Our Day in K

So what does a day in a public, Title 1, kindergarten classroom look like? Part of why I love teaching kindergarten is the adventure that each day brings. I can make a schedule, have a plan, do a whole lot of prep work – and have that all go a different direction once my kids enter the room. That said, I do believe that a predictable structure, routines that kids help create and continually revise to meet their changing needs, and a co-constructed curriculum are important and essential. I listen and respond to what the kids bring into each day. I put a great deal of thought and big picture planning into our days, and then remain continually responsive to the children in our classroom and what I observe each day through kid watching and documentation. As I’ve written about before, I teach children, not a curriculum.

Here’s a general structure of our classroom – at least the one I left last week. When we return in January we will negotiate this again, and through conversations and observation, we will create a structure that works for who we are in January. There are a few non-negotiables that I have in our daily schedule. These are the things that I know are best practice teaching after 28 years in the classroom and my ongoing professional development. They are: play, recess, shared reading, read aloud, literacy & math workshops, interactive writing, and community meetings. How and when we do these things looks different over time as the children grow and change, but they are always a part of every day life in kindergarten. And yes, play is a non-negotiable, because, as we know, play is how children learn. The times are approximate, and our day is more fluid than this appears. For example, you will often see kids reading, making books, engaging with a science or social studies invitation or investigating a math concept during Explore – if that’s their choice for play that day. Oftentimes kids will come in with an exciting idea for a new book to make, or an idea for an art piece or a structure to build. Starting the day with Explore allows them to dive into whatever they are interested in as soon as they arrive. Here is an overview of how our day flows:

  • 8:25-8:45 – Arrival, breakfast, Explore (open ended play with options such as dramatic play, sand, sensory boxes, blocks, puppets, art, math )
  • 8:45-9:10 – News Show, Morning Meeting, Morning Message, Read Aloud (gathering together and sharing what’s on our minds in a whole class conversation to start our day, our daily letter, and a read aloud)
  • 9:10-10:10 – Explore (open ended play – I engage in play with the kids, facilitate an invitation on a content area (like counting collections, magnet play or squirrels) and meet with kids 1:1 or in small groups)
  • 10:10-10:40 – Mathematicians’ Workshop (whole group number talk and math routines, small group or individual exploration and play, whole group share)
  • 10:40-11:00 – Recess (on the playground structure)
  • 11:00-11:30 – Lunch
  • 11:30-11:45 – Storytelling (oral storytelling based on Vivian Gussin Paley’s work – children tell a brief story, I record it and then they act it out with children taking on the role of characters and settings as I read the story)
  • 11:45-12:45 – Specials (PE, Music, Art, Guidance – I am in collaborative team meetings two days a week during this time, the other days are common planning time with my team)
  • 12:45-1:30 – Readers’ Workshop (whole group interactive read aloud, shared reading and/or strategy lesson, inquiry into what readers do, individual and partner reading from book boxes, shared reading charts, classroom library, poetry notebooks, acting out familiar books with props and story language, whole group sharing – I meet with kids 1:1 and occasionally in small groups)
  • 1:30-2:00 – Recess (in a field and garden)
  • 2:00-3:00 – Writers’ Playshop (whole group focus lesson on things such as author’s craft, inquiry into a type of genre, finding stories through play, what writers do – then choices of making books, posters, various writing choices and finding stories in open ended play – I play with the kids, confer 1:1 and meet with small groups, ending in whole group share)
  • 3:00-3:20 – Friendship Workshop (whole group meeting with read alouds, puppets, conversations, problem solving – focusing on building a growth mindset, friendships, our One Big Word, community and the social curriculum)
  • 3:20 – Closing Circle, Dismissal (end of day math routines, songs, packing up)

I always find it challenging to write out a daily schedule because there is SO much more that goes on beyond what is listed. And our day just isn’t so segmented. For example, you might be asking, “where’s your science time?”. While science is not listed as a set time, there is a great deal of science happening throughout Explore, in small groups, in read aloud, shared reading and monthly walking field trips. We’ve been studying squirrels (as required by my district) for the past five weeks. The amount of knowledge our kids have is mind-blowing – not because of a 45 minute science block, but because of ongoing discovery, conversation and observation of squirrels. We danced the squirrel life cycle, observed & painted squirrels, watched squirrel TV (who knew?), went on walks looking for squirrel dreys, read countless books on squirrels, wrote our own squirrel books and played with squirrel habitats during Explore for weeks. My kids were so engaged during our squirrel study and are all quite the experts. While this was a teacher-initiated study, the kids had ongoing interest and explored squirrels well beyond the curriculum expectations.

Our workshops follow the foundation established by Donald Graves, Mary Ellen Giacobbe, Lucy Calkins, Nancie Atwell, Katie Wood Ray and others, with the key elements of: time, choice, response, identity & community. They have a predictable structure and begin with a short focus lesson, move into independent workshop time and end with coming back together as a community to share. But this is all done in a way that is appropriate for kindergarteners. And not all kindergarteners (since we know children are vastly different), but the kindergarteners I have at this moment. Playful, joyful, learning and discovery has to be at the heart of this work. The last thing we want to do is to turn off our youngest learners by focusing so much on a curriculum that we forget these are four, five and six year old capable human beings. The independent workshop time looks very different every day during our literacy and math workshops. It might be independent reading, creating stories while playing in dramatic play, a small group shared reading, interactive writing of a letter to a friend who has moved away, building a structure from blocks and loose parts while writing a book about it, playing with Magnatiles, exploring patterns with a variety of tools, reading a leveled text, playing and retelling a story with puppets, or counting collections – just to name a few possibilities. But the work that children are engaging in always goes back to the elements of workshop: time, choice, response, identity and community.

The laser tag project – started in Explore and continued in Writers’ Playshop for several weeks

I wrote this blog in response to numerous requests by teachers to share what our schedule is and what our day looks like. Many of these requests were by teachers who shared that they just didn’t have time for play, or that play wasn’t allowed in their district or they didn’t see a way to do all the academic requirements that are now a reality in kindergarten, along with play. As I wrote before, I believe that play is a non-negotiable. It’s as essential as lunchtime, in my opinion. It is how children learn. As teachers, we have to advocate for our kids, read the research, be informed, share our thinking with others, and at times, be subversive in our relentless pursuit for what children need to grow and thrive as happy learners. I hope this gives you a window into our day and perhaps opened up some possibilities for how you might think about your day, with your kids, to make sure every day is filled with joyful, playful learning and discovery.

Picture Book 10 for 10 – Windows, Mirrors & Sliding Glass Doors

Today is the 10th annual Picture Book 10 for 10! I’m honored to join everyone today in celebrating 10ish (or 20ish 🤷🏼‍♀️) of our favorite picture books.

I’m sharing my favorites that I hope will serve as windows, mirrors & sliding glass doors for kids in my kindergarten class, and for kids everywhere. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop says:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books. (1990, p. ix)

If you’re not familiar with Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, I urge you to find out more here, as well as a video interview here.

Now, more than ever, our children deserve to feel represented in our classrooms and in the world. They deserve celebration and exploration of their identity. They deserve self-affirmation. They deserve to feel seen and be heard. They deserve to feel empowered to speak up, speak out and be agents of change. They deserve to feel like they matter.

Books can be an entry point for important conversations and connections in our classrooms and our lives. Here are a few of my must-have read-alouds in the classroom. I hope you find some that speak to you and your students. Enjoy!

New Beginnings

Sunrise from an AirBnB I stayed at this summer during a trail running mountain weekend in Virginia

As summer draws to a close, that bittersweet feeling emerges once again. While I love my summers, I also love my job. I look forward to welcoming a new group of kindergarteners as much as I look forward to weekday trail runs in the mountains, family time, leisurely puppy walks and lazy days reading at the pool. I’ve always felt so fortunate to have a job that has such a defined starting and stopping point with a chance to recharge in between. 

School has been in the back of my mind all summer long, but now it’s moving to the front. I’m catching up on those professional books that have been piling up. I bought my new notebook and calendar for the year. I have my new reading glasses and brand new Flair pens ready to go. I’ve done home visits to meet the incoming kindergarteners. And I am starting to visualize my classroom space and the four and five year olds who will live there soon. I’m thinking of my goals for the year as a learner and as a teacher. I’m excited for yet another new beginning.

Twenty-eight years ago, when I first started teaching, I spent a lot of time before school started designing bulletin boards, cutting out letters and stapling up borders, making seating arrangements, carefully writing labels with kid’s names, crafting cute behavior management systems (something I cringe at now), and doing other things – stuff – that I felt was necessary. But how I choose to spend my days before I welcome the kids has changed drastically for me. It’s now about my “why” – my reason for being a teacher. It’s about community, identity, freedom and love.

Now I spend the days leading up to the start of the new school year revisiting old favorite professional books like Choice Words and Troublemakers, writing and reflecting about the past year, revisiting my notebooks from the past years, thinking about the aesthetics and the space, imagining what might come up in our learning space and rehearsing how I might handle problems and how I can invite children into our space as a community of learners, explorers and problem solvers. I think a lot about the intentional language I will use because I know how much language matters. I visit some of my favorite online places like Tom Drummond, Fairy Dust Teaching and Opal School and get inspired with new possibilities to try in the upcoming year. I spend a lot of time thinking, reading, writing and anticipating what our year might bring. My focus is on the children and the community we will create together.

When I welcome children into our room the last week of August, they will enter a thoughtful, beautiful, inviting space – that is also a blank canvas, inviting them to make their mark and make it their own. My bulletin boards are empty (except for our linear calendar), the walls are mostly empty (except for a few choice pieces of art done by former classes), the space is organized and inviting with books, plants and invitations to play – but open to change and revision based on what these children might need. I want my new class to enter our room and feel a sense of wonder, delight, curiosity and excitement, as well as a feeling of belonging. I want every child to feel that they can be who they are in our classroom. It’s not my space – it is our space.

I still have a few more weeks to dive deeper into my “why” for this year. To plan out those first important read aloud books and to think deeply about what kind of community we are going to create together. What an exciting time of year for teachers! A fresh start, a new beginning, a chance to create something magical – alongside a group of wonderful tiny humans. How lucky I am.

One Big Word

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A class book we made after exploring the One Big Word – LOVE

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!

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Reading our book about our One Big Word, LOVE to our pre-K friends

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The Linear Calendar Wall

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“For 5 and 6 year olds, time becomes marked by what happened yesterday, today and what might happen tomorrow.”

Sally Haughey – Fairy Dust Teaching

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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Our 2018-2019 calendar wall – ready to go!

 

 

 

“Islands of Certainty” – Learning Sight Words

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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.

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Exploring Identity: How do I see myself? How do others see me?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

Building a Conversation

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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.