Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Reading With the Stars

     For the past couple of years, I've been working on a curriculum writing committee in my school district. About once a month, I get together with a team of  kindergarten teachers from other schools to work on developing new units of study for our Readers' Workshop curriculum.  Since I don't get to see these teachers very often, it's a great chance to gossip share information, brainstorm ideas and do some meaningful work.  I'll admit, we wander off task from time to time catching up, telling funny kindergarten stories, complaining about assessments, etc., but we also stumble onto some great ideas together.
     The last time we met, we were discussing ways to put some new "umph" into our independent reading times. After three months of Readers' Workshop, we found that we had hit somewhat of a plateau in terms of increasing stamina and focus. We all felt that the kids needed something to give them a little inspiration so they could read "longer and stronger."  So, Louise, Cindy (my kinder-colleagues) and I put our heads together to find a solution. We talked about how much our kiddos LOVE to read to someone, especially someone special.  When they have some kind of special "audience" to read to, they seem to really stretch themselves as readers.  We've tried having the kids bring in stuffed animals from home to read to, but found that some kids just got distracted by their furry friends. So we kicked it around a bit and came up with a gimmick strategy that has been super successful in my classroom
     In my best Tom Bergeron voice, "Welcome to Reading with the Stars!" We brainstormed a list of celebrities, characters and other special people (the principal, the Art teacher, etc.) that the kids get excited about.  I found pictures of these special people (or cornered them with my camera to get one) and mounted them inside manilla folders. The kids pick a star to keep in their book box for the week, and then during independent reading, they stand up the folder in front of them and voila! - an instant audience. When I started Reading with the Stars a few weeks ago, my class was stuck at 7 minutes of independent reading before they would start to get a little wiggly. I am happy to say that Katy Perry, Justin Beiber, Cinderella and Darth Vadar have helped us increase our stamina to 10 minutes!  I've also noticed that the kids are also reading more confidently, wondering aloud about their books and are not as fidgety.  Take a look at my little sweeties in action...

     If you're looking for a little boost for your workshop time, grab some celebrity head shots and give it a whirl. (I would love to share my picture file but since I just found the pics on the internet, I'm not sure what copyright issues there might be. If you'd like to see the list of the celebs I used, I can post that - just let me know).  Reading with the Stars might not have a "mirror-ball" trophy like DWTS does, but with this plan, everyone's a winner!
I'm hoping to expand my A-list so if you have any ideas for some new celebs, I'd love a comment!
Have a great night,

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Yippee Skippee and Gobble Gobble

Yippee! Report cards are finished! I'm not even going to worry about the piles of assessments, checklists and writing samples that have taken over my dining room table 'cause I'm too busy doing the happy dance. Inputting the last grade each marking period always bring such a sigh of relief. Ahhh...

This time around was especially stressful because of an unexpected time crunch. We usually spend the last two weeks before report cards are due giving all of our assessments. We lost 6 of these days when school was closed because of Superstorm Sandy however, leaving us with a lot to get done in a very little time. So, I confess, I did something that I hate to do - I gave the kids a lot of seat work to keep them working independently while I pulled kids to assess. It was meaningful work and it kept the kids engaged, but I still felt a little guilty about it.  Sometimes ya just gotta do what ya gotta do, I guess.

I thought that some of you might be under the same time crunch or might just be looking to get the kids through this crazy week until Thanksgiving, so I thought I would share some of the things that I used.  The first is a cute little book that the kids can use to write about their ideal Thanksgiving dinner. It starts with the prompt, "This year I'm cooking Thanksgiving dinner and I'm making..."  The kids then write one thing on each page that they would make if they were cooking. It's pretty funny to see what they come up with - lots of Junk Food Feasts, that's for sure! I just photocopied a big pile of the food pages and let the kids write as many pages as they wanted to. If you want to see what menus your little chefs will come up with, you can grab a copy below the picture.

Next is a packet full of random Thanksgiving goodies. There's a tens frame counting activity, a First Thanksgiving story sequencing activity, a math patterning worksheet and two labeling pages. There's enough to keep your kiddos busy learning in a meaningful way for awhile.

I hope you have a quick and easy week as we head into the long Thanksgiving weekend! Have a great night!

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Vote for Cuteness

First, I want to send my thoughts and  prayers to everyone who was affected by Superstorm Sandy. Here in Connecticut we are slowly recovering. Schools have been closed all week, 200,000 people are still without power and the property damage is just horrible. Luckily, my family and friends are all safe, and for this I am incredibly grateful.

With all of the tragedy and anxiety of the past week, I thought I'd share a little cuteness with you. But before I do, I have to make a confession, and you have to promise not to judge. Here goes... I'm one of those crazy dog ladies who puts costumes on their dogs. And I have way too many of them. There. I said it.  Somehow in my mind, costumes are not clothing, so I haven't crossed the line into the "Paris Hilton putting pink dresses on her dog" kind of crazy. Just the normal kind of "I just think my dog is the cutest thing ever" kind of crazy. Besides, since Sally is blind she can't see all of the dogs in the neighborhood laughing at her.  Poor Sally...

OK, on to the cuteness.  To introduce my class to the concept of voting and show them firsthand how elections work, I created a project for them which follow the whole process from start to finish.  The critical issue that we tackled for this project was: What should Sally be for Halloween?  Pretty important stuff indeed!

First, we read a book about all of the costume choices.  The kids wrote about their favorites and explained why other people should vote for their choices. (Who says kindergartners can't do persuasive writing?)  Then, we set up a polling place in the hallway outside of our classroom.  We cast our votes first, then we invited the whole school to come down to read our campaign posters and cast their votes.

We're keeping track of the votes by adding tally marks to our data sheets every day. Since we've been out of school all week we don't have a winner yet, but luckily Halloween has been postponed until November 7th, so Sally will have plenty of time to get ready.

Now that the kids have seen the election process firsthand, they're ready to transfer what they know to this week's Presidential election.  We'll work with a kindergarten friendly easy reader that explains how our country's elections work and introduces the kids to Obama and Romney. We'll wrap it up with a cute little Voting Booth Craftivity that has a curtain that slides open to show the two presidential candidates.

You can check out this cute Election Day Emergent Reader and Craftivity pack in my TPT store.  I'll also send a free packet to the first few people who leave a comment telling me which costume you think Sally should wear on Halloween.