Monday, July 1, 2013

Scattered Showers && an Equally Scattered Brain

As expected, it’s a rainy afternoon in Charleston. We’ve been having a lot of stormy weather for the past few weeks and sadly my mood is suffering. As a native Charlestonian (born and raised), I expect a summer thunderstorm in the afternoon on the daily, but this raining all day every day business needs to come to a quick and proper stop. It’s seriously making summer a drag- -there’s only so much shopping a girl can do to make up for not being able to enjoy some sunshine. All of this rain has caused my tan to fade away (which would make my mom and my dermatologist very happy). It’s also caused my motivation to leave the house to hit an all time low because let’s face it going out in the middle of a rain storm is about as fun as giving a cat a bath. To add to my less than stellar mood, I feel like I got hit by an 18 wheeler. Apparently I did something to my back/neck while trying to find a place to sleep in a bed full up on a snoring husband and 2 sprawled out dogs.

Long story short- -I’m walking around like Frankenstein. I’m a hot mess and my brain is completely in a million different places. I’ve always jokingly said that I wish I could be in the heads of my short attention spanned babies just to see what it’s like in there. Well... I got my wish…and it ain’t pretty. I can’t focus on any one thing longer than 5 minutes and it’s driving me nuts. To help me attempt to focus I started to make out a list of everything that I needed to do (it’s a mile long). Oddly enough 2 things fit perfectly into my typical blogging link ups. Leigh at the Applicious Teacher is talking about Small Group Instruction (my center rotation is on the face lift list) and Tara over at Fourth Grade Frolics is talking about Monday Made Its (I have at least 1 project ready to share). So no more wallowing around in my less than peppy mood—it’s time to talk about school stuff!

First up: Monday Made It! It’s Monday…I’m a maniac…and I actually made something. I blogged earlier in June about a face lift on my name stick jar and I finally finished it. It’s way cuter than my plain old cup and it combines my love of turquoise, chevron, and mason jars in one project. Simply heavenly I tell ya…and it was easier than pie to make!
All it took was a trip to Hobby Lobby && some rummaging around in my craft closet to get: 1 mason jar, chevron/burlap ribbon (wired), hot glue, a super cute accent bow, and turquoise paint. I took the lid off of the mason jar (threw away the inner lid) and painted the outer piece turquoise. In between coats of paint I hot glued my chevron/burlap ribbon around the mason jar and hot glued the accent bow in place. When the lid was completely painted (and dried) I screwed it onto the jar and stuck my popsicle sticks in. Done, crossed off the list, and completely fabulous! I’ve got a lot of projects going on (our guest room looks like a craft store blew up inside), but they aren’t quite ready to share. Hey, not everything can be as simple as my name stick jar, but everything will be just as fabulous!
Next Up: An Apple a Day: Small Group Instruction

When I first started teaching first grade I had no idea how to make small groups work. It wasn’t a part of the curriculum in the school that I did my student teaching in && if undergrad covered it, we spent a class period on it. Small group instruction is not an option in the county that I joined. It happens every day…no ifs, ands, or buts about it. At first I panicked like a fish out of water. What in the heck was I going to do to keep different groups of kids busily working independently while I worked with a small group of kids? In a world before Pinterest there wasn’t much else to do besides look around at your co-workers and trial and error it out. Eventually I figured out a system that worked for me (as the control freak/perfectionist that I am) and for my kids (the wiggly/talkative 6 year old darlings that find pleasure in shaving crayons and gluing their hands together when they aren’t being watched by their teacher like a hawk).  Disclaimer: I don’t know everything there is to know- -there are good days and bad days with center rotations- -kids will be kids (they will shave a crayon or two despite the best use of your super teacher senses). Now, here’s the run down:

Typically my class has 18 students (sometimes less, but never more…knock on wood). I like to have no more than 4 students in each group so that puts me with 5 groups of students. My lower groups tend to have 2-3 kids in them (it’s just what I’ve found works best for me and them). Each of my groups is assigned a color: orange, yellow, blue, green, and pink. At the beginning of the year I take a picture of each student, have it developed, cut it out around their body, and tape it to a popsicle stick. After all of the beginning of the year assessments have been completed, I divide my kids out into groups based on what skills they need help with (letter naming, letter sounds, segmenting, blending, fluency, comprehension, etc). To make a visual reminder about what group each student belongs to, I make a pocket for each color (fold a piece of colored paper in half, glue the sides together **not the top**). I tape each color pocket onto the cabinet behind my small group table and I place the “people sticks” into the pocket of the group that they belong to. It’s another easy as pie project and for you visual learners, here’s a step by step with pictures.
(Of course their pictures are printed out in color && I chose to dress up the plain colored paper with some chevron scrapbooking paper. I just cut out a rectangle and glued it to the front of the pocket).

Next comes the “what they’re doing” part. Since I divide my kids into 5 groups, I also have 5 centers for them to rotate through. I’ve assigned colors to each of the centers (keeping it simple y’all). Each center is located in a different area of the room and is marked with a colored square (think of it as a map of sorts). You could definitely change this by assigning each center an animal, a shape, a letter, etc. but my kids like the colors and it keeps it clean, organized, and clutter free for me. Here are my centers and the colors that are assigned to them:

Yellow: Word Work
Blue: Computers/Listening Center
Green: Read to Self (Reading Log)
Pink: Teacher Led
Purple: Writing

If I left it up to my kids everyone would fight over the blue center at the same time and want to stay there for the entire small group block of our day. Computers are just that awesome, duh! To make sure that everyone goes to every center and only one group is at each center at a time, I make a rotation chart. It's kid (and substitute) friendly and really simple to make. Like I mentioned before, each center is assigned a color (5 centers=5 colors). I cut 5 squares of each color and attach these colored squares next to each group's pocket. Each group has a different color sequence (obviously) and this ensures that there is one group at each center at all times. Nobody is fighting over who gets to go where, nobody is confused about where they need to be (because the chart is up for them to us all.year.long), and I'm constantly calling out where each group needs to be for each rotation. Here's a picture of what I'm talking about just for the visual learners out there (I'm one of those most definitely...can you tell??).

Yes it takes a lot of practice, yes it takes a handful and a pinch of reminders, and yes there is bound to be some chaos in the first few weeks. BUT with constant practicing, modeling, and praising things will begin to run like a well oiled machine before too much time has gone by.

Time is of the essence when you're working with small groups and if you're not careful, it can slip away from you. Ideally small groups last 15-20 minutes and I meet with every group every day. We don't live in a perfect world, so sometimes I don't get to every group (I always meet with my lowest every day no matter what) and sometimes the time is shortened to 12-15 minutes per group (with my lowest groups always getting the most amount of time). I use a teacher timer for me and an animated timer displayed on the Smartboard for the kids. I have had some groups that couldn't handle the timer being on the board. They preferred to sit for the entire center rotation and watch the sand in the sand timer run out, or the fuse on the rocket sizzle away instead of completing their assignment. If you have one of those groups, don't use the animated timers as an every day thing. Just use your teacher timer and give them a verbal warning of time almost being up. You can always use the animated timers as a reward or a surprise to reinforce the positive behaviors that you're seeing during your center time. 

Rewarding your kids for their hard work is really important to keeping them motivated. Verbal praise, stickers, smart skittles, wiggle breaks, flap the lips time, clip ups, and table points are all ways that I reward my kids for trying their best to stay focused and to make their work look like a fabulous first grader completed it. Catching them being good is way more important than catching them being not so good. It's good for the soul! Until next time, stay dry my friends!


  1. I am starting centers in my 6th grade resource math class as part of math workshop two days per week this year. Thanks for some ideas and pointers on how to help structure it :)

    Shenanigans in 6th Grade Math

    1. Glad I could help out! Good luck! :)

  2. Love reading your update and seeing your cute classroom!

    I nominated you for the Liebster Award. For more information about it, go here.

    Moments to Teach