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Thursday, December 18, 2014

I Told You So!

Maybe it's because I started teaching long before computers and tablets were available to the public...

Maybe it's because both of my parents had beautiful, award winning, Palmer method, cursive writing that I admired (and practiced endlessly in my free time)...

Maybe it's because I'm a professional calligrapher...

Maybe it's because I have decades of elementary experience that simply bears the proof...

I firmly believe...
Handwriting instruction and practice are essential to the education of our children.

Today I came across a NY Times report that adds even more credence to my long held and soap box professed belief.


I won't paraphrase or interpret the report for you.  Instead, I urge you to read it.  It's concise.  I will, however, preach a little bit.


When I first started teaching, cursive writing was introduced in 3rd grade. My students were excited to learn cursive. Starting 3rd grade meant they had reached a milestone. Enthusiasm was inherent. Motivation was keen. Thus, success was almost guaranteed, even among reluctant learners.  Having taught 3rd grade for 9 years, my experience on this subject has credibility.

Then I became a 1st grade teacher and eventually a reading interventionist and Reading Recovery(TM) teacher.  After nearly 20 years in those roles, I became adamant about the value of handwriting instruction!  So full of conviction am I that I find this subject to be a battleground I visit often in my role as Literacy Coach for my building.

Admittedly, I have not conducted scientific research to support my position.  I simply have years and years of experience and anecdotal evidence.  So here's my litany: 


*Consistent, logical, progressive instruction and practice allow everyone to participate and experience a sense of accomplishment and success.  Even learning disabled students can master this and there is a body of evidence that supports the conclusion that handwriting practice improves their reading, writing, and cognitive skills.    Certainly I found that Reading Recovery students, those most at risk for failing in school, benefited vastly from direct instruction on letter formation, especially with reversals.  (My Teacher Leader stressed spending a precious minute or 2 of our 30 min. lesson creating a "mental recording" of letter formation for students.  Example for child with b/d confusion -- d is around, up, down.)

For all of the years that I taught 1st grade, we had handwriting practice as soon as we returned to the classroom from lunch recess. This provided a perfect means of calming the children and settling them back into the task of learning.  Just as with the 3rd graders referenced above, my charges were excited and engaged; a perfect recipe for learning.

Instruction progressed not alphabetically, but in a manner that created a scaffold.  Thus, we began with l/L; a simple line that starts at the top line and ends at the bottom line.  Stop for a minute and think about all the learning you can stuff into that simple letter form: concepts of top and bottom, up and down, straight and curvy, upper and lower case, phonetic sounds, ...  Never did we study a letter without recognizing the students whose names began with that letter.  In doing so, we added beginning sounds and early concepts of proper nouns to our learning, not to mention the warm feeling of being recognized by your classmates.  During this quick 15 min. lesson, I also found an opportunity to provide individual reinforcement to those who needed it, whether that involved holding the pencil correctly or remembering to start at the top.



I find this litany is growing into a sermon. With just a week until Christmas, I have too much to accomplish before my 22 guests arrive. Hence, I will continue this post at a later date. I hope you'll come back for more.





Saturday, December 13, 2014

It's About Time, Teachers, for 2015

It's about time, teachers, for 2015.  Are you ready?

Every new year, I make a teaching resolution to work smarter, not harder.  To that end, I have some suggestions that may help YOU work smarter, rather than harder.  

*Before you leave your classroom for the last time in 2014, remove all traces of the holidays. Upon your return in Jan., such leftovers will be about as welcomed as the proverbial fruitcake.  If you can rustle up enough energy, change your bulletin boards now.  You've earned a break. You need a break.  Don't go into school during your break!

*After decades in the classroom, the thrill of changing bulletin boards has long passed. To that end, I like to get as much mileage out of my bulletin boards as possible. So, I have created boards that work as learning centers, anchor activities, and/or enrichment experiences. Moreover, I like boards that last the whole month long.  



This one is from How Many Ways? -- Jan. EditionSimilar to Boggle(TM), the challenge in this activity is to arrive at a given number in many different ways. It readily provides differentiation by allowing the teacher to choose between 2 questions: one asks students to count to the target number; one requires students to use basic operations to arrive at the target.


Reproduce the mitten icons and place them on a bulletin board along with the How Many Ways? question of your choice. When using the basic operations challenge, select the math operation(s) appropriate for your students and post them, as well. Then invite your students to determine how many ways they can reach the target number. Enough target numbers are included to allow you to change the target each day, if you so desire.

This activity is CCSS aligned. It requires students to think critically while practicing math skills. What could be better than an activity that challenges your students in multiple ways?  

*Prepare all the materials you will need for the 1st week back.  If you employ thematic units, you may be interested in starting the new year off with Hats! Hats! Hooray for Hats! in preparation for National Hat Day on Jan. 15. This unit integrates ELA, math, HOTS, and creativity. The resources include:
Language arts
· Book links
· Compound words 
· Idioms 
· Vocabulary
· Comprehension
· Poetry
· Riddles 
· Handwriting practice
· Alphabetical order
· Writing
· Verbal fluency
Math 
· Counting
· Computation
· Graphing
· Patterns
· Venn Diagrams
· Math Journal prompts
· Sorting
· Measurement
· Money
Higher Order Thinking Skills
· Analysis
· Evaluation
· Creation
Art
· Arts & crafts project


Materials for literacy and math centers are included, as well as homework assignments. A perennial favorite of my students are the hat riddles we use for critical thinking, morning message, and handwriting practice.  Here's an example:


          His hat is striped in white and red.
          He put a pink stain on mother’s bed.
          Who is he?

My kiddoes can hardly wait for our morning meeting to share the answer to the riddle. (The Cat in the Hat)



*Another teaching resolution I make is to stretch my teaching repertoire into a new area.  So 1 year I resolved to incorporate more creative thinking opportunities.  The result was Destination: Imagination via Creative Thinking (Vol. I). (Vol. II will be launched soon.) 


This is an eclectic collection of activities originally developed for use with my gifted and talented classes. The goal of these activities is to promote the 4 traits of gifted children: fluency, flexibility, elaboration and originality. But really, what child wouldn't benefit from working on those aspects? I have found the project works very well with heterogeneous groups and have successfully used it with 1st - 5th graders.


These activities are structured to be used in 1 week intervals: assignment sheets go home with a due date; products are shared one week later. This product includes copy ready assignment sheets in color and black line, notes to the teacher, and participation certificates. Some are designed to be used seasonally; others are appropriate to any time of the year.



To ensure that you enjoy your winter break, plan for January NOW! It's about time -- your time!


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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rudolph's Red Nose & Ho-Ho-Hos




It’s about time, teachers, for Rudolph's Red Nose and some HO-HO-HOs!

It's gift giving time and I have a gift for the teacher: 2 printables for this holiday season.  




Both activities exercise students’ vocabulary, spelling, and critical thinking abilities as they use the clues to find the answers.  In Rudolph’s Red Nose, the letters R-E-D are part of each answer.  In HO-HO-HO, each solution includes the letters H-O.


Use these activities at a center, for an anchor activity, or as seat work when you need a little quiet time. You can pick up your FREE gift on TPT or TN.



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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Higher Order Thinking Skills Centers for Dec.


It's about time for some HOTS centers to exercise your students' critical thinking.


Christmas Confections Square Puzzlers are excellent for exercising your students’ problem solving skills. The challenge with these puzzles is to reconstruct the square so that all of the images match on every interior side.

3 Square Puzzlers are included. The 2x2 square is perfect for introducing the task. It is also most appropriate for K - 2nd grade students. The 3x3 square is quite challenging and can be used successfully with 2nd – 5th grade students, middle and high school students. In fact, it is plenty challenging for adults, as well. The 4x4 square is for experts only! This activity is perfect for fast finishers because they can't finish it quickly!

Corral some of that holiday excitement and add some learning to the Christmas season. Your students will love working on vocabulary, parts of speech, synonyms, rimes, making inferences, and interpreting data while having fun with Christmas Hink Pinks, Hinky Pinkies, Hinkity Pinkities, and Hitinkity Pitinkities.

Hink Pinks are riddles wherein the clues lead you to a 2 word answer. Each answer word must have just one syllable and the 2 words must rhyme. Hinky Pinkies are 2 word rhymes with 2 syllables in each word. Hinkity Pinkities are rhyming pairs with 3 syllables each. Rhyming answers with 4 syllables are Hitinkity Pitinkities.  

Here's how it works: 
Hink Pink clue: playthings for male children 
Hink Pink answer: boys' toys 

In this packet you will find 40 cards with Christmas themed clues and, of course, an answer sheet. They work well in a literacy center. Or, if you prefer, use them as a warm-up activity, sponge activity, or anchor activity. Solve several together to ensure your students' success. This activity is CCSS aligned.

Have you heard the big news?  TPT is having a site sale Dec. 1 & 2.  Using promo code TPTCYBER, you can get 28% off of everything in my store.






Thursday, November 27, 2014

Merry Math Centers


It's about time, teachers, for some Merry Math Centers...


is an interactive bulletin board that can be used as a math center, an anchor activity, or a challenge for fast finishers. Similar to Boggle, the challenge in this fun, open-ended exercise is to reach a target number in as many different ways as possible. It provides instant differentiation by allowing the teacher to choose between 2 processes (counting or basic operations), as well as the choice of which and how many operations to use.  
This activity is CCSS aligned.  It requires students to think critically while practicing math skills.  It's a great way to keep your students engaged during this exciting time of year!



Scrattle: The Christmas Edition is a learning center that combines word work with computation; individual effort with competition. Using a set of letters, each student creates words. They then determine the value of their words using the Scrabble™ letter values. Then partners engage in a battle wherein they compare their word scores using >, <, and =. The winner is the student with the most >s.

SCRATTLE can be played by students with simple addition capabilities, as well as those skilled in solving mixed operations in complex equations. Three different recording sheets are included, providing instant differentiation. 

SCRATTLE is CCSS aligned.  This product contains 2 sets of letters; one set in color, one in black & white. It also includes 3 recording sheet templates.

Reindeer Squares are square arrays also known as Latin Squares. In mathematics, they are used for statistical analysis. If they seem familiar, they should; Sudoku is a 9 x 9 Latin Square.

Use Reindeer Squares to teach your students deductive reasoning and problem solving while disguising it as lots of fun. Begin by demonstrating how a 3 x 3 array works. Then up the ante with successively larger arrays. This is a great activity for differentiation. It also works well in centers or as a sponge activity. It is perfect for the fast finisher.

Coming soon ... centers for HOTS.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Literacy Centers to Light Up Your December!



Merry Monkeys is a literacy center focusing on antonyms. It is CCSS aligned for grades 4 and 5. However, I have used this center with advanced 1st graders!  So, really, any grade level could enjoy it.
The 48 cards challenge your students to find pairs of antonyms.  It can be a simple matching exercise, or you could have small groups play Go Fish with the cards.  Also included are labels for your file folder.


In Gingerbread Compounds, your students will mend the broken gingerbread cookies by finding the parts that make compound words.  There are 12 cookie tops, 12 cookie bottoms, 3 work mats, labels for your center folder, and 2 recording sheets.  
Despite the Santa hats on the cover, this center is holiday neutral. None of the graphics the children use have the holiday images, except on 1 form of the recording sheet. (The other form maintains the neutrality.) Thus, if you are doing a unit on gingerbread men, fairy tails, or plain old compound words, you can use this center at any time of the year. Gingerbread Compounds is CCSS aligned and best suited for grades 1 - 3.



I really love the gingerbread graphics from Pink Cat Studio, so I used them again for Contraction Cookies. In this CCSS aligned center, your students will match contractions with their component parts.  

This center is also holiday neutral. There are 3 cookie sheet work mats, 24 cards to make 12 contraction pairs, center labels, and a recording sheet.


Your students will determine how many syllables are in the holiday themed words in Friendly Frog's Syllable Sort. Included are 3 work mats, 18 picture/word cards, labels for your folder, and a black line recording sheet.


  

Check back soon for December math centers and critical thinking centers.