Friday, June 1, 2012

Greatest Moments in First Grade

As I sit in my empty classroom I am compelled to reflect on my first year teaching first grade. From the first day to the last I have been in love with my job. This has actually been the best year of my teaching career. Working with other educators that take the time to research new and inventive ways to approach teaching has been an amazing experience. I used to say that I was so nerdy because I would spend so much time reading teacher blogs and looking for new teaching tricks and ideas. This year I learned that I am not nerdy but that I am among the elite in teaching who know that change and growth are what it's all about. It would not be fair to go on without mentioning that having a supportive, encouraging, and friendly administrative team has been a key factor in developing a school where the teachers are all top notch and the students perform tremendously well.
I began writing this blog at the beginning of this school year. My goal was to have a place to document my experiences in a first grade classroom. I especially wanted to have a record of the success that Whole Brain Teaching brings to the classroom. I must admit that at the beginning of the year it was easier to take the time to write and post pictures. As the year went on and standardized testing approached it became much more difficult to spend time writing my blog. I have missed it though. There have been many times that I would think about writing a post but just could not find the time (or energy if I am being honest.) So in order to close the school year out properly I have decided to write this post in a "greatest moments in first grade" fashion.
I always like to include teaching truths that I have learned on my journey. So here are a few of the important lessons that I have learned this year: Whole Brain Teaching does work all year long and the success it brings is not a fluke it is real. Being a successful teacher means being organized and orderly. Parents are not scary if you have good communication with them, they actually want to hear from you. (Email is a miracle!) You have to change things up even if you have an awesome classroom enviornment, the kids get board and need change. Be real with students when you talk to them about expectations, strengths, weaknesses, and work ethic. They will push themselves if you help them see that they are not giving their all and can do better. The power of positive thinking and self talk is incredible. Students who believe they can be successful are successful. I can do my own thing as a teacher as long as I am seeing results and have research to back it up. I will never be able to keep the furniture in my classroom in the same place all year, it is impossible. Technology is awesome, but using old fashion anchor charts works and is important. Progress monitoring is a must if you want to see growth in leaps and bounds. Data informs instruction and remediation (not a new lesson but it is critical.)

So here are the greatest moments from first grade 2011-2012.
1. Starting the year off with the book "Giraffes Can't Dance." Our class community started off by recognizing that we are all different. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, we all learn differently, we all think differently, and we are all special, smart, and gifted people. This book and lesson set the tone for our entire year.

2. Introducing Whole Brain Teaching to my students. They took to it immediately and knew right away that this class was different and special. Not only did WBT reduce my stress level to 0 it increased student engagement (during whole group teaching) to 100%. The action, call and response, movement, excitement, and accountability of the scoreboard created a unique learning environment .

3. Having university interns observe in my classroom just about every day of the year. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to share my experiences and my passion for WBT with these future teachers. Every intern that sat in my class said something to the effect of "I have never seen this type of teaching before. The way they are all listening and participating is amazing." My answer was always "go to and watch the videos."

4. Working with another (highschool) teacher on a reading buddy project. My students met with 11th graders every Friday for reading buddies. By the end of the year my students' confidence in reading soared. Also, we started (late in the year) working with fourth grade reading buddies. I think it was a unique opportunity for us to have two sets of reading buddies. My students became reading buddy experts. They loved it. Now having first hand knowledge of the positive effects I will always have a reading buddy program for my students.

5. Writing and publishing a class book. We took the story of The Gingerbread Man and wrote our own book. First we studied different versions of the book. After lots of discussion we wrote out the pattern that all the stories have. Then each student used the pattern to write and illustrated his or her own story. They were so creative. We had gingerbread poodles, gingerbread clowns, and even gingerbread characters named after students in the class.

6. All of the cooperative learning performance assigments. I am a big fan of creating an activity or assignment and having the students complete it in small groups. I create job titles (leader, reader, writer, check list leader) and write a detailed checklist/rubric for them and let them go. This year we wrote songs, commercials, wrote alternate endings to some of our favorite books, and acted out skits that portreyed events in history. Although my students were young they were able to produce stellar work because the groups were well organized and the checklist/rubrics were clear and written in a step by step manner.

7. Using student teacher/leaders. I really had a good time allowing my students to teach or reteach a concept to the class. In teaching, repetition is necessary but can get old fast. Our reading curriculum follows a pattern and my students knew that I would call on one or several of them to lead the class on certain parts. This helped the students to remain focused and on task. They knew that if they were acting like leaders on the carpet that I would choose them.

8. Class celebrations. As a class we were constantly celebrating acheivements. I love using WBTs 10 finger woo. We also would sing "Celebrate good times come on da na na na na na na na....hands and eyes." I would say "Celebrate George" and the students would stand up (in their squares) and dance and sing the song. At the end they would sit down and say hands and eyes - which means they would be sitting criss cross with their hands folded in their laps and their eyes would be looking at the speaker. This encouragement of each other created such a happy learning environment.

9. SAT10. Okay SAT10 in it self was not pleasent. I was way too stressed out about this standardized test, but I saw something really good in the process so I will share. The two weeks before the test we worked out of a book called "Scoring High" which is a practice test that prepares the students for the real thing. I wasn't sure it was necessary or that it would even help, but I did it anyway. This test preparation book was an amazing tool. During SAT10 even my most ansy students sat still without calling out or talking to a neighbor. I was so proud of how hard they worked on the test. I don't have the results yet but I know they worked hard and the testing environment was as near to perfect as you can get.
10. The end of the year. I had so many parents tell me that they appreciated me and what I have done for their children. Some of them brought me gifts and a few had tears in their eyes as they told me how much I had meant to them. This is something that is not easy for me to take. I usually don't do well with compliments and have in the past tried to diflect them by somehow diminishing my successes. Honestly I began to do that this year but stopped short after getting the same feedback from my administrators and fellow teachers. I really did think about my students' needs and worked really hard to provide them with what they needed academically. I am not a lovey dovey teacher, I love my kids but they know I have a personal bubble that they should not be in unless invited. I am a teacher who is looking at the big picture. I want my kids to learn the first grade content for sure. However, I am just as concerned that they learn to love learning, they learn to be responsible and respectful citizens, they learn to have a good work ethic where they only try their best and nothing less is acceptable. Finally, I am concerned that they leave my class knowing that they are smart, special, beautiful, and important people who will be world changers.

This has been an awesome year. That word is really overused (by me especially) but I am really and truly in awe of this year. I can't wait to see what next year brings. I have already begun to search out new ideas and activities. My classroom is empty now because with a new year brings new bullitin boards, centers, anchor charts, and seating arrangements. Being in this empty space allows my imagination to run wild with ideas for next year.I hope my students from this year have a great summer (while working on their summer workbooks that I compiled) and come back to school in the fall ready to impress the socks off their new teachers.

AR Reading Time...we like to get comfy.

My dad came in to read to my kids.

Me getting dunked at the AR Celebration Beach Party! I go the distance.

Famous American Presentations

Our published book "Gingerbread Stories"

Dr. Seuss Day - Green (deviled) Eggs and Ham (dogs)

making pretzels in nutrition class

PBS' Martha Speaks Reading Buddy Program

Painted Pony Field Trip - the horse had a tattoo on his gums

The students painted Charlie

Reading Buddies

Students working hard!

WBT sight words powerpoint

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Back on track with best practices and WBT!

I can't believe that it has been over a month since I posted anything. Oh well, you know how it goes. We get busy and work hard to keep it together, but some things fall to the way side.

I don't like having to post anything that is not wonderfully positive, especially since I have been away for so long, but the purpose of this blog is to document my life as a teacher and I have to be real. While I have been away from my blog world I have been working. However, I have become a little too obsessed, I'm afraid, with curriculum pages and progress monitoring data. The creative teacher that is somewhere inside of me has run for the hills. Well, I am done with that way of thinking. School should be fun and although it is my job to produce proficient readers it is also my job to promote love of life long learning.  Isn't it great to be able to step back and evaluate yourself?
After the second FAIR my obsession with reading fluency and comprehension has become outrageous. I have bombarded my kids with almost nothing but this stuff. Whole group learning is still fantastic but there have been no fancy smanshy centers for my group. Poor kiddos.
Well, I have concluded, after my month of insanity, that my kids need to experience fluency, comprehension, text complexity and all that other good first grade stuff in the form of games, crafts, activities, and cooperative learning situations. The awful thing about this conclusion is that I have come to it so many times. I have no idea why I veer away from the things I passionately believe about how education should be. I guess the progress monitoring (which is a good thing, although intimidating) and the looming end of year data freaks me out and I get panicky. The pressure is on. It is so easy to focus on myself and what I am doing, and how I am doing as a teacher, and what I am producing in my students, and how creative my centers are and bla, bla, bla. When that happens the focus shifts from the students and what they need to myself and what I need. Not a good thing. As an educator I need to be focused on each student and his or her specific needs. Back to reality Ms. King!

I said all of that because I wanted to document for myself this experience and my conclusions. My first graders did not enlist in the army so I need to stop being a "Drill Sargent" and go back to being their first grade guide. New centers are being created even now. Tomorrow I have a stack of things to be laminated - all themed for Valentines day (don't even get me started about that) and next week the kids will be so busy having a good time they won't even know they are learning. I just know that it will be more meaningful and will produce more results than what we have been doing for the last month. We have been working hard for sure but now we are going to work smart and play hard. Ain't life grand!

BT DUBS - I shared my experience in Whole Brain Teaching  with a fellow teacher before the Christmas break.Yesterday she told me that she has started to use some of the methods and her "behavior" problems are gone. It was music to my ears. I love Whole Brain Teaching and truly believe that it is the reason I have not left teaching. This is an incredibly difficult career. The things I have learned through Chris Biffle and the Whole Brain team are amazing. I was so glad to hear that my experiences have inspired another teacher to learn about WBT as well. The really neat thing is that now there is a spark in my school. As she shares her experience with others they are becoming interested as well. Other teachers are asking my about the Whole Brain thing. Today I went to teach and demonstrate some of the basics for another teacher and her students. It was beautiful. They were engaged and excited and caught on so quickly and I only showed some of the management tricks like class/yes, hands and eyes, and using hand signals to practice the rules. I even showed them a way to line up without chaos. The score board is in place in that classroom now (the teacher ripped off her stop light management system) and is going full force on the Whole Brain Train. I'm Lovin it! All aboard WBT woot woot!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy 2012. I am looking forward to this year. I believe that it will be full of blessings and answered prayers. I am expecting great things!

I have big plans for my class in this last semester. They have become so mature in the last nine weeks and I am so proud of them. I can't wait to see them working on projects that require much critical thinking and cooperation with each other. I love to see the leaders emerge as I put the students in teams. We saw a glimpse of what is possible last nine weeks with the gingerbread story boards and then the gingerbread house construction project. Their little brains are just growing like weeds. Snaps for the synapses!

Here's to a happy new year full of surprises and joy!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Gingerbread Time!

Omyword this has been a cool week. I love love love this time of year. I have been celebrating all things Christmas since November first and now that we are past Thanksgiving the rest of the sane world has joined me. Yay!
Can I tell you how much I love Pandora and Youtube? Listening to music that matches my mood or the mood I want to be in is increĆ­ble! (I sit in on my students' Spanish class on Fridays so sometimes, on the weekends, I think in Spanglish.) Normally, I listen to Michael Buble (who I would marry in a heartbeat if he wasn't already married) but lately I have been playing my Straight No Chaser station, which is a male a cappella  group. They have a great Christmas Album and everything else they do is amazing as well. The music makes the mood of my classroom so light and happy. On Friday, we were in such a celebratory mood that after our normal assessments we had a Rebecca Black dance party. I played her "Friday" video on Youtube and we danced and let out our cheers for the weekend. My kids have the moves letmetellya!

Another reason why this is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (insert music) for me is because this is when I finally pull out my Gingerbread book collection. (They have been on display all year but I have not allowed the students to read them yet.) We do a story study and lots of gingerbread crafts and activities. My goal for the unit is for the students to recognize the pattern of the story. There are elements that are always the same and present and then there are variables to the stories. I have several versions of the story, some of the stories are more difficult and others are very simple to read. I love that I can differentiate like that. Last week and this week we have read through my collection and have discussed the changing and consistent elements in the stories. This week (just happened to be during a formal observation) the students were grouped in 3s to read and discuss an assigned version of the book. I made sure that one strong reader was in each group so that they could work without needing my help. Each group had to draw a story board to retell their version of the story. Then they had to present their project to the class. Great gravy they did a fantastic job! I couldn't believe the maturity my kids showed.
To be fair and give credit where credit is due, because it was an official observation, I made sure to have a detailed rubric for their group work and I previewed the everloving stew out of the group activity portion of the lesson. Also, I included an anticipation guide to be sure that text complexity was addressed in a very obvious way. My motives for doing all of these "extra" steps were self serving to be sure but I have to admit it made my students work harder and inquire deeper into what they were doing.
I almost cried when I came to one group who had just finished reading their version (step one on the rubric) and were going down the check list (rubric) discussing the specific questions on the list. This is what I saw and heard: student 1 - "Okay, so which character actually baked the Gingerbread Man?" Student 2 - "uh...THE LITTLE OLD LADY!" Student 3 - "correct!"
Then student 1 handed the book to student 2 and she asked the group another question about the book. They were using the comprehension checking skills that I use on them to determine if they are ready for an AR test. I am telling you there were actual tears in my eyes. That they are paying such close attention to what we do in class and can use the skills on their own without prompting from me makes me feel like a super star teacher.
The same process was pretty much taking place in each group and the end products were very high quality. Each group completed their rubric (which was a checklist and a self evaluation) and didn't even want to stop because they wanted to continue adding details to their story boards.
I started the year off by telling my students that I always get assigned the best students in the school and they are proving that statement to be true. I love my job! Can you tell?

Next week we will begin writing our own versions of the Gingerbread Man story and I will send them off to be published over the Christmas break. I am so excited to see what they write and to see the finished (professionally published) book! Also, we will be doing lots of fun activities like making cinnamon smelling gingerbread ornaments and designing and building gingerbread houses. I will post pictures next week. I wish everyone could experience the joy and magic that happens in a classroom.
Here are pictures of the Gingerbread Story Boards and the kids presenting. Also, I am including pictures of these cute snowman donuts we made during snack time one day. I got the idea from one of my teammates who got it from pinterest which my whole grade level team is obsessed with.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Wow, it has been a long time since I have posted. I have been really surprised at the feedback I am getting from my little blog. It is nice to hear that the things I go through as a teacher and the things I am learning are universal (at least in the education universe). Thanks to all of you who have emailed me, commented, or pulled me aside to say that you like what you are reading. I like sharing and I love the fact that I will be able to look back at this first year, in first grade, and remember the details and the important lessons that I am learning.

Speaking of lessons, because it has been over a month I have a lot to share. Whole Brain Teaching is still the miracle I have always thought it was. It has been such a neat experience to demonstrate some of the WBT strategies to the FSU education students who are always in my room observing. I try not to give these observers too much attention when I am teaching. Every now and then though, when my students are doing teach/ok or using words and gestures to retell, teach, or discuss a topic I will glance their way, usually to see big smiles and huge unbelieving eyes. I know they must be wondering where these things come from so I always tell them to look up Whole Brain Teaching because it will rock their teaching worlds.
We are now in the middle of the second nine weeks and oh my have we accomplished a lot. Even so it just makes me realize how fast the year goes by and how much work there is to be done so that ALL of my students are ready to move on to second grade. I am constantly looking for best teaching practices, especially on those subjects I feel that I am weak in. (Don't tell anybody but I am always wondering if I am missing the mark with writing.) Towards the end of the first nine weeks I found something called Four Square Writing and once again fell in love. This organization strategy has helped my students so much. They are writing such thoughtful paragraphs.
In the past couple of weeks my students have really demonstrated just how much they are growing in reading. Even those students who I was concerned about at the beginning of the year are eager to come up to the smart board to read and move the correct word into a cloze sentence.
They all want to be teachers. That is our thing. Every day during my reading lesson I tell the students I need a teacher (this is someone who shows leadership by being focused even when it is not their turn). I will choose one student at a time to come and teach part of the lesson. They do a fantastic job and love every minute of it. I love that learning can be fun!

So, because I don't want to write a novel today I will end this post by telling you about our Thanksgiving Friendship Feast. This activity was something that I promoted for a couple of weeks. Everyone wanted to know what it was and what we would be doing. I like suspense so I gave very little information until the day of the event. I asked all of the students to bring in a fruit to contribute to our Friendship Fruit Salad (of course I had extra just in case). Last week we began learning about the Pilgrims (or Planters as they called themselves) and the Amer-Indians who helped them. On Monday, we took a virtual field trip to Plymouth. On Tuesday, we focused on the Wampanaog tribe and their involvement in the "first" Thanksgiving. We even made headdresses with one feather like the tribe used to wear and I gave all of the students authentic Amer-Indian names. We discussed at length the importance of people helping each other and how a community thrives when they can work together in peace and with generosity and kindness. A perfect lesson for this time of the year when the students are restless and can be a bit self-centered and unkind to each other. At the end of the day on Tuesday (the last day before Thanksgiving break) each student added his or her fruit offering to the salad and we made our Friendship Fruit Salad. We waited until all were served (a great social lesson) and then each student had an opportunity to share what they were thankful for. Then we had fellowship as we ate. (The students really liked the fruit which made my heart sing because I have been promoting healthy snack options all year long.)

This activity lesson was so powerful and successful that it is going in my tool box as a Thanksgiving staple lesson plan. The conversations during our feast were so sweet and kind that I couldn't stop smiling and any stress I had been feeling about paperwork, grades, and other organization/administration duties melted away. It was such an honor to experience these moments with my students and it just made me realize once again how much I love being a teacher and that I am absolutely in the right place.
Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy the photos!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It is so good to be back on track in the classroom. I usually write about the week as it is just finished but this week I am going to write about my Monday. If you teach in Florida you know all about the FAIR test and how time consuming it can be. At my school we get a substitute for one day so that we can get all of the testing done quickly. Well my testing day was on Monday. What a strange thing it is to be in the classroom but not be in control of what is happening.
In the morning before the students arrived I was able to explain some of my classroom procedures to the substitute. I had everything written out for her in my sub plans but I wanted to make sure she understood how I run my classroom. It can be so disruptive for someone to come and disregard your classroom procedures, not to mention it is unsettling for the students.

I run my classroom the whole brain way so in about 5 minutes she got a tutorial on WBT. I told her about class/yes and the line procedures. I also explained that I don't have numbers to pull or colors to change for "bad" behavior. I told her that in my classroom I take the time to teach my students how to make smart choices. We talk about the choices they are making. If they are not following the rules I ask them about the rule they are breaking and then ask them to fix the problem. They always know what they need to fix and usually know exactly how to fix it. I believe that by having them think about their actions and then immediately fix a problem they are learning how to behave in society without facing negative consequences at every turn. I told her about my experiences with children who would always go home on red or yellow and who never demonstrated changed behavior. They were not learning how to identify and fix their behavior mistakes and negative choices. I tend to get very passionate about this subject and can ramble on. Well I talked so much that I forgot to tell her about the score board.
I am still amazed at how well the day went. The substitute did a great job of using the whole brain strategies that I told her about. My class is well trained and responded to her as if she were me. All day long I heard class, class, class/yes,yes,yes (she said class a lot each time, I think she liked it.) My students used soft voices, were engaged during instruction, completed their work, and demonstrated respect. When the students did not follow the rules she would ask them what the broken rule was and have them correct their error.
I was able to finish my testing (except for two absent students.) Wow wow wee wow! I still can't believe that I was able to test all day long without intervening to correct behavior or to remind the students to show the sub respect.
After the day ended the substitute and I discussed the day. Of course she had questions about Whole Brain Teaching. I told her all I could in a short amount of time and then told her to look it up because it would rock her world. We talked further about the differences in two styles of management: negative consequences (pulling numbers or changing colors) and WBT. In my classroom I am never taking away things from my students. I am always giving. Even if they need reminding to follow the rules or to show respect they get a point. Okay, it goes on the sad face side of the scoreboard but still they are receiving. Also, if they need more reminders (a more personal approach) they earn laps around the playground. This idea of always giving has done a wonderful thing for me. It has given me a sense of peace. I am never mad at my students so I never take things away out of anger. The substitute commented that she noticed she was calmer in my classroom than in other rooms. Her positive day makes me smile every time I think about it. And when I think about the fact that she did not use the scoreboard all day long my smile gets bigger. My students rock! Whole Brain Teaching rocks! I love the successes that are happening in my classroom every week! First grade rocks!!!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Well this past week was a humdinger of a week. On the Friday before last I ended up in the hospital having to have surgery on my stomach. I am just fine but needless to say I am sore. Because the surgery was not that invasive I went back to work on Monday and resumed my normal routines (sort of). I wouldn't even be writing about my surgery except for the fact that there were some repercussions in the classroom. Because they cut through my abdomen I am still very sore and during the week it was pretty bad at times. It was hard to sit down and then stand up. It was difficult to bend over to help the students at their desks, forget about getting down on the floor with them like I usually do. Carrying anything heaver than my beloved Tervis Tumbler was painful. Walking around the campus with the students was something I dreaded every day around lunch time. Another effect was that it was difficult to take deep breaths and in turn I was unable to speak very loudly in my teacher voice. Not being heard is frustrating. That is the reason I am even writing about my surgery/recovery experience. This week was frustrating.
Since school began I have been running my class as a whole brain class. The students are already conditioned to respond to certain call/response commands. We are loud (yet controlled), we move around a lot and use big gestures when we learn, and I am goofy and animated when I teach (I will do anything to keep their attention so they can learn). Well I this week all I could actually think about was my pain. Thank God for whole brain teaching because without that I would have been even more stressed out. That being said, the week still was rough. I found myself using class/yes in a desperate way. My voice was so soft that not everyone could hear the first time I would say class, so I would have to repeat it a couple of times. In my pain and discomfort, the fact that I was having to repeat something (that they usually did so well) made me feel out of control which made me feel emotional. Emotions in the classroom are bad um k. I love my students and think about them often but having emotional reactions to behavior is absolutely the wrong (most unproductive) way to handle things. I am not certain if this was an appropriate way to handle my lack of emotional control but I just talked to my kids about it. I told them how I was hurting and we talked about the surgery. They seemed to understand why I was different this week and for the most part the did what they could to control themselves and help me out. Still. our normally productive, fun loving, energetically controlled classroom was a mess. I did the best I could but I wasn't my best and neither were they. Sweet little angels that they are.
So my point for this week's post is that the Whole Brain Teaching Method is a wonderful tool that has changed my teaching world and makes my class more exciting than ever, but it is only a tool. My classroom management really comes down to me. Wow the responsibility. If I am not at my best the students will not be at their best. Some of my most well behaved students, you know the ones who always want to please, lost their minds this week. I was not doing a good job of controlling myself and they picked up on that. 
I didn't realize that using my microphone would help until Thursday (duh). When I put that thing on immediately the usual classroom atmosphere returned and there was peace. Isn't if funny how much the voice is involved in teaching. Tone and volume matter. With the mic I no longer sounded desperate. I sounded in control and calm and it didn't hurt to project my voice. I wish I had remembered that tool on Monday. Oh well.
Next week should be better, because I have had the weekend to plan and I am now caught up on all the little things that get left behind when you miss two days. Also, I am feeling better so I am sure I will be back to my old self by Monday. Next week is Johnny Appleseed week, we are going to have a blast! We might even do apple bobbing.
On Friday I told my students "You have lost your minds. Please find them, pick them up and put them back in your heads before Monday. We have too much to do and we can't be wasting our time running around without our brains in our heads." They think it is so funny when I say that because then they get to go around  looking for their "brains" and picking them up and putting them in their heads. Gotta love the imaginations of 6 year olds. I love my job and am so thankful that I can reflect and get better at each week.