Sunday, October 16, 2016

Interactive Notebooks: 1st Grade Social Studies

Interactive Notebooks
This year, we decided as a team to utilize interactive notebooks for our science and social studies units.  This decision was made made in an effort to be more cross curricular and to provide our first grade students with a more hands on approach to learning the content we were covering. Our first unit that we used our notebooks for was our communities unit in social studies.  Before beginning this process, I was a little worried that this would be too much for firsties, but now that we are into our unit, we our loving our notebooks!

We started our year learning about community helpers.  This is an extension off what students learned in kindergarten.  I was hoping that the notebooks would provide a place for students compare community helpers, keep a word bank, and be hold our assessments and other activities that we did in social studies.  I was so thrilled when I found the best resources to meet this goal!
Why make it cross curricular?
In my classroom, it is really important for me to make my science and social studies units cross curricular.  I want to integrate them across the content of the day as much as possible because we get such a small amount of time to teach science and social studies.  We spend at least 60 minutes a day (if not more) in our major core areas, but yet we only get 30 minutes for science and social studies.  I value the content in these areas as much as I do the content in our core areas.  I also think that the same "rules" about the amount of exposure students need to develop mastery also applies here too.  I spend a lot of time looking for quality resources, books, and centers to leave out throughout the day, so that students can have repeated exposure to this content as well. I love that the interactive notebooks provide an hands on-way for students to capture their learning, and utilize many different skills when completing science and social studies tasks.

Reading about Community Helpers
Scholastic Teacher Store
Last year we asked our dear teacher librarian if she had any extra money to purchase books for our students that would match our community helpers unit.  We searched for the best "bang for our buck" and decided that we really liked this Community Helpers set from scholastic.  It contains 6 sets of books (6 books in a set) about different community helpers.  The books have beautiful pictures, nonfiction text features, and contain glossaries and key words to build vocabulary. The only down side is that they are written for some of the later in the year reading levels.  Students can however read the pictures. We would use these books as shared reading books, read aloud books, or read them during social studies to help use research different community helpers.

Researching about Community Helpers
Get this resource here
The first part of our notebook was dedicated to helping students capture information about community helpers and use their research skills.  I found there amazing foldables from Elementary Nest.
 I love the Labor Day and Community Helpers activities because there are 9 of these fun foldable community helper information sheets.  Everyday in social studies, we would read a book about a community helper, gather information on a class bubble map, and then glue in our matching foldable, and fill out or draw what we had learned about how they help, what they use, and what they can do.  My students were able to color the picture of the community helper with the time left or the next day during morning work.  This set also includes two matching activities that reinforces what each community helper does and the tools they use.  I loved leaving this activity for a parent volunteer during reading groups.

Building Vocabulary and Collecting Words for Community Helpers
Get this resource here
The other amazing resource that I used for our interactive notebooks was the Writing about Community Helpers from First Grade School House.  This set is amazing for stocking my writing center with pages for students to write about community helpers during work on writing time.  There are 13 different writing pages so students can write and draw about community helpers.  The set also include colored and black and white vocabulary cards.  My kids loved using these cards, and they were HUGE for my ELL students.  We add the community helper word list to the front of our notebooks, and then added everyday different words that we felt were important to community helpers. This set filled our writing center with wonderful resources to make our study of community helpers cross curricular.

I love how our interactive notebooks for Community helpers turned out.  I feel like my students were using the vocabulary and ideas they were learning about throughout the day.  I also feel like I have an amazing portfolio of work that shows off their research skills, their ability to collect and understand vocabulary, and their thoughts about the different members of our community!  I am so thrilled that we found the amazing resources that we found to make this unit happen!
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Saturday, October 15, 2016

How Does Our Writing Grow???

We have been working on personal narratives for what seems like ***f..o..r...e...v...e...r*** in first grade.  We use personal narrative to teach a whole host of writing lessons because personal narratives are familiar to first graders and first graders LOVE to talk about themselves!  This week, in light of fall weather, pumpkin spice lattes, and leaves changing, my personal narrative mentor text was about a special trip to the pumpkin patch that I took when I was 6, aka a first grader.  My students love hearing stories about when I was in first grade because I just don't think they believe sometimes that their teacher was their age once too!  Anyway, I used my own writing as our mentor text all week. Each day we "grew" my writing.  Over the course of the week I taught 5 different lessons, and my students helped write, rewrite, add, take away, and grow my writing.  I love how we learned from each other and how I could see our writing together transfer to their own writing.

Monday-A Complete Sentence
On Monday, I started writing my Pumpkin Patch story from my plan.  My students have seen me write from my plan a million times, so the focus on the lesson needed to be something new and exciting.  I have noticed through writing conferences that my students are struggling with knowing what makes a complete sentence, a pretty tough task for first graders.  I decided that this could be our focus today: a complete sentence has a somebody doing something.  I know that complete sentences can have more, but this was a great, simple place to start.  As I was writing my story, we would stop after every sentence and check for a somebody and a something.  Three sentences in, I decided that I wanted to intentionally write an incomplete sentence so that my students could correct the sentence.  They immediately knew I didn't have a somebody and added the we written in red.  I stopped our lesson here for the day and charged them with the task of rereading their writing for somebody and something in every sentence. This was also our share out focus at the end of writing.

Tuesday- Using Our Spelling Strategies
One of the hardest parts of first grade writing is that students get bogged down with spelling.  They are still learning important phonics patterns, vowel/consonant relationships, and even many sight words.  Every week I try to model how to use my spelling resources to help me as a writer.  My goal is for my students to be able to problem solve independently, do their best work with the strategies they do have, and not be slowed down in their writing by spelling.  We started the lesson by rereading our writing yesterday.  I think explained to my students the I needed to finish my work and started to write "We go to the".  I then stopped and asked them to help me stretch out pumpkin patch.  As we worked together to hear the sounds, my students easily identifies pump.  Next, we have been learning about the ck blend and we could hear the /k/ in pumpkin.  They decided that the /k/ could be a ck, so I ran with it and completed the word with in- pumpckin.  Then we worked on patch.  They were able to hear all of the letters in patch except for the t- pach.  We underlined the words to remember for later, and their task of the day was to remember to stretch out words and try to hear all the sounds.

Wednesday-Being More Specific
By Wednesday we had completed my writing.  We decided to reread it together. Then I challenged my students to decide if there was anything they were wondering, questions they had, or things that I just was not very specific about. They brainstormed with a partner and decided that I could add more details, more sentences, and found placed where some things just didn't make sense.  As we started to add to our very first sentence "When I was 6 my grandpa went on our field trip to the pumpckin pact" we realized that I needed more space to add complete sentences, so we got out scissors and glue and began to cut apart and glue together our writing.  My students at first were shocked that I would "destroy" my writing.  However, by the end they were pleased with how much we improved our writing by adding details.  Our lesson ended with one students asking, "can we do this?" Lucky for him, that was their task for the day.

Thursday-Transition Words
First graders love transition words, and they love using them in counting order- first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth... For our lesson on Thursday, I wanted to introduce to my students to other transition words they could use in their writing.  To start, we read "If You Give A Cat a Cupcake" and listened for the transition words.  We made list as we went, and then added to the list some of our own ideas.  I intentionally left fourth, fifth, and sixth off.  After creating our list, we went back into my writing and decided where I could use transition words.  We concluded that I needed a transition word when whatever was happening changed.  For example, after talking about going on a field trip, I described the lunch I packed for my grandpa, I needed a transition word here.  When we got down to the end, my students were very tempted to use third, but I explained that as a writer, I liked the word finally here.  Their challenge for the day was to add transition words to their writing and to go back and try to add words to previous writing.

Friday- Cleaning it All Up
Friday was our day to "clean up" our writing.  We checked our writing for capitals and periods.  We have the kids mark the capitals and periods in their writing using a red light/green light systems.  Periods help us stop and are marked red.  Capitals tell us to go and are marked green.  After every red light, you have a green light.  We also checked back into our student dictionary to verify the spelling of pumpkin.  During this time, I also reminded the students that "ck" for /k/ was a great guess, but we have also since learned that "ck" is only at the end of words. Their goal was to clean up their writing and be ready to share in small groups.

I am throughly pleased with all the mileage we got out of one piece of writing.  I love how my students were engaged everyday in a new way to tweak and improve their own writing by writing along side me.  Moving ahead, we are almost done with this piece.  We have one last lesson on creating a quality illustration to match our writing.
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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Why I Don't Do Reading Logs

We were at dinner the other night with good friends of ours when the topic of reading logs came up.  Our good friends have a first grader, who up until this year, loved to read and excelled at reading.  My dear friend then brought up, "Since school started and he has had to do these reading logs, I have just seen his passion and excitement for reading die down and now he hates it".  I proceeded to pry a little more to find out what exactly he was having to do on these reading logs.  Every night, this student has to read for 20 minutes and then record at least 4 words that he had to use his decoding strategies to sound out.  I sat quietly for a moment, and then asked her, "Are you going to talk to his teacher about this, because at the core of what is happening, your child is being turned away from reading." I don't know how this situation will end, but it made me realize how much I dislike reading logs.  There are a number of reasons why I personally choose not to use reading logs in my own classroom.

  1. They are not authentic- I want my students to see themselves as readers and readers do not record every word that they needed to decode when reading.  Although decoding is a great skill that readers use, meticulously recording every word is not something that readers typically do.  I would say the same thing about answering comprehension questions, filling in information, or any other mundane tasks that go hand in hand with reading a book at home.
  2. It interrupts their reading- It doesn't matter if students wait until the end to record their word or answer or they stop in the middle of their reading to record what every they are working on, it interrupts their reading.  When we are working on fluent reading, building stamina, and really practicing those more challenging strategies, we do not want our students interrupting their reading with tasks that are more or less aimed at holding them accountable.
  3. It takes the fun out of reading- We are working on learning to read every day in our classroom.  We work on learning to read through shared reading, guided reading groups, independent reading, writing... it really is an all day task.  Whens students go home, I want them reading proudly with their families, showing off their new skills, building their identity as a reader, and building an understanding that reading is enjoyable.  These things do not happen when we are asking them to log words, answer questions, or do other tasks that take away from the pure enjoyment of reading.
  4. They typically aren't differentiated- Education has come so far in differentiation by reading logs are typically a one size fits all, which doesn't grow readers.  In this particular case, the student completing the reading log does not need to be recording words he is decoding as a reader.  He has outgrown the need to record them, and now needs something more challenging. When I think about the students in my own classroom, not every single student is working on that skill, so why would I want them focusing on that at home via the reading log?
  5. There are other ways to hold students accountable- I've heard many teachers say, but how will I know they are really reading at home?  Easy, they will get better at reading in the classroom if they are continuing to practice at home.  You will see small steps, small strides in their reading daily, weekly, monthly, if they are really reading at home. They will be coming to reading group recalling new words, reading with fluency, having better understandings of text.  And, if they are able to enjoy the books they are reading at home, they might even want to tell you about them at school, check more out from the library, and even write about them!
The last thing I would ever want to hear is that a child is my classroom feel out of love with reading because I asked them to complete a mundane task instead of simply become a better reader by reading.

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How Do We Establish Fair isn't Equal in First Grade

Any teacher of any grade level would agree that we have all heard "that is so unfair" a million times! I always hate when my students say this, but I also understand from their lens, their point of view, and their age of development, fair is a big deal!  It is also a totally natural emotion for our little friends to feel and notice when things seem a little unfair.  As a result, I begin laying the foundation within the first few days of school that fair doesn't mean equal, and what is fair in our classroom is making sure that everyone gets exactly what they need to be successful.

A Story of Band Aids, Tooth Holders, and Ambulances...
Within the first couple of days of school, usually among hearing the typical "that's so unfair" I roll out my classic injury story.  To help show the students that fair does not mean equal, I tell a funny, pretend story about how 3 first graders are playing on the playground and get hurt.  I love picking students in the class, usually my fair police, to play the parts of our very injured students.  I explain to the students that each of the three students has come to me with an injury from playing on the play ground.  One student has lost a tooth, one student has scraped their knee, and one student has fallen off the monkey bars and seems to have broken their arm.  I then explain that if fair means equal, it also means that each of the 3 students will be getting the same thing from me, clearly a tooth box will be perfect for the lost tooth, scraped knee, and broken arm.  At this point, the students become very giggly because it is just down right silly that I would even suggest that a broken arm would be healed with a tooth box.  As they giggle, I then decide that clearly that is not the right treatment so maybe a band aid would work for all three.  Again, giggles usually erupt, so I finally suggest that clearly the broken arm needs to go to the hospital, so I  might as well just send all 3 students to the hospital. By this time, my first graders are very giggly at the thought that all three students would be getting the exact same thing.  This then leads us into a great conversation about how what each person needs is important but very different.

Applying it to Our Classroom
After we have some great giggles, we then talk about what this means in the day to day work we do in our classroom.  We talk about how some friends need certain things to help and support them, while others might not need those same things.  Then we talk about how my job and goal as a teacher is to give each student exactly what they need to be successful, even if it means that only one or two students need that support.  By this point in the school year, 7 week in, we have students who are using fidgets on the carpet, chewing gum for a sensory issues, eating snacks more frequently than others, working without a chair, the list goes on and on, without other students even thinking twice about those things being "unfair".  We have set the norm and expectation from the first few days of school that fair isn't about being equal, it is about each person getting what they need to be successful.

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Guided Reading for Early Readers

We are officially six weeks into the school year, which means that we have had significant time to get established in our routines.  One of the most important routines that is ever established in my classroom is what my kids do during guided reading time.  I spend a significant amount of time training kids, that whole philosophy of going slow to go fast.  So now we are there, we are finally to a place where we are starting to pick up some speed so that we can go fast.  Monday will start my first day of guided reading groups and I couldn't be more excited.

This year guided reading is going to be a bit more challenging than it has in the pass.  The tricky part about guided reading in first grade is that we cover so many levels.  First graders come in around a level four and leave at a level 18. They of course fall somewhere above or below from there.  This year, I have kids as low as a level 1 (think mid kinder) all the way up to a 20+.  The challenge is that even the basic format of each of these levels looks so different.  Sometimes it is hard to keep it all straight.  I wanted to share what my early readers, levels 1-4, are going to be doing during this guided reading time.  These sweet readers are going to need repeated exposure to phonics, but I also firmly believe that comprehension and reading strategies must go hand in hand.  The twenty minutes that I get with these readers must be purposeful and so precisely used if I am going to help them make the growth that they need.

Day 1 with a Text
Sight Word Review-1 minute
To begin an early reading group lesson, I start with a sight word review. I pick 3 sight words that appear in the text, and we quickly write them, orally spell them, body spell them, and find them in the text.  One of the most important things to know about sight words is that they do not follow typical patterns for spelling, so kids need constant exposure to them.  I had heard once that the average child needs 40 exposures to sight words to recall them.  Think about how hard it is for our struggling readers who need more than the average number of exposures.

Book Intro- Less than 5 minutes
Next, I introduce the book that we are reading to the students.  I will have the students do a quick book walk with me, and I will introduce any words that I think might be tricky for the students.  At this level, words that I might choose are words that are not cvc, known sight words, or have multiple syllables.  I also use this time to build vocabulary with new words and introduce synonyms for any words that might be in our reading.

Teaching Point-2 minutes
Before students have had a chance to read the book, we have a little lesson.  This sets the tone for what I want them to practice today as a reader.  During our lesson, I model for the students what I want them to do as readers.  For my early readers, I try to focus on self monitoring, using word strategies and phonics skills to solve unknown words, and practicing for fluency.  For my early readers, I would say that 3 out of 5 lessons a week are phonics based lessons.  How can we use what we know about letters to help us as readers?  This teaching point is quick, lasting only a few minutes.  It is merely modeling and planting the seeds of what good readers and thinkers do.

Reading the Text, 1:1 Conferences- 8-10 minutes
Next, I ask the students to read and reread the text while I listen and conference with them.  During this time, I can help guide students based on individual needs.  For my early readers, I am making notes about if they have left to right reading, one to one print matching, and sweep and return skills.  I also begin to introduce self monitoring at this time, because it is such an important skill.  I believe that the sooner kids can read something, process, and say "hey that doesn't make sense", they stronger a reader they will be.  We also pair self monitoring with cross checking, does that look right, sound right, and make sense?  During this time, I try to squeeze in 2 conferences.  What I love about a reading conference though is that often times other first graders will listen in and they benefit from the lesson being taught.

Comprehension Lesson- 1 minute
After students have read and reread a book, we then move into a quick comprehension lesson.  These lesson are quick, about 1 minute, and focus on retelling what we read, something that we noticed about the character, something that we learned from the book, or the main idea of the story.  I firmly believe that even our early readers need to know that part of reading is understanding.

Word Work-3-5 Minutes
Finally, we end our lesson with a word work activity.  During this time, we work on both sight words and a spelling pattern that we are learning about (like cvc words).  We will practice spelling words, using sound boxes, identifying the missing letters, sort word patterns, and practicing, "If you can spell hat, then you can spell"  This work is so important to providing students with the repeated exposure to phonics that they need to both read and write.  I try to change what we are doing every day so that students do not get bored.

Day 2 with a Text
Day 2 with a text looks similar to day 1 except that a few things have been removed to open up time for writing about a story.  A day 2 lesson begins with a sight word review, followed by a teaching point and 1:1 conferences.  After doing 1:1 conferences, we then do writing about the book.

Guided Writing-10 Minutes
On a second day of reading a book, I will have the students do guided writing in their reading journal. For guided writing, students might write some sentence about the book that I am dictating to them, or they might write their opinion about a text.  When I am creating the sentence for the students to write, I try to integrate both the sight words and the phonics skill that we practiced the day before. This provides students with an authentic opportunity to practice what they are learning.  Guided writing does take up a huge chunk of time, but is well worth the investment.

This is a basic break down of my early readers guided reading lesson.  It is a jam packed 25 minutes, but in first grade, if students are still early readers, then they need this time and focused attention to move out of being an early reader.

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