Saturday, April 30, 2011

Great Giveaway!

Check out this wonderful blog I just found called First Grade Factory...she is giving away two neat center packets.  Check it out!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spring Break...and some thoughts about reading

Happy Easter Everyone!
We are safely home from the beach, trying to soak in the last few hours of this beautiful day!  My handsome is busy getting ready for his first day back tomorrow...he's not thrilled that I get a whole extra day of break!!!  :o)

When I taught first grade in public school, I (almost) mastered how to manage literacy centers and organize guided reading groups.  Now that I am in kindergarten and in a school with a little more freedom (little is an understatement - yay!), I have been playing with different techniques and approaches to teaching my students reading.  What I have found is that I am terrible at "playing with different techniques and approaches" and guess what?  Surprise! It turns out that the method that I (almost) mastered was the best one for me!  It only took me 8 months to figure that out...Here's a picture of my "home base" - my horseshoe table and stuffed bookshelf behind it!

Back in first grade, I had an array of students on a wide spectrum of reading levels.  We had DRA materials to assess their reading levels, and then we would group them as closely as possible so that each group had students on about the same reading level.  Then I learned about the Primary Spelling Inventory which tests students more on their phonemic awareness.  I started using that instead to make my reading groups.  The Spelling Inventory showed what concepts the students had mastered, but also showed what they still needed to learn.  When they were grouped based on phonics knowledge, I had a better "goal" to set with each group, and we could work on very specific concepts and master them fairly quickly.  And guess what happened when they mastered those skills?  They could read better!  We learned how to apply all of our phonics skills to reading and writing.  We read books together (more on their DRA level), used word sorts, played with magnetic letters and white boards, oooh the possibilities are endless!

Click on the picture to see some of the concepts we cover...this is a picture from Mrs. Jump's Class (her original website) - I haven't taken a close-up of mine, but I use many similar pictures and examples.

The "problem" I had this year (and I use that word problem, but most will roll their eyes and say that it's a blessing - which I agree with you 100%!) was this: many of my kindergarteners came to me knowing almost all of their letter sounds, basic sight words, and some students even already knew how to read!  Whew!  I told you it wasn't really a "problem."  But it felt like a problem for me because I didn't have my system that I had used in previous years.  I basically had to start over when it came to teaching reading.

We follow a reading series called Imagine It! and it does a fabulous job of integrating all kinds of books and writing examples.  We took much of the beginning of the year to learn the parts of a book, how to use the picture to find out what's happening (take a picture walk), and then we started looking for familiar words or even just letters to help us start to read.  We did all of this whole-group.  At first I used my data from our whole group experiences to guide my literacy group meetings.  But now, I am back to seeing which students have similar needs, and I group them that way.  It helps so much because I still have so many of my homemade materials from last year!  They are moving at such a fast pace, I am blown away!  Here is a picture of my ever-changing bookshelf behind my reading table.  We use everything on it at least once a day depending on which group and which concept I'm working on...

This is my last thought for the day...I am obsessed with word sorts.  I LOVE a good word sort!  It instantly shows if a student has mastered a concept, PLUS you can play all kinds of games with them, AND the students LOVE them!  :o)  I found book at a local teacher store.  It is a word sort book with sorts for short vowels, long vowels, consonant blends, etc.  All of the materials are pre-made, so all you have to do is cut them out and organize in a binder! If you think it can't get any better than that, it does!  Get this: all of the word sorts and word mats are PRE-LAMINATED!  Holy cow!  How much easier can it get?  I was lucky enough to have a parent volunteer who cut everything out and organized it all for me!  :o)  So if you are a lover of word sorts, consider adding this to your purchase order for next year...

If you have questions or if you have any ideas that work for you, let me know!!!  Just ask my assistant, or any of my students...I am always changing things up and looking for more efficient ideas! at peace, and all will be well...

No Instructional Manual...

It is time to come out of my "funk" and get back into the swing of things!  Let me just tell you that the past two weeks have put some stress on my heart...  My last post was written the day after we found out about the loss of one of our kindergarteners.  I want to take just a minute and share about two experiences we had as a sad as everything has been, these were moments that prove the importance of being open about feelings.

To remember this sweet little girl, our school organized a beautiful ceremony on the day of her funeral service.  We had a half-day so that anyone who wanted could go to the service.  Our school goes from preschool up through high-school, and this tragedy affected every level.  Throughout the day, the high school, middle school, and elementary grades came together and released pink balloons in honor of our student.  Prayers were said, memories were shared, and on the count of three, the balloons "went up to Heaven."  As a kindergarten, we had a separate ceremony at the end of the school day.  Earlier in the day, each student was given a clear mailing label to decorate with pictures and a message.  They wrote messages to her and it was heart-wrenching to listen to and watch them create each message.  They said things like "I miss you," "I love you," or just simply "Love, ___."  During our balloon ceremony, each student received a pink balloon and then stuck his/her message onto the balloon.  When we released the balloons, everyone was quiet at first, but then the students started cheering and even chanted her name.  If there could be a "good" way to do something for a situation like this, it felt like we chose the perfect way.

I had found it hard to find anything to help explain in kindergarten terms what had happened.  Our guidance counselor found a beautiful book that kind of talked in general about what happens when someone dies, but I found that my little ones needed a little more.  When I was in second grade, I lost my baby brother to SIDS.  He was three months old.  I did not know how to cope with or understand what had happened.  Through the years, what I found to help me the most was the way I visualized him.  The biggest questions and problems I remember having were "is he okay" and "where is he?"  My mom bought several books about death and Heaven, and they really spoke in 7-year-old terms.  I saved one of those books and was able to locate it in time to share with my kindergarteners.  It's called Angel Babies written by Michelle Knudson.

This beautiful little book starts out by showing how the angel babies wake up each morning with the sun.  They find a way to carefully float down to the earth to start their day.  Some ride a rainbow, and one is even floating down on a balloon (it tied in so well with our ceremony!).  They take care of the animals in the forests and play with our pets in our backyards when we're not there.  It says that only the animals can see them, and when it's time to go back home, a horn sounds and they start to get ready to go.  They come and kiss little children goodnight and send them sweet dreams.  Then they float back up and go to sleep on the clouds to get ready to visit tomorrow.

Talk about's written as a poem, but the words are on the students' level.  We read the book together, and then it sparked a discussion about loved ones we have lost.  We talked about our friend who we lost, but then the students started to share about pets that have died, and a few family members too.  It seemed to put the subject in their perspective.  Some of the students didn't know the student we lost very well at all.  They didn't really have a connection with what was going on, but those children were able to relate on their own level - like with a pet they lost.

After we were finished our discussion, each student picked someone to make a card for.  The majority wrote a card for the student we lost, but all of the students included someone they had lost or knew who had died.  They all drew angels, and some asked if the little girl who passed away was taking care of their pet who had died, or playing with their grandma.  It was so sweet!  I had to just sit back and take in all of the love in my classroom at that moment.  I have never witnessed a 6 year old create something as beautiful as what they made that day.  I understood the phrase "my cup runneth over."  Because at that moment, my heart runneth over.  Oh you can bet I teared up, and one of my sweet little girls said, "it's okay Mrs. Johnson.  I bet she's watching us right now."  All of you teachers out there know how difficult it can be sometimes to find the right materials to use or find the perfect book to share to get a concept across in a way that your students can fully understand.  I struggle with that all the time in my math and writing lessons.  But on this particular day, as I struggled to find the right materials and books, it took one student's words to prove that I got my message across.  She said "I bet she's watching us right now."  That's exactly the message I wanted to teach them that day.

We could have never prepared for that week.  There was nothing that we learned in college that prepared us for this; no instruction manual for "how to help your students grieve and understand death."  But our entire school has reached out to each other, and we have started the grieving process together.  My school has always felt like a family, but after this experience, I am blessed to work in such a school. at peace, and all will be well...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lots and Lots of Prayers Needed....

I took a picture of it on Friday to share on my blog, but it was going to be a cheerful message.  Right now, tomorrow, and many days on from now I'm going to need this sign more than ever...  It's a quote that Dr. Jean shared at a workshop I attended a few years ago.  It has gotten me through some rough days, but tomorrow may just be the roughest yet...

One of our sweet kindergarteners lost her life yesterday in a tragic car accident.  She was 6 years old.  We only have three kindergarten classes at my school, and she was in my dear friend's class.  This spunky little girl has wonderful parents and older brothers.  She was such a sweet girl.  We are mourning as a school, and it is going to be a difficult recovery and healing process.  Please keep her family, friends, and school family in your prayers.  They all have a long road ahead of them.

I pray that I have the strength and guidance for my own students tomorrow.  I have found this news very difficult to process, and it is heart-wrenching to think about what her little friends are going through.  How do you explain to a 5 or 6 year-old that his/her friend is gone?

The only thing I can hold on to is that we will keep tomorrow as routine and "normal" as we possibly can after we all get together to talk about it.  Any advice is welcomed, and I am ask that you think of us as we approach tomorrow and our grief.  We need lots of prayers.

I hold onto the fact that I get to hug, hold, and love-on each one of my students tomorrow, and that I get another day to show them just how much I love them. at peace, and all will be well...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

It's all about the HAIR!

Happy Tuesday!

Y'all, can I just tell you how much I used to hate Tuesdays?  Not that anything bad happened, but I felt like I would get through Monday and then Tuesday rolls along and what's so stinkin' special about a Tuesday?  But then my friend Katie said that you just think of it as one more day under your belt until Friday...  If you know me, you know that I LOVE Fridays!  My students even have a chant that we borrowed from my other kinder friend Meredith - we say "It's the WEEKEND, baby!" every Friday...

Okay, sorry, back to Tuesday...the first Tuesday of every month is now devoted to some special time for my hair.  I have FINALLY found a girl that 'gets me.'  I had the most perfect hair stylist for about 8 years, and she could literally read my mind about what I wanted her to do with my hair.  But then she made the decision to get into insurance, and thus did my hair for the last time.  That was about 4 years ago.  And ever since then I have been on the hunt for a new girl.  I went to several different salons 'trying on' hair stylists.  Then on a whim, I called up Panache (a really great salon in my town) and just asked the girl to put me with anybody.  Well, bless her heart, she made the most perfect match!  April has done my hair perfectly now three times in a row!  And it keeps getting better and better!  I must tell you that the most important part of a hair cut/ highlighting session/ style/ whatever is mostly how it looks in the end.  But more importantly it's conversation and relaxing time with the person who is fixing my hair.  If we can't talk, or you just want to stand there and depressingly fix my hair, I don't care how good you are at what you do, we just aren't going to work out.  No offense, but no dice!  So, needless to say, April is the perfect fit.  Please pray that she keeps on doing hair for a VERY long time!  Because she is awesome!  :o)  I went really blonde, really picture yet, but it's coming.  I promise!

Another great thing about this day is that even with a time crunch, me and my handsome were able to kick butt in another P90X session.  For those of you who don't know, handsome and I started P90X (it's a workout program that kicks your jiggly hiney!) a month, a week, and 3 days ago.  We dedicated our time and our pantry to this program.  It's been a total life-makeover.

Let me just tell you that he looks amazing!  You can already see his abs forming (JEALOUS!) and he's getting even more handsome by the day (which is a bonus because I didn't think he could get any more good-lookin!).  I have lost about 15 pounds, and my pants fit waaaaaay better already!  I'm trying to remind myself that when men and women work out, the men are much more successful much more fast.  Grrr...but no really, I am super happy with what's happening with me.  This isn't my favorite picture, but it will do for now...

I don't know why I'm rambling so much tonight...I must not have hit my word limit for the day.  They say that women use like 40,000 words per day and men only use about 10,000.  I don't think they factored me in to this equation, because even when I finish teaching for the day, I'm still ready to talk to whoever will listen!  :o)

I turned 26 exactly a week ago.  I was very depressed almost the whole time I was 25 because I knew that being 25 meant that I was only a short ways away from being 26.  That was a depressing number.  It's on the downside to 30, I'm not 21 anymore, there's nothing fun after turning 25...but then for some reason when I woke up the morning of my dreaded 26th, I felt so great!  I am turning the bad feelings away and reminding myself that I am still on this Earth with the people I love, and that in itself is a blessing.  I have to stop complaining so much and just be grateful for everything that I have.  And boy, I have a LOT!  So here is a picture of me and my friends who have given me wonderful times and hopefully many more to come...  (PS: I'm in the pink sequined shirt that I haven't worn in 3 years but now I can!) :o)

Oh, and I got the most beautiful flowers on my birthday from one of my students and then some more from my hubby.  I didn't have enough room for the two arrangements, so I combined them into one:

If you have read all of this, let me just say that you have to be bored out of your mind, and also thank you for being one of my outlets!  I am blown away by the response to my blog, and glad that I can share my little life with some loved ones out there!  :o) at peace, and all will be well...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring Has Sprung!

This has been the absolute BEST Monday in a while...I have to hurry because it's almost time to go to bed...this teacher is sleepy!  But I had to share while I had another minute - I will NOT neglect this least not in the next few days!  Hey, any good feelings on a Monday is a wonderful thing!  :o)

So Spring has Sprung in Team Johnson's room!  Here are a few of the projects we are working on...

On the left we have our baby's in our Art Workshop this week.  Lots of cutting and fine motor skills practice - LOVE IT!
Then on the left we have our April Take-Home Project.  This is my bunny: her name is Bella Bunny.  Her lovely spring dress is made from some fun wrapping paper complete with pink tulle and some polka dots.  The students are taking their own bunnies home tonight to make and decorate with their parents.  I'm sure that most parents hate me for this (one more thing to do!), but hopefully some will see that I just want them to put their creative minds together with their child's creative mind.  Again, I know it's a lot, but it's fun if you let it be!  :o)  This is something that one of my kinder-teammates gave us from her spring file!
Last, on the right is "Carrot Time!" Same teammate sharing wonderful ideas!  This is from The Mailbox, and it's in our Math Workshop this week.  The students cut out and decorate the bunny clocks, and they decide what time they want their clocks to tell.  Then they put the carrot hands on the correct numbers and write the "digital" version on an index card.  When finished, we stick it up on the wall labeled "Carrot Time!"

Okay, here is something really exciting!  We were given this Root View from my friend Ashley F.  She has 6 amazing children and they have lots of neat stuff!  Well, this was something that didn't make it and was going to be donated when she asked if I wanted it.  It comes with this wonderful planter with a clear plastic viewing sheet.  There is a white sheet that goes over it so that the roots actually grow.  The pack also comes with seeds and peat circles, so everything you need minus some water is included!  How cool is that?!  :o)  Anyway, we planted the seeds together about 2 weeks ago when we started our plants unit. The radishes grew right away (look at it on the right! Holy cow!).  Today we found 3 carrot plants and one onion plant!  I may be more excited that it worked than they are.  I took a leap of faith when I did this because I had never done it before...yay!  I'll keep you posted in the weeks to come....

Be at peace, and all will be well...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hoppy Spring!!!

I have been a bad might not have looked so bad except for the fact that my last post was about St. Patty's Day and that was HOW long ago??  I'm sure most of you out there can relate to something called "life."  If not, what is your secret?  ;o)

I went into stress mode about two weeks ago when I realized that I only have 2 more months with my sweet kinders!  It not only made me very depressed, but it also gave me the oh-so-familiar feeling that I haven't done enough with them yet.  This feeling is par for the course - it is my 4th year of teaching, and the 4th time I have felt this way.  I never feel like I give them "enough," because there are so many wonderful things I want to show them and teach them.  There will never be enough time, so my only hope is that I give them the most important things.

One way to spice up the end of the year was with a total room makeover.  This happened at the beginning of March, and it is the happiest Team Johnson has been with our room all year.  I am a creature of change, so the best way to make me happy as a teacher is to redo our room.  Here is an idea I got from the book Literacy Centers in Photographs.  I LOVE this book!  If you haven't read it and you teach first grade or kindergarten, go out and get it NOW!  I ordered it last year from my bonus points with Scholastic.  I also got Kindergarten in Photographs this year and it has been an amazing inspiration!  :o)  Check them out at Amazon or Scholastic!  You will not be disappointed, I promise!

Here is one of the ideas I got from the Literacy Centers book:  The teacher has small shelves that sit at the end of the student tables.  The writing folders and other notebooks for the students at that table are housed on the shelves.  On the top shelf are Center Activities.  We call our center time "Workshop," so all of our workshop materials are on the top shelf of our shelves.  When it's workshop time, our tables transform into different workshops, and the students have a table to complete their work.  The following are four of our workshops...


Here is the Writing Workshop.  This week we were decorating the cover of our new Writing Journals.  Inside we are practicing writing stories in sequence.  They are doing a great job!


This is our ABC Workshop.  The students have a cut-up sentence to complete.  I got these pages from  She has the most AMAZING printables - and they're all free!  I also have found some great puzzles at Ross (if you don't know what Ross is, shame on you!  It is like TJ Maxx or Marshalls but with better prices!  I can get lost in that store for hours).  This game has about 20 words to put together as puzzles - each letter is a puzzle piece, and each puzzle has a picture to help with the spelling.  It cost me $3.99 at Ross, and would have been $15 elsewhere!  LOVE IT!  We also have finger puppets that have to "read" the sight words to each other.


Here is our Science Workshop.  This week we were making a Spring book from the Mailbox.  My kinder-buddy, Cindy, let me borrow her stack of about 15 Mailboxes and Teacher Helpers.  She has been teaching for over 20 years and has had a regular subscription to the Mailbox.  Also in this workshop are wonderful kinder-friendly non fiction books.


I'm sorry this is turned sideways; iphoto does not want to cooperate tonight for some reason.  This is our Brain Games Workshop.  There is always a new board game (Hi, Ho! Cheery-O, Chutes and Ladders, Connect-4, etc.)  Also we have at least one puzzle and some flash cards.  This is a favorite every week!


One last Kindergarten moment for Timothy the Terrifying Turtle!  He was purchased at a yard sale for 50 cents.  He plays Phonics games from our Imagine It! reading series.  He always tries to scare us, but somehow they don't buy it.  If you have seen Jeff Dunham's ventriloquist act, Timothy is modeled after and speaks just like Achmed the Terrifying Terrorist.  :o)

This is also a chance for me to tell you about a piece of my Classroom Management.  Our class earns pebbles each time we do something great as a whole group.  At the beginning of the year we earn pebbles all the time (it helps them work together to follow the rules).  As the year goes on, we earn pebbles for more on-going things, like having a great day, or everyone having exceptional manners.  When our jar is full, we earn a "party" that we have voted on.  Right now we are working towards earning a popsicle party where we get to go outside and sit on the sidewalk together eating - you guessed it--popsicles!  :o)  Wish us luck!  The best part about earning pebbles is that when I put a "handful" in, we all cheer together "Go Team Johnson!"  I also always add in "one for good luck."

Have a wonderful week!  We have 2 weeks until our Spring Break...hopefully we won't have Spring Fever too bad this week...

 Be at peace, and all will be well....