31 July 2014

Classroom Economy

I am very excited about this new product I've made and about using it in my class this year. I've never used a class economy system before, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it pans out with my Primary 4/5's (Grade 3/4).

I haven't figured out all the nitty-gritty quite yet, but I think I'm going to assign jobs to them at first, then introduce job applications once they have a feel for what each job entails. They'll know what jobs are most desirable or least, and perhaps have a better idea of what the responsibilities are. I'm hoping the application process will be painless, but we'll see!

I've also made up some Class Job cards to use on our class jobs display. I'll rotate the jobs accordingly. Some jobs require more than one person. I've also made up a jobs chart that has a wee reminder of what the job entails, because we all know little minds can forget.

To keep track of deposits and withdrawals, the kids are going to use a check book recording sheet. I love that it provides additional practice for adding and subtracting, as well as having real world connections with money management. Bonus!

Have any of you used a classroom economy in your classrooms? How did it work out?

25 July 2014

Big Changes Ahead

Well, there are some big changes ahead for me. I've been teaching Nursery (Kindergarden) for more or less the last 3 years, but I'm moving on to Primary 4/5 (Grade 3/4) in August. I'm excited to finally have my own class, older children, and the chance to expand my experience beyond 3 & 4 year olds! So excited, in fact, that I got started with labels and organisation well before the end of term.

This is the part where I would post some photos of the pretty labels I made, but blogger is being stupid and won't let me post anything. Surprise surprise.

Nevertheless, I've made tray labels and peg labels for all the children. The kids don't have desks to keep their belongings in, but we have these tray units, and each child has their own tray to keep their things in. Instead of desks, we have tables, which I actually prefer. It's easy to move kids around and you don't have to worry about moving furniture because all their "stuff" is in their tray. Anyway, I've made up some simple labels for their trays and coat pegs.

I've also put together a set of subject labels that I will use for our daily schedule. You'll just have to take me word for it that they are super cute.

Besides going on a label spree, I've been thinking a lot about how I want to tackle this year with a composite class and a new stage for me. Reaching all the needs of the children is always a stress, but now that I have two stages mixed in with all their needs already, it makes things a bit tricky. I've decided that I'm going to try to take advantage of rotations or stations of work in order to spend more time in small groups to meet children's needs. What have your experiences been with this? I've put together my literacy block timetable and my numeracy block timetable, which is half the battle, in order to visualise how I will divide up my time with the children and decide how they will spend their time when I'm busy with groups. I'm really hoping this strategy works for their benefit and mine. I anticipate that I may have to shuffle some things around or restructure, but I really want to make a go of stations/rotations.

What else do you think I can be doing with a split class to benefit them and their learning?

17 February 2014

Mark Making: Engaging the Uninterested

I teach 3 and 4 year olds, and it's my responsibility to help prepare them to start school. One of the things I've asked current Primary 1 teachers is what they want the kids to be able to do when they come to them from Nursery. One of the resounding requests is that the children know how to hold a pencil and are at least beginning to make marks that resemble symbols and letters. This is tricky business when Nursery is all about free choice, free flow, and freedom. If I can't take the children to the drawing table, I have to take the drawing table to them.

1. Use different mediums and resources. Some children aren't at the stage where they feel confident with traditional writing tools like pens and pencils. Touch screens are a great way to engage hesitant mark makers. They don't have to fumble with a writing tool, and they can instantly start a new picture.

2. Provide interesting props, resources, and tools. Sometimes all it takes is some interesting prop or picture or thingamabob. Other than pens and pencils, what are you putting out on your drawing table? Maybe just the pens and pencils aren't motivational enough to bring those hesitant mark makers over. I've provided photos, mirrors, word mats, books, toys, staplers, stampers, hole punchers, tubs with things related to an interest, vegetables, shells, keys, pebbles, lego, stickers... The list could go on.

3. Change the location. Mark making doesn't have to happen at the drawing table, or any table for that matter. Look around your room; where are your kids playing? Neatly at a table or sprawled across the floor? In this particular example, I taped a huge piece of paper to the floor and provided paint and brushes. The children listened to music as they painted what the music made them feel or think. On other occasions, I've simply left the large paper taped to the floor and let the children create in any way they wanted. Large movements help develop skills necessary to eventually make smaller movements on smaller paper.

4. Make a mess. Kids love getting messy, so use that to your advantage. The shaving foam is very popular in my room, and although you can't keep the evidence of mark making, it's still happening and developing those important fine motor skills. Take lots of photos!

5. Take it outside. The outdoors offer a lot of opportunities to mark make. Chalk, puddles & brushes, puddles & wheels, leaves, sticks, pebbles, grass all offer opportunities to mark make in a less traditional sense.

In the end, don't fret. Your kids will learn how to hold a pencil. They will learn how to write. But they need the opportunity to explore mark making in different ways before they're forced to actually write words and numbers and letters. They need that time to learn that marks and print can have meaning, and to begin to attribute meaning to their own work. Chances are, they'll be able to hold a pencil by the time they get to Primary 1, and most will be able to write their name and copy print. Just give them time to have fun and explore.

Happy Mark Making!

30 November 2013

Story Writing in the Early Years: Stepping Stones

The other day I sat down with a basket full of whiteboards, pens, and rubbers, and 5 children came to sit with me intrigued by this new resource. We had a small discussion about what we could do with the whiteboards. They liked that they could rub out their pictures if they weren't happy with it. The conversation turned to what they could draw on the boards and a story began to emerge.

There were a flurry of ideas about a dinosaur in a volcano, with a "coconut tree" nearby. The children discussed where this should all take place:

"The volcano is outside. It can't be inside."

"Dinosaurs lived a long time ago."

"There should be trees."

"A jungle!"

Unfortunately the dinosaur (later to be a Stegosaurus) got caught in the volcano and needed to be rescued. I said, "How will the dinosaur be rescued from the volcano?"

"Superheroes rescue people."

"Batman will help him."

"And Superman."

"Batman can go 'whoosh!' and pick up the dinosaur from the lava."

Me: "Where will they go?"

"They fly to a car to get away."

The children were engaged in their drawings as they talked about their story. The drawings evolved as their ideas became more complex and the story unfolded. The dinosaur couldn't fit in the car and Batman had to drive. Ropes were involved to attach the dinosaur to the roof of the car. And where did the car go?

Well, unfortunately even though the dinosaur was rescued from the perils of the volcanic heat, he was met with a rogue soldier who decided to take matters into his own hands. Batman and Stegosaurus didn't make it.

"The soldier comes and shoots them both. Bang! It wasn't real bullets. Just pretend."

One mum said it was video games, but she's glad her son was writing stories!

The kids were so engrossed in their story and they had very little input from me. The only stimulus they had were the whiteboards and their imaginations. This process could be developed further by providing props, pictures, or story books to inspire their ideas.

I was so proud of their story and we practiced telling it together, then headed into the "big school" to read it to our Depute Head. They were to thrilled to share their hard work and even got a wee sticker to reward their accomplishment.

Story writing in the Early Years doesn't have to be tricky. In fact, the children are story writing all the time in their role play. They imagine a certain environment, a particular scenario, and a variety of characters. They put themselves in the story and act it out with their friends or by themselves. Offering a role play stimulus, whether it's a kitchen, a doctor's surgery, Santa's Toy Shop, or simply offering open ended items, encourages story telling through drama - oral story telling if you will. Storytelling is a process for children and should be introduced as stepping stones. It may appear that the children are simply "playing," but they are in fact exploring roles, creating stories, honing social skills, and practicing vocabulary. These are important skills for children to learn in preparation for school. Then, perhaps they'll start drawing pictures of these stories or making marks to represent the writing in their story. Adults may scribe what they say to document their story. Eventually, in school the children will begin writing their stories. Stepping stones.

Happy story writing.

26 August 2013

Sticks & Stones

Today I brought out a group of children to explore with sticks. To begin, I simply asked, "how do we play with sticks?" and I got some answers that I expected:

"No running"

"No fighting"

"No smacking faces"

So we got the "No's" covered, but we didn't answer the question: how do we play with sticks? The kids were at a loss. They knew what NOT to do with them, but were uncertain what TO do with them. So to start them out, I just let them choose one stick and I listened to their conversation:

"Mine is bigger than yours."

"Yours is the biggest."

"Mine is bumpy. It has bumps."

"A stick is a tree."

"I can hit mine on the table."

This is when a chorus of stick songs broke out. On their own, the children were able to figure out something they could do with the sticks. After the impromptu jam session, we went around the table to let each child "perform" a stick rhythm and we all tried to copy it.

Next, we decided that sticks were good for making pictures.

The kids took turns putting down one stick to make a picture on the table top.

After our guided play with the sticks, the children were eager to get their hands on more sticks and create on their own. Some of them created small structures on their own, while others worked together to build larger structures on the ground.

Others, however, preferred inspecting the little creatures living in the bag our sticks live in. I see mini-beast houses in our future!

22 June 2013

Little People

Tears, bogies, questions, spills, stains, and energy.
Guess who's heading back to Nursery?

15 May 2013

Reading Group Management

"Mrs. West, can I go to the water fountain?"

"Mrs. West, what do I do now?"

"Mrs. West, I'm stuck."

"Mrs. West, I like dogs."

Sound familiar? During reading groups, I expect my kids to get started with their jobs right away and stay on task while I meet with reading groups. However, there's always a handful of children who vie for my attention in one way or another, and I end up with a string of 8 year olds at my elbow: "Mrs. West. Mrs. West. Mrs. West." Ignoring them just didn't seem to give them the message.

On Monday, we had a chat about what their responsibilities are during reading groups, and what mine are. We decided on the following:

Pupils will:
1. Get started right away
2. Stay on task
3. Use soft voices
4. Think what makes sense

Teacher will:
1. Meet with reading groups
2. Ask questions
3. Give praise
4. Give advice

Pretty great list from a group of 8 year olds, if you ask me. Number 4 on the pupil's responsibility list was the most important for this particular discussion. We added that one in because sometimes they just need a reminder that they need to think for themselves before coming to speak to me. We talked about how they need to think, "do I really need to ask this question right now?" and "What makes sense for me to do right now?" The children are always given enough information and tasks to keep them going for the whole reading session, so they shouldn't be asking me "what do I do now?" (Does anyone else hate that question? I have a whole display in my class called the "I'm Done" board with choices for them to choose from when they're finished).

Even after our discussion, though, I still thought the kids might need a visual reminder that they need to think before coming to me. It's not fair to interrupt another group's time with me! I found this cute lantern at ASDA (Scottish version of Walmart), and I keep it with me during reading groups. When the light is on, the kids know that I'm only available to the reading group I'm meeting with. I turn off the light when I'm transitioning to a new group. That way any pressing issues can be dealt with quickly before I meet with my next group.

So far, it's worked really well. The kids have really seemed to "get" it that I'm busy and that they need to think for themselves or ask a friend before coming to me. When I turned on the light with one reading group today, a wee girl said, "Yes! No one can bother us now!" I'm glad she enjoys our time together so much!