Sunday, December 3, 2017

Magisto: Alphabet Work

At the beginning of a new school year it is not uncommon to hear kindergarteners exclaim, " I want to learn to read!"  They are eager to move from from being read to by an adult to unlocking the code themselves and reading exactly what is on the page.

The start to this school year was no different; I could see the desire in their eyes and so began our reading work with letters and sounds.  Reading is more than knowing the names of the letters and their sounds; it is knowing how to play with sounds, match sounds to pictures, and write letter characters to match sounds they hear and produce orally.  

Developing a firm foundation with letter work was key the work we are doing now with rhyming, syllable segmentation and site words in daily guided reading groups.  As this video shows, the key to early letter/sound experiences is to have fun with reading to develop life long lovers of reading.  I hope you enjoy this video of some of those experiences!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Butterfly Metamorphosis

Kindergarten aged children have real life experiences with changes in weather and the seasons.  Using their background knowledge and applying it to how the seasons affect people, plants and animals is a how we introduce the concept of life cycles.  At the end of the summer butterflies are laying the last of their eggs here in Vermont from which caterpillars will emerge.

We gathered Painted Lady caterpillars in a tank in our classroom to study the stages of their life cycle and metamorphosis.  From here we will study the life cycle of a sugar maple tree, apple tree, and the cycle in nature of the four seasons and how they are interrelated.  In winter we will study why certain animals either migrate, hibernate or adapt.  


During the first few days the caterpillars were in a small cups on top of tank, eating food that resembled an oatmeal mixture.  We started our observation journals, drawing exactly what we saw.


It's always more fun to make observations with a magnifying glass just like scientist do in a lab.  The caterpillars grew in size rather quickly which we noted in our drawings.


As the caterpillars began to slow down their eating we placed them in the tank and waited for them to attach themselves to the paper on the underneath side of the cup lid and form their chrysalis.  Once their chrysalis was hard we taped them to the inside of the tank and waited for the butterflies to emerge.


When the butterflies emerged they took time to rest and dry their wings.  We observed them eating the fluids inside the chrysalis and then provided sugar water on a sponge for them to eat.  We could see their long straw-like proboscis stretched out and in as they fed. 

As we released the butterflies we wished them a good migration trip!


We discovered the symmetrical features of butterflies and noted the duller color on the underneath side of their wings.


When butterflies migrate they are seeking warmth & shelter, food and a place to lay more eggs to continue the life cycle.  These needs cause them to migrate when the season change here in in Vermont.  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Co-Teaching, Explore & Explicit Instruction in Small Groups

Our classroom is fortunate to participate in a program called "Co-Teaching" with our PPS kindergarten grade level Special Educator Jennifer Santarcangelo.  First of all, can I say how much your children LOVE to say her name... and the beauty of a multisyallabic name!  

Jen has been a member of the CSD for most of her career and over the last few has focused mainly on the kindergarten grade level.  As a special educator she works directly with students, consults with classroom teachers, observes student learning, and is a member of my classroom team.  

Jen and I, along with the PPS speech pathologist meet weekly to discuss all kids for what we call a "Kids' Day" meeting.   At times other specialized staff are invited to our Kids' Day meeting, such as the Behavior Specialist or the Occupational or Physical Therapist for CSD.   

Whether students qualify for special education or not, Jen's expertise is focused on learning and troubleshooting when kids struggle.  We work as a team to create individual supports for all kids.  If a child needs support beyond what is happening in the classroom, we discuss that at Kids' Day and she takes that information to the next level of support teams that meet at another time (and while I am teaching!).  This is how amazing PPS staff are in knowing your children and zeroing in on their needs.

Beyond all of this is CO-TEACHING for mathematics.  Jen co-teaches in two kindergarten classes, mine and Miss Donnelly's.  Thus, our two classrooms function as a learning pod, getting together over the course of the year for special math and literacy learning.

Each day Jen joins one classroom for math... so every other day she co-teaches math with me!  As a team, Miss Donnelly, Jen, and I plan out lessons together for the week ahead.  We plan for the WALT or "big ideas" our lessons will target.  We then look at the needs of all students, differentiating lessons for both classrooms and individual learning styles.  After co-teaching lessons we review what we did and discuss ways to increase student learning. 

When Jen teaches in our room, she and I work directly with a small group of students (groups rotate).  In this way your children are being taught by two highly trained teachers in an intensive small group format.  For now we are working mainly with two groups of ten children; soon that will change as we make three learning groups, increasing the student to teacher ratio for instruction.  It is am amazing process that highly impacts your children's learning process.  


Counting, identifying numerals, matching quantity and presenting their own work in front of the class!

My Counting Strategies

As a veteran teacher I use an array of teaching strategies... some that change and grow over the years, and several that have changed very little because they are gems that help all children learn.  Two of those are my counting strategies to increase accuracy in the counting sequence.  

The first is what I call "the doorbell" count.  When counting the doorbell way kids are taught to press and pause a moment with their finger on the object they are counting until the whole word (the number) is said, then move on to the next item, pausing on it until the whole word (the number) is said aloud.  This is especially helpful later in the year when they count large quantities and the numbers when said have multiple syllables.  

The second counting strategy is "pull away and count."  When using this strategy children slide the item they are counting away from the original group to a counted group... this helps them stay organized... knowing which ones have been counted and which are yet to be counted.


There were two significant mentors of mine who taught me the importance of letting kids know what they were learning about, one was from my college days at Boston College and the other a mathematician here in Vermont from whom I am still learning.  I use this strategy everyday.  I refer to it as WALT which is short for "We Are Learning To."  Everyday we talk about the WALT statement so that kids have a frame of reference for why they are doing an activity to build a skill.  You will see this posted in our room daily... for the counting strategies lesson, the WALT statement was "Count to tell how many" meaning they will use the doorbell and pull away strategy to count accurately and know how many items they have counted.

Launching Writing Workshop and Writers Share

It takes a little bit of effort and training to grow young writers... and yet look at them in just a few short weeks!  In the beginning we establish routines to follow for Writing Workshop, such as the practice of how we sit at the tables, keep our space organized with folders, paper, pencils and erasers.  We practice using a whisper voice to talk with teachers who move around the room supporting and extending learning.  When young children begin to see themselves as writers, their confidence grows along with their skills.

One of the most important steps in Writers' Workshop is what comes after the writing time... Writing Share.  This is a time for children to place their work on the document camera and stand before the class reading their work.  This powerful steps helps establish confidence and independence as they receive feedback from peers and plan for what they will add to their work the next day.

Reflecting on Our First Three Days


Literacy involves a multitude of skills that build a child's ability to speak, listen, present, write, and read.  These skills are needed as a private person and as community of literate beings.  We will create shared writing pieces, where everyone contributes to the conversation and recording of information... you will see this in the chart on the left.  Children also learn to record their own thoughts on paper.  

What impressed me the most was the details of what they did in school this week and how focused their ideas were on actual school behaviors and what we did as a class together.  What more could a teacher ask for....especially #6!