Check out my new post on the CCIRA Professional Development Blog: The Importance of Choice in Writers Workshop (or Writers Playshop, as we began calling it this year). While you’re there, enjoy the rest of their blog.
Last year at the annual NCTE convention, I went to an amazing session by the teachers at Opal School. I left with pages of notes and thoughts from their brilliant thinking, but the one thing that really stayed with me was the idea of “cracking open a word” – seeing what’s inside of a word for all of us in the class. I immediately returned to our classroom and began the ritual of our “One Big Word”.
Over the past year, we’ve explored many words that spoke to our class community. We engage in an inquiry about what that word might mean and how the meaning of the word might be different for all of us. We read books about this word and discover books that connect to the word, make books about the word, find pieces of art that connects to the word for us, draw pictures of what the word means to us, find characters that connect to our word, have Hands-Down Conversations around the word, and record our thinking on a large chart. These charts serve as anchors to our classroom community and conversations we may have in times of celebration or times of difficulty. We refer back to them often. Many of our Friendship Workshops are focused around our current One Big Word, or revisiting past words.
The words are chosen by listening to the children and what seems to be important, interesting or something that might be beneficial to explore deeper. Sometimes the kids suggest a word, sometimes I propose a word, sometimes a word comes out of an experience or a book we read. Sometimes we spend a week with a word, sometimes it’s a month. All of this is done in a way responsive to the children in our community at the present time. Some of the words we’ve explored are: kind, friend, community, listen, love, empathy, compassion, hero & shero, persistence, joy and brave.
Here are a few of our One Big Words and some images that capture our thinking. Enjoy!
Our linear calendar is an important teaching tool and classroom routine in our kindergarten world. This idea was born after many conversations with Kassia Omohundro Weekend, author of Math Exchanges, as we were both beginning new school years teaching kindergarten for the first time. We weren’t satisfied with the typical calendar routines in kindergarten (or the higher grades we had previously taught) and started to ask ourselves what would be a meaningful and authentic engagement for documenting the passage of time. We wanted to incorporate a time line of sorts, along with an audit trail documenting our learning together over the course of a year. The linear calendar has evolved a bit over the past seven years, but it remains an important piece of our classroom journey.
I get a calendar from an office supply store every summer and pull it apart. I display it from August to July on a large bulletin board in our room. Every month is included because I want it to show a full calendar year. The first thing that goes on the calendar is our birthdays. I spend time the first week of school having each child find his or her birthday month and day and put a star sticker on that day. This is how the calendar wall is introduced to the children. I see a lot of talk and curiosity as they ask, “When is my birthday?”, “How many months until my birthday?”, and “Look! My birthday is close to (a friend’s) birthday!”
Each month, I take that page off the wall and bring it over to our meeting area. We interact with this calendar all month in an authentic way – just like I write in my calendar planner. Together, we write in important events such as Back to School Night, early releases, guest speakers, teacher workdays, holidays, etc. We indicate days we are in school and days we are at home by highlighting weekends and holidays with a yellow marker. I spend time at the beginning of each month showing how the calendar flows into the next month by starting on the next day. This is a tricky concept and one worth talking about every month. Some years I have cut the extra days off the end and beginning of the month so the kids can see how it all fits together. When August ends on a Wednesday, then Thursday is the first day of September.
Every day we look at the calendar during morning meeting and see what is happening that day and what might be happening later in the week. At the end of the day, we cross out the day and write what day of school we just finished. We look to see what is happening tomorrow and for the rest of the week. I’ve found this SO much more meaningful than a song about what “yesterday, today and tomorrow” is, a sentence frame about what today is and what tomorrow with be or a recitation of reading the calendar – all things I’ve done in the past and yet, in June, many kids didn’t know how to interact with a calendar or tell you when tomorrow is.
The kids interact with this calendar on their own throughout the day. You can see them reading it with pointers, talking about how many days until winter break, counting days until the next birthday, reflecting on things we did in prior months, and having conversations during play, reading, etc. I am always amazed at the meaningful conversations that happen in front of the calendar wall.
At the end of each month, we reflect on all that we accomplished or experienced that month. We create an interactive writing piece together to summarize the month, and choose pictures to display on our calendar wall. The children and I put this together and display it above the calendar month page. This creates a timeline that captures our year together. Children, families and visitors all enjoy looking at our wall story about the year.
With each month page, I also display the piece of art that each child creates on their birthday, and birthday cards with the child’s name, picture and birth date.
Engaging the children in meaningful conversation, noticings, experiences and authentic calendar interactions and talk is appropriate and beneficial in kindergarten. It’s also fun!
I’ve found the linear calendar to be an essential tool in the teaching and learning in our classroom. I hope this post is helpful to anyone interested in creating one with their kids! Enjoy!
Sight words. Flash words. Fast words. Word wall words. Popcorn words. High frequency words. Dolch words. Fry words. Whatever you want to call them – they are the words that appear most often in printed materials. Having a solid core of automatically recognized sight words makes a huge difference in fluency and comprehension. It allows readers and writers to navigate text more easily, and spend more energy focusing on constructing meaning, problem solving and writing more complex words.
Marie Clay referred to words that children know instantaneously as “islands of certainty, in a sea of print”. She writes that, “in the familiar story the child locates a word he knows and builds a response around it. Then the child’s reading of text comes to be controlled by particular words even though he can only recognize one or two words” (Clay, 1991). This reminds us of the importance of making sure that everything we do is in the service of meaning. We can’t simply teach kids lists of words to memorize or put these words on flash cards. We have to focus on teaching these words in meaningful text and show our readers how these known words can be “islands of certainty.” We have to help our readers and writers see how to make these words theirs, and how they can use that knowledge in their reading and writing.
Once I’ve determined which words are already known and automatic for each child, I plan the words to introduce for each student and/or group. I typically introduce a new word at the end of a guided reading group, or during interactive writing, but occasionally I do this in a one-on-one reading conference. Regardless, I always make sure it is introduced within the context of meaningful text – either a book we are reading together or a piece of interactive writing.
Selecting a word to teach:
-look at your pre-assessment to determine which word to teach
-choose a high frequency word (four-letter words are easier to learn, don’t start with two-letter words – Marie Clay speaks of this in Literacy Lessons, II. She states that the four-letter words that are frequently used, like: “‘come’, ‘look’, like’, ‘here’, and ‘this’, provide a better introduction to how words work in English than two-letter words like ‘to’, ‘is’, ‘at’, ‘on’, ‘up’, ‘it’ and ‘me’. In some ways, two-letter words are hard, exceptional, and they do not contribute much to dealing with the sequencing or clustering of letters in the language.” (p.41) Also, two-letter words are often visually confusing (on/in, is/si, no/on))
-look for one that occurs in a book the group has read (connect to the known, keep meaning first)
Teaching a new sight word:
Breaking a word into letters:
-teacher quickly assembles a word with magnetic letters on a board on the right hand side of the board
-the teacher demonstrates, with deliberate movements, breaking out the letters – sliding the letters, one at a time, from first to last, to the left on the board – building the word again – then read the word while running finger under the word
-invite a child to try building the word, carefully observing and supporting the left to right movement – then reading the word together
Tracing a word:
-teacher writes word with dry erase marker, then reads the word
-invite child to trace over the letters with her finger, ensure left to right tracing
Connecting to meaningful text:
-look back in the book you’ve read to find the word, search and locate the word on several pages
Connect with writing high frequency words:
-explain that we can learn to write words by learning to look at them carefully when we read
-tell the student to look at the word (either written or the magnetic letters) – run your finger under the word and read it slowly
-ask the child to read it slowly and/or run his finger under it – “Look at it carefully.” – ask the child what they notice about the word
-ask the child to take a picture of it in their brain – ask the child to close his eyes and see the word in his head. “Can you see the first part? The next part? The last part?”
-ask him to open his eyes and look again at the written word – “run your finger under it and say it slowly”
-invite the child to write the word without looking – if he is hesitant, tell him he can look where you have it written, if he needs to
-the child should say the word slowly as he writes
-compare the word in the book to the one with magnetic letters and to the one the child has written again, reading the words – talk again about what they notice
-remind the child that this is one of their words now, it’s in their brain and they will be able to read and write it from now on and forever!
What’s most important is that kids have time to then practice reading these new words in the books they read. They need to see how reading these words fast will allow them to pay attention to other challenges in the books they read and the books they write. They need to have time to read, talk to others, and make meaning from texts that are just right for them. This is when knowing the sight words has the most power – allowing the reader to focus on making meaning, problem solving and constructing a reading processing system.
Exploring identity, and beginning to understand who we are and who we are not as individuals and as a community, is a huge part of my teaching. I start this inquiry on day one and continue it throughout the year. One big project we do is with skin color.
When it started to come up in our conversations, I read a few books that explore skin color. The Colors of Us, Shades of People, The Skin You Live In, Chocolate Me and All the Colors We Are, are a few of our favorites. We learned about the science behind skin color and played around with mixing paints that match our skin color. Based on the beautiful language in The Colors of Us, we chose our words for what we would call our skin color. We made up colors like, “whipped cream peach” and “cocoa caramel mocha” and “honey gingerbread”. We mixed the paints and made our self-portraits.
Our big questions that guided this inquiry were:
Why is our skin different colors?
How do I see myself?
How do others see me?
Who am I? Who are we?
We read books, had lots of conversations, made art and played around with self-portraits in many different mediums – using paint chips, buttons, empty picture frames, ribbons and assorted loose parts. We interviewed our friends and asked them, Who am I to you? and How do you see me?. In our completed self-portrait paintings, we wrote the answers to these questions. We also created and drew a symbol that represented who we are in the world.
This exploration into skin color and self-identity was a celebration of who we are and who we are to our friends and to each other. It made our community even stronger and helped us explore, appreciate and celebrate the differences and the similarities that make us special. We will continue to go back and revisit our thinking, revise our thinking and celebrate who we are as a community this year.
I’ve been playing around with hands down conversations as part of our morning meetings. Inspired by my friends and brilliant thinkers, @kassiaowedekind and @TeacherThomp and the work they are doing with talk, I’ve really enjoyed this new start to our day.
As the kids come in each morning, I listen to what they are chatting about. I get a sense for what is interesting to the kids that day and use that information to start our hands down conversation. After our morning announcements, we gather together on the rug and I invite someone to start our conversation around that topic. The conversation may (and often does) change topics, but I help them get started with a common topic. For now. Yesterday, everyone was talking about the upcoming tornado drill.
“We have to go in the basement!”
“Tornadoes don’t happen here. They never do.”
“It’s raining now, are we really having a tornado?”
“Is this a practice or real?”
“What is a tornado?”
I could sense that this was something we needed to talk about before going into the hallway for the drill. The kids took the topic and had a great hands down conversation, answering each others questions, talking about worries, and putting each other at ease. I joined the conversation a little, sharing about my experiences as a child in Michigan with real tornadoes and super scary drills in the basement of our school. But I wasn’t the center of the conversation in any way. The kids respectfully listened to each other, added on to what others said, asked questions and jumped into the conversation when there was that natural opening. They are starting to monitor each other for interruptions, often reminding friends to, “please don’t step on my words”.
We’ve talked a lot about how we “build a conversation”, something I first read about in Maria Nichol’s wonderful book, Comprehension Through Conversation. When we first started these conversations, there were about four kids who dominated every conversation. The rest of the class listened (usually), but rarely jumped in. I brought that up to the kids and we talked about how we build a conversation when different people add to the conversation. I used blocks to show how building a conversation by adding new people is a lot like building a structure by adding new blocks. They got it. I was really amazed at how that shifted our conversations and how more kids participated.
Starting our day with authentic, hands down conversations, with opportunities for all children to talk, has been a wonderful shift away from the structured, very school-based, “share time” when one child shares and then picks a few friends to comment or ask questions. I’m looking forward to exploring this more and to reading about the thinking that Kassia and Christy do on their new blog.