I hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend, and that ALL of you are now finally enjoying your summer break! It has been incredibly hot and steamy here in sunny Southern California; in fact, it seems a lot like a sauna outside! It’s not usually this humid, so it feels pretty miserable at the moment, unfortunately. Of course, our town’s local Fourth of July parade went on and was as big a hit as it always is! This was the first year that my school,”Roynon,” actually had a float and an entry, so that was exciting! The theme was “Racing to Read,” and the 90 children that participated all brought their favorite book to show the crowd, which was cute! Some rode in the trailer float, and many more rode their bikes. Parent volunteers walked along the side of the road and passed out candy to children that came out to watch the parade. And me, my 20 year old daughter Kimmie who is a Kindergarten aide at my school, and some others helped carry the “Roynon” sign the headed up our entry. Although it was INCREDIBLY HOT, and we had to walk nearly three miles, it was still great fun! I got to see lots of my students from this past year and other years as well. A couple of them looked like they were about to have a heart attack from seeing me “out of context,” and were jumping up and down and screaming, “Mrs. Butkus, Mrs. Butkus!!!!!!!” Kimmie and I were in laughing our heads off at their silliness and excitement. It really was cute, and I have to say- it sure feels GREAT! Teaching just doesn’t get any better than that.
I even got to meet and get my picture taken with a local “Abe Lincoln Presenter” named Robert Broski. He told me that he does school assemblies and presentations at libraries and things like that. His favorite question from children is, “Hey…. aren’t you dead?”
Next week is the National I Teach K! conference in Las Vegas, Nevada! I am soooo excited; it’s like going to a great, big, four day Kindergarten teacher party! I am looking forward to a fun and educational week in Las Vegas! (Well, okay; I’m mostly I’m just looking forward to the FUN part!) I am planning on leaving on Sunday and staying until the whole thing is over on Thursday, and then driving home on Friday. I’m hoping to connect with my fellow presenters, meet some new friends from all over the place, and put some real-life faces to names from the internet world! If you are going to be there and would like a chance to “meet and greet” over lunch, my and the HeidiSongs Facebook “group” have decided to meet for lunch at the entrance to the Crystal Springs Booth in the exhibit hall on Monday at the beginning of the lunch hour. We’ll wait about ten minutes or so, and then make our way over to the concessions and eat lunch together while we chat and get to know each other in person! Sounds like fun to me! Everyone is welcome, so come on down! (Okay, don’t get TOO excited; we’re all buying our own food, LOL!) But I think it will be a fun way to get to meet some people, especially for those of us who might be attending the conference alone and would like to meet some friends. The downloadable I Teach K! catalog is available here.
Now back to business! The questions and answers below are posted in response to some questions that arose after last week’s blog post on my center rotation. The person that asked the questions left them as comments on the blog, and after I answered them, I thought that with a little bit of clarification, they might be good general blog entries rather than just comments on the blog that few might think to read. I hope that the questions and answers are helpful to you!
Question: It sounds like all of your class rotates through to the teacher table each day. Does each rotation last 15 minutes?
Answer: Yes, they do go to the teacher table every day. And actually, each rotation lasts about 20 minutes, with about 4-5 minutes passing time in between. As I said, this works for me due to the presence of my aide three hours a day and the volunteers that I have. All of these people know that if the children in their group finish up or lose attention, they are to direct them to another activity that I have indicated. It’s usually a puzzle or a book, but often it could be:
– looking at the chicks
– watching the tadpoles or insects
– playing with the Number Pattern Blocks or the Alphabet Pattern Blocks – doing a puzzle, or playing with a selected manipulative that I have put out, etc.
I rotate in and out the things that each table group can do when they are done to keep them fresh. Also, it has to be something that they can do very near to the center that they were at. I prefer that they keep that activity right at the same table where they were working before, because I find that the troubles come when they leave their group and form a new, independent “cluster” on the floor somewhere and wind up getting rowdy or something. They will stay under control (usually!) as long as they are right there with the adult. If there is nobody there with that group at that table, then they definitely have to stay there when they are done.
Usually, all they may do when they are finished will usually be simply read a book at the table. I don’t want them to rush through their activities so that they can goof off together on the floor somewhere alone where I can’t see them very well, like behind the cubbies! And the more attractive that I make the “go-to” activity when they are done, then the more likely it is that they will rush through the activity to get to it. And that was never the point, was it?
Question: I’m really seeking to improve the structure of my centers this fall. I will be going from a half-day program to a full day one. I hope to have groups in the morning and groups in the afternoon. I will have an aide for most of the day–but no volunteers that I can count on to supervise a center on a regular basis. Do you think I could make your system work with 2 centers really being independent? With RTI requirements, I need to meet with some students every day. Do you meet with every group each day that you do centers?
Answer: Yes, I meet with every group, every day. However, occasionally there are times when it is not possible, such as if there is an assembly or some kind of special event. In that case, we may do just two centers on one day and the other two centers the next day. OR, we may just do a two station rotation on that one day. That means that we will have them do the same art project at two centers, and the same language arts activity at two centers (one group would be with me, and one group would be with my aide.) That way, we don’t need to worry about “messing up” the next day’s schedule and we are done our rotation on time to go to the special event. In this case, I would catch up on the math lesson later in the day.
I believe that the key to getting to every group, every day, is timing the rotation so that you definitely make it, and then planning your other activities so that the rest of the class isn’t going crazy while you pull those groups! Getting them into a routine that works for you is essential. It’s important to train your class to do what you want them to do, and count on this “training period” taking more than one day! In Kindergarten, it usually takes a couple of weeks before I feel confident that the children understand the routine and the procedures for my group rotation. But I have to say that my primary goals for these first couple of weeks are not necessary academic; they are procedural! The most important thing I am doing during the first couple of weeks of school is getting the children into a routine that allows me to teach them in small groups without constant interruptions. Equally important is that they learn how to act in a whole group situation; that is, to sit and listen without blurting out comments, and to follow directions, etc. When you focus on these things being your primary goal, it kind of takes the pressure off for the academics, I think. I just keep reminding myself: “I only need to teach them how to just “be” in school properly right now. Nothing else matters much; the rest will come.”
I can remember one year not too long ago, I had such an incredibly difficult class that I realized I was a good two weeks behind my pacing guide due to the fact that I was having to go OVER and OVER the rules and procedures to make them work. It was totally discouraging and frustrating, but classes like that “happen” from time to time, and we just have to roll with the punches and do our best. If you are a brand new teacher, just start praying NOW that you don’t get that terribly difficult group right off the bat! It’s much easier to know what is really “normal” and then get slammed with that “off” group of kids, then continually second-guess your own abilities all year long and wonder if this is really all your fault.
As far as making the rotation work without regular volunteers, it is certainly not as easy, but it can be done. I have done it many times! At my school, there are five K teachers, and there are always days when some of us have no volunteers at all. We learn to get by. There are years when we have volunteers maybe two days per week and never any on the others. And the days that we do have them, there is only one person, not two.
When we have years like this, we plan accordingly. The art projects are MUCH simpler. The children learn to set up the art project for the next person, too. That is part of their responsibility and something we train them to do at the beginning of the year. Both the teacher and the aide know that one of us will get a little less done each day due to the need to stop a bit earlier and help them finish up if necessary and get ready for the next group. Usually, at the fourth independent table, the teachers with fewer volunteers do what they refer to as “Mini-centers.” So when they get to that station, the children split up and go to individual mini-stations. Two of them might go to a listening center, two to a computer center, and two might go to Sing and Spell Puzzles, or Velcro Books, do a Sight Word Splat (see below for more info on that!), or a science center, and so on. Their names are posted at each mini-center and rotated each day, so they know where to go. We put hooks on the wall or at the table, and that is where we hang a sign with each child’s name. The kids find their names and go to that center. They go with a partner, and they are divided up so that two kids that are “bad news together” are never sent to the same mini-center together. That usually works out fine.
Not surprisingly, there are always a couple of children that are always “lost,” and never seem to know where to go. I try to assign these children a buddy that is a bit more aware of the procedures, etc., and ask that child to take the lost one with him. That usually works!
I would highly recommend this type of center rotation if you lack volunteers but do have an aide. That way, you can let them do some art independently, then do mini-centers independently, and then you can do reading groups, and your aide can do math. You can always switch back and forth with reading and math as you wish. I almost always do reading and let my aide do the math, but then might do some more whole group math lessons in the afternoon (or in the morning before groups start) to make sure that my kids are getting some math instruction from me. It helps a lot!
More Sight Word Splat Frames!
This summer, a teacher friend of mine is tutoring her granddaughter, who was actually in my class last year! We were brainstorming some more ways to help her little sweetie remember the word “what,” which was “deviling” her in particular. My friend had her watching the DVD for Sing and Spell Vol. 2, which has the “What” song on it, and also asked her granddaughter to sing her the song many times “to teach it to Grandma.” I also suggested that she take the child outside and have her write it several times with sidewalk chalk, and maybe build the word with playdough, which always seems to help kids remember pretty well.
In addition, I made up some different versions of the “Sight Word Splat” that she enjoyed coloring last year. This is a picture of her working on them at home, and I am sharing these new masters with you today as a free download! They are blank, so you can write the word of your choice into them and have the children trace around them next year when you have the need.
If you remember from reading about this activity in a previous blog post, the children trace around and around a sight word many times with markers. (It’s really just a large scale version of sight word rainbow writing.) We used highlighters to make it fun, and then later we got out some scented markers too, just for fun! But the thing they loved the most were definitely the bright highlighters! I’m going to watch for them when the school supplies go on sale in August. And last year, I got my “smelly markers” free with a rebate from Office Depot when they went on sale, too. I’ll certainly be watching for that deal again!
Homework for the First Week of School!
I am experimenting with using Microsoft Word on my Mac, which is something I have really NEVER done before. My goal is to be able to upload documents on my blog or on my website that you could actually edit easily if you use a PC and use Word, as so many people seem to do. So today I am posting my homework sheet for the first week of school as a free download. I am hoping that many of you will be able to download, open, and edit it on your own computers easily. So this is a test! If it works or doesn’t work for you, I would love it if you could let me know with a comment on the blog or on my HeidiSongs Facebook page. If it doesn’t work, I don’t know if we will be able to get it fixed or not, so there are no promises here, because I’m a Mac, not a PC! (And I LOVE my Mac, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!)