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). 
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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!
interactive-classroom-calendar
Calendar for Classrooms in the 21st Century

21.4.19

How to Choose Chapter Books for GREAT Teacher Read-Alouds

How to Choose Chapter Books for Great Teacher Read Alouds

Reading chapter books aloud to my class is one of my most favorite literacy instructional moves. There is not much better than diving into a great story together and experiencing every word from beginning to end. You know it's a great read aloud when your students are hanging on every word and you even catch yourself wanting to read on after time for reading is over. BUT, choosing the right text is crucial! How do you choose which books to read aloud to your class?
how-to-choose-books-for-read-aloud
How to Choose Chapter Books for Great Teacher Read Alouds

As a general rule, books read aloud (whether chapter books or picture books) should be at least one to two grade levels higher than your students' independent reading levels. This provides the opportunity to model what good reading sounds like at higher levels, think-aloud for reading strategies (check out my #1 Best Vocabulary Lesson HERE), and improve students' listening comprehension. In today's world of podcasts, digital books, and multi-tasking in general - teaching children how to listen to a story is almost as important as teaching them how to read it!

I use the following guidelines when choosing read-aloud texts:
1. Choose a book at least 1-2 grade levels higher than your students' independent reading levels. This year my second graders have heard 9 chapter books read aloud. The average level was around 5th grade. Not only were my children able to pass the difficult AR test afterwards, but they accrued many points in doing so!
2. Choose books that are easy to bring to life. Some texts just lend themselves to being great read-alouds. In my Kindergarten-teaching days I would put my readings of Junie B. Jones's antics up against the greatest storytellers' renditions. The way Barbara Park created the character and wrote the dialog make her books an easy choice for increasing engagement. Louis Sachar's Sideways Stories from Wayside School is another fun, engaging text!
3. Choose books that are relevant to other subject areas. During the fall months we read The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks and were able to make connections to our Thanksgiving unit on Native Americans as we read. Connecting fiction and informational texts is a great way to increase content understanding and improve comprehension skills.
4. Choose books that interest your students. After hearing a true story about two dogs saving a man who had fallen through an icy pond during a core reading lesson I could tell my students' interest were piqued. They love animals so I knew they would love The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. The text was on a 7th grade reading level and the action was all implied as the animals' journey was documented by a narrator, but my class was enthralled. We laughed at times, we sucked in our breath at times, and we cried at the end. It's probably my favorite memory from this entire school year!
4. Choose books that interest you! I remember vividly how my first grade teacher told us that her favorite authors were Shel Silverstein and Chris Van Alsburg as she read ALL of their stories aloud to the class. It's no coincidence that these authors' books still rank among MY favorites today. Your students want to hear about what you enjoyed reading as a child and they want to be like you. I know I was the most excited person in the room the day we started reading Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers because the series was one of my very favorites as a child. My excitement fueled my students' excitement as well and we loved exploring the adventures of Jane and Michael together!

Remember - reading a chapter book aloud is a commitment. It takes time to work through an entire book when you may only be able to allot 15-20 minutes a day to the task. Stay the course and see those chapter books through! Your students WILL remember the experience as they grow older... and for some of them it will be their favorite time spent with you!

14.4.19

The #1 BEST Reading Vocabulary Lesson

The Best Vocabulary Lesson You Should Teach Every Day

What do you do to help improve your students' knowledge and understanding of vocabulary? Do you take a systematic approach by exposing students to a contrived list of words and definitions? Do you take a more incidental approach through teaching "word-awareness" and rich discussion? Either way, you've probably learned all about the components to good vocabulary instruction. This year I improved one specific area of my reading instruction and saw my students' vocabulary scores significantly increase!
best-vocabulary-lesson
The Best Vocabulary Lesson You Should Teach Every Day

According to Linda Diamond and Linda Gutlohn in their article, "Teaching Vocabulary," on the site, Reading Rockets, there are four main components to good vocabulary instruction:

  1. wide or extensive independent reading to expand word knowledge
  2. instruction in specific words to enhance comprehension of texts containing those words
  3. instruction in independent word-learning strategies, and
  4. word consciousness and word-play activities to motivate and enhance learning

My guess is that most of us work to get these strategies right. We build comprehensive and engaging classroom libraries to foster a love of reading, grow independent readers, and expand our students' reading "appetites." When using a mentor text we will take time to teach vocabulary words from the story and we present vocabulary from other content areas on a daily basis. We teach word-learning strategies and use word-play in our instruction so that students have skills to tackle unknown words when they are reading. In short, we get all the explicit part right. 

But, my fear is that when we focus on explicit vocabulary instruction we miss big opportunities for authentic, organic vocabulary instruction that lie right under our noses!

The single BEST reading vocabulary lesson I give every day is during my teacher read-aloud time. If you are not using your teacher read aloud as an integral part of your vocabulary instruction then you are missing out! (Read more about how I select chapter books for read alouds HERE!)
When we read aloud we should be conscious of the instructional opportunities that lie within the pages. When we MODEL word-attack strategies, THINK ALOUD how we use context clues, and INVOLVE students in the process of comprehending we open a world of words to our students with which they might not otherwise engage.

Check out this excerpt from my most recent read aloud, Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers...
"Mary Poppins pulled the perambulator up with a jerk, in case Andrew, in his wild flight, should upset it and the twins." 
Me: Hmm... here's a tricky word I've never seen before. How should I try to solve it?
Students: Break it in parts and read the parts!
Me: Right. Per-am-bu-la-tor Wow, I still have no idea what this word is! What should I do if I'm still not sure?
Students: Read the rest of the sentence!
Me: Great idea. Rereads sentence. Well, now I'm thinking about what this thing could be. The text says the twins are in the perambulator so it must be some kind of carrier; so definitely a noun. And Mary Poppins and the kids are out on a walk... Hmm. Any ideas?
Students: Maybe it's a stroller!
Me: Oh! Well, that would make sense, wouldn't it?
Students: Yes, since the twins are babies and they can't walk.
Me: To be sure, I'm going to write this word down and we will look it up later.

WOW! In just one 3 minute interaction we reviewed all 4 steps to good vocabulary instruction with an organic authenticity that my students are MUCH MORE LIKELY to remember and (even better) APPLY to new and unknown vocabulary words within their own reading experiences. 

The proof came just a few days later...
Teacher: Who would like to share something they wrote in their journal about their weekend?
Student: I had a soccer game. This picture shows my mom pushing my baby sister in the perambulator.

Are YOU taking advantage of authentic vocabulary teaching moments when you read aloud? I can honestly say that when I amped up my real-aloud instruction my students' vocabulary scores improved... not one child in my second grade class
(aside from two students learning English as their second language) 
shows a deficit in vocabulary knowledge.

I want to hear from you! 
What book are you reading aloud to your class RIGHT NOW?
Let me know in the comments below!

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