Saturday, December 31, 2011

Daily 5 gets a face lift

Our family just returned from spending Christmas at Disney. Have you ever been? To say it's magical is an understatement. My sister, brother-in-law, husband and I surprised our 4 girls by giving them t-shirts that said "I'm going Disney World for Christmas". They unwrapped them minutes before we whisked them off to the airport. It was exactly what I needed after a rough fall; I smiled every minute of every day for 6 days. I feel so unbelievably refreshed. Laughter is indeed the best medicine.

While I promised my family (and more importantly, myself) that I wouldn't think about teaching while we were at Disney, I came home inspired. I decided that it was time to make learning magical and fun again.

If you've read my previous posts this fall, you'll know that we've been in learning lock-down. A big part of what finally got us on the learning track was the "no stimulation"  plan I put my firsties on. What had always worked with my other classes simply did not work with this one. On the flight home I began to think seriously about how I could keep the teaching ball rolling, but make my students thrown down their cereal spoons and rush off to school every morning.

The one area that I had reduced down to a simple stock was our Daily 5 routine. We had gone from free choice of a lovely variety to whole-group activities. As I began thinking about how I could change it up, I broke up readers workshop into the 4 main areas we, as a class, focus on: reading, working with words, writing, and listening to reading (you'll notice on the wheel that Read to Self is missing. For now, we do this all together at the end of the day). These 4 areas support the learning areas of fluency, accuracy, writing, and some comprehension. Comprehension is still an activity that we do as whole group/guided release. Each area has many activities that we do; as I just said, up until now we have done nearly all of them together at one time. I decided to add some new activities; they will have to be taught and practiced one at a time until I can release them to be done independently. I will lose some instruction time doing this, but it's important to spice things up for the long stretch between Christmas and spring break.

I have 22 students, and the best way I could divide up the 4 D5 areas was to create 24 activities. I used a wheel configuration, because the activities need to rotate, and I needed it to be as easy to do mechanically as possible. I knew that moving clips or clothespins would be too time-consuming for me, and would have me scrambling when what we really need are smooth transitions. The double-faced wheel has a gromit in the middle that holds that names and activities together, and allows quick and easy changing.

Here is the table I used to organize my thoughts about the order of the activities. (You can download my templates at You can alter as you need to, since it's a word doc. The wheel is a bit more difficult to share, since I created it in Adobe Illustrator. I created a blank PDF so that it can be printed, assembled and personalized with drawing and handwriting. You will need to print 8 of the wheel templates; it is broken into a aingle quarter, and you will need a full circle for the names, and a full circle for the activities (simply cut the outer ring off for the inner circle).

As far as adding a little excitement goes, the time has come to finally implement those darn iTouches as well. I have them all set up identically, with videos of the songs and lyrics that we sing in class (to work on fluency). The one exception has the game "Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App", which will be a real treat for the kids once every full rotation.

Now it's just to print, trim, and laminate. Then I'll be ready to relaunch a new and improved D5 guaranteed to spice up our mid-winter.

Monday, December 19, 2011

All that glitters...

Next December, please remind me that hand-painted ornaments coated in glitter are a huge time commitment and a giant mess-maker. Remind me that I said the kids won't really ever remember them, or hang onto them into old age ("Oh Johnny, careful with that ornament. It's an antique, and very special. Granny's first grade teacher made that for her. She must have really loved your Granny!") and remind me that I said it would be ok to just buy something already made or maybe a pre-fab kit could do the trick.

I won't listen to you, but remind me anyway. That way I can't say I wasn't warned when I embark on yet another long night of painting and glittering. I'll have no one to blame but myself.

Like it's all torture, right? Face it, if I didn't sacrifice at least one long December night to making ornaments for my kiddos, then it just wouldn't be right. And it's true that the kids will grow up into adults and these hand-made bits of love won't follow them to college, but I can't help but think that someday they will realize that only people who really, really care about you make you things by hand. They will understand that nothing says I Love You like Martha Stewart fine glitter.

The "No Stimulus" package seems to be working. My kids have been teachable, and that's a dream this time of year. It's true I had to ban Smencils, and movies are out of the question, but things are good. We are clipping along, making up for lost time. I am teaching, they are learning, and everything is right in the world.

Friday, December 16, 2011


I was startled out of my post-concert stupor by 5 first graders gathered around the sink shrieking "Headlights! Headlights in the sink! Headlights in the sink!" I know what they think headlights are, so I scrambled over to see what the heck they were talking about. Sure enough, scurrying around the bottom of the sink is a Silverfish.

I had to admit, I could see the resemblance. Five years ago I was teaching guided reading and watched in horror as a giant lice came out for a stroll on one of my student's forehead. Granted, I was a little traumatized, but I do remember thinking the pencil-lead grey bug did look a bit like a Silverfish. Except not so shiny and pretty.

The "headlight" sent them off on into a frenzy, and it took awhile to settle everyone back down.

Veering off onto a completely different topic (but one almost as icky as lice), we received an email about a revision to our "employee handbook". In case you haven't been keeping up with the news, in Wisconsin things are a bit unsettled for teachers and other public employees. We lost our contracts, which the wording of had been built over decades and lots of finessing on the parts of the school board and our negotiators who represented us teachers. With that gone, something had to replace the legal-and-business aspects of our employment. Enter the "employee handbook".

Let's just put politics aside for a moment, as this has less to do with left or right and more about the assumption that we are still waiting for Superman. The issue that has everyone in an uproar is a new way to determine layoff potentials. Instead of the usual tenure-based system of seniority by years in service, it appears now that our employment will be based on a) performance b) credentials and beyond-initial-licensure education and c) years in service - in that order.

At first glance, I was actually a bit psyched about this. I'm a good teacher, I'm getting my masters and thinking about education beyond that, but I have few years in the district. It would seem unwise to keep a more senior, but less talented teacher in the place of a newer but more effective teacher. Cut and dry, right? Not so much, it appears. Should I be sweating it because my students are not making the expected progress in reading this year? I am working hard to teach them and help them learn, but would that be enough in the light of an evaluation that took reading levels into account as a priority?

I can understand the fear of this new system, even though I think it might keep us all on our toes. And we really do need to be on our toes if we are going to teach the kids that we are raising these days. I wouldn't accept mediocre care from a doctor, and if the oil-change guy consistently shorted me half of a quart of oil every change I'd be finding a new place to change my oil. I don't think that we can accept any less than the highest standards for our art and ourselves. If only teaching wasn't such a subjective art.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"...because it was full of peanuts!" and other Big Thoughts for the day

Today was our first grade singing concert. If you've read my prior posts, you know that nearly everything we do this year is an uphill battle. I know what my kids are capable of, in all their glory for good or bad. But know this, I believe in them so strongly that I wasn't as worried as I could have been.

It's so funny, the way I worry about them. I find myself being rigid and hard, demanding perfection knowing that any small infraction will escalate into uncontrolled chaos that I won't be able to call them back from. I laid down the law like a witchy schoolmarm, and as I paced the front of the rug my children were staring at me from, I felt like I was delivering a fire and brimstone sermon about the evils of temptation. The temptation to talk. The temptation to jiggle. The temptation to pinch a neighbor or stick hands down the front of pants. While the kids were rehearsing on stage I kept narrow-eyed watch over every one of them as I strode back and forth. "Hands at your sides." "Eyes on the teacher." "Face forward, please." "Honey, put your shirt down."

During lunch, I began to worry if the kids rose to the expectations or if I had beaten them emotionally into submission. Then I remembered the smiles, the small hidden waves I got as I walked by, the thumbs up with raised eyebrows. "Am I doing good, Mrs. M?" They accepted the challenge and rose to meet it. Goodness knows it wasn't because they were afraid of me. There is no healthy fear of anything at school anymore, except maybe the peach cup at snack time.

I am so proud of my kiddos. I mean, I'm always proud of them, but today I am tears-in-the-eyes proud of them. Chest-squeezing, heart-pinching proud.

It should be noted that concerts are occasions for big events and memorable escapades. Three years ago today, five of my first graders found a "candy bar" in the boy's toilet. Unwrapped. Chocolate. How did they know it was a candy bar? Why Mrs. M, it was "the kind that is full of peanuts." And if that doesn't make you want to eat a Baby Ruth, well then, you obviously aren't cut out for first grade.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Something old, Something new

Why is it when things get the busiest, we find ourselves manic? There is no other real way to describe how I'm feeling this December.

An especially inspiring co-worker turned me on to virtual scrapbooking materials. I had no idea people did this; I'm a scrapbooker from the days when Creative Memories ruled supreme and a fancy page consisted of your best stickers. When my daughters were babies I scrapbooked for them, but found the time and energy to keep up with it vanish as I entered college for my undergrad in education. Since then, scrapbooking has become a hazy memory, and I had all but forgotten the last year when I discovered a deep affection for gromits and other vintage-y looking hardware.

When I discovered that you could actually get papers and embellishments online (for free!), the dormant scrapbooker in me woke up. Now I can hardly stand to look at older anchor charts and posters in my room without imagining them with ribbon and a really great font. It's gotten so bad that I spent a day off (daughter was unwell) re-designing my "puke plans" (emergency sub plans).
Crazy.  And here are my new "How can I solve it?" anchor charts.

And what I could be doing instead? About a million other meaningful and more urgent things. But just like the rearranging, I am beginning to believe that creating is an outlet, and is often a symptom of something bigger.

So a huge thanks to Nicky. Being manic can have a plus side.

For links, check out my Pinboard that deals with design elements:

Saturday, December 10, 2011


So we're meandering through Home Depot, trying to get our Christmas shopping done. I get waylaid in the paint aisle collecting paint cards so I can do this, and on my way back to find my husband I spy this...
Call me crazy, but while my husband is checking off who this would be a good gift for, I'm thinking "Literacy Center!" It has all those pockets for sparkle pens, E.Z.Readers, Paint-chip word makers, stamp sets, crayons, markers, glue sticks, scissors, and whatever you fancy for teaching Guided Reading. Inside there are 4 divider boxes with room for magnetic letters, letter tiles, scrabble letters, etc. It is made for hauling tools, so it should be heavy duty enough for using with my Firsties. AND it has  carrying handles and a clip on strap. 

Best part? On sale for $19.00!! This will only seem like a deal if you've ever tried to put something like this together from School Discounts or Really Good Stuff. 

I can't wait to set it up.

Next, we went to Michaels (which is usually an extended but creatively inspiring trip). Tearing myself away from the Martha Stewart glitter and heading to the check out aisle, I spy small sets of alphabet stamps and ink for $1.00!! Holy guacamole! I found cheap little take-out boxes, and voila! cheap and simple stamping sets for Word Work. 

Don't you just love Christmas shopping?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I noticed a pattern today.

Whenever I have a rough day (or rough streak of days) with the kids, I do this thing I like to call "updating the room". It's not really updating. What it is, is searching for a solution; it's an easy-way-out. Tearing down bulletin boards or moving furniture around may sound like a lot of work, but in my mind it seems easier than sitting down and trying to sort out the cause to the effect then figuring out how to fix it.

Today was one of those days that I feel like crawling under my desk and having a little time out for myself. The kids were a bit restless, I was cranky; my crankies made them more restless, and the restlessness made me cranky. See the pattern? I wish I could see the pattern for the behaviors as easily. There were meltdowns, there was blurting, blurting, blurting, scuttle-butting, pencil-throwing, name-calling, you-name-it. At around 11:00 I started eyeing my calendar board. Maybe it would be fun to change it? How about my Reader's Workshop board? Should I tear down my CAFE board and put up a board about character traits? Should I create a writing board someplace different?

I was so caught up in the excitement of change that I almost missed the big A-ha. This is what I do when the day has been rough. It's my SMO. Somewhere deep inside I must think the answer lies in layout.

What a silly notion. I resisted changing anything.

Then I came home and obsessively created lessons. Crazy life. I wonder what that means?

Monday, December 5, 2011

I See You

Tonight was my second-to-last meditation class. It has been such a good practice to try to linger in the present. I find it such an exquisite challenge. My mind always wants to be where ever I am not.

During the discussion about being mindful in relationships, I shared my thoughts and feelings about the importance of being mindful with the children I work with. I am careful to let each one know I 'see" them, and I "hear" them. I don't always do a perfect job, but I know every time I do it is meaningful and important to that child.

It made me reflect on how I can improve being in the here and now while working with my students. I truly, truly cannot be the caliber of teacher I dream of being without this critical aspect of bonds and relationships.

photo courtesy of Flickr, by by HaPe_Gera

How to Share Documents?

I was thinking about Pinterest today. I create so much stuff, I wanted to be able to share with other teachers through Pinterest. I needed to have a way to upload files that could then be downloaded. True to form, Google once again has the answers.

I created a new site on Google Pages. It's nothing very fancy, and I really don't care so much for the design, but it seems easy enough to navigate and create. It's just a baby little thing right now, but I wanted to launch it so that I could play around with the particulars a bit. Check back often for more ideas and files to use.

So, without much applause or grand gestures, here it is:

I can't seem to get the google page to pin in Pinterest. Any ideas why? I knew it all seemed too easy.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

and back to Pinterest

Things have been busy...too busy to blog. Report cards, holidays and the management style that I am now calling "The New Regime"; there's not a lot of time for anything else this week.

I did, however, hit a gold mine in the form of a new Pinterest site. It's a major score from my Masters friend, Kim. How cool is this...I have linked another degree away from my own PLN, and it took less than one hour to get her name, find her site, repin my favorite ideas, and then blog about it? Can I get on my knees and give thanks for networking?

This lady has the best ideas!! Can I say how much I love having a digital storage file? Check my own Pinterest site.

I'm back to Peacocks. Turns out that another (well-known) educator wrote a book called Teach like your Hair in on Fire. No wonder I thought it was such a catchy title - it already is!
Maybe I should teach like my penguins are on fire.

and back to Pinterest

Things have been busy...too busy to blog. Report cards, holidays and the management style that I am now calling "The New Regime"; there's not a lot of time for anything else this week.

I did, however, hit a gold mine in the form of a new Pinterest site. This lady has the best ideas!! Can I say how much I love having a digital storage file? Check my own Pinterest site.