Tuesday, September 20, 2016

All About the Alphabet

Beginning of the year in a kindergarten classroom means alphabet, lots of alphabet. Why spend so much time teaching the letters of the alphabet? A child's ability to recognize and name the letters of the alphabet is the best predictor of reading achievement in first grade.In the literacy intervention classroom (Adams, 1990). Children who recognize and are able to name letters are more successful with learning letter sounds. So, how do you ensure your students will learn the alphabet. In addition to being in a print rich environment and having constant exposure to text there are many activities you can use to help children learn the alphabet.

A few tips to keep in mind when teaching the alphabet...

  • Letter of the week is not an effective way to teach the alphabet if the expectation is students will be reading by mid-year. 
  • Consistency is crucial. Make sure all the teachers working with students are using the same alphabet chart, the same language when talking about letters and sounds and the same key words.
  • Teach letter names before sounds
  • Teach important letters first such as the letters in a student's name 

When teaching children to recognize letters it is helpful to use letters they can manipulate such as magnetic letters. Using letters children can feel allows them to notice the features which distinguish one letter from others.

Focusing on a single letter and having students see it in text can help students see the purpose in learning about letters and prevent teaching the alphabet from becoming teaching an isolated skill.

These students are learning about the letter A.
They are finding the letter in a book and in a nursery rhyme.

Make learning about the alphabet fun and interactive. Some students will need to work on the alphabet for quite a long time. They need a variety of activities to keep them interested. Playing games like bingo, using puzzles and doing letter crafts can help children learn the alphabet in fun ways.

Alphabet Crafts

Assess students alphabet knowledge every couple of weeks. Here is a free resource which includes an assessment of alphabet knowledge.
Early Literacy Readiness Assessment
 Here are some additional resources for teaching the alphabet.
Alphabet and First Sound BookIntroduction to the Alphabet

Adams, M.J. (1990) Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Sunday, May 10, 2015

    Spring Reading Fun

    As the end of the year approaches and it becomes harder to keep all my kids interested, I try to add more science into my literacy intervention groups. This year my kindergarteners are reading really well and I thought I could help out the teachers by covering some of their science standards.
    We began our unit by reading an early reader all about growing plants. This book introduced some of the vocabulary we would be using while learning all about plant parts and life cycles. The kids were very excited about plant seeds. They each got a seed and placed it in water. They enjoyed getting a close look at their seeds as they began to grow.

    After examining the seeds with magnifying glasses, we did a close reading about the parts of a plant. They decided they needed to use their magnifying glasses to examine words as well. When our seeds had sprouted, we took advantage of the nice weather and spent some time carefully planting the seeds into cups. Every couple of days we updated our plant journals which required them to make observations and use measurement to track their plant's growth.
    Caring for their own plants made the kids very aware of what a plant needed to grow. I had a couple of kids who over watered their seeds and learned a lesson about too much water being bad for plants. Luckily, I planted extras to replace the ones which had drowned. We observed our pea seeds growth for almost two weeks before each kindergartener got to proudly take his or her plant home.
    The kids loved how the pea plants seemed to hold on to their hands!
    Each day I get an update on how big they have grown. Hopefully this weekends snow storm hasn't killed them all!


    Tuesday, March 10, 2015

    Using Mysteries to Build Comprehension Skills

    It is spring time. This is when I usually begin to panic about how well my kids are reading. We have been working at building decoding skills all year, but after looking at winter DRA data, the focus shifts to comprehension. The classroom teachers have all taught the basics; however, many of my struggling readers are having a difficult time pulling it all together. This is the time of year I love to introduce my students to the mystery genre.
    Why do I love teaching mysteries? Well, most importantly the kids get excited. When I tell them they will get to be detectives wakes them up. My second graders who have struggled all year see a chapter book and feel like they have really accomplished something.

    Here are some more reasons I love using mysteries in the reading classroom.

    Mystery books work well for...
    1. Visualizing-The crime is usually described in great detail. What an awesome opportunity to have kids visualize.
    2. Character traits and interactions-The characters in mysteries often have exaggerated traits making it really easy to discuss how these traits impact behavior.
    3. Inference-You have suspects and clues and what you know, this works well for inferences.
    4. Predicting- When reading mysteries it is very natural to make predictions. Since the author often tries to trick the reader adjusting predictions while reading also just fits with mysteries.
    5. Sequence- Many mystery books have flashbacks. This helps kids work on sequencing events.
    6. Summarizing- The easy to identify problem, solution and events in mysteries help early readers build summary skills.
    Some of my favorite mystery books for early readers are Cam Jansen, Nate the Great and A to Z Mysteries. Cam Jansen offers lower level books for early readers with the Young Cam Jansen series. My students also enjoy the Cam Jansen website.

    When beginning the mystery genre we discuss the story elements that make a book a mystery.
    While reading each student gets a detective book. This helps them to track the clues and suspects while reading.
    The kids enjoy writing in the books and it is helpful to write about the book daily when first reading chapter books. When we finish the book each kid completes his or her case file and writes a summary of the book.
    Here are some free resources for teaching mysteries.
    Or click here if you would like to check out my Mystery Genre Product

    Saturday, February 28, 2015

    Learning About Leadership Part 2: Leadership Day

    It has been almost two years since my school officially began our adventure in becoming a Leader in Me School. So far it has been quite a journey. Friday we held our first Leadership Day. It was amazing. I can remember going to other school's Leadership Days and thinking could our kids do this? It was so exciting to see that they could.

    The teachers and students have been working on putting this day together for quite a while. As the day finally got closer more and more kids really wanted to take part. We were excited for a big turnout and then... winter finally hit Colorado. With several days of snow and a school kind of a long drive from Denver we all got nervous our big day may not happen. You know it is a big day when neither teachers nor students want a snow day!
    Friday morning the sun decided to come out and our Leadership Day began. The kids took over. It was so much fun to see them being leaders. It truly brought out the best in so many kids. Shy kids were introducing themselves to guests and guiding them to their seats. Kids who had at times been difficult were carrying leadership flags and acting as tour guides.

    Students holding their habit flags.

    After the opening ceremonies our guests spent two hours touring the classrooms and talking with students and teachers. The tour guides were so proud to show off all the work they had done. The walls in our school are all about goals and leadership. Teachers try to integrate lessons on leadership into all the content areas.
    Literacy bookmarks for catching characters displaying the 7 Habits.

    Kindergarten data wall.

    Second grade learning about synergizing.

    Intervention classroom thinking about their futures.
    The day ended with a speech by Matt Miller who reminded all of us the the reason we do all of this is to bring out the leader in every student!

    This day made me think back about why we wanted to become a Leader in Me school. When I was asked this question by a visiting administrator it took a minute, but eventually I remembered. We decided we wanted to do more for our students. We wanted to realize what was great in each of them and give each of them a chance to shine.

    Friday, January 23, 2015

    An Environment for Learning

    After weeks of assessments followed by looking at data and creating new intervention groups I decided I needed some positive change. It was time to reorganize my classroom. Each day I have 14 groups of kids come into the primary Title classroom. I hope when they enter the room they feel both comfortable being there and excited about reading. My wonderful para had found some jungle paper at Michael's and we decided to go with it. I had also decided to get rid of my desk to make more room for all of the kids we work with. I figure this will also help me stay organized. No more drawer to dump everything in at the end of the day.
    We used the paper on the wall behind our library. Our books are organized on the shelves by level and in baskets on the floor by theme for free read time. I'll be shopping for some more bean bag chairs soon. The kids love them!
    Our floor space which is used mostly with my kindergartners has a rug which they pretend is the grass. It is hard to see, but the leaves on the wall are their sight words. I finally found a way to get them at a level that the tiny kindergarteners could interact with the words as we add them.
    The final addition to the room is a mural of a waterfall. I love it and the kids think it is the greatest thing ever. We actually found this rolled up in a storage closet. We added curtains to try to make the room feel more comfortable; my district doesn't allow floor lamps. The kids reaction when they saw the transformation made all of the work worth it. They all say they love coming into our classroom. I realize all of these kids struggle reading and work really hard every minute I have them. It means so much to me to know they look forward to the time they have in our "jungle".

    Saturday, January 10, 2015

    Learning About Leadership Part 1

    I work in a Leader in Me school. If you haven't heard of this it is an awesome program for developing leadership skills in kids and teachers. Check out this link Leader in Me. When our school first began the process I was so excited to see how it would impact the kids. I was especially excited because my son attends school there and I would love to see him develop some leadership skills (unfortunately he inherited my shyness).

     Isn't he adorable!
    Not long after the excitement began I started to worry about how I would be able to support the program in a primary reading intervention classes. I spend much of my days teaching phonics and early literacy skills to struggling readers. An even bigger obstacle is I only have my students for 15-30 minutes a day. After a lot of worrying, I realized teaching kids about leadership would have to look different in my classroom. I would focus more on teaching kids what leadership is and on goal setting and how to reach their goals.

    With Leadership Day approaching quickly I decided I better start my Leadership unit. We are one week in and so far it is going great. Here is what we are up to!

    My first and second graders began by thinking about leaders. They each created a web of leaders they have learned about and leaders in their lives.

    Our next step was to begin brainstorming qualities of leaders. It took them a while to start thinking bigger than what a leader does in school, but they eventually got there and had some great ideas.
    Now we were ready to begin learning about leaders. We will be doing this through a series of books and close reads. The kids are all very excited to learn more about all of these real leaders. We will be reading about a variety of people including Civil Rights leaders, presidents, inventors and even sports leaders.

    With the timing being so perfect we will be learning all about Martin Luther King Jr. next week. We will be using this product to begin our unit. Great Leaders of America
    If you have any resources that might help out with this unit please feel free to post your links in the comments.

    Sunday, November 16, 2014

    Adventures in Kindergarten Interactive Notebooks

    So, I made the decision this year to attempt interactive notebooks. For some reason I decided to try them with my kindergarten intervention groups. My thinking was it would be a great way to organize all of our phonemic awareness and phonics activities. What I had forgotten was my kindergarteners come in with no idea how to cut or glue.  After our first activity, decorating the covers, I quickly realized I was going to have to rethink how I was going to handle this project.
    The kids were so excited; however, the cutting and glueing took our entire group time (20 minutes). If you have brilliant ideas for solving this issue feel free to post them in the comments.  Our first phonemic awareness activity was matching first sounds. I decided to bring the notebooks home and do all the prep work for the kids. This is how I decided to handle the first few activities. We had a great time matching sounds and they really enjoy their notebooks. In fact after every activity they ask if they can take them home.
    As we have gotten further into the school year, they are almost able to hold their scissors and cut close to the line. And they get mad at me when I do the cutting so I have begun to let them cut their own pieces.  This little girl is being very careful.
    I feel like they are learning a lot and they are proud of their work, When we have a few extra minutes they go back through and practice the skills they have learned. I am creating the notebook as I go and will sell it only after it has been thoroughly tested and adjusted to work well with kindergarteners.  I have learned some important lessons already.
    1. Think about the point of the lesson. The majority of time needs to be spent on the kids learning, not cutting (unless of course they are learning to cut)
    2. Remember when giving young kids this type of activity they need directions, examples and help (repeat this many times).
    3. The students should have time to go back and work on what is in their notebook. This allows them to continue to practice until they have it mastered.
    4. The kids notebooks do not look like mine and that's okay. They are proud of them anyway.
    5. Sometimes you need to step in and adjust how things are done.

    Stay tuned for updates on this topic.