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Friday, August 11, 2017

Being Kind

So apparently I wrote this post back in May but never posted it. So I'll share it now. :) 

I had my students do lots of reflection this last week of school. It's amazing to me how short-term their memories are. :) When I would ask them for examples of their favorite memory it was something that happened that day or that week. They don't really go to the field trips or events we did at the beginning of the year.

Anyway, in addition to our curriculum and the myriad of goals I have for my students in the short time I have with them, one of my goals is to teach them how to be kind. Now you would think this would be a skill that doesn't need to be taught-you would be wrong. My students come to me with lots of different experiences and backgrounds but the one thing they have in common is many do not innately put the needs of others before themselves. The world pretty much revolves around them. 

So we teach them how to be kind. How do we do that? I model for them with my interactions and my tone of voice. When a student hands another their lunchbox and they snatch and say "don't touch my lunchbox". I will say "thank you Sally, for thinking of me but I'd rather get my own lunchbox". When someone says "can I have my spot back in line" and the student responds NO! I say "Johnny, maybe ask Madeline if you can get in front of her, she is usually kind". I was eating lunch with a group of students one day and the boy said "my mom didn't pack me a drink". Another student said "I'm not going to drink my milk-you can have it." The response from the boy was "I hate milk!". In that situation I just say "thank you Johnny for offering, that was very nice of you".

The other thing I tried this year is Compliment Circles. Probably once a week we would sit in a circle and the students would say something nice about the student next to them. Now again this seems like an easy task, but for them it took some practice. They would say something that they felt was a compliment-"he can burp the alphabet" for example and I would have to redirect and give them some sentence stems: I really like how he ____________, he always remembers to _________, etc. They would also tend to say the same things every time "she is a good listener"-true, but what specifically does she do that you like? Sometimes they were sitting next to their nemesis at the time and it was hard to think of something nice to say at all. The students would beg to do this activity all the time, I think it was effective.

The other way is with read-alouds, of course. My kiddos would refer back to stories about other students all the time. Here are some of my favorites:


We make ripples with our kindness every day-or lack of kindness-that makes ripples for people too. We discuss why the students shunned this new student and what we could do differently.


So many studies of teens who are violent toward their peers show that they are the loners-the ones that eat alone, sit alone. I think it's good to teach kids early to look out for those kiddos and include them so they don't feel invisible.



Nutmeg is a bit of a selfish friend until Barley gets sick and then she takes care of him like a pro. A great example of how we can look our for the ones we care about.


Poor Fang-since he's a shark everyone is scared of him-except for Nugget. He sees past Fang's ethnicity and they still strike up a friendship.




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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Books About Names

Let's face it--names are a big deal! Parents spend hours with baby name books trying to choose just the right name. It's part of our identity, who we are.

My first name is Joelle. My mother had a friend growing up with that name and she really liked it. It's a unique name-I've only ever met one other Joelle in real life. When my father (a notoriously spelling-challenged person) wrote the name down on the paperwork for my birth certificate, he spelled it Joel. So of course, my whole life I dreaded the first day of school because every teacher reading their roster would pronounce it Joel (as in a boy's name) instead of Jo-elle. I would be listed in the boy's gym class, etc.So in high school I started spelling it Joelle on everything-I even filled out my driver's license paperwork spelling it that way and no one ever caught it. My school thought the transcripts should match the college applications so we opted to get it legally changed my senior year of high school. I very nervously stood before a judge as he proceeded to ask me a list of questions including are you changing your name to escape from the law. Now people rarely mispronounce my name.

Sometimes my students will innocently laugh at someone's name. We had an administrator-a big, tall, strong man named Mr. Flowers. My students thought that was funny but I explicitly explain to them that we don't choose our names. And I really think they take that lesson to heart.

I think it's very important that we call anyone, but for us teachers particularly our students what they want us to call them. I will specifically ask them-even the little ones. For example I had a student whose name was "Isabella-Grace"-her friends called her Bella-I will ask her directly-what would you like me to call you? One of my first assignments for my students is to ask how their parents decided on their names.

In that vein, I thought I'd make a list of books that we could use to start our year-books that emphasize the importance of valuing people's names.




Maple grows up with her namesake tree. It talks about how her parents thought of the name and then they have to come up with a name for her little sister. 


My students LOVE the patterns in this book. It speaks of the ancient Chinese tradition of naming elder children with looonngggg names. That becomes troublesome when the other sibling has to say the name to report their brother is in trouble. This is read-aloud on Discovery Education if you have access to that site.


A little long for the younger ones, but I certainly have students that can relate. The protagonist doesn't think her name sounds "American" enough. So her classmates suggest new names for her. In the end she learns the importance of keeping family traditions like names alive.



Not exactly about names-but Isabella has dreams to be many different people from day to day. Her heroes like Sally Ride. A cute story-they even have a boy version with Alexander.


Another book about names being part of your traditions. Yoon has to learn how to write her name using English characters instead of Korean and she has a hard time with that. Is it still her name?


Classic-I know! But no list about names would be complete without Miss Chrysanthemum-who like I think many students, loved her name until she went to school.


Neville isn't exactly about names-but he uses his name in a very, very unique way--to make friends. My students love this book because I have yet to have one class that has figured out the twist of an ending-it's the M. Night Shyamalan of books.

I love getting my roster and looking at all the names of my students. There are many names I have year after year and many students who I can honestly say "I've never taught anyone with that name before". My students love when I find songs with their names in it-my student Cecilia had me singing the James Taylor song, Daisy-a Bicycle Built for Two. They are amazed when they hear someone else has the same name--they have a Carlos in their class too Miss Trayers!!! Our names will always be part of who we are.



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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Getting Ready!

It's hard for me to find things to blog about over the summer, since most of what I share is what we are doing in our class! I have had a very productive summer-I cleaned out closets and my pantry. I read about 12 books. Recorded stories for my listening stations and stapled leveled readers. I feel like I got a lot done this summer.

If you follow me at all, you know my journey is going to continue at a new school this year. I had been teaching at my former school for 13 years so this was a big leap of faith for me! I was lucky enough to be able to get in and see my new class this past week and see what I'd have to work with.


The school is an environmental science magnet school and I am excited about incorporating that concept into our daily lessons. My principal has already approved my student book clubs, Student Council and a new club I'm going to implement this year for graphic novels. I have worked with him before and know that he is supportive and always puts students first-part of why I chose to go there.

It still feels surreal-doesn't quite feel like my school, my class-but I know I will get there. Nervous to meet my new teammates and colleagues, but excited to get in and get started on our year!



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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Higher Level Questions for Back-to-School Read Alouds

So I was at a training last year and the presenter was talking about using higher-level questioning for read-alouds and the teachers at my table rolled their eyes. Ï'm so tired of hearing the word rigor! What-we're supposed to ask high level questions about Chicka Chicka Boom Boom?" My answer to that question is yes! Of course, I believe there should be a balance-you are modeling comprehension strategies so there should be questions about recalling details but I also believe you can stretch their thinking by asking more thoughtful, challenging questions.

I know these are read-alouds commonly used the first week of school-why not set that bar high early on:


1) Why do you think Victoria made fun of Chrysanthemum's name?
2) How did the parents make her feel better? What do your parents do for you when you are sad?
3) How would you handle it if someone was making fun of your name?
4) How do you think parents decide what to name their child?
5) Was Chrysanthemum right in the way she responded to Victoria?
6) What would you do if you heard someone making fun of another kid's name?
7) Create a new ending for the story.
8) If the main character's name was "Jane", how would the details of the story have changed?
9) Were there any patterns in the story?
10) How did Chrysanthemum change over the course of the story? Will she still like her name as she grows up? What do you think she'll name her child?




1. Do you think all teachers prepare for their students the same way? How might they differ?
2. How is Miss Bindergarten's class similar/different from our class?
3. Why do you think the author chose to put the students name in the order of the alphabet? Does that add to the story?
4. Was there a pattern in the story? Can that help you figure out what happened next?
5. Do you think the teacher will prepare for her students the same way next year?
6. How do teachers, parents and students view a classroom differently?

1. Why do you think Chester did not want to attend school?
2. If you were a parent, what would you do if your child got upset about starting school?
3. Did Chester's mom do the right thing?
4. What do you think will happen next year when back-to-school time comes?
5.  If the author had chosen another creature for the characters, how would the story change?
6. Do you think Chester's mom could use this technique for other problems Chester might have, like what?
7. Would Chester's Dad or siblings use another technique to calm Chester down?






1) What would Miss Nelson have done if she didn't have a sister to help her?
2) How would you react if your teacher was Viola Swamp?
3) Was it right that Miss Nelson tricked her students? Why?
4) What details would have changed if Viola Swamp had been nice?
5) Why do you think the students wouldn't listen to Miss Nelson in the first place?
6) How would you feel if you were Viola Swamp?
7) How would the story have been different if Miss Nelson was a mean teacher?



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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Teaching Gifted Students in a Mixed-Ability Class

Statistically speaking, we will all have 1 or 2 students in our class who are way above average compared to their counterparts. Whether they have been identified or not, we know they have different needs than the rest of our students. I think the hardest part of our job is making sure we differentiate for all the needs of our students. The kiddos make progress on a daily basis and it's hard to keep up with that. 

How do we make sure everyone is being challenged? Here are a few suggestions.

1) Compacting-see what they know before you teach it. If half the class already knows 2-D shapes, then I move on to 3-D shapes and teach the others in small group. This can be as simple as observing the class as you ask them to name the shapes. Or you could give them a pre-test at the beginning of the week, a survey. You could even make your exit ticket activity and entrance ticket activity.

2) Next step after knowing where they are is to pay attention to that. My whole group lessons are very, very limited. Everything I am teaching and reviewing is something most of the kiddos do not already know. If my students come in, for the most part, knowing their letters and sounds-I do not spend weeks teaching them again in whole group. I teach vocabulary, phonemic awareness, phonics rules and do my read aloud in my reading whole group block.

3) Differentiate their homework. I have started using homework menus which give them choices on the activities they can do. For one week they have 9 choices in reading and in math. Some are easy, some are on level, some are more challenging. I had a friend whose daughter's homework time would be tears every night because she had to color the letter A and she would much rather be reading her Magic Tree House books. It should not just be busy work for them.

4) Differentiate classwork. Does this take more time to plan-yes. Is it worth it, yes! I see so many posts from teachers who want to know what to do with early finishers-why are they finishing so early? Because they already knew all the answers without really having to think about it. You can give different work to different students on the same objective. Your expectations for work can be different. I have students who I expect to write in complete sentences when we write and some who I expect to draw a picture of their answer and then bring it to me to help them sound out their words. Equality does not necessarily mean everyone is doing the same thing.

5) Assessment-we can also differentiate assessments. This is easy for me because I create most of my assessments myself. If I am asking them to read words and match them to the picture, my readers will have sentences to match instead. If my students can add with fluency, then they move on to adding higher numbers.

6) Keep things open-ended when possible. I ask open-ended questions on tests. Most of our daily work is open-ended. What they create is authentically at their level.

7) Project-based learning. All my students work on projects at the end of a unit together. I think all students can benefit from stretching their thinking and showing another way to apply what they are learning.

8) Include everyone in the critical thinking activities. This will help foster thinking skills in all students and prevent your GT kiddos from being labeled with a title they don't even understand in early childhood.


What does not work:

1) Go read to yourself.--As much as many kiddos might appreciate this activity-it is not helping them grow as readers. All students can benefit from being included in small group instruction and working on workstations that challenge them.

2) Partner up with the low student.--this is also unfair to your GT kiddo. I get into a debate over this with people more than anything else. Their justification is that the students like it and by teaching something you learn it better. Bologna! I have helped teach other teachers about tech tools all the time-it does not make me learn how to use that tool better. As a matter of fact I often get flustered because it takes time for people to learn.

3) Go around and help other students. My favorite is when this is referred to as "peer tutoring". Peer tutoring is something that happens outside of the regular curriculum. That is not what students should be doing during class. EVERY student should be learning something new every day!

I hope this doesn't sound too preachy-I know everyone has different experiences and things that work for them. I just wanted to share my wisdom from my experience. :) 



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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Unique First Week Read-Alouds

I know there are many titles that have become staples for the first week of school. Many classrooms emphasize establishing rules and read titles on that subject. If you know me at all, you know I'm a bit of a rebel and want to read stories the students have not already read with previous teachers. I choose titles the first week that emphasize empathy, risk-taking and creativity.

Here are some of the titles I use:


Elmer is different from his friends and therefore a bit misunderstood. It's about being yourself, even if you march to the beat of a different drummer.


If you have a  Discovery Education account this is read on Reading Rainbow. It's about a little girl trying to keep her personal sense of style within her school's uniform requirements.


My all-time favorite 1st week book. This is a charming story about the farm animals trying to figure out what "Kindergarten" is when their boy goes off on the first day.


I wish we all could be like Molly Lou Melon! She is confident in her own skin and won't let anything stop her.


The kids LOVE this story! It's on Tumblebooks which most public libraries give you access to with your library card-Munsch reads it out loud himself. Stephanie doesn't want to follow the crowd but wants to do her own thing.


The very well-meaning principal at this school thinks school is so great we should have more school. I like to read this story and then write from the perspective of a principal-it lets them know what their job is at a school.




We can make ripples of kindness if we decide to. A little long for the little ones, but worth the read.

Do you have any unique reads you like to do on the first week of school?




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Monday, July 17, 2017

Back-to-School Activities with Rigor

I read a lot of articles, websites, blogs (probably too many if there is such a thing :). I know the focus for a lot of people the first week of school is on classroom management and routines. Of course, I know that's a big part of what we do in the beginning, especially with the little ones, many of whom have not been in school before. However, I also think it's important to see what they can do and where they are academically which includes levels of creativity and critical thinking. Not to mention my major goal the first week of school is to get them excited about coming back the 2nd week!

So here are a few ideas:


1) Invent a new school supply. We list all the different kinds of school supplies and what their purpose is. Then we make a list of needs for our class. For example, wouldn't it be great if we could erase crayon when they make mistakes?




2) New uses for everyday things-you can use a pencil or a paper clip. Model for the students using an object-what else could we use this for. This is my all-time favorite answer to this question. He turned the paper clip into a hanger for ant clothes!




3) Multiple perspectives-if I were a principal. I love to read the book Fine, Fine School about a principal who goes a little overboard with his enthusiasm for learning, then the students write what they would do if they were the principal. It's our first attempt to put ourselves in another's shoes.





4. Schools Over Time-I love showing students what schools and school supplies looked like in the 1800's. So we write what it's like in the past, compare to today and then they design a school of the future. This could also be a first maker activity or project-they could build their schools.



5. Creative self-portraits-one of our art objectives is using a different medium to create. I think it takes creativity to use different things to make art. We use food! Snacks are of course, the highlight of my students' day. The poor babies eat lunch at 10:30 and our day goes until 3:15--so they get hungry. We do a number of different self-portraits including an edible one. I just put out the materials and see where they go with it.



Don't be afraid to set the bar for your year and start off with some rigorous activities. Not only will it give you an opportunity to assess and see what your students are already capable of, but it steps things up for their learning from Day One.






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