Friday, August 31, 2012


Today we selected  partners.  This is pretty important because partners are long-term partners.  Except for the case of total discontent, these partners will remain the same until the mid-term. 

These partners will work together during  each day's partner reading so we have like partners together.  After the mini-lesson students have 15 minutes of quiet independent reading when students are reading books from their own book buddy.  These books have been carefully selected - mostly books at their independent level to practice, with a couple at their instructional level to challenge.  During that time they are putting sticky notes in their books of places that they want to share with their partners - funny parts, interesting parts, tricky parts...  When the timer goes off, the students know that they have an assigned place at a table or on the floor to meet with their partner.  There they sit side by side -  knee-to-knee and shoulder-to-shoulder and share what they have been reading.  They might also read together.  They have learned how to decide who goes first (rock, paper, scissors is a favorite and so is the mature, "Why don't you go first today?") and how to put the book in between.  It is important that we choose partners that are compatible but also who are close to the same reading level.

These partners are also Math partners - same partners, same place to sit.  This is the person that they will play most of the Math games with, so it is important to make sure we match children, not only who read at a similar level but who also have Math skills at a similar level. No easy task!

This is also the partner that they will sit beside any time we are doing whole group work on the carpet.  The children sit in four rows, crisscross.  When the teacher says, "turn and talk," this is the person that they will face and share with.

Having the same partner for everything cuts down on any confusion and loss of instructional time.  It makes for smooth transitions.

At the mid-term we will interview each student and see how s/he thinks the partnership is working out.  Some students will want a change and some will beg to stay together.  Working with another person and negotiating games and activities is just another life lesson in the daily work of a child.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

100 Points of Light

In the last post, I talked about our new word wall that is going to be on the ceiling! In trying to orient the children in figuring out just how the wall was going to work (it's around the outside of two walls) we wanted to do something fun. We had the idea of darkening the room and working with flashlights and letting the children find words with the lights, but... as with so many ideas, we didn't have 36 flashlights. As we were considering raiding the hurricane stash, Williams' mom came to rescue and sent in 36 little flashlights with batteries! They are the perfect size. We used the lights today and the children could hardly stay in their seats. They were so excited. We had all the children, and then tables of children, and finally, individual children, find letters and words. I have a good feeling that the children understand the alphabetical order and where to find the words and they did it in such a novel way. We plan to use the flashlights at least once a week, so... if you have any great games and ideas, let us know!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Where to put the word wall?

In first grade the word wall can be massive.  Not only do you put the kindergarten review and first grade sight words, but you need pattern words so that students can look at a word and see that they can make other words (If I can spell cake, then I can spell make).  It's always a challenge to find a space in the room for such a large project.  This year we decided to use the only space left in our room for such a large activity - the ceiling!  I know that in many classroom the fire regulations are very strict and that may be a problem for us before it's all over, but we're going to give it a try.  The success will be if the students actually use it!
We found this nifty tool to get the magnetic words from the white board to the ceiling without a ladder.  Pretty cool, huh?  The children are fascinated

Monday, August 20, 2012

Change is the Spice of Life

This will be a year of changes for me.  Last year, and for the past 30+ years of my life, I have been the Special Education teacher.  I serviced children in several classrooms, mostly kindergarten and first grade.  Last year my daughter-in-law co-taught a first grade class with Tracy Ruark.  Tracy and Randi were a wonderful team and I had the pleasure of occasionally working in their room.  I fell in love with the children in their class.  Randi and Tracy planned to loop their class from kindergarten to first grade this year.  After the looping letters went home, Randi found out that she would be leaving and moving to Greensboro, NC.  So... what to do about the class?  After much discussion, I decided to move into the General Education slot (I have always been dually certified).  I loved the children in that classroom and Tracy and I had worked together before and really enjoyed working together.  It just seemed like a logical fit.

While Tracy and I "sort of" tried this out a couple of years ago, this will be my first year back into the self-contained general education setting in many years.  As I tried to envision our new classroom, one of the things that I knew I wanted was organization - not only of the learning spaces that we would share with the children, but organization of our materials and supplies, organization of the learning and planning.  With that in mind, Tracy and I have embarked on this new adventure.  Here are a few pictures of our learning space.
This is a picture of the inside of our cabinets.  Supplies are arranged in 
see-through plastic shoe boxes. Even I'm impressed with this!

I am especially excited about having my own little small group area.  When you work in someone else's classroom as a Special Education teacher, you are just a visitor and you rarely have a space of your own.  You borrow a space wherever there might be one and that often means working with a group on the floor.  You keep your supplies in as small a space as possible, but this year I will have my very own little space with my very own supplies.  It's the little things!

We have a well stocked leveled library.  You can't see the bins of I-M books to the left.  The green bins on the right are chapter books, newly added for our excited first grade readers.  Luke already told me that he read 10 chapter books this summer so we want to have a really good selection for him and several of our other readers!  Many of the chapter books are from Tracy's personal collection.  When she left corporate to become a teacher she spent much of her corporate money on equipping her classroom library.  Lucky me!  Lucky kids!

We also have a very healthy genre library (Thank you, Tracy!)  We changed out the books from kindergarten adding many new non-fiction topics.  We also added bins for each of the Science topics we will study this year.

No matter how organized our spaces are, there will always be part of me that loves decorating to the theme.  For this year's theme of "Recipe for Success" we decided to be The Sweet Shop (How sweet it is!) partially because of Tracy's addiction to chocolate but also because there's just something magical about a a little kid in a candy store.  That's the mood that we want to create in our class - magic! with so many selections that you just can't wait to get started.  Each of our tables has a sweet name - cupcakes, ice creams, chocolate chips, lollipops, dough-nuts, and jelly beans!  It's just the beginning of our sweet success.  Can't wait to share the journey along the way!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

"Recipe for Success" Opening Bulletin Boards

At Chets Creek our first bulletin boards are "Something Good About You!"  Something is chosen about each child that is special and that becomes the focus of the first board for Orientation.  This is a smattering of the first grade boards around our "Recipe for Success" School Theme!

Now if this is on the outside, I can't wait to see what is on the inside - but more about that later!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Welcome to the Chets Kitchen!

Teachers returned to school today. It's always difficult to get up when that alarm rings so early, but at Chets Creek teachers can always look forward to a fun first day back, so it makes the wee early hours a little less painful. This year was no different. Teams had met and prepared during the summer, so they started the morning with skits - cute, funny, irreverent! The teachers then voted on the best skit and for the second year in a row my first grade teammates won the round! They are quite a group!

There were plenty of prizes to go around. This year prizes included theme-based bulletin board border and sets, cooking utensils for the classrooms, and even registration for a Lucy Calkins event! We played other games throughout the morning including guessing spices, trivia about foods and dividing into groups by the recipe type we each brought with us.
All these games are designed to get us involved in the theme but also to build camaraderie. After each game the Principal asked the team leader to share her noticings about how the group worked together - making each of us aware that we were part of a team. We had two guests chefs that talked to us about their secrets to success and whipped up a little taste of something special.

The morning was capped off by having each team make pizzas with quite an array of ingredients. We also decorated over-sized sugar cookies and a pizza box to represent our grade level.

Thrown in between the fun and games were data from last year's testing, goals for the year, and a sprinkling of inspiration. I don't know how other principals welcome their teachers back on the first day but there is no question that Susan Phillips, Chief Chef at the Creek, has the recipe for success!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Unexpected Blessings

My daughter is a kindergarten teacher in another county in Florida. She was recently married and is entering her third year of teaching. Like many teachers she receives pay for the summer at the end of the year, all in a lump sum. If you have ever received pay for an extended time in one payment, you may be aware that it is a little more difficult to budget! Somehow the money always runs out before the month so this time of year, teachers are often short on cash... and it's difficult to open a new classroom without a little cash. It is not unusual for teachers to spend $200-$400 getting ready for the new year out of their own pockets. Sometimes it's about a new theme or a new grade level and other times it's just sprucing up, but even for the thrifty teacher, opening can be a financial burden. Some years teachers receive a check the first week of school for $50-$125 for just that purpose, but so far this year, I haven't heard a word. Regardless, school will be opening. My daughter called just to tell me about her planning and she happened to mention that her team was going out to lunch all week but she had told them that she would only be able to go on Thursday. She was bringing her lunch each of the other days to save money, vowing to try to plan better next summer. Her story is not that different from many teachers who have been hit by the economy, whose husbands have lost jobs or been cut back, who have had babies and extra expenses, or who just spent a little more because it was summer. Don't get me wrong. Every one of them is grateful to have a job, but this is often a stressful time for many teachers for many reasons.

With that on my mind, I received an email from a young teacher at a school across town. She said that her school was using the same theme, Superheroes, that my school had used last year and she wondered if we might have any things that we might be discarding that they might use. She mentioned the hardship on many of the young teachers at her school who so wanted to provide a fresh and exciting environment but who were strapped for the extra cash to make it happen. My thoughts went directly to my daughter... I sent out an e-mail to my kindergarten and first grade teammates asking if they had any personal theme supplies, if they could drop them in a box in front of my door. Some of the teachers had already been contacted by other teachers and had gathered and delivered their theme-related extras, but not surprisingly, the box filled quickly. About 6:00 tonight the teacher, whom I had never met, came all the way across town after her own long day at work to pick up the supplies. She was very grateful... and very young.

I am just so very thankful to work at a school where teachers didn't think twice about giving. We do it all the time amongst ourselves. We have teachers in our building who are stretched this time of year too, but it just makes me feel good to know that the people I work with would give so generously without ever asking for anything in return, without even knowing this teacher. I am indeed blessed to work in this building...