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15.2.20

There's no such thing as too many Guided Reading books in Kindergarten!

"I will never have too many kindergarten guided reading books!"

Most reading teachers will agree with this statement 100%. If you are like me you want to collect all.the.books. I mean, there's no better feeling than redeeming a few thousand Scholastic Book Club points or finding great literature on the sale table at Books-A-Million, right?!? But, filling our shelves with leveled guided reading books is just as important as those awesome read-aloud texts.

In order to improve at anything, what do we do? We practice! If we want to be a better baker, then we bake more. If we want to be a better painter, then we paint more. Reading is no different. If we want our students to be better readers, they need to read more. In her book Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals, Marie Clay (the researcher behind Reading Recovery) says that beginning or struggling readers need to read a high volume of books. In the beginning stages of Reading Recovery lessons, students need to read 2-4 new texts per day in order to build their experience and confidence.

In order for beginning readers to get all the practice they need to become independent readers, we MUST have books to put in their hands that THEY CAN READ. I know, that sounds simple and trivial, but it's VITAL to a successful guided reading program. In a solid guided reading program students need to read a minimum of 2-3 new texts each week... on their level. This doesn't mean stories that we read everyday for a week and students memorize. This means 2-3 books that we can provide scaffolded instruction and thorough introductions for and then students actually read them on their own. Beyond that, students need to reread these familiar stories for fluency practice and to firm up sight word knowledge and comprehension a minimum of 1-2 times a day.

WHOA. Now you know what I mean by "There's no such thing as too many Guided Reading books in Kindergarten," right?!?! It's imperative that we improve our classroom libraries to provide our kindergartners with real books that they can feel confident tackling on their own. This practice and confidence will press them forward in their reading progress at a much faster rate than memorizing one story per week in a small group setting.

As teachers this is something that we know, but it can be very hard to execute in the Kindergarten classroom. Beginning readers cannot just go to the shelf and pick up any book and read it. In fact, most trade books are at a third grade (or much higher) reading level. While looking at trade books and teacher read-aloud texts is valuable experience for kindergartners, it is not the same as actually reading. In order to move forward as readers, kindergarten students need texts in their hands that they can read with independence... and lots of them!

Finding texts that Kindergartners can read isn't necessarily that difficult. Many basal reading series programs come with a variety of smaller, leveled texts for students to read in guided reading groups or small group instruction. My school uses Saxon Phonics - which comes with an entire series of decodable texts that correlate with the content in the program. Unfortunately for our students, these texts are often not related to our thematic content. Unless you still follow your basal reading teacher's manual from start to finish you've probably found that your supplemental materials don't always match your core resources. Many times, these texts are boring and contrived. What child really cares about characters named Pat and Nan and will engage in a story about how Kip the pup nips at their knee?!?! No adult wants to read stories like that and no child does, either.

Finding appropriately leveled texts (and lots of them) can be hard. I've bought so many sets of "beginning readers" and phonics-based stories that I've lost track of what I've spent. Some of the best books I've used for beginning readers were the texts used with the Reading Recovery program. These books are intended to be just right for beginning resources, but also tell a story with real characters, photographs, and appropriate words and literacy concepts. For the regular classroom teacher these books can be pricey - especially to create small group sets of books since Reading Recovery is taught one-on-one. The website Reading AtoZ has been my favorite go-to site for years! There are sooooo many books at alllll the levels! So many that searching for what I need from week to week can become very time consuming.

So, like any other good, resourceful Kindergarten teacher with (a sometimes unhealthy) love for clip-art and the lifelong dream of becoming a children's author, I've started to write my own books for Kindergarten guided reading. I love that my books are Kindergarten-content specific, fit seamlessly with my science, social studies, and holiday themes, and are fun to read. In addition to creating new printable kindergarten books for guided reading, I've made them full color digital books as well so that students can scan QR codes and read on a tablet or phone and parents can easily provide their child with options for reading on THEIR level at home without the hassle of sending home and collecting my paper copies.
guided-reading-in-kindergarten

If you are like me and you are looking for an alternative to build an amazing classroom library of guided reading books, then I'd LOVE for you to check out the library I've started over on TpT!

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12.2.20

Teaching the Alphabet in Kindergarten


How do you teach the alphabet in Kindergarten? Do you focus on a single letter a day or a week? Do you teach letters in clusters or individually? Do you start at A and end with Z or reorder the letters? There are so many ways to teach the alphabet to young students that lesson planning could easily become overwhelming. Like you, I've used a combination of approaches to create a sense of balanced literacy.
alphabet-in-kindergarten

One of the best books I've ever studied on the topic of reading instruction is The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading by Dr. Jan Richardson. Dr. Richardson is a leading expert and researcher in the field of reading. When I heard her present at the Kentucky Reading Association conference she said that we should teach the entire alphabet early in the kindergarten school year and "with a sense of urgency." The number of letter names children can identify at the beginning of the school year is in direct correlation to the level at which they will be able to read at the end of the school year. Teaching the letter names as quickly and early as possible is vital to high success in learning to read. The sooner students know the majority of letter names (out of 52 total - upper and lower), the higher their reading level will be at the end of the year. (Read all about Dr. Richardson's research here.)

This study made me really analyze my Kindergarten literacy instruction. So, I thought about my entire school day and listed the instructional strategies and programs I use that relate to literacy.
- Scott Foresman Reading Streets Basal Reading Series
-Saxon Phonics
-Michael Heggerty Phonological Awareness
-Stepping Stones to Literacy
-Guided Reading
-Writer's Workshop
-Literacy Centers

WHOA! When I list all of those teaching approaches I realize that I'm most likely over-complicating my instruction and that my struggling students may be lost in a sea of programs and options for learning. So this year I decided to streamline my alphabet instruction (at the least) in order to provide consistency, especially for my struggling students. I decided to go with the Saxon Phonics as my main source of phonics and alphabet curriculum. I use only Saxon's letter picture cues and scope and sequence.

I started the school year with a boot camp style sequential review - teaching one letter per day for the first 26 days of school. We used our "My First Letters & Words" interactive notebook to review each letter's sound(s) and written formation along with exploring tons of fun online songs and videos for each individual letter with our Interactive Alphabet Review. The results from this alphabet introduction were amazing! Students who already had a grasp of most letters were able to firm up their letter knowledge quickly. Students who knew a few letters, picked up a few more. Students who did not know any letters at least had a new frame of reference for what a letter is and the purpose letters serve. This is the first year that MOST of my students new ALL upper and lowercase letters by the first quarter assessment and I'm sure it's due to this beginning of the year alphabet review.
alphabet-interactive-notebookinteractive-notebook-kindergarten

alphabet-interactive-notebook

After our review of all the letters I fell in with our Saxon Phonics curriculum. This scope and sequence covers one letter per week and teaches letters in a particular orders. Some vowels and easier consonants are taught early on in order to give students enough letter-sound knowledge to be able to make and break CVC words within the first few weeks of instruction. Saxon Phonics is an explicit, teacher led program and it isn't a comfortable fit for all teachers, but it is a great learning tool - for teachers just as much as students!


In guided reading groups we review all letters and sounds everyday until students have mastered the list. I do this with an Alphabet Chart (read more about that here) and with individualized cards for finger tracing. When students are struggling with the entire alphabet, it's best to break it into smaller parts, beginning with the letters in the students' names. It may also help to pull out just the vowels when students have mastered consonants. This is where the individual finger-tracing cards come into play.
kindergarten-alphabet-chart


This main thing with alphabet instruction is to keep the system consistent. We don't switch between "hooks" or cues for letters and sounds. I use the same picture cue and the same language for forming letters every single day. This provides a hook on which students can hang their learning for a particular letter/sound that won't fail them at other times in the classroom routine. So, regardless of your "program" (or programS like in my case!) you need to find a way to simplify letter instruction so as not to "muddy the waters" of your students' learning.

Alphabet review is just one part of my daily guided reading routine. If you are interested in learning the Top 3 Must-Do's in every Kindergarten Guided Reading Lesson, then be sure to sign up and grab this free workbook and improve your Guided Reading instruction today!
 Kindergarten Guided Reading




8.6.19

Calendar for Classrooms in the 21st Century

Calendar for the Classroom

Since I began teaching kindergarten and first grade in 2002, calendar time has been one of my favorite parts of the day. Classroom calendar activities are the perfect way to start the school day in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade classrooms. (I even used a classroom calendar to teach second grade!) In the 21st Century classroom it may seem like there's not enough time (or space) for a classroom calendar set or songs and activities. BUT, the daily calendar routine is vital to students' growth in math and is a great way to the school day with consistency and predictability.
calendar-for-the-classroom
Calendar for Classrooms in the 21st Century

Classroom Calendar Time Research

Research shows that students need a consistent spiral review of math skills in order to reach fluency and mastery leading to better problem solving strategies. When the basics of math come easier, then more "brain power" can be spent on the application side of things. Standards for the early primary grades are heavy on number sense. Teaching daily calendar lessons gives students consistent spiraled review, practice, and preview of basic numeracy skills IF they are planned with the standards in mind. Some research shows rote calendar activities that do not change over the course of the year to match the developmental learning process of students are less effective than other teaching strategies. BUT, when calendar lessons are planned and implemented with the intent to teach standards (rather than merely following a routine), they can be incredibly effective! My students excel on standardized math tests and easily use their numeracy mastery in application to solve higher-order math problems in large part because of our focus during calendar time. In addition, other standards can be worked into calendar time including science (weather and seasons), social studies (citizenship, holidays, customs), and literacy (morning message). 
classroom-calendar-bulletin-board
Classroom Calendar Bulletin Board 2012

Traditional Calendar Time

As a new teacher I took pride in my classroom calendar bulletin board set. I started by buying a cute calendar and all the coordinating numbers and holidays. Very quickly, I began seeing and studying the value of calendar time. With daily math practice my students were learning many basic numeracy skills. They also loved leading the class through the songs and routines. I spent countless hours creating, printing, and laminating everything I needed for a complete classroom calendar bulletin board. At one point I filled an entire wall of my classroom with our daily calendar routine activities. Later in my career, after some years teaching reading intervention (read all about that life-changing experience HERE), I went back to the classroom to teach Kindergarten. The FIRST thing I worked on was my calendar. I could not wait to fire up the CD player, gather my friends on the carpet and revisit a part of teaching I had missed so much. BUT, I was not prepared for the reality of calendar time in the 21st century classroom... my students were not engaged, not entertained, and (worst of all) not learning... I was devastated!
classroom-calendar-bulletin-board-set
Classroom Calendar Bulletin Board 2019

Calendar for Classrooms in the 21st Century

As a result, I knew my beloved calendar time had to change. I even considered abandoning it all together asking myself, "Is calendar time just a thing of the past?!" In my heart I knew the content was valuable so I decided it was the delivery that was not working. Students today are used to high-impact experiences that involve direct interaction and increased audio AND visual stimulation. Kids love YouTube videos so I began searching for ways to incorporate the thousands of videos online that teachers (just like me) were posting to improve student engagement and learning. I added videos on the Smart Board instead of songs on the CD player and things improved. Then the day came that I needed more wall space to display learning targets and standards goals and I had to take down my precious classroom calendar bulletin board. That's when it hit me... it's time for the classroom calendar to GO DIGITAL!
Finally, I found the inspiration I needed to bring old school calendar routines to life using my interactive whiteboard for calendar time!
interactive-calendar-for-classrooms
Interactive Classroom Calendar for Kindergarten

Why an Interactive Calendar for the Classroom?

After switching to a digital classroom calendar student engagement increases exponentially. I  am able to create interactive slides for students to come to the Smart Board and manipulate the parts and pieces that we used to move around the calendar bulletin board. But now, students eagerly volunteer to answer questions and take part. On each slide I can hyperlink songs and videos from YouTube and other sites to which I have a subscription for quick clicks and transitions. Incorporating songs and videos in this way provides an opportunity for all students to participate and review vital skills. By going digital with my classroom calendar I open a world of theme and design possibilities. I can change the images and video links to coordinate with months, holidays, seasons, or thematic units. Keeping calendar time fresh gives me leverage in maintaining engagement at times when traditional classroom calendar activities become boring and flat. 
Above all, the interactive classroom calendar gives me limitless options for my curricular choices. As the year progresses, calendar activities and routines become progressively more challenging as students master standards. We go from sorting shapes by color and size in August to identifying shape attributes such as edges and vertices in December to comparing shapes based on these attributes in March. And that's just a quick geometry example! Since math skills build one on the other, spiral review and increased rigor are vital to any primary math curriculum!

Are you ready to improve YOUR calendar time? 

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classroom-calendar-time
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interactive-classroom-calendar
Calendar for Classrooms in the 21st Century