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!