Saturday, September 29, 2012

Noise Level Control Anchor Chart

Ever have those days when the children just seem really loud?  You think to yourself . . . Full moon?  Barometric pressure?  Not enough caffeine?  No they are just loud.

This is a procedure I use in my classroom that includes a chant, motions, and a visual representation of what our voice level should be for different times of the day.

I start the chant by saying, "We're up here!"  And I put my hands up in the air.
The children then put their hands at the level they should be for the subject/activity and say, "We need to be here."

Outside Recess - Our voices are loud and we raise our hands above our heads to show that is the loudest our voice is.

Math Centers - Noise level is children busy, manipulatives quietly moving, but there is discussion amongst each other. Our hands are straight out in front of our shoulders representing our voice and noise level.

Literacy Centers or Reader's Workshop - Noise level is quietly working, on-task, whispering amongst each other as we complete our tasks.   Our hands go out by our knees representing where our voice and noise level should be.  The teacher needs to be able to hear the children who are working at the guided reading table.

Group Time - Noise level is off and we are using attentive listening.  Our hands point to the floor representing the lowest level of voice/noise level which is quiet - no talking.

This is the same version but just on a smaller one sheet chart.  I keep it close by to refer to as needed.
This is what it looks like on the wall.  I print the cards and tape them to a ribbon and hang from the wall.  I will sometimes have the student who is struggling the most stand by this wall and lead the chant.  And of course I always throw in my favorite quote from the Cat in the Hat:
Teacher:  It's fun to have fun.
Students:  But you have to know how.

Want a FREE copy of these cards/charts?  Click HERE to get them on my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
Kathy Griffin (c)  Copyright 2012  Graphics by &

Thanks for stopping by.  Click to the top right to follow my blog.  I have two projects that are oh so close to being finished.  Hoping to post one tomorrow just in time for fall.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Winning the Homework Battle

Welcome to my new readers from this morning's segment on Fox 23 Tulsa!

Here is the video clip from this morning's program on Daybreak.

This post is for both families and educators, as we discuss the subject of homework.  Many parents need help when it comes to this subject, and sometimes teachers need to regroup and refocus our efforts to make sure the homework we are assigning is meaningful, relevant, and applicable to what we are teaching in the classroom.  Quite honestly, homework is a team effort on the part of the student, family, and teacher.  It takes all 3 for it to be successful.

How many of you (families and teachers included) need more than 24 hours in a day to finish all that needs to be done? I know I do! Most families today are very busy with varying schedules due to many outside factors.  Some are holding down 2 jobs, continuing their education, or just keeping up with the demands of life.  And if you have more than one child, then juggling your children's schedules becomes a fine art.  As the mother of 3 children, I know this subject of "Fitting it All In" very well.  I remember the days when all 3 children had homework, dinner needed to be fixed, clothes needed to be washed, and all 3 had different chauffeuring schedules from sports and extra-curricular activities.  The last thing that I wanted to do was be involved in a power struggle over homework.  I wanted my time with my children to be pleasant and meaningful. I wanted to curl up on the couch with them and read favorite stories and talk about our day. Since I wasn't an educator at that time, I fumbled my way through the frustrations of working with my children.  All 3 of my children had different learning styles and strengths and weaknesses. So here are some suggestions and ideas for parents to think about when you feel the wave of homework stress rush over you. And teachers, let's remember to make our homework respectful of our families time and make sure it is meaningful.

Reading Homework:  The research supports that children should read for at least 20 minutes each day.  The more they read, the better readers they will become.  But what do you do when your child is a beginning or struggling reader? Those 20 minutes can go crawling by and can seem like punishment for both parent and child. Did you know there are several ways for a child to read a book?  Here are some strategies for helping your child on the road to success as a reader and hopefully ease the "reading challenge."

Echo Reading - Parent reads one line of text, then child repeats.  This helps support your child with the language and rhythm of the story.

I Point You Read - Sometimes children want the struggle off of them, especially if it is hard for them.  Try to play this game.  Have your child point to the words as you read them.  It will either be choppy reading or speed reading.  This is a great way to model what good readers do.  Good readers read at the appropriate pace, so reading makes sense.

Choral Reading - Parent and child reads the text together.  Sometimes this reading is slower, as the parent might be just a second ahead of the child to support the reading.

Repeated Reading - Many parents say, "But my child wants to read the same thing over and over again."  That is great!  We all have our favorite books, favorite social media, quotes, information or news that we as adults enjoy.  Children do too.  And when a child reads a book over and over again, he is building his reading fluency and building his stamina at the same time.  Being a great reader takes practice.  Just make sure to tell your child that reading is only happening when you look at the words.  I have my students track the print they are reading with their finger or a special pointer.

Share the Reading - Do you have your own favorite stories?  You can help build your child's stamina and minutes reading by reading to her first.  Talk about the vocabulary or words in the story that she may not know.  Stop in between the story and ask her what she thinks will happen next?  Ask her why do you think the character (name the person) felt that way?  How would you feel if that happened to you?

Put it to a Beat or a Song -  Singing helps build fluency which is the pace and flow of the reading.  Try typing or writing out the words to a favorite song and have your child read/sing the song.  If they can sing it, they can be supported in reading it.  Go to the website and print out your favorite songs from when you were a child.  Look for sight words (words children need to recognize instantly) and practice the strategies above.

Fluency Fun Have you seen the app Voices?  It's a fun way to record your child reading.  They read into the iPhone.  When they are finished, they can choose which voice they want to hear.  It's a fun way to have them read a story and listen to how it sounds in different pitches, tones, and rhythms.  And of course it is fun for parents and teachers too :)

Spelling Homework:

Here is another question.  My child struggles with remembering his spelling words.  How can I help him remember?  This one depends on each child's learning style.  Here are some activities to try with your child.

If your child likes to move, play sports, and is active, add some movement to the spelling activities.  Write the spelling words on index cards, post-it-notes, or large enough on paper for her to see. Let your child bounce a ball while spelling the words.  Or use grabbers to add some fun and fine motor activities with the words.  Have your child hop, jump rope, or do other movement activities while spelling.

If your child likes music, put the words to a song. 

2 letter words, use the song "If You're Happy and You Know It"
If you want to spell my, say m - y, m - y
If you want to spell my, say m - y, m - y
It's as easy as can be when you sing along with me.
If you want to spell my, say m - y, m - y.

3 letter words, use the song "Three Blind Mice"
s - e - e, s - e - e
That spells see
That spells see
s - e - e spells see
s - e - e spells see
s - e - e, s - e - e

4 letter words, use the song "Boogaloo"
Can you spell the word what?
What's that you say?
Can you spell the word what?
What's that you say?
w-h-a-t, w-h-a-t, w-h-a-t
One more time!

5 letter words, use the song "Bingo"
There are 5 letters in this word and this is how you spell it.
h - a - p - p - y, h - a - p - p - y, h - a - p - p - y,
And that's how you spell happy!

6 letter words, use the song "London Bridges"
s - h - o - w - e - r
s - h - o - w - e - r
s - h - o - w - e - r
That spells shower.

7 letter words, use the song "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow"
f - a - l - l - i - n - g
f - a - l - l - i - n - g
f - a - l - l - i - n - g
That spells falling.

8 letter words, use the song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"
b - l - i - z - z - a - r - d
That spells blizzard.
b - l - i - z - z - a - r - d
Singing this song is easy for me.
For its b - l - i - z - z - a - r - d
That spells blizzard
b  l  i - z  z  a  r  d
Spells blizzard!

If your child likes to draw, have her rainbow write.
Write the word in one color, then trace over the word with another color. Continue using her favorite colors.

The Perfect Place for Homework - Where ?

I love the book The Best Place to Read by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom.  It is a story about a little boy who tries to find the best place to read in his house.  He tries many different places until he finds the perfect place to read.  And it also goes through all of the scenarios for why each place is "not right."

So where is the best place for your child to do homework?  Know your child's learning preferences.  Does he like to sit in a chair when reading?  How about on a comfortable chair or couch?  Does she like to lay on her bed and read?  Think about where you read the best and allow your child to pick his own special reading place.  The only requirement is to make sure that there is adequate lighting and a quiet noise level.  I've built reading tents out of sheets or turned nap maps up to make privacy tents.  Children like the comfort of having their own special place.

If the homework requires writing, help your child choose the best place to write.  Talk about the need for a flat space to help support his arms and hands.  If your child needs help making choices, then choose 2 places you feel are appropriate and have her pick.

So should it be quiet or can the television and cell phones be left on?   I know that our children today live in a world of technology and many parents say their children have great focus when they are playing video games.  Playing video games uses a different part of the brain and keeps children's attention with all of the multi-tasking and constant feedback of sound and movement.  The same goes for television.  Make homework a priority and help them understand that they are separate activities. Set a specific time for your child to be watching television or playing video games.    Depending on your child's age, let him help plan the best time.  Sign a homework agreement plan or make a chart showing the schedule for the evening or week.  Celebrate their successes in finishing their homework by doing things together such as playing a game, going for a walk, or visiting the park.  Make sure your children know that homework is an important part of their day and that you are there to support them through it.

The Perfect Time for Homework - When ?

This one is a tough one for parents because we have to find the best time that fits into our schedule.  But here is something to keep in mind.  If your child is young, he needs time to unwind and play after school. It takes a lot of endurance and concentration to complete a full day of school activities.  Allowing your child to get in some physical movement and get rid of that burst of energy, will make "doing homework" much easier.  And eating a healthy snack before you begin can help too.  Most children go several hours from when they eat lunch until dinner time.  Providing a light snack can give the brain a jump start on attention and learning.   Waiting until bedtime can create children who are tired, cranky, and not ready to learn.

The Perfect Amount of Help - How Much?

Another question that I am asked frequently is, "How much should I help my child with her homework?"  Homework should reinforce what is being taught at school.  Think of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears.  It shouldn't be too easy, too hard, but "just right."  Your child should be able to do the work independently, but with your guidance.  And remember the suggestions above for increasing your child's stamina for reading.  Start with small goals of 5 minutes at a time.  If your child needs a break, do some jumping jacks, hop on one foot, or stand while doing the homework.

We Are Still Struggling  - When to Call the Teacher?

If your child is still struggling with completing the tasks assigned, contact your child's teacher to let them know about it.   The work may be too difficult.  Your child may have missed a lot of school due to illness.  There are many reasons that could be affecting your child's inability to finish or start the task.  Most importantly, keep the communication lines open with the teacher and ask how you can best support your child.

And remember, it takes all 3 to make homework successful:  the student, the family, and the teacher.

Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Life's Special Moments

Today's post is going to come from the heart.  The teaching lessons are going to be life lessons. They're going to be about the important job we have as early childhood teachers and the impact we can have on our children.  And it's not about test scores.  Today, I am sharing a very personal glimpse into my life.

In 1992, my daughter Tessa was born.  And within 10 minutes of her being born, we learned she had Down Syndrome. The only experience I had of being around people with Down Syndrome was when my mother worked at an institution for children and adults with special needs.  I basically went into shock for about 48 hours not knowing what life had in store for my family. And frankly, I just didn't have a clue about raising a child with special needs.  But ultimately, I had one main goal for her.  I wanted her included in life in every aspect possible, and I wanted her to have great social skills.   At the time, I was going back to college to become a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher so badly, and I thought this event was going to keep me from reaching that goal.  Little did I know that my little package of joy would be my best teacher.

I could go on and on about what all that entails in setting expectations and holding the bar high in raising a child with special needs.  But I will save that for another time.  This mom is extremely proud of the young lady she became last night when she informed me that she had practiced a speech to say at my oldest daughter's wedding.  I was teary-eyed on the couch as she practiced it for me.  I asked her, "How did you think of this idea?"  And she replied, "I've been practicing watching wedding movies."  If you know my daughter, she can be very shy until she gets to know you.  But last night, she stood up in front of 200 people at the front of the room and gave her speech.

The quality of the video is not good as it was captured by my quick thinking niece (Thank you Kara).  And the sound is the same.  Here is her speech:

"My name is Tessa Griffin.  And I wanted to say that I love you.  And I want to say I love you. And I love you Brandi.  And I love you Shane, my brother.  Thank you."

So for all of you teachers who work with children with special needs, whether it be all day in your classroom, or for just part of the day.  Academics are important.  But to parents of children with special needs, social skills are what get you through life and lead to moments like this. Moments that are so special that words cannot come close to express how I feel. Learning social skills empowered my daughter, who has faced many challenges in life, to get up in front of a crowd and appropriately and effectively declare her love to her sister and new brother. And to politely say, "Thank you, " at the end of her speech.  No help from mom - no help from family - just something she felt was right.

Thank you for letting me share a part of my world with you.  As I watched one daughter become a beautiful bride, I watched another one take a step forward to independence too. Have a great week.  This mom is going to sit back and enjoy this special moment today.  And here is a special thank you to all of her former teachers who believed in her too.

Stop by again soon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fun Fall Apple Bingo Books

Are you getting ready to study apples, autumn, or Johnny Appleseed Day?  I made a FREE book for your classroom to the familiar tune of Bingo :)  Use the 8 1/2 x 11 book for whole group reading or place in your reading corner for independent practice.  Make copies of the 1/2 size black and white book for your students to color and use during guided reading, independent reading for just right books, or as homework practice.  Also, remember you can show the pdf file on your interactive white board or digital projector for the really big book approach.

Reinforce the short "a" sound along with practicing one-to-one correspondence for clapping by numbers.

These are both Common Core standards that we practice all the time.  HAVE FUN!!!


Follow my blog on the right side along with my TpT store to be notified of more fun materials to use in your classroom.

Click HERE to download your free books.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Early Childhood Advice on Teaching the Common Core State Standards

As school has started over much of the United States  or is in full swing with teaching procedures, two words seem to be causing stress for many early childhood teachers.  The "Common Core" State Standards are infiltrating our vocabulary, our planning, our assessments, and our instruction.

Don't get me wrong.  I am a BIG fan of the Common Core.  But we have to remain focused as early childhood teachers and remember that we teach young children.  Just because a worksheet says, "will help the students learn the "Common Core" or a book cover states, "will teach the "Common Core" doesn't mean it is effective.  Teachers are implementers of this instruction and need to remember what is developmentally appropriate and impacts student learning along with the method needed to teach it.

My youngest daughter has Down Syndrome, Diabetes, Celiac Disease, and a thyroid disorder.  I'm going to make an analogy of what I see happening to many teachers across the United States to Tessa having Celiac Disease.   When you have Celiac Disease, you cannot eat wheat, oats, or barley as it damages the intestine and causes a multitude of medical problems.  1 in 133 people in the United States have it and don't know it.  If you want to know more about Celiac Disease click HERE.

My daughter has to be on a gluten-free diet.  This was very difficult to do when she was first diagnosed in 2001.  Celiac Disease had been under-diagnosed for many years, but started receiving more attention around the time of my daughter's diagnosis.  She had to go completely gluten free.  One crumb could damage her intestines causing auto-immune diseases.  So off we went to the health store to try and find all of the gluten free items we could.  After all we were good parents, and we wanted to ensure that our daughter had what she needed. It was an expensive trip.  We thought we needed everything at once. And what we discovered was that many of the products were not edible - they tasted horrible.  We also discovered that fruits and vegetables were gluten free, Tessa loved them, and we already had them. We wasted a lot of money.  It took time to figure out what Tessa liked, tasted good, and was nutritious too.

Fast forward to 2012 and I feel that is where we are headed as teachers with the Common Core.  Let's step back and really internalize these standards and see what we are already doing that aligns and what needs to be added to meet the rest.  As a national presenter, I was very interested in the Common Core when it was released.  I wanted to see how my classroom teaching and sessions held up to the standards.  I found that I was already doing many of those things required in the standards and saw areas that I could enrich and take up to the next level.  But I really noticed that I had already been differentiating my classroom instruction to meet the needs of my students, so I had activities, songs, technology, and games ready to meet those standards.  I had embraced the move towards nonfiction text being a crucial part of teaching reading.

That's where we need to remain focused as educators.  We need to read the standards.  We need to use it as a lens to look at our teaching.  And then we need to make informed choices that look at the needs of our students and their learning styles.  They still need movement.  They still need choices.  They still need FUN!  Happy, motivated children learn more.  That's research-based.  Our classroom environments need to promote inquiry brain-based learning that allows for creativity and enrichment.  It needs to be open-ended with areas that require critical thinking. Worksheets do not accomplish this.  Hands on activities that require cooperative learning such as games, along with movement, dramatic play, and singing that are focused toward instruction, make a huge impact on student learning.  Students who are given time to read - read better.  Students who are given time to write stories  - write more effectively.  Students who are engaged in math activities that require critical thinking, problem-solving and promote showing their reasoning create mathematicians.

Nonfiction is HUGE and exposes our children to rich vocabulary.  But as we teach this vocabulary, which makes more sense . . . having our children act out the vocabulary during group time as we come to these rich words . . . apply them to different situations in our lives . . . find a word to connect this new learning?  Or sit down and do a worksheet where you draw a line to match the word to the meaning.  Which one would help you remember as a teacher if I was teaching new vocabulary during a professional development session?  Happy engaged teachers learn more :-)  They become empowered.  They become creative.  They connect it to their prior experiences. They go back to their classrooms and impact student learning.

I have many entries on the Common Core on my blog and will continue to bring ideas on how to meet the needs of your students while providing "hands-on" engaging activities to meet the "Common Core" standards.  As you search across Pinterest and other sites, use your early childhood lens that has now been adjusted to include the Common Core and choose your activities wisely.  And yes, I do sell products that are designed to teach the Common Core Standards along with many other wonderful teachers out there.   Just remember my first gluten-free shopping trip for my daughter Tessa.  I bought everything I could find that was available.  I had researched some of it but not enough.  I hadn't discussed it with other parents who had experience using these products.  And I ended up throwing much of it away.  

Here is an example of one of my products that I made that is "frequently purchased" on Teachers Pay Teachers and meets the Common Core State Standards for Reading Foundational Skills for Kindergarten and 1st Grade.  Let's look at it through the early childhood lens that has now been adjusted with the Common Core State Standards. I have the song and/or multimedia file "Five Word Families."  I've created it to produce a memory connection along with motions to make it auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.  I included technology.  I created a game/activity pack with word sorts, games, and activities to reinforce this skill during whole group, guided reading, and literacy centers.  I've created books with the pictures and words from the song to support early readers. I've given the students a "hook" to remember word families that end with the same sound/pattern along with a song/actions to support their learning of short vowel sounds and familiar word patterns. I've modeled (on a YouTube video) how to take this song and differentiate it to meet the needs of students who need a wide range of phonological awareness activities whether it be rhyming, letter/sounds, along with substituting the first sound in a word.  And my students and many other students LOVE it.  Of course, I am partial to it because my now 10 month old grandson loves it too :-)

So what I want everyone to take away with them tonight is that WE CAN do this.  I am your biggest cheerleader. We are doing a lot of it already.  Let's regroup, study, and reflect on our current teaching.  What can we do to impact student learning along with implementing the Common Core State Standards this year?  And how can we make that learning engaging for our youngest learners.  They deserve our best and we have it in us to teach.

Thanks for stopping by.  My favorite quote from the Cat in the Hat applies not only to our students but to teachers as well.  "It's fun to have fun but you have to know how."  We can have fun, create memories, and impact student learning too.  We just have to know how. Follow my blog as we explore these new standards together and keep the smile and laughter in our students' lives too.

Here is a short clip of my Five Word Families multimedia file along with the activity game pack if you want to learn more about it.  You can also look at the book set and mp3 song to put in your listening center or "just right" book boxes on my TpT store.  If they can sing it, they can be supported in reading it.  

Click HERE to view this on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Click HERE to view this on Teachers Pay Teachers.