Hello from first grade!

Due to a mix-up somewhere along the line, it was unclear if I would be able to student teach in a traditional classroom – I was never assigned to one, and there was a hiccup when it came to remedying that problem. Luckily, the stars all aligned, and I was able to become Mrs. Hall’s first grade student teacher the week before spring break.

I spent a lot of my time in my previous rotation serving older students, so it definitely was a shock to move down with the six-year-olds! They are a different animal entirely, but I truly have loved it.

I spent the first week observing procedures and helping when difficult behavioral situations arose. As a former journalist, I am extremely observant: a skill I have both naturally and honed in journalism school. I used to joke that I could find out anything about anyone, but I realize now how very useful being observant is in education. I am finding that I’m able to quickly pick up phrases and routines that teachers use. This means that when I observe in classrooms, I am constantly filing away things to use in my future classroom. I learn constantly! I feel so fortunate to be a in room where I am learning best practices all day long.

This week, I’ve been teaching phonics and helping plan instruction for next week. Something unique about this first grade team is that they have weekly planning meetings and work very hard to share ideas. I love that! The collaboration is really fun to be a part of because you can definitely see how it benefits the students in a real, tangible way. I’m definitely enjoying my first grade adventure so far, and can’t wait to see where else it will take me!

My Educational Philosophy

I am a teacher who believes in the whole-child approach. I believe that every aspect of my students matters because they themselves matter. Students cannot learn until they feel safe and secure, and my classroom provides that security for them by being a consistent, loving, and fair place for them to grow. Elementary school students in particular benefit greatly from rich, expansive academic, social-emotional, creative, and cognitive approaches to learning. This is reflected in my classroom through my responsive classroom philosophy, starting each day with a morning meeting, and building positive, respectful community throughout the year.

I am a teacher who knows that positive relationships are key. Building positive rapport and relationships with each child allows me to truly know each and every student: their passions, struggles, behaviors, and feelings. This allows me to differentiate instruction accordingly and to ensure classroom management is positive and effective. One key way that differentiation can occur is through the workshop model, which enables me to provide students with the extensions and interventions they personally need to succeed. Collecting data and records also helps to ensure that all students’ needs are met.

 

Positive relationships between teacher and home support as well as within the school community also set students up for success. I know that communicating with parents and allowing them to see the amazing people their children are allows them to provide additional support at home and allows parents and guardians to become true partners in their child’s education. Parents are their children’s first teacher, and I can harness that wealth of knowledge by building positive relationships.

 

I am a teacher who knows teaching is one of the most important professions. I do not take that knowledge lightly. Being a teacher means modeling that learning never ends. I strive to constantly be improving and to seek out opportunities for new growth on a regular basis.

 

Most importantly, I am a teacher who knows that every child can learn. As the saying goes, not every child learns in the same way – but every single child can learn and grow to their full potential. By providing appropriate challenges for each student and instilling in them a desire to grow no matter their level, I will instill a lifelong love of learning in each student who passes through my classroom doors.

Rolling with the punches

I’ve learned that a vital part of being a good teacher is rolling with the punches! Each and every day, I make countless adjustments to my plans in order to best serve every one of my students – including two first grade students I currently serve.

Two of our first graders are receiving intensive interventions (recommended both through RTI and LPAC) in order to help them develop some basic phonological skills. We have been working through Heggerty’s phonological awareness curriculum, which consists of a series of 15-minute lessons targeting several skills. I meet with these particular students twice a day, four days a week.

These students’ first goal was to master phonological blending and segmenting. Through structured practice, they each got up to 90-100 percent accuracy with automaticity and no manipulatives. That was a really exciting day! Since they’ve mastered that, we have moved on to rhyming words. I discovered a significant weakness from both students in this area, so we had been working on Heggerty’s rhyming skills and had been generating our own lists of words that rhyme.

This Monday, I picked the students up from special areas for our intervention, as I always do. That day, however, they were total chatterboxes – it was Dr. Seuss week, and what kind of pajamas was I wearing for “The Sleep Book” Day? What day was Tuesday? Wednesday? Why were the eggs and ham green? Had I seen their Dr. Seuss drawings? I think they fit 30 questions into the short walk from PE to my room!

At that moment, I made a decision to totally shift my lesson plan. Instead of continuing with Heggerty’s lessons, we would theme our intervention week around Dr. Seuss! We opened Green Eggs and Ham and started looking for rhymes. We made lists of word families and discussed how they rhyme. We talked about how rhyming words often have the same endings. We generated words that rhymed with “box” and “ham”. The students’ engagement was through the roof!

Switching your plans at the last minute can definitely be nerve-wracking…but it also can definitely pay off! I am so pleased with how involved the students are and how they seem to be making real-world connections when it comes to their rhyming abilities.

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Making the most of push-in support time

Push-in support is such an interesting animal! I am entirely at the mercy of the classroom schedule and must balance my needs (intervening with the kids who really need it) with the needs of the teacher.

I really enjoy the interventions I am able to do in Mrs. Dobbs’ kindergarten classroom. I intervene during Daily 5 time, so her students are using the workshop model and are already doing differentiated activities. This makes it really easy to see what my students are struggling with and to help them in areas where they need to grow.

One of my students, B, is on her second go-around of kindergarten. She is doing a great job identifying and writing sight words, and I really want to build on the momentum she has there. I have also observed over the course of my semester with her that writing has gotten easier for her. Therefore, I added a new goal to the goal currently set in the front of her daily writing journal.

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Writing two sentences about the same thing proved tricky for B. After allowing her to practice independently, I realized that she was not really understanding the concept. I then taught a guided lesson, which I videoed.

I plan to continue working on this skill with B for the remainder of my time with her. However, because I placed a formal learning target in the front of her journal, everyone who writes with her now knows this is what she should be working toward. This will make transition for my mentor teacher much easier, I hope.

Prepositions and English Language Learners

One of my kindergarten friends has really been struggling with identifying and using prepositions correctly. He’s a wonderful reader, so he can read them – but he doesn’t really understand what they mean when used independently. We know this both through conversing with him and through OnlineIPT placement test results.

To strengthen this skill, I designed a lesson to help him activate prior learning about prepositions and to continue this learning. The lesson involved him using his prior learning to identify prepositions on an anchor chart he’d co-created. Then, we used a “we do/you do” strategy to write a book about prepositions with decreasing levels of scaffolding.

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As you can see, Z got some scaffolding in the first two pages. He was told which preposition to use and got a sentence starter, but he had to identify the preposition, transfer it to the bottom of the page, and model the preposition physically for me to take a picture of. Then, he finished the sentence. In later pages, Z came up with his own prepositions (which is why some of them are repeated), wrote sentences, identified prepositions, and modeled the preposition.

Now that he has finished the book, it is a part of his daily book baggie. He takes this book home and reads it to his mother nightly, allowing for increased exposure and practice identifying prepositions.

Here is the formal lesson plan I turned in:

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Integrated Unit: Science and Texas History

Below is a lesson plan I wrote as part of a class about pedagogy and English language learners. This lesson plan was designed to connect a theme – Texas History – to all four core subject areas. Elsewhere on the portfolio, I have my math lesson plan. This one connects science to social studies.

Lesson Objective(s)/Performance Outcomes

Content

I will be able to measure and evaluate the environmental conditions in which a bluebonnet can grow.

Language

I can write about bluebonnets using grade-level vocabulary words.

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Foundations of a Discipline Plan

I wrote this discipline plan as a component of my Understanding Classroom Management graduate class. This plan is a foundational document: it reflects my core beliefs about discipline and classroom management, but it is not designed to be put in place immediately on entering a classroom. This is because one’s concepts must shift based on the development age of the students – there’s no sense in writing a discipline plan with kindergartners in mind when one is actually teaching fourth grade!

That being said, I do think this plan accurately sums up my core attitude that positive behavioral interventions tend to be more successful. I recognize that it is incomplete and that there are MANY routines missing from it. I think of this plan as being a jumping-off point for me when I do end up in a classroom: my core values will stay the same no matter what age I teach, but I will certainly add to this document and revise it based on my circumstance.


Effective classroom management is the key to success in education. The American Psychological Association wrote that successful classroom management “increases meaningful academic learning and facilitates social and emotional growth” (Kratochwill et al., n.d.). Conversely, poor classroom management leads to conditions that stymie the growth of children – the complete opposite of a teacher’s goal. Continue reading

How To Make Kids Love To Read

This blog post was originally written for my Instructional Methods in Language Arts and Social Studies graduate level class. It drew on my experience as a library aide in Denton ISD as well as my independent readings of books like Donalyn Miller’s “The Book Whisperer” and Gail Boushey and Joan Moser’s “The CAFE Book.”

As a library aide at a K-5 school in Denton, I get to observe every class in the school march in their single-file line to visit our collection. Some of these students are eager, ready to read, and excited to pick out their own book…and some of the students come armed with a file folder and a mopey face, totally unsure how to find a book they’ll love.

The language arts block system encourages a time for students to read independently, and the number one place they’ll find books to read is in your campus library. Finding a perfect book in the campus library, then, completely supports your goal of having a strong language arts block.

How can you as a classroom teacher develop a class that’s excited about the library? It’s all in your expectations.

Drop the arbitrary numbers

The number-one frustration of kids in the library is being unable to find a book on their reading level. “Ms. McPherson, where are the level K books? The 400 lexile books? The 3.1-3.3 books?” are questions I hear all day long. These kids have been told a level and are now completely fixated on finding a book that is on-level. A worthy goal, sure, especially considering all we’ve learned about guided reading in this class.

But if you want kids to love the library and to find books that spark joy, you have to drop the numbers.

Restrain a kid to a particular level, and they miss out on books that they’re genuinely interested in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve helped a child find a series and watched their faces light up in genuine glee — they’ve found it! That elusive book that they WANT to read — only to see them open up the cover to check the written level and determine that it’s a tenth above their level. If you restrict a kid to only read 4.3-4.7 books, and they find a 4.8 book that they LOVE, they will put it back with the most pathetic look on their faces. They will put back that book that sparked joy, that could have been the book that taught them to love reading, because they are being restrained by a range.

As a librarian, this is frustrating for so many reasons. First, children will work hard to read a book they are excited about; they will languish forever in a book that they just don’t care about. Additionally, the leveling of books is often completely arbitrary. For example, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has the same lexile as Fahrenheit 451. Obviously, these two books are totally different in complexity and appropriateness for children!

 

A better way

How can you help students find books they’ll love that won’t leave them drowning? Certainly, I’m not advocating for letting emerging readers check out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It’s absolutely important to encourage students to check out books that they are capable of reading, but, like I said above, you can’t take the easy way out and restrict students to a certain reading level.

One strategy for allowing student choice while maintaining readability is by asking students to complete the five-finger test. If a student finds a book that they are excited about, have them turn to a random page in the book and start reading. Each time they encounter a word they don’t know and cannot decipher, have them put up one finger. If a student breezes through the read and knows every word, the book might be too easy. If they are unfamiliar with one to four words, it’s a great book to check out. If five words or more on a page are too challenging, the student might consider a book they can read more fluently.

Again, it’s important to not be rigid with this test. Shutting a student down as soon as they hit five fingers is just as damaging as making them put a .1-level too-high book back on the shelf. Be flexible with the rule: can the student figure out the word with prompting? Is the student really, really excited about the book? Could they be scaffolded to be able to understand the book?

Teachers and students also can use I PICK to determine if a book is still a good fit. I PICK stands for purpose, interest, comprehension, and know, and can help students weigh whether the book they want is a good choice. These strategies give autonomy to the students and allow them to feel like they have a say in whether a book is right for them.

One teacher I know uses the five-finger test to help students figure out one of their two books. Students can check out two books a week: one free choice, and one “I promise book.” The free choice is completely up to them: any genre, any level of readability, any length. The other book, however, is a book that students promise to complete in the time period and to pass a Reading Counts test on. To determine if they’re going to be able to live up to that promise, students know to use the five-finger rule to figure out if they’ll be able to comprehend and read the book in the correct amount of time. If not, they can check that book out as their freebie and select a different book to be their promise book.

Giving the students this independence makes them excited to come to the library! They are far more self-sufficient when they pick out books because they know how to check for comprehension. No longer do they have to wait for me to be available to help them scan inside covers for that elusive number. Instead, they can work by themselves and in their interest areas to find books that they’ll love and understand for years to come.

Lesson Plan

I had my first observation on Friday, and it was a lot of fun! I designed a lesson for Z, a kindergartner whose L1 is Bengali. I decided to focus the lesson on inferencing emotions after reviewing Z’s Online IPT placement test (the district gives this to all entering ESL students) and noting that he had a “severe weakness” in this area.

Interestingly, Z doesn’t have very many weaknesses – let alone severe ones. He reads on an advanced reading level and routinely writes paragraphs in his morning journal. We pull Z daily not for intervention but for extension. I kept that in mind as I designed this lesson to strengthen his inferencing emotions weakness. For example, the lesson is designed around a 1st grade TEKS rather than a kindergarten one.

Subject Area: English/Language Arts

Relevant TEKS:

110.12.B(9)  Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Fiction. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about the structure and elements of fiction and provide evidence from text to support their understanding. Students are expected to: (B)  describe characters in a story and the reasons for their actions and feelings.

Relevant ELPS:

(4)  Cross-curricular second language acquisition/reading. The ELL reads a variety of texts for a variety of purposes with an increasing level of comprehension in all content areas. ELLs may be at the beginning, intermediate, advanced, or advanced high stage of English language acquisition in reading. In order for the ELL to meet grade-level learning expectations across the foundation and enrichment curriculum, all instruction delivered in English must be linguistically accommodated (communicated, sequenced, and scaffolded) commensurate with the student’s level of English language proficiency. For Kindergarten and Grade 1, certain of these student expectations apply to text read aloud for students not yet at the stage of decoding written text. The student is expected to:  (J)  demonstrate English comprehension and expand reading skills by employing inferential skills such as predicting, making connections between ideas, drawing inferences and conclusions from text and graphic sources, and finding supporting text evidence commensurate with content area needs

 

Relevant CCRS:

II. A. 4. Draw and support complex inferences from text to summarize, draw conclusions, and distinguish facts from simple assertions and opinions.

 

Lesson Objective(s)/Performance Outcomes:

Content: I will be able to use my picture clues, words in my book, and the things I already know to make inferences.

Language: I will be able to make inferences about people’s feelings.

Timeline and Lesson:

Go over objectives and discuss real-world application.

Watch Brain Pop video about inferencing and check for understanding. https://jr.brainpop.com/readingandwriting/comprehension/makeinferences/

Tell Z, “Let’s play a game and try to infer how someone feels by looking at how they feel!” Show Z flashcards with pictures of children experiencing various emotions.

Introduce book “Jet is Naughty” with picture walk (for prediction). Pre-teach vocab words “naughty” and “helicopter.” Show video of helicopter on technology.

Read using previous comprehension goals of stopping at the end of each page and checking for comprehension “What is this page about?”. (“This page is about ____). Stop while reading and ask Z, “What can you infer about ____ “ on pgs. 5, 7, 11, 16. Focus on feelings, relationships, and story content when making inferences.

Transition into assessment.

Assess using below criteria.

Assessment:

Content And Language: I will show Z a flashcard with a picture of a person and a sentence that matches. Z will verbally compose a sentence about the feelings of the person in the picture and then write the sentence with support.

Measure of Success:

3 – Can verbally and in writing compose a reasonable sentence

2- Can verbally OR in writing compose a reasonable sentence

1 – Cannot verbally or in writing compose a reasonable sentence.

Z will also self-assess.

 

Materials and Resources

BrainPopJr video about inferencing

Objectives board

Emotions flashcards

book “Jet Is Naughty”

Z’s comprehension tools and book baggie

Flashcard

Paper

Pencil

Management of the Instructional Environment (strategies for engaging, motivating, and inspiring students): Write the learning targets out for reference and explicitly talk about why we learn what we are learning. One-on-one instruction and extension/intervention for Z. Student-led discussions, close proximity to students.

Technology Integration

 Show BrainPopJr video about inferencing to Z as well as visual for helicopter (vocabulary word in book) if needed.

Diversity and Equity

Language Adaptations/Modifications (for beginning, intermediate, and advanced students: Comprehension and vocabulary support; teaching inferencing; questioning; checking for understanding; pre-teaching vocabulary

Special Needs Modifications: Z is working with a first grade TEK to extend his kindergarten knowledge (EXPO).

 

Designing Assessment for ELLs

After two weeks of student teaching, I can say with the greatest confidence: data is EVERYTHING! Data is absolutely the key to providing effective instruction. After all, if you don’t where students are starting, how do you know what areas they need to grow in?

At McNair, I am actively involved in all sorts of assessment. Last week, I blogged about doing my first running record. This has been so helpful in seeing my students’ fluency and reading abilities grow. I’ve also been able to watch the administration of some ESL proficiency placement exams, and I’ve seen many, many different ways of assessing students as I’ve pushed in to classrooms to support our students.

I want to share an assessment I designed and conducted in the spring of 2016. This assessment tested the reading, writing, speaking, and listening proficiency of an English-language learner from Honduras. I completely designed and administered this exam; I also provided an interpretation of the results. Click on the link below to see my results. Continue reading