Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wrapping Up the Year! Fourteen in '14!

Here we are, it's the last day of 2014! This year has legitimately been the fastest passing year of my life. So many things have happened this year that I can hardly believe it! So I'm linking up with Miss Kindergarten & friends to look back on such a busy, fun year with some highlights!

Change. We started our year in Colorado and are ending it in California. We were wondering what HSP would do in his professional life and now he works in a "dream job" sort of scenario. I thought I might become a coach in my former school district this year, but here I am as a first year in a new district again! So yes, change!

It's very hard to narrow it down to one (I think I have three, and in an upcoming post you'll find out what they are!). But I guess I'll say "Be courageous." In my professional life, my personal life, my relationships. If I want something, I need to go for it and not worry about the time it will take or the chance of failure!

Moving! This is the second time that we, as a couple, have packed up our lives and our dogs and moved *very far away* from everyone we know and love. I never in a million years thought I'd live in California. Honestly, I never even thought I'd make it out here to visit! When it became a realistic option, though, I was so scared. But now that we're here, I am so happy we took the leap of faith!

This is so hard, but...

I think I've got a theme going here...

Getting hired as a kindergarten teacher (again)! I was so worried that I wouldn't be able to teach kindergarten again. Somehow, though, I was blessed with the opportunity! I *almost* taught second grade which I think would have also been fun, but kindergarten is where my heart is (for now)!

My first one! I started this blog this year! I can't wait to see if it becomes everything that I imagine :) I hope so!

Well there is literally no way I could pick just one. I use Pinterest A LOT. Mostly for classroom and teaching inspiration, but also for recipes, style inspiration, and interior design. I probably use my Food & Drink board the most! Here are some of my favorite recipes that I cook all the time...

Emeril's Chicken Chimichangas
The Pioneer Woman's Cajun Chicken Pasta

Hmm, good one. I was most surprised and excited about my Christmas gift from my Mama this year!

Blogging! It's been challenging for sure. I went three months without posting anything! Now I'm trying be more *intentional* with my time and focus. My blog is one of those things that is taking more of a priority! Also, focusing more on creating items for my TpT store! It's existed since last year, but I really tried to make some things this year that I knew I would use and hoped that others would use as well. I think a few people have stopped by!

That's tough. I think I'm still looking for my California favorite...but we are LOVING the amount of delicious Mexican food out here. Tennessee has great Mexican food, but in Colorado it's awful! We went two years without good Mexican. Now, we eat it all the time! I love La Playita in Hermosa Beach because of its tasty food, good margs, but the patio is gorgeous! I take a picture every time I go. We haven't been in a while, though, because parking in Hermosa Beach is bananas! This is a picture I took at sunset while sitting in my chair at our table...

Aerial America, Sky View...I love the Smithsonian Channel lately it seems. Go figure! And of course cooking shows. I think my cooking really improved this year thanks to Extra Virgin, Southern at Heart, and Barefoot Contessa.

I can't remember all the movies I've seen this year! Gone Girl was pretty darn good though. It stayed with me long after we left! HSP still gets nervous every time I use a boxcutter to open something since we saw that movie, ha!

My scarf collection is getting OUT. OF. CONTROL. I'll never turn down a new scarf. And 90% of them are from Target. I will show you my current favorite...I got it at Anthropologie this summer at The Grove (but I did not pay full price, duh!).

Thanks so much for reading! and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Well Hello Again, Little Blog!

It has been QUITE a while since I've been here! I had a feeling this might happen, but I've had so much fun with my kinders that I haven't even realized that my poor blog was being neglected! I can't believe we are on winter break already (and that winter break is halfway over). There are some changes in the works for this little ol' blog coming up for the new year! A makeover is in progress (bear with me!) as well as some other changes. In order for this blog to serve its primary purpose, I feel like I need to create for myself a regular post schedule and maybe even themed posts. I'm not sure if I'll realistically be able to post every day, but I am hoping that I can plan my posts with intent and purpose. Overall, I want to communicate my teaching style and my students' learning and experiences. I want to share with other educators and collaborate among them. I would like to keep communication open and ideas flowing. Overall, I'd like this blog to help me grow as an educator so that my students truly get the best experience in kindergarten that I can give them!

High hopes! Big dreams! Bright future!

With all that being said, I'm hoping to spruce up my TpT store and add more products that are student-focused. I started my store with products that focused on setup and environment, and I love those products. Some of my favorite things that I've created so far are...

These book bin labels have been a lifesaver in terms of organzation in my classroom. Even my students have become OCD organized like me! They relish any opportunity to put away a misplaced book back into its bin :)

Oh how I love hand signals! They have saved my sanity and our learning time! I cannot tell you how much I love teaching these very basic American Sign Language letters or gestures to students so that they can quickly show me one when they need something. No more interrupting to ask, "Can I go to the bathroom???"

I love simplicity in a classroom environment. Too much distraction from design can definitely distract students. Besides, basic and easy-to-read displays allow students to find things for themselves without needing to ask!

Now I'd like to focus on creating products that can be interacted with by children in other classrooms. Packets, centers, guided reading, I'd like to try it all! I've made a few mini-units and packets so far, but there is still a lot bouncing around in my head that I'd like to get out there! I am up for any advice or guidance during this creative process :)

I hope that I can turn this blog into everything I imagine. Thanks for reading, and check back soon for a whole new "Research and Play"!

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Tiles and Cubes and Bears, Oh My!

Yesterday we began using Counting Collections in our classroom. I was introduced to this idea at a district PD a week ago that focused on Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) in math. The idea was simple: Get children to use problem-solving strategies in math. You can use (and probably already do!) these strategies with children as young as preschool and in many different ways. One of my favorite strategies that I learned about was that of using Counting Collections (I'll use CCs for short). I'm sure that teachers have been using CCs in their classrooms for years, they've just probably been calling them something different! My very basic definition of Counting Collections is this: a group of similar objects that can range in size and shape that children count. The end. I'm sure I've oversimplified this to a fault, but for my age group of kids, that's all I need to know!

I understand CCs as a way to see how your students are thinking about numbers and how they use counting. I keep these questions in mind as I work with and listen to students with their CCs:

Does this student have 1-1 correspondence?
Is he/she subitizing? To what degree?
Is he/she organizing this collection in some way? How?
Are there consistent mistakes that this student is making in his/her counting?

In order for CCs to be the most effective, they should be used during a time when a teacher or another adult can sit with and talk to the students as they count. You can learn so many things about a student's numeracy skills during the brief period you spend with each of them and their CC. Here's a glimpse of some of my students using CCs yesterday with a brief description of what I learned about each of them:

 This student began counting using 1-1 correspondence, but as he continued to the second row, he began to skip some cubes and was ultimately unable to tell me how many he had in his CC.

This student used 1-1 correspondence with the tiles, but he was not able to count past the teens. He became silent after 14 and just touched the tiles one by one until he got to the end.

This student organized his collection by the shape (and subsequently, color) of the beads. He was able to tell me how many were in his collection by using the number that the last bead was on top of. 

 This student focused on putting the letters in order rather than counting them. He spent most of his time trying to order the ABCs, and when I asked him to count he just continued looking for the 'H'. Lesson learned for using this CC!

This student had an assortment of counting bears and other small animals. He began sorting by size and color, then just size. He was using 1-1 correspondence but was not able to count past the teens.

These are just some of the CCs that were going on in our classroom at one time. Our instructional aid was also checking in with students. All of the information we learned came from sitting with each student for about 1 minute, tops. This time could be longer if the collections were bigger, but most of the collections I provided had 50 or fewer items. Now that I have this information, I will be able to provide more targeted instruction in small groups based on skills. 

For now, we will probably do Counting Collections once a week. It is an excellent way to quickly gather a lot of information, and the best part is that the students think it's fun! 

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Getting in the Groove

It's week three over in our kindergarten room, and we are finally feeling the groove! I love when this starts happening. We have a while to go before the kids are completely independent, but man they have blown me away so far. I think I've repeated every word I've said at least twice, and I model every single thing I do, and I think aloud so much that I've started doing it when there's no one around, but it is worth every minute! In the past, I've modeled and done a very gradual release of the kids to their centers, but we started going independently last week!
 Working on identifying and ordering our letter cards for the pocket chart center

 Using the word lists in the writing corner!

 Making a big mess sorting objects on the inquiry table

 ...and measuring some objects, too!

 Having a ball making "pies" and "cakes" in the discovery table

I'm still monitoring during this time, I won't begin meeting with small groups for another couple of weeks. This allows me plenty of time to facilitate the children in their exploration of centers. I try not to hover, just casually walk around and assist where needed! The same goes for our D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) time in the afternoons. They're doing SO WELL at looking at books for a 20 minute period! Hello! 

Did I mention they can do this for 20 MINUTES already?! I have piano music playing on Pandora, the lights are off, and the wind is blowing in from the courtyard through our big reading window. Ahh....

I absolutely love this time of the year. I'm exhausted, my apartment is so dirty, laundry is piled up, and our sink always has at least one dirty coffee mug or wine glass in it. But these relationships and personalities that are forming are so worth every tired minute. Stay tuned for our creation of our class rules (yes, it's week 3 and I still haven't told them "the rules"!)

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Responsive is Your Classroom?

Day 2 is over, and I am not as tired as yesterday! I actually worked out when I got home, what is wrong with this picture?! I'm feeling energetic and excited about the start of this year. It helps that I have an amazing group of kids. AMAZING. I only have 19 so far (woo!) and they are so sweet. And because I've been lucky enough to teach kindergarten yet again, I have built up some confidence in my "beginning of year" procedures and routines. One of the reasons I have this confidence is because of a program called Responsive Classroom. If you're unfamiliar, here's a short description on their website:

"Responsive Classroom is a research-based and evidence-based approach to education that leads to greater teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement, and improved school climate."

I first learned about Responsive Classroom in college. I didn't even have a classroom or a degree yet, and I was sold. If you've never heard of it, PLEASE do some reading and research. I've been using the strategies taught by R.C. for the past few years, and every year I have visitors/parents/other teachers comment on how "calm" my classroom is and how "independent" my kinders are. I owe SO MUCH of that to Responsive Classroom! Check out this link to see the best books by Responsive Classroom ( I personally love The First Six Weeks of School and The Morning Meeting Book):

In our classroom, rules are not something I've written/printed and posted on cute paper for the kids to see on the first day of school. Why not? Well for one, my kids can't read. They have no clue what those rules say until I tell them, and then it just becomes more random information to process. Another reason I don't do that is because children and adults have more buy-in and ownership of their classroom/school/workplace/home if they are a part of setting up the parameters and boundaries. Have you ever been a part of something from the very beginning? It's so exciting to actually be asked what you think or how you feel about creating something. We use our Morning Meeting time to begin our discussions of classroom rules and expectations. What are rules?? Why do we need them??

This is where sweet little David comes in. The books No, David! and David Goes to School are essential texts for the beginning of the year. What better way to model inappropriate behaviors than to read about a cartoon boy doing them (rather than acting them out ourselves)? We read both books to discuss rules at home and school. You can use this mini-unit if you want to see exactly how I use David in our room. We do lots of acting out scenarios, comparing and contrasting, and modeling modeling modeling!

Speaking of modeling, I do so much of this at the beginning of the year using Responsive Classroom's Guided Discovery approach. I love giving children the freedom to explore their space, but I also know that kindergarteners need some structure in this exploration. What better way to explain expectations than by actually doing them? Check out some of R.C.'s blog posts about Guided Discovery here and here. We used Guided Discovery today with books:

A class favorite already :)

I am no expert on Responsive Classroom techniques, but I can speak from experience that the way they present classroom routines and expectations is beyond useful for kindergarten. We create rules together by choosing what makes the most sense for our group and our room. I write down their rules verbatim, and we all sign our names on the bottom. We take ownership of our space, and we are all the ones holding each other accountable. 

I highly recommend giving your students more say in your space. They not only build confidence during the process, but they also eventually develop self-efficacy. If you try Responsive Classroom and love it, please let me know!!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A New Year is Almost Here!

We're getting closer to the end! (Or the beginning, depending on how optimistic you are!) Today is my last weekday of summer break. The last weekday that I can hit snooze 11 times (I seriously did that this morning.....), casually drink my coffee from a real mug instead of a travel one, wait to shower until I feel like it, take the dogs on our morning walk around the neighborhood, watch the Today show....I could go on.


All of that means that I am blessed because I'm not stressing right now, that I was given the opportunity to share my love of teaching with another school and group of children. Moving is scary, picking up and starting over is not easy. But we did it, and I left a school that I loved because I was hopeful that I would be given another chance to teach here in California. And by the grace of God, I was! Tomorrow is the first day of professional development for all staff in our district. I finally get to meet all of the other teachers at my school plus all kinds of other employees in my district. I can't wait to get involved and get to know what this amazing district has to offer!

 This was yesterday at our new teacher orientation. I'm taking it as a good sign...

I can't wait to show my completed classroom to everyone! I've worked in there for 5 days and gotten so much done! Our garage is now happily empty as all of my classroom things have found a home :) My focus is on creating an environment that is calming and comfortable as these children share their days with me, someone they don't know or trust yet, someone who doesn't know them yet, at a place they are unfamiliar with! Yikes! I bet it's so nerve-wracking to be a kindergartnener. So hopefully when they enter our classroom, they'll feel more at ease and excited! Here are some areas that are (pretty much) done!

Our art center is open and free-flowing. I love all the bulletin board space I have in this room. I can't wait to showcase student art, especially when we get brave enough to break out the paint! Even though my students will be going to art class, I still think it's important to give them an area in our room where they can be creative and free. Art was one of my favorite things about school when I was little, and I want to share this joy with my students!

Our dramatic play center is one of my favorite things about teaching kindergarten! I could sit next to this center all morning and watch/listen to them play. I love the scenarios they come up with. I love hearing how they begin to practice social skills and rules of conversation. I love seeing them take on roles and apply rules. This center is something I will fight for in every school I ever teach in should I continue on in kindergarten. If you teach K and don't have this center, ASK/BEG for one! My most timid students are my favorite ones to spy on watch in this center.

This is our brag board/work wall. You can't see them all because they don't all have their bug clips on them yet :) and BOOO to that handle right there at the bottom totally screwing up my OCD organization of these cork boards!! Grr, gotta let it go! This is a folding wall between my room and the other K classroom, but this portion stays closed all the time (hopefully, or else I'm up the creek without a paddle!). This wall is next to the writing center (you can see the writing table in the bottom corner). I can't wait to set up this center for our first week together! This table has little bitty legs, so the kids will sit on pillow poufs to write here!

That's all I have right now! I love this part of the year because as I set up areas, I imagine kids in the area with me. What can they reach? Can they move freely? Will this be in their way? And then once they finally come to school, I love seeing my ideas in action! Being a teacher is so fun :)

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Meet the Teacher Linky!

Thanks to Stephanie at Falling Into First, I'm able to share more about myself and let people get to know a little about who I am! I love reading about fellow teachers and getting to know them, too! So, here it is:

Hey y'all! I'm Holly, a 26 (but my birthday is in 13 days!) year old teacher in my 5th year of doing what I absolutely love. This will be my fourth year in a row teaching kindergarten and I'm so excited! This is my first year of blogging, and it has been so fun getting to know other teachers and pick their brains. I can't wait to expand this community of teachers and friends!  Here's a little more about who I am:

I am sharing my life with my boyfriend, Stephen. He's truly my best friend and the person who gets me the most. We've been together for 10 and a half years, since we were 16, y'all!!! I think we've earned a trophy or something at this point...Anyway, he's the reason we live in California (and lived in Colorado, as seen above, sigh...). He's a rocket scientist. Seriously!

These are our pups! Spencer is a Westie who is 7 years old, and Cooper is a mix who is 5. Cooper outweighs Spencer by about 70 pounds, but around here it's Spencer's world and we're just livin' in it. Fun fact: Both Spencer and I were born in Kentucky!

Here's my new neighborhood, and I'm in love. I took this picture about a week after we moved here while I was at the Farmers' Market. What an incredible view! Love that this is exactly 2.4 miles from our apartment.

These are a few of my favorite things…
Coffee, lazy Sunday mornings, UT football, scarves!!, the beach, Colorado skiing, Pearl St. in Boulder, getting my hair done, cooking, Mexican food, my accent (I'll never let go!)

Q: If you weren't a teacher, what would you want to be?
An OB/GYN...I would love to be part of the pregnancy experience, so beautiful! I was actually a nursing major for a year of college and planned on working in the NICU at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. 

Q: Three little words that describe you. 
Loving, Sensitive, Charming

Q: Finish this sentence, “___________________, said no teacher EVER!!”

Sure, I'd love you to bring in 24 full-size cupcakes an hour before school ends!
Of course I can leave school when the students do, said no teacher EVER!

Q: It’s your birthday and you can invite anyone {dead or alive} to the party. Who are you inviting?
Audrey Hepburn. Then ignore everyone else and just pick her brain all night.

Q: If someone wrote a book about your life, what would be the title?
Just a Small Town Girl...

Q: You get to pick one superpower. What is it?
Teleportation! I've been blessed to live in a few different places, so it would be fantastic to be able to easily see everyone!

Q: What’s your favorite quote or saying?
"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient; bearing with one another in love." -Ephesians 4:2

Q: If you HAD to sing one song on American Idol, what would it be? 
Probably a song by The Civil Wars...I think their sound matches my singing voice well. Heck, I'm from Nashville, we all think we can sing!

Q: Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Both? I feel great about an hour after I wake up and that lasts for a while. I'm DEAD around 3-5, then I perk up again when I'm cooking dinner and relaxing. Then I stay up til midnight because I still think like a kid, like I'm gonna miss out on something if I go to bed....ha!

Q: What’s your favorite resource that you've created in your TPT shop?
Hmm, this is tough. My best seller is my set of Book Bin Labels. I love that so many people have bought these, and now they're off in classrooms all over! That makes me so happy :)

Q: Share something we might not know about you!

I am very good at doing accents. My favorite is British. LOL.

Yay that was fun! Now it's your turn! Visit Stephanie's blog, grab the buttons and the questions and link on up!

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