Friday, March 4, 2016

Play-Based Learning Pizza Party!

My kindergarten boys and girls are very enthusiastic participants in their play, and we have been developing our own play plans since before Christmas. However, their play was becoming very repetitive without a lot of opportunity to infuse new literacy and numeracy learning. So I posed the question, "What would you think about changing the play house to something else? Maybe a restaurant or a grocery store?"

Well they immediately seized upon the idea of a restaurant--and not just any restaurant, Boston Pizza, which had just opened in a nearby town this past fall! That afternoon during play time, we dragged everything out of the house and made decisions about what to put back to support our restaurant play. We included the kitchen, a table and chairs, dishes and cutlery, food, aprons, and chef hats. We added a host/hostess desk and a chalkboard to print specials on. We made a list of supplies we needed and how we would get them, things we needed to do, and jobs in the restaurant.

Within a few minutes, the restaurant opened to a very enthusiastic reception. And since I wanted to see growth in our play, we talked a lot about what purposeful play looked like versus "off track" play.

So how did I take this from play to play-based learning?

First of all, we decided on a menu.

1) Writing
Having a restaurant provided the perfect opportunity for a lot of authentic writing opportunities. We learned how to make lists for taking orders and buying food for the restaurant.

Examples feature printing all sounds, initial, medial, and final consonants.
Making menus proved to be a perfect activity to further develop our ability to caption pictures and spell words. I printed off a variety of pictures from the Boston Pizza menu (sorry for the copyright infringement BP). It was really exciting to observe my young learners' attempts to spell the menu items depicted in the pictures. We worked hard to stretch out words and print all the sounds we heard, referring to our names and the alphabet chart for extra help. It was a great way to practice the "ch" sound, as we had both chicken fingers and chocolate milk on our menus.  A great connection to numeracy was made as well--we set prices for the items on our menu and talked about what would be a reasonable price to charge. The boys and girls learned to print the dollar sign, and printed numbers from 1-100 (and some wanted millions) as we made our menus. It was especially exciting to laminate them so they looked like real menus. 
Numeracy: Taking orders in a restaurant led to some great opportunities to count and represent numbers. We made up all kinds of story problems for the restaurant and practiced adding, subtracting, and printing numbers. We printed numbers on the SMART Board and students printed numbers on their own pie plates on lapdesks (aluminum pie plates (the disposable variety) are a great teacher hack for individual whiteboards). We also did one-to-one matching as we surveyed our classmates and asked what they would order in the restaurant. After we practiced using these order forms, we printed them for use in the restaurant with clipboards. 

Our pizza restaurant play was also a fantastic opportunity for inquiry. Throughout our play, we kept track of the questions we had about restaurants. In fact, we even decided to call the general manager of Boston Pizza Virden to ask if we could come for a visit and ask her our questions in person.

We were so excited when she said yes, and next thing we knew, we were off to Virden for a field trip! At this point, it worked nicely to pull in social studies outcomes on our community and community helpers. Take a look at our movie showing our morning of fun and learning at Boston Pizza Virden!

 Boston Pizza very generously gave us a whole bunch of take out containers, and when we returned from our field trip, our play took on an entirely different level. As the boys and girls were more familiar with the jobs in a restaurant, their play reflected this and it was fascinating to watch. They also learned about the important ways that restaurants use literacy and numeracy (for example, the adults wanted a pizza that was half and half with toppings). It was a wonderful topic to investigate, and a trip to a real pizza restaurant made it even better! A huge thank you to Jillian Irvine at Boston Pizza Virden and my grandmas/mom drivers who made it happen!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

You Ask, Kindergarten Diva Answers!

Lately I've been fortunate to present a lot of sessions, and I always encourage teachers to contact me if I can help in any way. Here are some of the questions I've received lately. And like we always say in class--if you have a question, probably someone else is wondering about that topic too! So I decided to share these questions and my responses in hopes they might help other educators too! Here is what's been in my inbox lately! 

1. How do you model shared writing?

We do a lot of shared writing during project-based learning as we write for a very real purpose--letters, lists, design invitations, caption images, etc. So that everyone can easily see, I model shared writing on the SMART Board most of the time. I often use one of the lined papers as a background, and the students and I share the pen. I print the more difficult words, and they print beginning, medial, and final sounds, as well as high frequency words they know and punctuation marks. We talk a lot about where we begin, return sweep, and spaces between words. During shared writing, I seize the teachable moment in these ways:
-we "clap" big words and count their syllables
-we learn how to stretch out words and print the sounds we hear
-I teach strategies, such as, "That word sounds just like 'cat' and all of you can spell 'cat'. How can we use 'cat' to spell 'mat'?" or "That word begins with the same sound as my name. Let's look at the name chart to help us print the word." or "That's a word wall word. Who can find it on the word wall and help us spell it?" or "We're not sure how to spell this word. Let's just do our best, put a circle around it, and check it later."
-I teach proper letter formation as we go, using simple cues such as, "Big line down, frog jump, little curve, little curve" to print the letter B (Handwriting Without Tears, available here)
-other times, we follow the same procedure using chart paper
-I also focus on the particular genre of writing, explaining the features of lists, letters, posters, captions, and simple sentences

*Important tip: to keep all students engaged and learning (not just the one sharing the marker with me), I give all students a dry erase marker and a little white board (or a pie plate works too). Every student prints every letter/word on their own board as we compose our message.*

Sometimes, we use shared writing to create items for our classroom play. These items might include things such as open/closed signs, menus, or posters. In these cases, we use paper and markers. If you have a large class and a document camera, it might be helpful to focus your document camera on the shared writing project and project it on the screen or SMART Board. 

Shared writing in project-based learning: Love Family Adoption Party 

Shared writing in play-based learning: Shopping for Learning and Let's Get the Party Started in Junior Kindergarten 

2. How often do you go on Twitter with the students during the day?

It really depends on what we're working on in our classroom. During certain projects, we might check Twitter in the morning and afternoon. For example, when we were tweeting Olympic athletes in our Olympics project, we were using Twitter a great deal. Since Twitter was vital to our project, we used Twitter for shared reading and shared writing activities (this fits nicely into a balanced literacy program or Daily 5--use a pointer to track the words and read tweets aloud). Sometimes, we take a photograph or I save our shared writing as an image file and we tweet it out. Occasionally, we tweet out surveys and math problems as part of our learning. Other times, we use tweets to connect with another classroom or to seek a collaborative partner. Basically, we use Twitter as much or as little as needed to move our learning forward. Sometimes, it's a hugely important tool and other times we don't use it at all. Let student learning govern your tool selection, always choosing the best tool for the job. Model how the proper tool is selected, and gradually release this responsibility to your students. Ask them questions such as, "We need to share this information just with Mrs. Obach's class. What is the best way to do that?"  or "We need to ask a lot of people this question very quickly. Is Twitter the best tool for us to use this time?"

Learn more here: Tips and Tricks for Tweeting in Kindergarten 

3. Do you have some ideas for using Twitter with older students? 

The only times I've used Twitter with older students was when I taught sessionally in the Faculty of Education and when I present at conferences. How do I use Twitter in these settings?

-when I taught a multi-age classroom course to pre-service teachers, we collaboratively developed a class hashtag. All tweets about that class used that hashtag. That meant that students could search the hashtag and read all the tweets sent about the course, class, or presentation.
-using a class hashtag requires all participants to have their own Twitter accounts. In this case, you'll want to do lots of teaching and modelling about ethical and responsible use of a Twitter account--what information we can share safely, digital etiquette, balancing tweets with re-tweets and comments, how to compose an interesting tweet, dealing with spammers or inappropriate followers, etc.

-teachers can use the class hashtag to ask the students questions or post challenges, communicating when they are away from the classroom
-students with their own accounts can share their work with a real audience, using the class hashtag or tagging the teacher in the tweet
-students can curate content and develop lists of people/organizations on Twitter relevant to a subject or topic, engaging through Twitter to research and ask questions

-with early and middle years students, you might want to develop a class Twitter account. This can be used in the following ways:
-a student can be the "tweeter" of the day who is responsible for summarizing and sharing relevant information about the day's learning through Twitter, responding to tweets from followers, etc.
-during activities such as a Skype call, it's helpful to assign roles to students. One of these roles can be the tweeter who summarizes and shares information and links.
-a class Twitter account is invaluable for connecting with experts, collaborating with other classrooms, developing literacy skills, and learning to compose succinct messages and use hashtags correctly

-another idea is to host a class Twitter chat on a certain topic (such as Manitoba's own MB Ed Chat). Students can develop a list of questions and a hashtag, invite other classrooms or stakeholders to participate, and all meet on Twitter at a designated time.

A word of advice? Always check with your administrator before creating a class Twitter account. It's best to ensure that you are operating within your school division's policies!

4. Clipboards (most awesome idea ever!): I'm assuming they last a while longer than the duotangs that I'm using. Is there a place where you found the lock in clipboards for a lower price than $7-8? Is there a place for their reading books? For my class, I think the books and the clipboards would have to be together or else the books would be everything or not brought in... Do you have an agenda note for a full week? I tried tweeking yours to my liking with a full 5 day week, but I'm not sure if I'm completely happy with it.

First of all, I agree that clipboards are the most awesome idea ever. I've come into my current classroom mid-year, and coil-bound agendas were already in use, and I miss my clipboards so much. My favourite clipboards ever came from Staples and were made by Hilroy. They had a cover and opened to the side like a book, with a pocket on the inside of the front cover and a clipboard on the right-hand side. I bought them for around $6 each. I've also used fabric-covered clipboards from Staples with a similar design. Last year I couldn't find clipboards anywhere, and ended up using super cheap dollar store clipboards. They had a front cover but no inside pocket. They still worked reasonably well and lasted the whole year too. 

With home reading books, I always place them in a large Ziploc bag and just clip them in the clipboards. This works, and it's simply and easy. 

Until this year, I have never taught kindergarten full time. so my clipboard notes were either for two or three days. I think you can make it work for a full week, but you might need to play around with the design. Maybe five wide boxes that span the whole width of the page with a spot for notes at the bottom would work? Or experiment with switching the orientation to landscape.

For more information on clipboards and how I use them in my classroom, read this blog post.  

 5. What do you do for home reading?

Changing home reading books and listening to students read these books on a daily basis is overwhelming for teachers and families, especially for teachers with big classes. Here is what I've done the last few years and it's worked well. 
-every student is given a "book bag" which is usually a large Ziploc bag. My friend Leah Obach gets her grandma to sew drawstring bags with the students' names embroidered on them, which are lovely. 
-on Monday, I pull each student aside during some independent activity and we select a week's worth of books. Usually some of the books are at the students' independent reading level (home reading needs to be fun and a chance for the student to "show off", not a nightly battle because it's hard) and selected by me, and a couple are selected by the student. In the past, I've also done things like two new books, two familiar/favourite books, and one new one selected by the student. Play around with what words!
-the student chooses enough books to last an entire week, and families send the book bag back on Friday or Monday, so the books can be changed each Monday. 
-before I change the books, I ask the student to read a few pages from one book to me so I can see how they're doing. This would be a great job for a volunteer or EA sometimes, but not all the time. 
-a reading log is included in the book bag listing the books with a space for parent initials and comments
-I also include a ring of high-frequency words that the student is practicing in the book bag
-some teachers use an incentive program to encourage students to return their books regularly 

6. Do you have any strategies for teaching reading?

In kindergarten, we do a great deal of project and play-based learning where we read, write, listen, speak, view, and represent for a very real, authentic purpose. Reading is constantly modelled for children as a means to access the information (read-loud, shared reading) that is vital to the project or their play. 

Here is how I create the conditions for children to become readers in my kindergarten program...
Read alouds: I once heard about a study that demonstrated that if children are read to five times a day or more, their literacy skills will increase. We read aloud throughout the day--tweets on Twitter, literature, non-fiction books, morning message, poems, etc. I try hard to read quality children's literature, and sometimes we use the book we read as a mentor text to inspire our own writing. 
Morning message: every morning, the students fill in the missing letters/words in a message from me about our upcoming day. Students take turns writing on the SMART Board while other students write on their own dry erase board. We use shared reading to track print and highlight various concepts of print. 
Browsing boxes: students are given time to read to themselves. We understand that there are multiple ways to read a book--looking at the pictures, making up our own story, and pointing to the words and reading them on the page. 
Reading buddies: we regularly read with older reading buddies. This is a great opportunity for us to practice tracking print and using pictures, and see older students model reading for us! 
Sight/high-frequency words: we practice the Dolch Pre-Primer Word List in kindergarten. And I know this sounds "old school" and super boring, but every morning we use a little PowerPoint presentation on the SMART Board and we all read every word. It takes less than a minute. Every student has a sight word ring at school, and one at home. Any time I have a volunteer (or older reading buddies), we practice our sight word rings. Students need to get a minimum of ten check marks on a word (one check for each time they read the word correctly), then the word is ripped off the ring and sent home. 
Home reading: as previously mentioned  
Small group guided reading lessons: only when chidlren are ready for formal reading instruction--some children never will be in kindergarten and that is absolutely fine. 

7. How do you do sub plans for your class (with all the tech stuff in mind)?

I have a sub folder on my the desktop of my computer, and a sub lesson plan in Microsoft Word that I just edit as needed. It contains all the procedures, bus/walking/day care information, URIS students, etc. and I just plug in the activities for that day. In the sub folder, I include my SMART Board calendar, I create shortcuts to any web sites they might need to access, and SMART Board lessons too. Sometimes, I create videos of myself teaching lessons using the SMART Notebook record feature, and I instruct the substitute teacher to play that video to the students. That way I know the lesson is taught exactly the way I want! 

If I have a substitute teacher who can't use technology, I have absolute faith in my kindergarten boys and girls to do it for them--especially in activities such as morning calendar! I leave my substitute teacher my cell number so I am only a text or phone call away in case problems do arise, and usually I Skype in during the day to chat with my boys and girls. I just set Skype up ahead of time and tell the substitute teacher what time I'll call. It's been a great way for my students to learn about what I do when I'm not with them, and see some pretty amazing parts of the world--Prague and Barcelona for example! 

8. Do you have an outline of your phonological awareness program?

-collaboratively developed and delivered with my speech language pathologist Deidre Hayward
-assessment tools: Brandon School Division's phonological awareness assessment tool, Yopp-Singer Test of Phonemic Segmentation, and the language subtest of the DIAL 4
-resources used: Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing program  Words Their Way kindergarten program, Webber Hear Builder CD-ROM (also available as an app I think), a variety of apps on the classroom devices
-and obviously lots of fun, literature-based activities such as nursery rhymes, rhyming songs and books, sorting objects for initial sounds or rhyming, and celebrations (Dr. Seuss' birthday)
-some activities were whole class and others were small groups based on what the students needed to work on. I was fortunate enough to have my SLP, sometimes an EA or student teacher, and myself to lead small groups.

Any more questions? I'm only a tweet or email away! Please send any questions to or tweet them to @india0309.