Growing the Whole Child

    Behavior management is a topic that encompasses so many things.  I think we, as teachers, think about the behaviors in our classroom a lot.  In our room, I want behavior management to really be behavior education.  It's not exactly a subject that we teach, but it is an  all encompassing part of our daily lives.
     I love the quote above by Alexander den Heijer because I feel that children often have so little power in their lives.  Their behaviors are one way they can express themselves and make their needs, thoughts, and feelings known.  This can happen in ways that are a little rough around the edges, but isn't that to be expected?  Through their behaviors, they are telling us what they need and what they want.  I feel that it's our job as teachers to act as a guide to figure out the problem together.  This is a very different idea than 'my way or the highway' and it definitely takes more work, but I also think it gives the students more ownership and comfort in our classroom.  They know they will be heard and know we will figure it out.
     I am a firm believer that appropriate behaviors need to be taught.  In teaching these, I also believe strongly that they should be taught so they become an intrinsic behavior.   "We do a great job all the time because we are helpers, not because someone is watching us."  My kids hear me say that all the time.  Now it has become a mantra for them- "We do our job because we are helpers." 

     At the beginning of the year, we talk about how we want our classroom to be and we agree to make it a pleasant place.  This year we talked about this chart:

     It is important for our students to understand what they can control.  We visit this often ("What are you in control of?") as a reminder when others are making choices we don't agree with.

   I could probably go on for pages and pages about this topic- it is one I find fascinating and one that is constantly growing and changing for me.  I will just leave with a thought, another idea, and a resource that I love. 

One thing that has served me well in the classrom is to always assume positive intent on the part of our students.  They are trying to get a message across, not ruin your day.





Cart Smart: A Practical Approach to Organization

Better late than never...I know that it is already October, but I have a peek at the coolest new thing in my classroom this year.  I was able to get some carts from Blue Hills Studio through a Donors Choose grant over the summer.  
Organization for nine and ten year olds is a struggle.  Where should my crayons go?  What about my glue sticks?  These carts have been a great place for my students to store all those things we need throughout the day that we don’t need all the time.  What is the coolest new thing you are trying out in your room this year to keep your kiddos organized?


Short Vowel a Activities and a freebie!

I don't know about you, but I LOVE to teach phonics! I love watching the students' knowledge grow. They come into first grade barely knowing their short vowels and most of them leave knowing their long vowels. First graders learn so much this year and that's why I love teaching first grade. Another reason I like teaching phonics, is because in my school, it's the one subject we get to teach how we feel is best for our students. We use strict curriculum for all of our other subjects, so this gives me some free space to teach it how I see fit.

One of the first phonics skills that I teach and review in first grade is short vowel a.  After we’ve practiced our rhyming and reviewed our letter sounds and add our phonemic awareness program into the routine, we get started on short a.  At our school, kindergartners learn the short vowels, but many of my students come in with this sound still not mastered, especially in writing and decoding.  
To teach and review this skill, I use my Short a Vowel Activities Product.   I created this product as a way to teach this skill to the whole group, small group and individuals.  The whole group activities allow me to teach the skill to the whole class, the small group activities allow my students to practice the skill and the independent activities provide a quick assessment.
This is this product in use in my first grade classroom.  Please don’t judge the photo quality of the pictures below.  I want you to see it in use so my focus is not on the quality of the photo but on the use of the product-plus I'm no professional photographer-all though sometimes I wish I were.  

Scaffolding we go…let's start with all of the components I use to teach a phonics skill. Let's think ALLLLLL the way back to your undergrad teaching classes...remember the term scaffold? Well, let me tell you, it is alive and well. I know it, use it and love it. Let me explain...
I start any phonics or word work skill with a large group activity-typically a sort-the I do part. I explain and teach the sound or skill we are learning using visual posters. In this case I teach the students that short a says /a/ as in apple. I have them repeat after me, a-apple-/a/. I then go on to demonstrate the sort we will be doing. I do the first couple words or pictures and put them under the correct heading-explicitly teaching the skill. After I have done several and I feel that my students understand what I am teaching, I have the kids come up and help me finish the large group sort-the we do! As we complete the sort, I have the students tell me the picture or word and where it goes and why-making sure they can explain their thinking.
After the large group sort, sometimes on the same day or a different day (just depends on our time-we usually only have 15-20 minutes for word work) I will break them into small groups or partners to complete the skill we just did together.  This is still the we do.  They are doing it in their group or with their partner, working together to complete the task correctly.  I will also sometimes do this as a center activity so they can practice this task in a small group several times.
Once I feel that the students have a good understanding of the skill I will have them do an independent activity to assess-the you do.  This is sometimes a cut, sort and glue or sometimes a worksheet.  In this product, there is a cut, sort and glue for each sort and some no-prep, print and go worksheets as well.  I tend to stay away from a lot of worksheets that just have students write.  I think they are perfect for morning work or to assess but I don't know about your kids, but my kids like to be active.  Sitting and completing a worksheet is just not their style, nor mine-let's let them manipulate words and pictures to help them learn.  
That's it, easy peasy, right? Haha, if only it were that simple. You know some students will get it right away and some won't until you've retaught and practiced the skill for 3 weeks. You will have to reteach some and try to challenge others. That's just how our classrooms work and that's what makes teaching so fun-there is never a dull moment.  
The skill that was just demonstrated above is the short a or not short a. Students have to listen for the short a sound in pictures and decide if it says short a or not. That is the first skill I usually teach. Students need to be able to hear and decipher the sound before they can use it in writing or read it. It's the whole idea that phonemic awareness is the base for learning to read. Let's not go into that now, that could be a whole other blog post.

Included in the short a vowel pack that I use are two other short a activities that have whole group, small group and independent activities-don't forget about that scaffolding.  

The other skills I teach with short a are:
Picture and word match
Word families
Other things I like to do with a phonics skills include reading poems or songs. How cute is this poem? Thanks to my creative mother-in-law for helping me write poems that my students can read and work with to practice our phonics skills.
I also like making anchor charts as a class. This will then go up in our classroom as a tool for the students to use when they are reading and writing. Each word family card is also included in the product.
There are so many ways to teach phonics skills. There are so many programs and other TpT sellers who also have great products! This is how I do it and this is what works for me.  
If you want to get an idea of what my full product is like, here is a freebie you can try out. It is a small sample of the full product. I hope you like it!
That's it, that's all I've got for you today. Please let me know in the comments how you like to teach phonics. I'm always looking for more ideas.

Happy Teaching!


Do you DOJO? link up

Wow, it sure has been awhile.  School kinda caught up to all of us this month.  Assessments, assessment meetings, new reading units of study, yada, yada, yada….  You all get it.  This teaching and blogging and life thing is just kinda hard to maintain.
This month’s theme is behavior and classroom management.  So we’re going to get started.  
Do you dojo.png
Yes, I DOJO!  And I just started this year which is why I’m asking for your help.  After searching for class dojo ideas (and finding a zillion), I’ve come to believe that the best way to get good, quality ideas is from you.

So here it what I’m proposing...If you know of a blog post, have written one of your own, or know a good pinterest link, please link up and share below.

As I have just started this year, it is very basic for me.  I have 4 behaviors that I award my students for and several negative behaviors that I take points for.  Once my students earn 25 points they get a reward from the Best Bee-havior Catalog (I have a bee theme).  So far, the kids really seem to buy in and I’ve already had most of my class earn 1 or even 2 rewards.

I know there are ways to be in contact with parents, take attendance, use a timer for transitions, etc. I just haven’t had the time to look into it.  So that’s why I need all of you, the best resource I have! 

Link up below with new or old posts.  I can’t wait to see what ideas you have for me!

Thank you fabulous teachers!

Happy teaching!


Kari's Kindergarten Classroom

Welcome to our room!
Isn’t the beginning of the year great?  The freshly sharpened pencils, the rearranging of furniture, and of course (most importantly) the students and their smiling faces.  
When putting a room together, I love to create little spaces here and there.  I want it to look welcoming and exciting, yet also have enough open space to put up student work and let them leave their mark.  
Let’s take a tour of our room!  I’d like to point out 5 parts of our room that we find very useful and absolutely love.  

#1- Our chair pockets
My mom made these chair pockets for us and we love them.  While we share some things with our tables- pencils, crayons, glue, and scissors- having chair pockets gives our students a bit of independence in taking care of their things.  In our chair pockets you will find our writing folders, handwriting books, and rest journals.  

#2- Closet Chalk Boards 

We use these chalkboards as a place to keep track of our reading stamina, ideas for writing, and names of our friends.
They really perk up our room!  

#3- Our classroom library

Such a rich part of any classroom, a classroom library is the home for stories and books about the world.  I worked in a children’s book store in high school and college and have had a slight obsession with books- children’s books specifically.  
Our library is organized by topic.  I wanted the kiddos to have a large part in deciding this, so last year we talked about how we wanted our library to be, how we wanted the books to be organized, and how it should be labeled.  I did the writing for the labels and they did the illustrations.  

#4- The Kitchen

We are very lucky to still be able to have Free Choice as part of our day in Kindergarten at our school.  This is part of a Kindergartners education that is going by the wayside in many schools.  I feel very lucky to be in a place that embraces this time and all the skills it supports- communication, cooperation and collaboration, problem solving, independence, etc.  The list could go on forever!
This is our Kitchen area- by far the hottest choice during our Free Choice time this year.  It is a place where kids who wouldn’t normally play together now do, and they enter an imaginary world where they get to try on different roles. It is one of my favorite parts of the day- listening to and watching them at this time.

#5- Our schedule time line

This part of our room is such a small part, but it does so many things.  At the beginning of Kindergarten, the days seem so long for our little learners.  They are wondering when lunch is, when they get to play, when they will go home.  The schedule above our SMARTboard helps us  tremendously to answer those questions and ease any worries.  We move the star along our schedule as we go, so they can see what’s coming next.
We build the schedule cards together, so they know what the pictures mean if they can’t read the words.  
It helps the kiddos continue to work on their left to right work which will carry over into reading and writing.
It also acts as a memory bank for our year.  Whenever we have a special event, we make a card for it and put it in our schedule for that day.  When the day is over, I keep the card and at the end of the year when we’re reflecting on what a full year it has been, we pull those cards out and take a look at all the special things we did in addition to our very full typical days.  The cards are also useful when thinking of topics to write about (for example: narratives about special class trips or a how to book about how to make applesauce).

So there’s our classroom in a nutshell.  I love to try to make it a special, uplifting, and well-designed space for us in which we spend our many hours together.  

What parts of your room are your favorites?  Which parts really carry your ‘fingerprint’ as a teacher?


Classroom Reveal: #2getherwearebetter

Well hello again!  Happy September!  

I have joined up with Angie from Lucky Little Learners and Ashley from Shroeder Shenanigans in 2nd for their monthly #2getherwearebetter linky.  This is my first one and I am so excited to be joining in on the fun!  

As we get our year started, we JUST started yesterday September 1st; this month's theme here at Our Elementary Lives is our classrooms.  So, all of us will be blogging about our very own, special classrooms.  

I'm going to start this month off with my FIRST GRADE BUSY BEE classroom.  I'm gonna be honest, this is a #reallifeclassroom right here!  I didn't clean it up to look perfect for all of the pictures, I have a theme, Bees-and have had it since being in the classroom, AND it's probably not teacher publication worthy, BUT I love it.  

Here is a picture from the door.  This was taken right before Back to School Night so you can see the tables are full of information and goodies for my firsties.  I have a HUGE window right by my desk which I love.  I made and put up bee curtains (which are fireproof sprayed, don't worry) that just make me smile every time I come into the classroom.  

You can see that our rooms aren't very big, which is fine.  It's bigger than the 10x10 room I had once as a classroom teacher, so I'll take it.

Here's a look from over by my desk.  You can see my library and sink in the back corner.  That yellow bulletin board is kind of a hodge-podge of things.  It houses are months and days of the week posters, our behavior system (I use a strike system-like baseball, 1-2-3) and the paper trays for our writing center.  I also put up our writing anchor charts up there too.     

This is the back of the room.  I typically only have 4 kids tables because I've only ever had 16 students, but this year I have 18, so I needed to add a table.  I'm not sure I like it butted up against the other table, but it will work for now.  I'm hoping to get some flower, octagonal tables with a Donor's Choose, but I haven't created the project yet.  

About our small class sizes: we are a SAGE (student achievement guarantee in education), now called AGR (achievement gap reduction) school.  This means we get state funding because we are a low-income school.  This means we have to keep our class sizes small with no more than an 18:1 student to teacher ratio in kindergarten through third grades.  It's awesome and gives kids the small class size, individual attention they need.  

Here's my word wall and small group tables along with my beloved easel.   You can see my ABCs above the word wall.  We use Handwriting Without Tears so I don't have a cute one-just the one provided.  By the end of the year, that word wall will be loaded with so many sight words.  Under the word wall are my math cubbies.  They house all of our math manipulatives and make them easy access for the kids to use whenever they need them.      

Here's my messy #reallifeclassroom desk.  It's always a mess, even though I'm a super organized person.  If it's a school day, it has stuff all over it.  Also can you see my bee and flowers on my window.  LOVE THEM!

Here is our carpet and smart board area.  I don't have a cutesy rug (not because I don't want one), these were provided by our school because we just got tile last year and I haven't invested in finding a different one yet.  To the left is my daily schedule (blue pocket chart) and to the right is my whole class incentive beehive.   Our classroom seasonal/anchor bookshelf is by our smart board as well as our Busy Bee Helpers.     

And lastly here is my classroom library.  It's the only thing I really took a close up of because it is my work-in-progress, always changing, favorite thing in my classroom.  I have worked really hard on getting it to be how I like it.  On the top shelf in the big red and blue bins are my leveled library based on text bands and reading levels. These mostly have fiction readers.  Below that, in the other slots, are my genre and theme baskets.  These include poetry, nonfiction animals, fairy tales, weather, space, class made books, etc.  Isn't my shelf awesome?  It was in my very first classroom at this school and it has followed me around to all the other rooms I have been in.  My Dollar Store baskets fit perfectly in it and I love how it works for my library.   All the papers on the white board are the sign ups for Back to School Night (volunteers, fall conferences, holiday parties, etc.)

So that is my first grade classroom.  I spent no more than 3-4 days getting it set up this year.  I have a toddler and I would much rather spend my last summer days with him so I leave up as much as I can and leave a lot of space to add student work.   

Do you have any questions about my room or the routines I have?  Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for stopping by! 


Summer Professional Learning & What You Should Do NOW To Get To Know Your Students

This summer was a great one for my own professional learning and development, I got to do several things that I wanted to do. I can't wait to share them with you. I have included my affiliate links so the resources I share are easy to find.
The first thing I did was read The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller.

I started it with a group of bloggers who were doing a book study.  It is a FABULOUS book.  It really made me think about how I teach reading in my classroom.  It is geared towards upper grades, but I got so much out of it, even as a first grade teacher.  If you haven’t read it I would definitely put it on your short list-especially if you teach reading, double especially if you teach reading in the upper grades.

Here’s my Amazon Affiliate Link: The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

After reading this book, I felt so inspired that I created a couple things to go along with it and brainstormed ideas for things I can do in my classroom this year. The reading surveys Donalyn provides are more geared towards middle school students so I searched for one more geared towards primary students and didn't really find what I was looking for so I created some of my own.  

Reading surveys are an excellent way to get to know your students. After having my students and their parents complete these, I felt like I had a leg up on my students as readers. I could provide them with books of interest from the very start of the year. If I want to get my students excited about reading, one of the most important things I can do it give them books that interest them. It's all about giving them choice and providing them with things they actually like.

Primary Reading Survey

 Intermediate Reading Survey

You can find the reading surveys by clicking here or on the image below.  It's FREE for a limited time. 

Or you can pin it for later by clicking this image. 

Something else I did this summer that I would say gave me some great professional development was joined Periscope.  Anyone else on it?  Raise your hand if you’ve joined and are now ADDICTED like me?!?!

IMG_0377.PNGPeriscope is a live streaming video app.  It allows you to connect, comment and show some love to people you follow.  As the host of the video is sharing what they want to say, you can comment with other viewers and give hearts to show the host that you like what they are saying.  Teachers have taken it by storm this summer and are taking it over!  Seriously, there are so many wonderful teachers to follow with some really great things to share.  If you don’t catch the video live you can replay the video for up to 24 hours.  You cannot comment on the replay but you can give hearts so the host knows you’re enjoying what they are sharing. 
Seriously, CHECK.IT.OUT!!  

Some of my favorite teacher scopers are:
Sheila Jane- @sheilajteaching
Tiffany May- @onefab_teacher
Angie Olson- @MrsAOlson
Misty from Krazy About Teaching- @emtysmom
Ashley Schroeder- @schroedershenan

Our Elementary Lives is on periscope (@ourelemlives).  We haven’t made the plunge to do a video yet, but maybe with the support of all of us together we will do a scope.  Make sure to follow us to know if we ever make the leap and start scoping our own videos.  We had some great ideas about sharing our monthly topics, we’ll see if we are brave enough to actually turn the camera around.  

The last summer PD I want to share with you is not something I got to do this year, but have gone TWICE before.  It is the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project in NYC.  I was lucky enough to go two times to the writing institute; once last summer and the first time 3 years ago.  The TCRWP is a week long institution put on my Lucy Calkins and the Teacher’s College at Columbia University.  There is a writing institute and a reading institute put on by the developers and authors of The Units of Study for reading and writing.  

Have you heard of Units of Study?  Our district uses them for both for reading and writing and I LOVE them.  I get to use the NEW Units of Study grade level books this year and I am PUMPED!  These week long institutes give you everything you need to go back and implement the Units of Study.  It is an intense week of learning and connecting and having fun in NYC but such an incredible experience.  I hope to be able to go again sometime.

So that’s what I’ve been up to for PD this summer.  What do you do for professional learning and development in the summer?  Tell us in the comments!

We’d love hear about any books you’ve read, any workshops you like to go to or other teachers to follow on periscope.  Also, tell us if you’ve ever been to NYC for the TCRWP.

Signing off now to enjoy the rest of my summer, see ya in September…

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