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February 25, 2011

Week 24 – Holiday week, short and sweet

This week, I only taught on Tuesday, since Monday was Presidents’ Day, and I had to fly out for to Oklahoma on Wednesday!  I am scheduled to present at SDE’s Oklahoma Pre-K and Kindergarten Conference in Oklahoma City, so I wrote this blog entry early last weekend. Therefore, I decided to write about the answers to the top few questions that I seem to always get asked.  Plus, I also threw in a section with some free downloads that I have been saving for a busy week just like this one!  Hopefully, I’ll get to meet some really great people and pick up a few new ideas that I can pass along to you next week.  Enjoy!  

1.  “Fishin’ for Addition” (And diamonds and hearts, too!)

I made up these worksheets last month when I made the previous one with the stars on it that I gave away in January.   I am giving you now the ones with the diamonds, hearts and fish on them, since they are very appropriate for this time of year!  Find them here. Hopefully it is not too late for you to get some use out of them!   I meant to give you the heart one a couple of weeks ago, but the blog got too full and then I forgot.  Sorry!  Drawing the fish is definitely tricky, so you may want to do the directed drawing activity from last week with the kids first. 
Also, due to many requests, I have completed an entire set of Shark Teeth Addition worksheets that include sums from five to twelve, and they are now posted for sale on my website. If you were not following my blog in January, then check my entry on Friday, January 28, 2011 and see how much fun we had with the Shark Teeth Addition activity last month!  There is a free download of one worksheet that I created there, plus the workmat.  The download for purchase includes a worksheet for each set of sums up to the given number.  For example, the first worksheet includes equations with sums up to five, and the second includes sums up to six, etc.  Enjoy!

2. Top 3 Questions and Answers

A)  Do you have any research to back up your materials?  My principal insists that everything we use in the classroom must be research based. 

Though we have not paid a big company to do a formal research project on my materials, I have done a bunch of research on it in my own classroom.  If you look on my website, there is a tab across the top marked “Research.” Or you can find it here.

It tells all of the research that I have done myself.  There are also different people that I know of that have done research projects of their own using my materials for their Master’s Theses. One of these teachers from northern California, Angelle Baladad, actually sent me a finished copy of her Master’s Thesis, and I am including it as a download here today, just in case anyone is interested in reading it or needs some more “ammunition” to help get their principal on the music and movement bandwagon!  

Here is an excerpt from her research paper:
“The HeidiSongs sight word practice DVD was shown to the class 3 times per week for 4 weeks in 10 minute intervals.  Students participated in movement activities accompanied by music to provide practice of reading and writing sight words.  Informal observation during the instruction sessions indicated that my students were enjoying participating in HeidiSongs and students asked to do more when our sessions were over.  Students indicated that they were beginning to feel successful.

Post-Test Data
After the intervention had been administered, it was time to reassess student learning.  I administered the same one-on-one sight word assessment that was given as the pre-test.  Student scores improved dramatically.  Previous data showed that 14 students were unable to master this standard prior to the intervention.  Post-test data indicated that 12 students out of 18 (66%) were now able to read the 13 district sight words fluently.  Six students were still unsuccessful but attempted the assessment.  This showed a growth of 44% on fluency overall. A post writing test was also given to measure student growth following the application of the intervention.  This written test data revealed that 11 of the 18 students (61%) given the assessment were successful with using the sight words in their writing.  This was an improvement of 60% from the pre-test.”

I also am going to including as a download today a list of related supporting book citations that support my methods.  These were written by people like Robert Marzano, and they all are very supportive of brain friendly, multisensory methods such as mine.  Below are some links to a few of my favorites from that list:

Birsh, Judith R.  (2005)  Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, Second Edition.  Baltimore, MD:  Brookes Publishing Company.

Hannaford, C. & Pert, C. (2005).  Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head.  Stoddard, WI:  Great River Books.

Jensen, E.  (1998).  Teaching with the Brain in Mind.  Alexandria, VA:  ASCD.

Marzano, R., Pickering, J. & Pollock, J.  (2001).  Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, Alexandria, VA:  ASCD.

McIntosh, E. & Peck, M.  (2005)  Multisensory Strategies:  Lessons and Classroom Management Techniques to Reach All Learners.  New York, NY:  Scholastic Inc.

B) What program do you use to make your worksheets and games?
 I use Adobe Illustrator to make the pictures, and then I put the pictures into Quark Xpress to make the worksheets.  (Bummer alert: Not only are they both rather expensive but hard to learn!)  Last week’s Color By Nonsense word worksheet was done completely in Adobe Illustrator.  I am blessed to have my husband around to show me how to use it; otherwise, I never would have been able to make it work.  I would have needed to take a class, read a book on it, or at the very minimum do a tutorial several times!  I am really only now starting to feel like I know how to use this application properly, and my husband knows the real truth here, which is that I am really a novice and not very good at it in comparison to the professionals that work in the “real world!”
Quark Xpress is a page layout/graphic design program that is also somewhat complicated, but well worth learning.   It is MUCH more flexible than Microsoft Word!  You can put your text anywhere on the page easily, without having it jump around as it constantly tries to “auto-correct” your work and move it back where MSWord thinks your text ought to be, how it should be punctuated, and then try to number your bullets.  I use Word at school when I have to write there because that’s the only thing my district provides, but as far as I’m concerned, it absolutely pales in comparison to what you can do with Quark Xpress.
I use both programs on my Mac. They do make them for Windows operating systems, but I have not tried them on a PC.  FYI:  I’m very proficient on the Mac but unfortunately, comparatively lost on a PC!  And that’s too bad, because I have no choice but to use a PC at school.  Boooooo!

C)  You teach full time, have a family, run your business and write this blog.  How do you DO it?????
It seems to me that I get asked this question at least once a week!  My standard response is this:  “NOT by myself, that’s for sure!”  Although I started off pretty much alone in my endeavors, my husband helped me enlist the help of my kids early on several years ago.  All three of my daughters, who are now ages 21, 20, and 20 (twins!) have taken turns filling our orders.  They had to learn how to help out around the house, and have always been expected to do that!  But in any case, in the winter of 2009, I pretty much hit my limit of work.  I just couldn’t take it anymore!  I was getting up each morning no later than 5:00 AM (and sometimes earlier,) and answered all of the business related emails and faxes, and then returned phone messages.  I also answered any morning phone calls before school.  Then I arrived at school at 7:45 or so, and taught all day.  If the phone rang during the day while I was teaching, I had to let it go to a message and then return these calls after school or on my break, or the next morning.  I would get home at around 4:30 or 5:00 and check the rest of the emails and faxes, and try to solve customer service related problems.  Somewhere in there, I managed to fix dinner most nights as well!  I was usually at my computer handling more of the same until 8:00 or 8:30, and then I would pretty much collapse at 9:00 after about a bit of television with my family.  And that’s without having to fill any orders at all, except for purchase orders, and I did all of those on the weekends.  I was getting so stressed out that I was starting to snap at people, and even managed to get myself into trouble with my principal at work for being “too negative.”  Trust me, this was NOT a good thing!
In any case, I was just about a stone’s throw away from a nervous break down, and I told my husband that one of us would just HAVE to quit our day job to run the business, or we would have to sell it, because I couldn’t go on like that anymore.  And I really felt that if I left my teaching job, I would be miserable!  I love teaching, and I do not want to quit.  On the other hand, my husband Greg had a killer commute of about an hour and a half each way daily into Burbank for a very high pressure job in the creative department at Disney, and he was eager to try out working at home. So we made plans to arrange for that.  Meanwhile, we got an accountant and a housekeeper to come each week.  My husband was finally able to let go of his day job in May of 2010, and my life has improved SIGNIFICANTLY since then!  He answers the phone, almost all of the emails and takes care of the customer service problems.  He only sends me the emailed questions that he cannot answer himself.  He works with our accountant and now also our illustrators and printers, and also handles all of the technical issues with the website and marketing.  He really is doing just about everything around the house, too!  He even cooks dinner for me nearly every night- AND does the laundry!  He now fills all of the purchase orders himself, and my daughter Krissie, (one of the twins,) fills all of the internet and most of the phone orders.  I feel incredibly blessed to have such an amazing support system in place!  So could I EVER hope to do this by myself?  No way!!!! 
As far as the blog is concerned, I was not able to post regularly until my husband quit his job to stay home and run the business.  But now, I do actually have SOME time to do this!  So in the evenings, I usually sit on the couch and watch television with my computer in my lap. As I watch, I work on little resources that I might like to use in my classroom and also share with my blog readers.  Then I write my blog around those resources, and also about what is working well in my classroom.  Sometimes I get ideas from the emailed questions that people send me, too.  When I write my response to the email, I save it and use it also in my blog.  However, even though I write the blog, posting it so that you can access the downloads, and see the movies, etc. is all up to Greg!   It usually takes him a minimum of two to three hours to post my blog.
It is still hard to find time to be creative and write music, but I usually wind up writing new songs while on vacation (I wrote all of the songs for Sing and Spell Vol. Five  while on a cruise last winter!)  It’s best to be out of the house and disconnected from the distraction of the internet so that I can give a new set of songs my full attention.  I usually also need to have a good solid week off to create an entirely new presentation, including the Power Point and the handout.  So, I usually must do these during the summer break or over Christmas vacation.  By the way, many of the handouts I have created are available on my website to download free of charge any time you like.  Help yourself!