KinderGals: January 2016

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Flexible Seating...What is it?

Buzz words come and go so when I heard "Flexible Seating" I did a little digging. What did I find out? It really isn't anything new! Flexible Seating has been around A LONG TIME! Recently it has been given a lot of attention on blogs, Instagram and other social media platforms. It makes my teacher heart happy to see so many teacher embracing this concept! It's a concept that I embraced many years ago.  As my friend Deanna said, "Kim was doing flexible seating before it was cool."

Here's my "flexible seating" journey...

When I began teaching was REALLY kindergarten. We ate snack, we took a nap, we had recess twice a day, we learned our letters, we played in centers, we finger painted...and we didn't have an assigned seat! It was the way I learned to operate a classroom, it was the way my mentors taught me to teach. The children moved around the room into different areas sometimes at a table, sometimes on the floor, sometimes on a couch, sometimes in a bathtub. The classroom was a place where learning didn't require a desk with a name plate for each child.

Times changed and we have slowly moved to a kindergarten where children learn to read, add, and subtract.When Common Core came out, many teachers gave up the things that had worked for them as they turned their focus to the standards. They moved to more seat assigned work, more directed instruction, more "sit and get" type learning--"sit there and I hope you get it". Teachers moved to more of a "print and go", reproducible, no prep type of instruction where the standards where written on the paper so it must be the best way to teach. 

Thankfully many teachers are now seeing that flexible seating doesn't mean you have a "loosey goosey" classroom where the teacher loses control. Instead, they see it is a place where rigor is evident in every lesson. It is a classroom with very specific routines and procedures. It is within this structure that children can be more selective as to where and how they learn. It allows for differentiated instruction, multiple intelligences, and Bloom's taxonomy to all occur not as separate lessons, but as the way the learning is delivered on a daily basis.  In today's classroom, the instruction might be a little different. The standards might be a bit more rigorous.  But the way children learn best hasn't changed!

What does flexible seating look like? It can look different in each teacher's room. Here are a few pictures of what it looks like in our classrooms. The true goal of seating it to maximize instruction.  Flexible seating is different kinds of seating for different kinds of instruction.

Flexible seating doesn't mean that you have a "tableless" room. 

As a matter of fact, I love my small group table. This is a table I use to meet with a small group of kids while the other children are working around the room. My kids know that this is the spot where we are going to meet together! It is also my desk! I don't have a teacher desk. This is it.
If I am doing a messy craft that involves paint....I would never want to do that on the carpet. I like to use my table for crafts, painting, cooking...things you would use a table for if you were at home! I also have a few small tables around the room. Here are a few that I have used over the years.
Sometimes I do my activity on the floor. Talk about excitement! Crazy, right? Just because we did our shaving cream writing on the floor they were super excited. Why did I do it? I wanted them sitting in a row instead of around a table. I wanted to be sure they were all seeing the word left to right! That is what flexible seating is REALLY about. After we decide what standard we are going to teach, we think about what resources we are going to use, which materials are going to be the most successful in helping our children achieve mastery. But, another decision that needs to be made, what seating environment while be most conducive.
Where's "Their" Spot?
My kids do have an assigned spot on the floor. To be honest, this is for my own sanity. I like for them to know where to get on the rug. This keeps kids apart that I just don't want together. It keeps all the kids in the right spot so that the instruction is most impactful.  It makes it where I can establish share partnerships with intention.
See those red bags? That is one of the smartest things I ever did as a teacher. It is their "carpet bag". This is where they keep all of the supplies that we use for large group instruction.  In the morning they get them out of the baskets and place them on their carpet spot. They stay there all day! You can read more about the carpet bags here. This eliminates the need for that desk to hold all those supplies! ALL, every single minute, of large group instruction is done with the kids sitting on the rug. They use a lap board for supporting their paper as needed.  With all the kids right there, I can easily see who is getting it and who needs to spend a little more time with me. It keeps the pace moving quickly as there is no need for me to walk around all those crowded tables. 

Why Did I Get Rid of Tables In the First Place?

To be honest, getting rid of my tables had nothing to do with any research! There, I admit it. Most of my decisions as a teacher are based on that "gut" feeling. That feeling that there has to be a better way. (It's only after I try things that I later find research to say it's a good idea!) I wanted to have the cute rugs, fun benches--the cozy places for kids to breathe! The problem--there wasn't enough room for the tables and the things I wanted! We hardly used our tables. So, one day after school I pushed a table to the workroom and put my name on it--in case I wanted it back! The next day, I pushed a second table. As you can guess, I never looked back. I kept two tables, one for me and one in case another adult was in my room doing a messy, fun activity with the kids! The rest of the room slowly filled with pillows, benches, clip boards, lamps, end tables, etc.

The Classroom is Your Day House

Now, my parents always ask at Open House where their child's desk is.  Here's how I explain it...School is our Day House. On Saturdays when I am home, I don't sit at my kitchen table all day...I would go stir crazy. Instead I move around my house--laying on the couch, sitting at the table, crawling around on the floor with the kids, swinging on the porch...different kinds of seating for different kinds of activities.

Pattern VS Novelty

We also know that the brain learns by pattern, but seeks novelty. So we divide our rooms into 5 zones. Each zone has different types of seating, different literacy centers, different math centers, different types of writing tools, etc. The kids visit one zone each day. The fact that they know the rotation, 1 zone each day of the week, establishes that pattern that the brain loves. But, the variety of resources and the different environment provide the novelty that the brain seeks.Within the zone they sit where they want! It depends on what they chose to do as to where they chose to sit...
...on their belly, leaning against the couch or using the storage unit as a table top! As long as they are working, getting the job done, being productive, working as a team, problem solving, then I'm good--sit where you like!

So that's it! Simple as that! Not a decision I made based on a research paper I read. Not a decision I made because it was the cool thing to do. It was a decision I made because I wanted to create an environment that was warm and cozy. A place where kids don't have anxiety. A place that I love to spend my Sunday afternoons.  A place where parents stick their head in the door and say "this is so cool".  A place where an academically rigorous curriculum doesn't cause tummy aches.

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Peek at my Week: Dr. King

It's time to learn all about a great American, Martin Luther King, Jr. After a peek at my week, I shared a few of our favorite activities to celebrate this famous hero.
Here’s a little peek at our week. You can download the plans (here). We are going to continue talking about winter and add in our unit of study on MLK.
We can’t wait to get into our Non Fiction Writing Unit. We have focused on non fiction text during our guided reading. We have loved using the various levels of text---with the same content and the same non fiction features.
We want all kids to see themselves as writers---so what a perfect connection. It doesn’t matter the level of the text they write, if they only use illustrations or if they write full paragraphs, they can still develop the concepts of non fiction text! Wow! That is pretty powerful! So…your children can master the writing standard without writing text? The writing standards require the children to know the features of the genre.  Now, don’t get me wrong. They do HAVE to write text to accomplish the foundational standards—stretching words, spacing, letter formation, etc.

We are going to spend Monday reading lots of books about Dr. King.

Then, the rest of the week we are going to put that information to work-writing non fiction text, making connections, and learning about cause and effect.

During math we are moving on to Unit 5—Number Combinations 6-10.  I have a very smart friend, Catherine Kuhns. When I have a math question, I give her a call. So this past week we were having a discussion and it came up again about number combinations. She said, “According to the NCTM, kids need to see multiple representation for each number. They need to break it apart and put it back together in many different combinations.” So, that said—here’s what I think. SLOW DOWN!!!! If we can have children confident, fluent, and able to draw on mental images for each number---it will pay off big time in the long run. Be sure and check out Catherine’s resources. She is pretty fabulous!

Here are a few ideas from last year when we celebrated Dr. King. Many of these ideas are in our plans this week. These ideas are from Hooray for Dr. King Day.
Dr. King had 4 children. For this activity, we had the children show different combinations of 4 children.
For this activity we learned all about Rosa Parks and her bus ride. For this math activity, the children show how to get the kids on the bus so that they are sharing the seats equally.
For this activity we wanted to show the kids how we can share and get along, just like Dr. King wanted us to.  In this story problem the children had to figure out how to share the toys when there isn't enough for everyone to have their own.
Dr. King wanted us to know that the color of our skin did not determine our worth. For this activity we made patterns and joined hands together!
For this fun cheer, the kids sorted pictures by beginning sound.
For this activity we visited the cause and effect of Dr. King's Work.
We made a birthday cake for Dr. King. The children cut apart the sentences and the words to Happy Birthday song. They used patterns to decorate their cakes.
We made our own Dr. King and wrote about all the things we learned about Dr. King.
Be sure and hop over to my friend Deedee’s blog to see what others are doing this week.
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Friday, January 15, 2016

How to Organize Your Guided Reading Materials

 Organization...a constant state of moving things from one location to another, trying to find the perfect place to store items so that we can later retrieve them and use them quickly. How accurate is that definition? Or how about this one: Organization...a system that allows for ease and the improvement of instruction! That's a definition we can all agree on. Right?

My husband says that I organize to organize! But, being organized can save us tons of time! Here are some organization tips for guided reading:

Getting Organized for Guided Reading

1. Get a notebook just for guided reading. I keep this book on my table. I have everything I need right in that book!
2.The first page in the notebook has a lesson plan overview. This helps us to have all the management items right there on one page.  This keeps us from searching for all those lists we made and put somewhere!
3. Divide the notebook into sections--a section for each of your groups. We put the names on post in notes and stick them to piece of paper that we slide inside a plastic sleeve. We wanted a way that we could move kids without having to make new lists.
4.Have a "working" lesson plan for each group. These are quick notes to help us plan our word work and comprehension.  It also gives us a place to collect data that we can use for planning next week. You can print this form out here. Thanks to Megan's teaching partner for sharing this with us!
5. We love this resource, "The Continuum of Literacy Learning". It has information for teaching points and strategies at each reading level. We print the level for each of our groups to have right there in front of us!
6. Make a tab for each of your children. Store all of their running records behind the tab. This will show you growth over time.  You can download our running record form here.  I love this form! It has 100 boxes. This makes it easy to count the words in a passage. It also, lets us know when they have read 100 words...that's enough! ***We do a running record during each guided reading group! As the children are reading their warm up, we pick one student to read a cold read. This allows us to collect 10 records every week!
 7. Here are a few more tips we use to organize our guided reading block. Make a folder for each group, each day that you will meet with them. Inside the folder put everything you need--the readers, word work activities, etc. (Short e Book from Reagan's Big Phonics Bundle.)
8.We keep this tall storage unit right beside our teaching table.  The drawers have all the novelties and supplies that we use during guided reading!
Hope these tips have you calling yourself the Queen of Organization! Happy Organizing....

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Are You Getting the Most From Your Literacy Centers?

How are your literacy centers going?  One thing that is often missing from a literacy center block is a mini lesson. Read on to see how Deanna and I use mini lessons to get the most from our center time.

December, as always, is a blur. So many great family memories were made! I decided at the beginning of the month that I wasn't going to beat myself up over not being perfect! I didn't blog (or did I), I didn't work on resources....I worked on making those memories! My heart, be still, I love those babies!!!
Peek at My Week
But, I'm back with a peek at our week of winter.  Here are the things we are doing this week. You can download these plans here

Literacy Centers
Ever reached the point in your day where you just can't give anymore? You just can't do another large group activity? You decide you have two choices--send them to centers or put in a movie! We have all been there!  But, how do we really get the most from our centers? One of the things that Deanna Jump and I decided to do was to add a mini lesson before center time. We wanted to set our centers up just like we would readers and writers workshop. A time when we started with a mini lesson to teach a new concept. Guys...this has been HUGE! It has made a ton of difference.  Here's what I think:

Mini Lesson Benefits

  • It made us really look at what needed to be taught, not just plan activities to keep them busy.
  • It made us think deeply about each standard, unpack, and plan lessons that would take kids to a deeper level of understanding of that standard.
  • It allowed us to use a framework that we truly believe in.
  • It structured the lessons so that we taught a little and practiced a little.
  • It allowed us to visit the same concept over several days.
  • It gave us a way to introduce concepts that we could later use as a have to center activity or to scaffold our kids for can do centers.
Here's an example of this week's mini lessons that will occur before centers.  We took the concept of children needing to know the difference between letters, words, and sentences and created two weeks worth of mini lessons.  Now, at the end of the week they will not only know that "can" is a word, but they will know WHY and WHAT!
These are the anchor charts of mini lessons that we will use this month. You can find those anchor charts here.
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