Writing Tips in PreK and a Freebie {ALL Y'all Need}

I absolutely LOVE teaching writing in PreK because the growth is incredible! Throughout the year, I witness students from drawing lines to represent words to sounding out and blending words by the end of the year. Here are my five essential tools for successful writing in PreK:

#1 Mat Man
Our school uses Handwriting without Tears to introduce letter formation. My favorite part of the program has to be Mat Man. Not only does Mat Man teach them how to draw people, it also teaches them how to form straight and curvy lines that are used in letter formation.

#2 Play Planning
At my school, students write about where they are going for center time every day. They start out by drawing a picture of what they are going to do at the center and tracing the sentence, "I am going to the ____ center." By the end of the year, they are writing the sentence independently and extending the sentence. For example: "I am going to the blocks center to build a road."

#3 Writing Center
Create a writing center where the students can free write in a journal. In my writing center, I have markers, tape, crayons, word cards, and different types of writing paper for them to use. This past week, my students have been creating their very own Valentine cards.

#4 Write on the floor
Give your students a clipboard and let them write while laying on their tummies! Research shows that students are more prone to develop correct pencil grip and muscle memory if you allow them to write on the floor.

#5 Create Books
Over the past few weeks, my students have been creating their "Love Book." I just took some blank books from the Target Dollar spot and added pages that pertain to our theme. The kids LOVE how personalized the books are! Here are a few pictures of our "Love Books."

Click on the link below to get your copy of the "Love Book." It is specifically measured to fit blank books from The Target Dollar Spot. 

Happy Teaching!

5 Easy Steps for Motivating Reluctant Writers

Writing is not my forte. I know, I know, I'm a blogger I should love writing, right? But I have always dreaded putting pencil to paper to get my ideas out. Things always sound great in my head but never seem to come out right.  Although I muster up all the enthusiasm in the world for my students, I just know that many of them feel the same way every time I flip the schedule card to Writing Workshop.  So how do I reach these little sweeties that just aren't motivated to make progress in writing? I'll show you in 5 easy steps.
If you teach kindergarten and maybe even first grade, eek, you are no stranger to a page full of random scribbles.  You may be pulling your hair out wondering how on Earth you are ever going to get this kid to some level of proficiency by the end of the year, trust me, I've been there.  Here are my 5 easy steps to push those kiddos to find their inner author.
 Yup that's right, step one has nothing to do with actually writing words...(yet!) Because seriously, "tell me about your picture" only works if there is something to actually talk about.  That's why before ever pushing students to write words I focus a TON on adding detail to the picture.  I stress that someone should be able to look at their picture and know mostly what is happening. They should never have to guess who are those people, where are they, and what are they doing. Of course during this time I ask them to dictate their story afterwards while I write.  They watch as I write the words slowly, modeling (painfully slow...) how I sound of the words and write each one.  I also make sure students are working on letter sounds throughout the day so that they have these skills down when they are ready to try writing.
 Now that their pictures are so full of detail and popping with excitement, I encourage students to label at least a few parts. Maybe they label the characters one day, the setting the next, you get the idea. Sometimes students jump right in to adding many consonant sounds for their words, while other sweet little friends need more structure. If they are still reluctant I start by asking them to at least write the first sound they hear in each word. Then we move on to beginning and ending, then all consonants, then vowel sounds (maybe...)
 Next up, patterned language books! Anyone who's read Brown Bear, Brown Bear aloud 1,867 times knows the power in repeated language.  Well repeated language is so helpful in writing as well. It really builds student confidence and gives them a chance to try out their growing sight word vocabulary. I usually write the first part of the sentence on a card or white board for students to reference while making their book and their job is to write it on each page and add a word or words to complete the sentence. I try to switch up the sight words often so they see how much they know and can try out on their own when they are ready.
 Here's the big jump into independent writing. I start with students telling me one sentence about their picture. I draw a line for each word and they must write something for each word on each line. Our mini goals again start out with just writing beginning sounds, then beginning & ending, then all consonants, and finally trying out vowel sounds. To move students towards independence with this I have them begin to help me count how many words are in their sentence, then they draw their own lines, then slowly they realize they don't need the lines at all.
So finally when my reluctant writers are writing, but still not going beyond 1-2 sentences, I break out the first, next, then, last stories. I have a million prompts for these, but I also try to leave it open ended and tell students to write about something that happened. 

Writing is such a huge process for the youngest students when you think about all the skills they are combining. I hope trying out some of these steps will help you see progress in your most stubborn challenging little writers!

Differentiated Instruction in the STEM Classroom {w/ iTeachSTEM}

Most teachers agree that differentiated instruction is essential in helping students to master concepts, but the reality is that implementation can be challenging when faced with a class of students with a variety of needs and abilities.

In my classroom, most of my instruction is done whole group. There is very little time - nor is it always appropriate - for small group instruction. As a STEM teacher, I rely on three main methods of differentiating my instruction to meet the needs of all students in my room.

I strive to include many opportunities for students to experience the information. They complete various exploratory activities - often before any formal instruction - allowing them to develop a common experience to draw from as we move through the content.  Students work alone, with partners, and in small groups to make observations and discuss their findings.

Not every student learns the same way. I think we all agree on this. My goal is to deliver the essential content ideas in as many different ways as possible. I include lecture, video clips, music, close reading passages, hands-on activities, vocabulary study, simulations, and more. I even have students become experts on a small portion of the content and "teach" the class. By addressing big ideas from multiple perspectives and through engaging activities, I am able to reach more students than if I stuck to one approach.

When students are working on a STEM Challenge, they are given the opportunity to approach the problem in ways they select. While I do give a basic set of constraints, students are allowed the freedom of choice in how they develop and present their solution. Even though everyone in class is working to solve the same problem, the way that they are working on the problem may not be the same. By asking open-ended questions, teachers can guide students through various problem based learning experiences. This real-world connection and opportunity to collaborate with their peers (with teacher guidance) is an essential skill that must be developed in our students.

As teachers, it is essential that we have a solid understanding of the big ideas, core concepts and overall learning expectations in order to assist students as they build a basis of understanding for themselves. We must be mindful of the purpose behind a certain learning activity or task in order to direct students toward a common goal of content mastery. Teachers can adjust resources, groupings and instructional methods to target specific skills leading to a classroom of students who are challenged and engaged in the learning process.

Differentiation in the Classroom for your Teacher Evaluation Rubric!

You can google differentiation and see tons of ideas, photos and lesson suggestions. You can seek new ways to improve your techniques and approaches to reach new learners or ones you feel you haven't reached enough. I do it, visuals are my daily PD. I have ideas or questions and I search. I need to see models or how other educators do things since I'm in my own classroom all day. This is great! But, when it comes to being marked on your evaluation, differentiated instruction means more!

This blog post is going to share a suggestion for differentiating in your classroom when it involves best practices with your Teacher Evaluation Rubric. My suggestion will show you an easy way to understand your Teacher Evaluation Rubric with differentiation. 

Differentiation on your Formal Teacher Evaluation Rubric

Every teacher is evaluated on a series of components based on multiple formal and informal observations each school year. Every teacher has a component of differentiation as a piece to their yearly evaluation. What I am clarifying here, is we as K-12 educators are all evaluated the same way but by a different tool with different wording depending on where you work. 

As a Reading Specialist and prior Literacy Coach, teachers always came to me about their rating in this category. Their questions always came back to the same thing...

Teacher: "I'm using my reading level data to form my small groups!" Me: "Awesome, that's great! You are delivering direct specific instruction based on your formative data of where the children are in reading level growth."
Teacher: "I'm using my quarterly formative data to form my small groups! Me: "Awesome, that's great! You are delivering specific instruction based on your formative data of standards your students are missing."

Sound familiar? Well, the above examples are truly great teaching! But, it's only part of the component of differentiation. It is the part of the component in your evaluation that is predicted differentiation based off of data. 

But there is another part and it sounds easy, but it's tough. It is usually the difference between obtaining the highest rating in differentiation or not.

Have you seen this on social media? This image is from TeachThought!

(click the photo for a direct link)
Image result for teachers make decisions a day

It's true, teachers make so many minute by minute decisions a day about everything. Now apply this to a lesson!

Let me make it a little clearer and break it down:
  • When planning a mini lesson you need to add an area to your plan. Title it something like anticipating misconceptions, re-teach, etc...
  • Plan for students to not master your lesson standard or objective [Yes, plan for failure! Plan the reality, everyone is not perfect the first attempt]. In this plan note exactly what you will do that day for students with misconceptions or failures. Then note what you will do the next day if misconceptions or failures continue.
  • Now, prep resources for this group of students [Regardless their formative data or reading level.] Have a little area or spot at your small group table for this random group. This random group will be in the moment so you will need to be ready. You don't know exactly who will have misconceptions this day. It could be your low kid or your high kid.
  • Do your whole group lesson. During the lesson activity, have documentation of some sort by your choice. This can be in the form of anything anecdotal like a status check, roster, standard checklist, etc... By oral and visual observations note and rate who has it, who kind of has it and who does not have it. This can be any rating system you want. 
  • A big key... The students have to also be self assessing. Students need to rate themselves. This could be by a number rubric, color rubric or etc... You need to see how students internalize their work as well in comparison to the expectation. 
  • Now, the work period is ending. This is when you will send those who found success on to their independent time, stations, centers, etc... You will pull the students with misconceptions. It will end up being an immediate intervention in a way prior to starting your regular scheduled differentiated groups based off of reading level data or formal data.
(The same concept applys for Math!)

This is differentiation in action, planning for misconceptions with instant instruction to remediation then and there. Why is this hard for teachers? Well, time! Time to plan for your mini lessons and small groups is enough. Now your adding planning ahead for the unknown as well. But, I feel it is challenging because it's hard for people who evaluate using these fancy formal teacher rubrics to explain in a simple form to teachers. There's no real model for it unless you receive PD that is real and not from a PP or you happen to observe it yourself. Lastly, it's a game time in action observation. So it's hard to share with teachers what this would look like. 

Of course, after this first group is done. Then you would continue on with your differentiation instruction of your "current" small groups based off of your formative and reading level assessments. 

If you are effective at doing "differentiated instruction" you need to be doing the known and the unknown. You need to be doing the preparation for what you know the students need based off of large pieces of data and you need to be doing the preparation for what you don't know your students need based off of regular daily mini lessons. 

Lastly, you need to have documentation to show your evaluator because they are not available every day to see this in action [I think photographs are better to show!]. Evaluators would like to see this on lesson plans noted and to see how you document to grab those students with misconceptions and intervene. 

This is tough, I hear ya! Sometimes I think teacher is not a good job title for us! Maybe juggler, physic or something else would explain what we really do all the time! I think this shirt explains it all!
(click on the photo or HERE for a direct link)

I hope this blog post gave you some insight that you can apply and you have found it helpful!

5 Easy Ways to Differentiate in Your Classroom {with Mrs. Thompson's Treasures}

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Trying to differentiate activities in your classroom can take a lot of time and effort. Sometimes it's necessary to put in a lot of work to make sure that each student is getting what they need, but other times there are some quick and easy ways to make sure your lessons and activities will work for all your students! Here are 5 easy ways to differentiate in your classroom:

1) Less is more: Some students will benefit from multiple questions covering the same topic (i.e. addition and subtraction problems) but for some students the drill & kill is just not necessary! Mark out a row of or two of problems for those students who get frustrated and burned out with too many of the same thing.

2) More time: We all work at our own pace, so sometimes allowing some students a little extra time to complete something will take the pressure off and help them be successful.

3) Answering orally: For those students who get bogged down with writing answers, let them give the answers orally sometimes. This works well with subjects like science and social studies. You can even have them record their responses on a iPad with a recording app.

4) Peer learning: Letting students work together on things is a great way to include those who need a little help while teaching them collaboration and social skills at the same time!

5) Environment: Sometimes students just need a different place to do work, with less noise and distractions. Try having a spot in a different area of the room, or in the library, where a student can go to complete work if necessary.

One more note: I like to tell students that in our classroom, I try to make everything fair, not equal. Equal would mean that everyone gets the same thing all the time, but fair means that everyone gets what they need to succeed. I compare it to those students who need glasses. If everything was equal, then no one could have their glasses. But this wouldn't be fair to those students who need their glasses to see the board and do their work. When we give each student what they need (glasses or differentiated instruction) then we have a fair classroom!

Differentiation in the Classroom with Mrs. Grooms' Room

Hey y'all! 
I am so glad to be blogging with my friends at the Elementary Entourage.  We are sharing ideas this month about how to differentiate in the classroom.  One of the things that I love to differentiate in my classroom is homework  for my students. 

I love to have my students use a spelling menu for their spelling words or for their word wall words.  They choose their activity on the menu.  Their menus are chocked full of activities that range from easy-peasy to rocket scientists.  Students record their activities in their spelling journals that I check daily.  Try the example above!  

I also have my students read books that are on their level.  These go home to provide fluency practice.  (We use Fountas & Pinnell to guide our reading curriculum, so we use reading levels A-Z.)  We even use fluency passages that are leveled so students and parents can practice reading words per minute at home.  My goal is to have students choose their own books. Exciting! 

These are just a couple of things that I like to do for homework to differentiate in my classroom.  What are some of the things that you like to do? 

Now, I am almost 100 percent positive you have heard about a certain sale that started today!!   Everyone is really excited over at TPT and I know I am too.  So head on over!  Grab a coffee, sit back, and let's do some shopping! 

Differentiation in the Classroom

One of the MAJOR need to do words that has been in the classroom for YEARS is what we're discussing this month. How to you make learning meaningful for ALL of the students in your classroom? How do you make sure that the same activities will push, strengthen and be the just right fit for each student?

It's difficult isn't it? I've tried many many different ways to switch up the same activities in my classroom. I've decided there is no easy fix that works in all areas. However, I do love to differentiate. YEP. That's the word. Differentiation is one of those things that can literally drive you bonkers. However, this month you should have a few ideas to help you in many different areas in your teaching day. Here's mine...

I've taught kindergarten for most of my teaching career. This year, I've lucked up and landed in 1st grade. I love it! I still love kindergarten, but the fact that I now have READERS is amazing. It's a great joy to watch five year olds learn their sounds, their letters, their numbers and so on. BUT - a first grader learning to comprehend what they've read and learning actual phonics skills is another level of awesomeness.

The con is that there is SO much so fast for some of these babies that a few always seem to get left behind just as soon as we pick up steam. There are also those kiddos that seems to breeze through everything that is thrown their way. You also have those kiddos that are right there with you keeping up with everything you teach them. They're right on track. How is it that one skill can reach those different levels and they not notice? Well, here's what I do! I'm going to talk differentiating writing today!

Every morning, I try to make sure to incorporate writing in some way quickly. Some days we just don't have time for a dedicated writing lesson. So, I try to talk for about 5 minutes as a minilesson each day on our target writing goal for the week. Everyone pulls out their writing folders.

At the beginning of the year, we talk A LOT about what tools we have in our folder and how we need to use them to help us become better writers. We practice using our writing checklist when we're working on fixing sentences whole group. They open their folder to the checklist and we go down each one to make sure our sentence is correct. We skip the illustration when we're talking about one sentence only.

Their writing folder is actually two folders just taped together. We use the front pocket for anything that's in progress and the back folder is for finished writing that's ready to be published. Well, I'm sure you're asking how I differentiate it. Here's a little thing I added to our writing folders.

Each student has a page protector in the front folder. We insert our monthly words at the beginning of the month. This could include holidays, special occasions, family words or anything that they are interested in. On the front side is our monthly set that each child gets. On the backside, they can choose anything from a list to add that they'd like to write about. It has improved their want to write SO much and their writing has grown as well! Some of my kiddos wanted to keep their Christmas toy list in January so they had winter words as well as Christmas toys to reference.

But what if someone wants to write about A LOT of things? I've answered that as well. I printed our lists of words 3 times and placed them on about 10 different rings. They are just in a basket by our writing materials and they grab a ring (or two) and head back to their writing spot. This way, kids aren't limited to just one set of words.

Their writing options are also differentiated. I have various types of writing sheets out. They are all welcome to use any, but I do encourage a certain type of page for each of them. I wouldn't want to make them have a set type and one day they decided to write a very lengthy story and they only have three lines on their page.

I believe that the little sense of having a choice that is different from everyone else in the room makes a world of difference. For the kiddo that is still struggling to string together letters to form legible words, we practice labeling our pictures and then making a list instead of sentences. Why do I do that? They feel like their paper looks just like their neighbor's with words at the bottom. However, they are able to be successful at their level.

How do you differentiate your writing? These resources are from my I Can be a Writer, Too set.