Receiving Love Notes from Students

Do you love -- I mean LOVE -- receiving notes from your kindergarten friends?  I do.  I finally cleaned out my work tote this morning, and I found a note from an unknown (no name) student.  This is not paper from my that means it was lovingly written at home just for me. Talk about authentic kid writing that comes from the heart.  {Can you hear my heart melting as I share this with you???}

Does this kiddo know me or WHAT? Ice cream, water, Skittles, and a wheel chair (scooter)!

I ended up having foot and calf surgery mid-May thanks to a ruptured tendon and ruptured plantar fascia.  {OUCH!} I was out of the classroom for two weeks.  I had not left the classroom for anything medical related since I went into pre-term labor with my first child in 1998.  This time around, being away was such a challenge for so many reasons.  All of this happened just weeks before the year ended, and you KNOW how much activities take place at the end of the school year.  Let's just say, there were a lot of things I normally do at the end of the year that did not get done.  I had a 2 1/2" incision on the bottom of my heel and another one mid-way up my calf.  My plantar fascia and a tendon in my calf were released (aka: severed).  I look at the picture below and cringe.  My toes were so swollen!  That glass of sparkling wine helped ease the pain of the swelling.  (Don't worry.  I can't tolerate pain meds -- unfortunately.  I wasn't mixing wine with medication.)

My sweet husband helped me down the deck stairs to sit by the fire pit.💕

When I went back to work, I was still unable to put any weight on my right foot at all -- not that I wanted to.  I was a scooter riding kindergarten teacher, and my students thought it was so much fun.  We could really get from the classroom to the gym quickly due to my super fast ride!  Check out my scooter below.  The kids names it "Big Blue"...

One week post-op.  Looking and feeling VERY rough!  Note the "no scooter riding" sign.

My kindergarten friends were very worried about me while I was away, and their worry continued even after I returned to work. They could see how much pain I was in and noticed my limited mobility.  They wrote me many notes and made cards to help me get well.  They are so sweet and kind and wonderful and loving and helpful and adorable and....that's a lot of "and's".  You get what I am saying, I'm sure.  The love kept pouring in after I returned.  The love note I found in my work bag today made me laugh out loud.  I had already forgotten how supportive and caring my young students were when I returned to work, as well as how much pain I was in at the time. (My tired face speaks volumes in the picture above.)  

Getting back to my original question, do you love receiving notes from your students?  Have you had something happen in your life that caused more love notes than normal?  Do you keep and cherish love notes from students?  How do you store them all?  I do not keep all of them, but I do hang on to a few each school year.  This one is a keeper! 

Keeping Track of Paper Assessments & Work Samples

Are you searching for a system to keep track of assessment papers?  Maybe you are really into electronic assessment tracking systems (like ESGI) -- I know I am!  ESGI changed the way I am able to present student growth data to my administration team and families.  Each year, I think I will move to a 100% electronic tracking system, but the reality of how much time I have in a day creeps in and takes over.  No matter how grand my intentions are at the beginning of the year, I need a place to contain and keep track of odds and ends work samples that I make a copy of (or - shhhh - confiscate) before a student takes it home.
Above: Independent work samples from a Father's Day card & a character trait mini book.

I often document developmental growth on papers that really have nothing to do with anything official or district related.  For instance, day to day papers that students work on independently, as shown in the images above.  Tons of growth can be documented this way, and I like to streamline where I keep it all.  Doing so helps me stay organized for parent conferences and meetings with administrators.  I literally have everything in one place, and I can pull student files as those conferences and meetings roll around.

I decided years ago that a large file cabinet did not work for me.  I would shuffle hanging files back and forth between work and was a disaster waiting to happen.  I tried the giant 5" spine binder system for a couple of years, but that became bulky and heavy.  Before I knew it, it had grown into three ginormous binders.  It also got old to constantly punch holes in every paper, and the little half sheets of paper never fit nicely in a binder.  I did like the concept of pulling each student's file when it came time to dart off to a meeting, though. So four years ago, I switched to a hanging file tote box system and never looked back!
Portable hanging file totes can easily travel between work and home, if need be.

The file tote I use (shown above) came from Office Depot.  You can pick one up on Amazon or at your local Office Depot.  I realize the clear box is a bit messy looking, but I learned the hard way that I need to be able to see if any stray papers are floating around in the bottom of the box.  {Live and learn.} With this system, everything stays together.  There is an instant place to stick work samples.  I keep a date stamper on my desk and change the date each morning before school starts.  Anything I snatch gets stamped and filed right away.  I also like that I can take the entire box home if I choose to work from home.
I used the font KG Red Hands to create these tabs.  It's free on TPT!

Each student as their own hanging folder with a clearly marked name tab.  New work goes in the front of each file...older work samples are in the back.  I print out all of the ESGI reports that I use during parent conferences and store them in these student files, as well.  Any paper assessments my district or team is using to monitor growth are also in the file tote. I also keep papers (or copies of papers) when students are unable or  unwilling to meet lesson expectations (short attention span, lack of motivation, slower worked, someone needing more processing time, etc.).  Keeping track of work samples has aided in multiple students receiving much needed assistance from behavior and special education teams over the years.
As new students enter the classroom throughout the year, I simply hand write name tabs.  {Lazy!}

This system has really made it so simple to share work samples during IEP and behavior support meetings.  Any time a parent/guardian requests an impromptu meeting to check in on student growth, I have everything at my fingertips.  Because I hang on to work samples this way, I am able to show growth from the very earliest days of the school year, which is just so stinkin' cool!  The difference of work samples from September to March are typically quite drastic in kindergarten.  As a teacher, I will go through a student's file and put myself at ease that he/she is growing; even if it is a little slower than the rest of the class.  Often times, showing growth in work stamina is really all that is needed to put a worried parent at ease.  (We all want to feel confident that our babies are growing, right?!?!)

So you use a similar system or something totally different?  I would love to hear about the system you use to keep track of assessments.

Writing Daily News in Kindergarten

This is a growing bundle of themed news writing papers. Writing news each day is a great way to grow independent writers in your pre-K, kindergarten, or first grade classroom!

What's Included?
  • 50+ themed writing papers (so far)
  • Gray/white lined and handwriting lined options
  • This packet will continue to grow over time
  • Work samples from a kindergarten classroom

Why Write Daily News?
Writing news each day allows teachers to pull a few kiddos aside to work on writing individually. Children love to write about what they know…and writing daily news caters to their egocentric nature. Through authentic writing, we can build academic stamina and independence while meeting social-emotional needs of learners -- no matter the level of ability. These Daily News Themed Writing Papers offer multiple options to keep excitement for writing going strong all school year long!

Other Ways to Implement Daily News Writing:
  • add as an option in free choice centers
  • use in writing stations
  • add to your literacy center options
  • utilize as an "I'm done!" activity
  • send home for open-ended homework
  • This packet will continue to grow over time, and updates will always be FREE. Simply click the "my purchases" tab in your TPT account.
I offer multiple themed writing options each day.

I store each news theme in a file jacket.

This packet of news writing papers can be found in my TPT store:

Elkonin Sound Box Cards BUNDLE of 100 CVC Words

I'm so excited to finally be able to offer other teachers the full version of my CVC Elkonin sound box cards!  I use these in my classroom throughout the school year, and my students love them.  I enjoy using them because they take the guess work out of coming up with lists of words on the fly during mini-lessons and small group sessions.  Sadly, it takes me forever to get around to prepping this stuff for other teachers to use.  If only I had more hours in each day, right?!?  

Let me start off by saying, there is a FREE preview version of this packet.  Go ahead and download it to ensure it's a great fit for your students and your teaching style.  If you have already downloaded the free preview packet and would like more,  the bundle packet of 100 words will be listed half price through 5:00PM 7/9/19.

Okay, now it's time for the nitty-gritty details.  Elkonin sound boxes help new readers build phonological and phonemic awareness. Focusing on sound boxes is a effective and efficient strategy to use in small group instruction, independent work (centers / stations), and intervention when working toward awareness of the sounds in words.  These cards offer a multi-sensory approach to learning because they incorporate a visual, auditory, and tactile experience for students.  Even better, the cards can be used over an over again!  This is not a worksheet approach to learning short vowel sounds.  It's a seeing, saying, and doing method that provides exposure and experience to hearing (and making connections to) the sounds in words.

This packet includes:
  • 1 version featuring empty sound boxes and 1 with "shadow" letters
  • Both versions in color and black & white
  • 20 words for each short vowel (100 words total)

How to Prepare:
Print and laminate the pages you prefer to use with students, and cut them into cards.
How to Use:
I introduce these cards as a whole group activity on my document camera and have students come up and practice “sound counting” while pointing to each box as they go or moving a manipulative from box to box (left to right) as they say each sound. After that, I use them during small group / intervention lessons, as well as reading station (individual) work tubs.
1. Choose a card and one manipulative (or point with index finger)
2. Point to the picture and say the word (“cat”)
3. Place the manipulative (or point with finger) in the boxes and say the sounds that belong in each box /c/ /a/ /t/
4. More examples of how to use these cards inside the packet! 
Notice the letter beads in the image above? We use them every single day in my classroom. They are fantastic! So are magnetic letters and letter tiles (not shown, but links are provided).

Elkonin CVC Sound Box Cards FREE

Have you been looking for a way to incorporate more phonemic awareness tasks into your lesson plan each day?  This free packet might help!

Elkonin sound boxes help new readers build phonological and phonemic awareness. Focusing on sound boxes is a effective and efficient strategy to use in small group instruction, independent work (centers / stations), and intervention when working toward awareness of the sounds in words. I've created card featuring color pictures, as well as black and white.  There is a version featuring empty sound boxes and one with "shadow" letters.  Choose which version works best for your students.  This CVC packet includes one page for each short vowel.
Click here to download this FREE packet today!
How to Prepare: Print and laminate the pages you prefer to use with students, and cut them into cards. How to Use: I introduce these cards as a whole group activity on my document camera and have students come up and practice “sound counting” while pointing to each box as they go or moving a manipulative from box to box (left to right) as they say each sound. After that, I use them during small group / intervention lessons, as well as reading station (individual) work tubs. Example: 1.Choose a card and one manipulative (or point with index finger) 2.Point to the picture and say the word (“cat”) 3.Place the manipulative (or point with finger) in the boxes and say the sounds that belong in each box /c/ /a/ /t/
Click here to download this FREE packet!
I love using these cards in small group lesson...and then moving them into independent reading station tubs. Students have high levels of engagement when they are allowed to use manipulatives with these cards. Notice the letter beads in the image above? We use them every single day in my classroom. They are fantastic! So are magnetic letters and letter tiles (not shown, but links provided).
Here's a word list for the cards included in this FREE packet...
Short a cat bat map hat Short e net web red bed Short i pig hit dig lip Short o mop dog box log Short u bun sun gum cup Grab your FREE copy here:

Orton-Gillingham Training for Classroom Teaching

I recently attended an Orton-Gillingham training specifically designed for classroom teachers.   The concepts taught were not foreign to me because I grew up in a school district that taught children to read with phonics.  It was interesting to revisit the explicit rules of phonics -- this time viewing through a teaching lens. Being a fluent reader and teaching phonics to students are two drastically different concepts.   As a kindergarten teacher, I decided that needed to go back and relearn the rules of phonics in order to teach more effectively.  After several years of trying to decide the best route to take, I chose Orton-Gillingham.

The Orton-Gillingham approach is specific to teaching dyslexic learners. Research shows that struggling readers with dyslexia are lacking phonological awareness skills.  Struggling readers also require learning explicit rules of phonics.  This is not exclusive to children or teens with dyslexia.  There are many adults with dyslexia in need of starting at square one with learning to read.  Because I teach some of the youngest learners in our school system and I want all of my students to effectively learn how to decode words, the OG approach perfectly complements the work we are already doing in kindergarten.  It allows us to focus on letters and their sounds, as well as build phonological awareness skills, all with a multi-sensory approach (visual, auditory, kinesthetic)!

Phonological & Phonemic Awareness:
Because most learners coming into kindergarten are beginning their journey toward becoming readers, this is a fantastic opportunity to teach them explicit rules of phonics as we go and grow.  The OG approach grants ample time during each lesson to strengthen phonological awareness.  In kindergarten, we naturally place a lot of focus on phonological awareness, which is a broad skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language (counting words in sentences, rhyming, alliteration, blending, and syllabication).  I do this in many ways, but my most direct approach is by playing auditory sound association games with my students that are found in a book that targets phonemic awareness, which is when words are broken into the smallest part or sound (a phoneme).  Phonemic awareness is a sub-skill that lives under the umbrella of phonological awareness.  

The auditory sound association games I play are found in Michael Heggerty's Phonemic Awareness: The Skills That They Need To Help Them Succeed. I have seen drastic improvement in my students’ ability to build and break apart words since I began using Heggerty’s book in 2016.  Each daily lesson lasts 5-10 minutes.  The focus shifts and grows throughout the school year.  We work on rhyming, letter sound identification, counting words in a sentence, counting syllables in a word, segmenting, blending, sound substitution, and more.  It is a dynamic opening to our daily phonics lesson, and my students love it when we come up with new body movements to go along with whatever auditory work we are tackling that day!  You can learn more about Heggerty's book by clicking this link or the image below:  

Learn more about Heggerty's book by clicking here.
Letters & Letter Sounds:
Most of my little learners are typically coming into the beginning of kindergarten needing to learn letter symbols and their corresponding sounds.  The OG approach has a very systematic way of introducing letters and their sounds -- then merging those letters/sounds into words -- teaching the foundational skills required in reading and writing.  I will be taking the information handed to me during the training course and rolling it out into my small group activities right away.  (Well, as soon as I get small groups up and running for the school year.)  Along with the specific roll out of learning letter symbols and their corresponding sounds, I will implement a phoneme / grapheme flip book in my small group routine.  Because it contains all of the letters and letter combinations that make up sounds in words, it is instantly differentiated for the various learning needs of my students.  I purchased this printable flip book from Thyme to Read on Teachers Pay Teachers. It cost me less than $5 and will give me an entire school year worth of letter combinations to practice during my small groups! 
I think what I'm most appreciated about taking the Orton-Gillingham training course was the ability to come up with a solid reason for certain words or letter combinations making the sounds they do.   It all boils down to where the word originated.  Most of the words in the English language are Anglo-Saxon.  This means the English language contains a lot of vowel teams and letter combinations that do not always sound the way they look.  In years past, when we would come across the word that was hard to pronounce or a challenge to write, I would always throw up my hands and say, “…some sounds in words don't make sense”.   Now I have a better way of explaining why certain words or letter combinations sound the way they do.

I also appreciate how easily everything I learned will fit into so much of what I was already doing in my classroom.  For instance, I use Secret Stories during my phonics mini lessons.  

I feel as though the OG instruction I received helped solidify all of the Secret Stories concepts in my brain.  With the OG approach merged together with The Secret Stories, I feel as though I have two very strong methods that can be used to hand in hand during phonics instruction, Writer’s Workshop, and guided reading.  

Is Orton-Gillingham Training Worthwhile for Teachers?
If you have ever wanted to really strengthen your knowledge base regarding phonics, I encourage you to check out the Orton-Gillingham approach.   The class I attended was advertised specifically for classroom teachers.   However, once I attended the first day of class I realized there was really no difference between a classroom teacher course or a tutor training course.   Many of the people attending this intensive one to two week-long conference were parents in need of a better way of teaching their own child how to read.   I took the course to boost what I'm already doing in the classroom.  We are all coming to training with various backgrounds, experiences, and needs.  I will admit that this course came with a price tag of $1,500.00.  {OUCH!}  That fee came straight out of my own bank account; my school district did not require or pay for me to attend this course.  The course I took was extremely slow paced and a bit unorganized.  There were moments when I wondered if I had wasted my money.  However, looking back at all I learned, I realize it was worth it.

Are You Giving Up on Reading Strategies?
Many of my teacher friends know I use Beanie Babies reading strategies while teaching reading (that info can be found allllll over the interwebs).  Yes, I own Beanie Babies and use them in my everyday teaching.  I pull them down off the shelf as we are discussing a particular skill of focus.  For instance, if I am teaching students to point under the words in a text as they read....out come Pointer Pup to help us practice.  I believe reading strategies are perfect for kindergarten!  They offer a hook, which encourages engagement.  Here are the 8 strategies (and Beanie Babies) I use at the kindergarten level...

Reading requires decoding; the ability to decode is based on what we know about letters and sounds.  Stretchy the Snake encourages readers to stretch the sounds in words, but young and struggling readers must be explicitly taught how to stretch those sounds and that there are rules letters and letter combinations must follow to make the word actually sound like a word.  Lips the Fish is an excellent way to remind children to get their lips ready to say the first sound in a word, but students actually need to have a connection to the specific sounds letters make in order to get their lips ready.  I will continue to use these reading strategies because they offer a visual and tactile connection to reading that very young students connect to with enthusiasm.  

Thanks for reading all about my initial steps of incorporating Orton-Gillingham methodology in my everyday teaching routine!  I would love to hear about your experience with it in your classroom.