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Archive for September, 2009

I received some more great pictures of classroom libraries recently. Take a look at these pics from Cathy McLaughlin, who teaches kindergarten at St. Luke’s in Glenside, PA. You can still submit your pictures, just send them to d.diller@live.com and I will post them here on my blog!

library2

 

library3

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A teacher-made Noise-O-Meter can help students monitor their voice levels

A teacher-made Noise-O-Meter can help students monitor their voice levels

As I work in K-2 math classrooms this week, it is the fourth week of school. We are still busy introducing stations and are starting to teach students to use the management board so they can work independent of the teacher. We have not yet started small groups. During the time children are going to these early-in-the-year stations, we are walking around, observing and talking with children about what they are working on and learning. This is a great time for informal assessment.

One pattern I noticed this week was the noise level when the whole class was working at stations… in every classroom I’ve worked in! It is still a bit noisy at times, as children are learning to monitor their voices. They still need our help in doing this. As soon as it gets too loud, we stop the children by using a chime or by clapping a pattern (which the kids repeat). Don’t yell to get their attention. Be careful what you are modeling. Then we ask the students why we stopped. EVERY time they say, “It was too loud in here.” They know it’s loud, but they don’t know how to get their voice levels down.

My favorite tool to use to help kids be on “noise alert” is a music wand from www.treeblocks.com. I have used these in every video we’ve made. Simply ding the wand and it’s an instant noise alert. With practice, children will learn to control their voices. But it does take practice… and support from us, their teachers. Another option is to use a tambourine, a bell, or a chime to get students’ attention.

Another thing you might try is a teacher-made “noise-o-meter.” This can be a visual reminder of our expectations for the class.

When using math stations, it’s really important to use a “math mat” or a soft mat to keep things quieter. Working with manipulatives can easily escalate the noise factor. I like to use soft, foam shelf liner cut in large rectangles as math mats. Or solid plastic placemats work really well too. Or even a rectangle of fun foam. You just need something to soften the sound of dice, blocks, etc.

You might use a tambourine to get students' attention quickly

You might use a tambourine to get students' attention quickly

Another option is to gently ring a bell, like this 4th-grade teacher is doing

Another option is to gently ring a bell, like this 4th-grade teacher is doing

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Sign up sheets for students to choose books for literature circles on Harriet Tubman

Sign up sheets for students to choose books for literature circles on Harriet Tubman

Recently I received an email from a 4th-grade teacher about using novels in guided reading. It’s a question I get quite a bit, so thought I’d share it here. Here’s the question and my reply:

QUESTION: I am an elementary teacher who is a tremendous fan of your work.  My question is when working in guided reading groups in fourth grade, is it appropriate to read the same novel with each group?  My lowest level group reads much slower and I don’t know if I will have time to finish it with them.  What is your advice?  It’s Sarah, Plain and Tall.  Thank you in advance!

MY ANSWER:  I would not use the same novel with each group. The purpose of small group instruction is to differentiate for students. Choose a book for small group that is at students’ instructional level. This means that each group is reading a different book. If you have the resources, you could try to find books that tie together in some way. But that is not necessary. The important thing is to teach the children, not to teach the book.  As for Sarah, Plain and Tall, some children could read that book as an independent read. Others could read it in guided reading. For still others, it will be too hard and they will need too much support. It would be best to read aloud and discuss the book to the whole class, I think. Or read aloud some of it and leave it out for kids to finish on their own, if they’d like.

Another option is to use this book for some children in a literature discussion group. For more information on these, I like Harvey Daniels’ site (but it appears to being rebuilt at this time). Another source is www.litcircles.org. Yet another (for ELL students) is at http://www.eflliteraturecircles.com/

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Working with Heather to create a word wall on the magnetic chalkboard

Working with Heather to create a word wall on the magnetic chalkboard

This summer I helped my friend Heather set up her kindergarten classroom for the new year. Instructor Magazine called and asked if I’d write an article on setting up a classroom at the start of the year. They sent out a photographer and we did the classroom setup in just one day. See a preview online! The full article appears in the September/October 2009 issue of Instructor Magazine from Scholastic.

Just a note… there was no air conditioning in the classroom when we set it up! Made for a rather hot workday in Houston in June! But one that we hope will help lots of you with ideas for your classroom. For more ideas on classroom setup, see my book, Spaces and Places: Designing Classrooms for Literacy for teachers in PreK-5th grade.

See my other posts about classroom makeovers:
Welcome classroom environments
A new teacher gets a classroom makeover
Classroom makeover in Ozark, MO

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Pushing buttons

Recently I visited a kindergarten teacher while her children were having rest time. We looked at her classroom and how to maximize her space.

As I was leaving, rest time was over. “Watch this,” she said. She reached into her desk and pulled out a button that she pushed. It played the Jeopardy theme song which was the signal for her students to put away their mats and move to the carpet for instruction. It worked like magic! She told me she’d gotten it at Hallmark a few years ago.

She then showed me her other buttons. She had one that plays James Brown’s “I Feel Good”. For small group, she has the famed “Easy” button from Staples. In fact, I have that one, too! Do you have any buttons you use in your classroom?

easy

feel-good

qabutton

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Last week while watching the Today show for a few minutes one morning, I was touched by the story of 11-year-old Dalton Sherman who gave the convocation speech at the start of the year for the Dallas Independent School District (DISD). What an amazing child! Watch his speech on YouTube and you will be inspired!

I believe that we should develop our children’s oral language. That language is the foundation of all reading and writing they will do in their years at school and beyond. Language is a powerful tool.

I like to begin by allowing children to talk at school! When I was a child, a quiet classroom was a good classroom. We were expected to sit and listen for most of the day. Today’s students need opportunities to talk with each other and with us. I believe in teaching children to do “buddy talk,” turning and talking to a partner about what they are thinking at selected times in a lesson I’m teaching. Then I have several of them share with the class what they discussed.

They also use this technique while working at literacy and math work stations. During small group instruction, I sometimes teach oral language lessons. To view a lesson like this, see the clip called “Pre-Emergent Readers” from my new video series, Think Small! Engaging Our Youngest Readers in Small Groups

We use a familiar book from read aloud and have children in the small group take turns retelling the story. My goal is to have them use more sophisticated vocabulary and longer, more complex sentences each time they retell it. It can also be used in a work station for practice once I’ve taught with it.

What are you doing in your classroom this week to build your students’ oral language?

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Interesting sights in Indiana

 While in Lafayette, IN, this past week, I took some time to enjoy local sights and flavors. One evening I had a delicious vegetarian dish at an outdoor table at Bistro 501. Another night I met my friend, Carol Lutz, from Kokomo at McGraw’s on the Wabash River. We enjoyed watching local crew teams practicing on the river. I also went to the downtown Farmer’s Market and picked up fresh organic Indiana peaches and tomatoes. Yum! Then checked out some art stores and galleries. Picked up a great felted purse made out of repurposed wool sweaters from Lisa Walsh at Artists’ Own, a co-op art gallery with works from local artists.

Driving to schools, I passed many cornfields and fields of windmills, too. Visited classrooms and talked with teachers about space, small groups, and stations. Fall is in the air here. But I was back to hot, humid Houston for the weekend.

Crew teams practice on the Wabash River

Crew teams practice on the Wabash River

 

Fields of windmills on the horizon

Fields of windmills on the horizon

Fresh peaches and tomatoes at the Lafayette Farmer's Market

Fresh peaches and tomatoes at the Lafayette Farmer's Market

My new find: a felted purse made from an old sweater

My new find: a felted purse made from an old sweater

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