends having an 8 or 10 day spelling and word work rotation focused on specific sight words, spelling words, and phonetic concepts. Genius! Plan for 10 days, copy, implement, and plug in your mini-lessons before your kids hit their centers. So here's how it works! I've gotten lots of questions (in the class I teach for my district and on my blog!) about how I work my spelling and word work cycle, so here we go!

I plan for 10 days at a time. I have 10 centers that stay the same all the time. In September, I taught these centers explicitly- we all practiced at the same center. The only thing that changes is the task (slightly) based on the new words and concepts. The kids know what to expect at each center, so I don't need to repeat directions and I have more time for a whole group mini lesson. So, with my spelling (we use Sitton) and phonics (Fountas and Pinnell) books in hand, I sit and plan for the 10 day cycle. I use this planning page:

Pocket Chart: Typically a word or picture sort, or a scrambled words activity. 
Snap Words: Always focused on my core words for the week (taken directly from Sitton Spelling with a couple of additions - for example, I'm beginning to intro blends this week, so I included the word blue this week with our spelling words so we can discuss related bl words). These activities may be smelly spelling (see my TpT for the freebie!), rainbow writing, stamping, or another snap word related activity. Snap words are my sight words :)

Games/Activities: focused on the phonics concepts/snap words - might be play doh (building the words), color by snap word, a matching game, or something related to phonetic concepts that I have from TpT (i.e., Abby's blend books). I also use these from The Moffatt Girls frequently! 

Lexia: always the iPad app "Lexia"! 
Build, Mix, Fix: Taken from Fountas and Pinnell - build the snap word, "mix" it up, and "fix" it, 3 times each. 
iPads: This week, it's scanning QR codes ip/it! Sometimes it's another spelling/word work app, like Magnet Letters. 
Word Sort: These sorts are usually related to the word families/phonetic concepts we're studying and goes right into their word work journals. I love these from First Grade and Fabulous!

Vocabulary: Teachers College had so many ideas for teaching vocabulary words! Some things I'm trying - a vocabulary word ring, pulling certain words from read aloud for study (kids draw a picture of the word and a definition in kid-friendly terms), stretch the sentence (adding more words or changing words for fancier words). I'm still working this one out! I WISH I had more pictures of this - maybe I'll do a separate vocab post :)
Fix It Up: I LOVE this packet from Growing Kinders. I also love this Sentence Builder packet from A Cupcake for the Teacher. I use these all the time! 

Speaking/Listening: I usually make this a listening center activity or a fluency activity. I like to make different word rings/sentence rings. I have a freebie, Frosty Fluency, that I've used for this! My kids love to use the toobaloo!

I store my materials in this - 10 drawers, perfect!

Groups: My kids are put into 5 groups. I have 23 kids, so 4-5 per group. I group my kids based on assessment - I use the sight word district assessment, DRA, informal assessment, and my "end of cycle" assessments to group the kids into their 5 color groups - pink, purple, blue, green, and yellow. 

Starting the cycle: At the start of each spelling cycle, we sit whole group and use dry erase markers and boards to practice writing the words as a "pre-test" - I can easily walk around and see who already knows them/who doesn't. We put these words on our word rings. I typically give my students 7-9 words per cycle, and they are all "snap" or sight words from our spelling program. 

Keeping Organized: In addition to my rainbow cart, the kids each have a spelling folder. ALL of their spelling work is stored there until the end of the cycle. Then, they staple it together so that I can correct it at once. The centers allow me to be "free" (I usually don't designate myself as a "teacher center" for spelling - I like to rotate and confer on the fly), so I'm typically quickly checking work as it's completed, as well. Each student keeps their own personal word ring in a zipper pouch in their take home binders. 

Homework: I LOVE Erica's Spelling Homework packet! It's editable! I pass these out on our cycle start date, and they are due back at the end of the cycle (2 weeks). I add in our spelling words, change the activities as needed (my higher level learners MAY have an additional couple of words per cycle or a more challenging activity, while my struggling students may have a couple of words from last cycle added in for review). 

End of Cycle/Assessment: I give my kids a cloze story exercise. It's a little fill in the blanks story using that cycle's words. I correct them, pull mastered words off of each student's word ring, and then the cycle begins again! :) 

I'm still new to this, so I'm definitely not an expert! This is just what works for me. It also works for (and totally engages) the kids! My goal for the rest of this year is to increase the amount of differentiation on my centers. I'm using Erica's packet to differentiate their homework for spelling, now I'm working on pulling out specific words for students to add to their word rings/spelling lists and gearing each center toward my different learners! It seems like a lot of work, but after one good planning session and a long trip to the printer and copier, I'm pretty much set to go for 2 weeks - all I need to do is plug in my mini-lessons! This week, we're introducing beginning blends, continuing work on short i and short i word families, and practicing digraphs. These are focused on whole group, during mini lessons. Then, students go off to their centers! 

Let me know if you have questions or need something clarified. I'd love to answer! 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolutions/New Years Linky Parties!

I'm linking up with a few fun bloggers for some linky parties!

First, from A Peach for the Teach! I just found her blog. Love it!

(Click my picture to link up!) 

Personal: Be more positive. My post from yesterday was all about how difficult 2013 was for me. With a new year ahead, it's time to be more positive! 

Professional: Organize my intervention groups better. I feel like I am on the fly with intervention, when really it should be based more on assessment and student work. I would like to find ways to organize my groups better and make intervention a more meaningful time in my schedule.

Classroom: Make my classroom more "homey". I recently moved to this classroom and I unpacked it, decorated, and it works for now. But I would love to make it more of a home. I've moved so much over the last 5 years and I plan to stay here, if I can!

Blog/TPT: Blog more! I have so many ideas in my head and photos I've taken and thought, "that would be a good blog post!" I vow to get there :) 2014 is a new start!

Just for fun: Go somewhere warm. I would love a nice vacation :)

Next up.. Sunny Days in Second Grade! I'm linking up for My Truth Monday (on Tuesday..whoops) for her one little word linky!

My one little word for this year is breathe. If my not-so-great end to 2013 taught me anything, it's that I'm NOT always in control, I can't always make it perfect, and if I can't do anything about it, why worry? Breathe. What's yours?

Finally, Thirteen in '13. As much as I can't wait to say goodbye to this year, I'll take a little time to reflect! 

I'm linking up with Miss Kindergarten, a teeny tiny teacher, and Dragonflies in First!

My ugg minis. So comfy. Although I still can only wear one thanks to my broken leg.

Love, love, love!

I have so many... it's hard to choose!

"Camp" in Meredith, NH! This cute little place is located where we got married.

Hmmm.. I totally changed my spelling and word work routines after visiting Teachers College this past July in NYC. I am loving it and so are the kids! Posts to follow :)

My husband got me this ring for Christmas this year. After a tough year, this stone has special meaning and I love it.

I am a pinning machine... it's hard to pick one! 
I made these cowboy cookies (skipped the nuts and added M&Ms... why not!) for Christmas and they came out SO good! 

My classroom tour post. I love looking at how my classroom came together in 2 very short weeks after a big move!

Several things that happened in my personal life this year were incredibly difficult, and for me, the fact that I'm still hanging on is a huge accomplishment. 

Lola and her boyfriend on Halloween! So cute!

My nephew was born this year, and meeting him for the first time is my favorite memory of 2013 :)