Friday, August 3, 2018

Schoology - GROUPS

Our elementary school is entering our third year using Schoology as our communications and grading system.  I have been pleasantly surprised with how easy it has been to use.  If you are just getting started with Schoology, or you've been using it for a while but still feel overwhelmed, I hope this post and future posts will be helpful for you.

First of all, the communication with Schoology can go in a couple of directions.  It can be from teacher to student.  Our school uses the COURSE option in Schoology for this, mostly because of the grading feature and privacy.

Schoology communication can also be teacher to parents.  In our school, this is done with a GROUP. I love being able to post Weekly Updates, last minute important announcements, photos and videos for parents, links to great resources, information from each of our Specials Teachers, and so much more through our class GROUP.    These next few posts will focus on GROUPS.  If you want to know more about grading in a COURSE, stay tuned!  Below shows how I keep GROUPS and COURSE straight in my mind, because it sure does get confusing!!

Adding Members to Your GROUP
Adding members is quite easy, just a little bit time consuming.  Typically, all school parents and students will be entered into the main system by your Schoology Admin.  If that is all done correctly, your part is simple.  If something seems amiss, it may be an issue of the person not being entered into the main system.

Follow these photos to add members to your GROUP.

DO NOT forget to check the little box...unless your school requires parents to accept an invite.  Trust me, so many parents will forget, and it just makes more work for you.  This is the easiest way.

When you have everyone added, they will automatically be in your Group.  All they need to do on their end is decide how they want their notifications.  They can use the iPhone or Android app, or log on through their internet browser.  Your school typically sets and communicates their password.  That shouldn't be something that you should have to bother with.  You are now ready to start using your GROUP for communication and so much more!

TIP:  If you have more than just a sentence or two to write as an update (like I do for my Weekly Update), or you want to format it with different options, type your update in Google Docs or Word.  Then copy and paste it as your update.  To make it even easier on myself, I have one Google Doc for my Weekly Updates.  I just copy/paste the one from the week before, and then change my specific information for the week.  That way, my formatting is consistent without me having to do it over and over again each week.

Happy Schoology using!!

Teaching Handwriting - Part 2

I hope you got a few good tips from Part 1 of my handwriting post.  Read on for some more tips.

Make it a part of Literacy Stations / Daily 5
If you are already doing literacy stations in your classroom, then this is an easy way to incorporate handwriting practice without sacrificing other class time.  Just keep these few things in mind:

  • MODEL, MODEL, MODEL correct formation first!  This is key, or the students will just continue to write things as they've always done.
  • Have quick and easy "check-ins" so that you can give them letter formation guidance quickly, before they have completed the entire activity.  Again, this would just be reinforcing bad habits. A quick check-in could be as simple as "Come see me after you finish one line / 5 letters, etc..."
  • Use erasable colored pencils, twistable, or markers to make it more fun for the students.  But they still need to know that you will check it!
  • Walmart has table placemats that have letters and numbers to trace on them.  I used those for students to use with dry erase markers during their writing time.

Visual Reminders and Tips for Tricky Letters
My school is an Orton Gillingham certified school, and we utilize many of their visuals and resources for teaching tricky letters.

Alternative Letter Sequence
Don't go in LETTER order...go in SHAPE order!  Orton Gillingham does not recommend the typical alphabetical order for introducing letters phonetically as well as for handwriting letter formation.  Since I have been using this sequence, letter formation is so much easier to teach because it just makes more sense.  For example, notice how this sequence introduces letters that are all formed starting the same way:

Make it Multi-Sensory Before the Worksheets
Multi-sensory learning is vital for students who may not learn their letters sounds as quickly as others.  Using a variety of senses in handwriting time will also enhance their phonemic awareness.  Here are a few ideas to get you started for the week:
  • Monday - Write the letters using bumpy boards - those plastic grid boards for yarn crafting...use a paper on top of the board and write with a crayon...trace the letter with your finger
  • Tuesday - Write the letters with your finger in sand, sugar, or salt
  • Wednesday - Write the letters with your finger on carpet
  • Thursday - Use your full body to make the letters in the air - tall letters start way up high, middle letters start in the middle
  • Friday - Quick assessments to see where they are
  • Search "multi sensory phonics" on Pinterest for lots of ideas - here is our board for this!
Worksheets and Posters/Flashcards
When you do need worksheets, or feel your students are ready for them, here is a simple resource for you.  Just print and go!  I've got it in English and Spanish, along with the numbers 0-20.  Check it out by clicking on the picture!

I also have alphabet posters.  I have them displayed above my white board in full sheet size.  I also have a few sets of the 1/4 sheet size printed and laminated.  Students can use them for reference, as needed.  Click the picture to go to it.

Hopefully you can feel a little bit easier about finding just a little bit of time to teach handwriting to your Primary students.  Happy writing!

Monday, July 30, 2018

A-Z Bible Verses

Wowzers - this product just got a HUGE overhaul! I updated the fonts on the posters, but I also added a few other resources for you.

I added a few FAQ's to hopefully help answer any questions that you might have.  I have used this resource for several years in my Kindergarten classroom, and I am always pleased with how the students learn God's Word.

There is now a list of all of the verses so that you can send that home with your students or put it in their take-home binders.  This is great for the parents so that they see all that their child will be learning as well as possibly help them a little bit at home.

I've also added three different types of assessment forms for you to use.  We are required to assess at our school, so the forms are nice to send home with parents to show them how their child is doing with their Bible verse memorization.  When I use any of these forms (and I suggest sticking with one for the full year), I circle any words that the child missed.
Typical grading scale form

Mastery Form with Grading Scale

Mastery Form only
Click on the top pictures or any of the picture captions to access this resource!  Thank you for teaching your children or students to hide God's Word in their heart!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Teaching Handwriting - Part 1

I know that this seems to be a thing of the past, but I still feel that it is important.  That does not mean that it has to take a large chunk of time.  Because I teach half-day Kindergarten {Vonda}, time management is CRUCIAL.  So I can't possibly denote 20-30minutes that some traditional programs require.  I've found a few quick and easy ways to teach handwriting quickly and efficiently.  I hope one of these will be great for you!

Catchy Tunes and Phrases
Students love catchy tunes and phrases.  I am always surprised and pleased when parents tell me their child corrected their penmanship at home using one of our tunes or phrases!  Here are some of mine - I'm pretty sure I made most of them up on the fly!

  • "Never ever ever start at the bottom {move hands back and forth to show "never"}, always at the top {point up to the sky}.
  • There are lots of songs out there for letter formation.  I don't have a specific source, because it is something I learned from my Advisory Teacher when I was a Student Teacher way back when!  But anything put to song sticks with the students so much better!  Add making the letter in the air and voila...magic!

Jen Jones, from Hello Literacy, posted a great anchor chart for teaching the proper formation of letters.  My boys loved this one.  It was easier for my students to identify with this than the traditional "upstairs, downstairs, basement."  Kindergarten is sometimes students first experience with using writing lines and lowercase letters, so some added visuals and verbal cues is just what they need.

Special Incentives
Notice that I didn't say "Prizes!" There is no reason to give rewards for every little thing that students do.  Of course, they love to hear you praise them and compliment them.  But here are a few more easy things you can do to encourage them in their handwriting.  These things have worked great for me!

  • Smelly Markers - My students love any opportunity to use smelly markers.  I have a large bucket of them that they can only use during Handwriting time.  Students can use the marker to circle their best letter on the page, use if for the last line if they have tried their best on all the other lines, circle the best one on a friend's paper, etc...
  • Smelly Stickers - I only use smelly stickers for handwriting assessments.  I do these bi-weekly, and the students only have to do their personal best to earn one.  It never ceases to amaze me how well some students do on these assessments compared to their daily work - all for one little smelly sticker.  If you are ever interested in doing handwriting assessments, click the pictures below for a free download of some rubrics I have created.

Consistency is KEY
Use the chants, phrases, songs, and reminders throughout the day, any time the students have a writing utensil in their hands!  Handwriting time cannot be isolated to only 10 minutes or so per day, or a lot of bad habits will form.  Of course, don't nag the students.  Find lots of ways to remind and encourage them.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Daily 5 Station Rotation Management

I've spent some time this summer re-thinking how I manage my students as they rotate through their Daily 5 stations.  I've used a variety of methods, and I'm hoping this is THE ONE to keep things simple this year.   My Kindergarten students do one station a day for four days a week.  The stations that I use are Listen to Reading, Read to Self, Word Work, and Work on Writing.  Read with a Partner doesn't always happen in my class because of our time constraint {I teach half-day Kindergarten}.  But I have high hopes to eventually be able to do it!  I do not have Work with the Teacher as a listed station because I pull different students each day, depending on what I am working on in our small group time.

My groups for stations always stay the same.  I teach them that this is their FAMILY...and you don't choose or leave your family.  :)  Because I want to have students at all levels in each of the groups, I don't typically start these official groups until the second or third week of school.  We do stations, but I "hand-pick" them for their activities in the beginning so that I can learn their personalities and abilities.  So far, after 3 years of doing it this way, it has worked great!

These charts will go around the room where the station activities are located.  The names are printed on card stock, laminated, and a velcro dot put on the back.  Each day, I will move the names to the next station around the room.  The velcro dots will make it easy to change them.  You could also laminate the signs and write on them each day.   My students stay at their station/activity for the full 20 minute time.  If it is something that they finish early, they have several choice "Can Do" stations available for them.  The 20 minutes usually gives me time for 2 small groups to come and meet with me.  It's worked great so far!

How do you run Daily 5 in your classroom?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

To access this resource, click on any of the photos above, or click HERE.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Flexible Seating in Kindergarten

Flexible seating seems to be all the rage right now in education, and for good reason.  I have been a long-term fan of alternative seating.  My Kindergarten class has used only ball chairs {see this post} for the last several years.  But alternative seating, although great, is still not flexible.  I have always been fine for students to choose to stand, or sit on the floor with a clipboard, if they preferred.  But I did not offer official, flexible, alternatives.


This is my first year to try flexible seating.  I'm thankful to have a Principal who is fully on board.  He didn't even ask why...just gave the green light (and even a little funding!) to go ahead.  I have the summer to put my "plan" together.  I posted the plan on Instagram, but I'm looking forward to seeing how it actually rolls out.

A few of my thoughts/concerns/questions are the following:

  • Will Kindergarten students understand choice?
  • How can I help them decide on their best learning environment?
  • Should I offer choice at the beginning or start with rotating assignments?
  • Will they leave their things all over the room?
Here is what I plan to buy this summer.  I'm looking forward to shopping and putting it all together now that I have the budget approval!

Station 1:  4 flip top desks and colorful plastic chairs
I saw these chairs and Costco, and they seem sturdy enough.  At $14 each, they seem like a great deal.  Plus, they are lightweight so that the students can move them around, if needed.

Station 2:  Regular circular table w/ 4 of my current ball chairs
These chairs have been amazing over the last few years, and I only expect that to continue.  I wish I could post a link for the exact ones that I have, but I've been told they have been discontinued.  But there are many other great options out there!

Station 3:  Rocker chairs w/ lap desks and/or clipboards
I've seen so many people posting about Big Lots having these, but my store has yet to have them.  Fingers are crossed, though!  However, Amazon has a pretty good deal on them.  I just want to be able to choose my colors so that I can be sure they match my classroom color scheme.  I'm so picky that way!  I am also planning to find the lap desks at Michaels.  They are only $6.99, which isn't too bad.  But I'll either be using coupons or watching for a sale! I will also be getting some more pencil supply caddies to help corral the supplies.  I'm still planning for students to have their own canvas zipper pouch with their pencil, scissors, glue stick, and crayons.  But markers and colored pencils will go in these caddies to go around the room, as needed.

Station 4:  Regular circular table w/ tall legs for standing
Every year, I have a few students who prefer to stand.  This is an easy fix - just raise the legs of our existing student tables, and VOILA!

Station 5:  Regular circular table w/ short legs for sitting on the floor with pillows
This is the main one that I'm unsure about, but we will see how it goes!

Bonus:  Another bean bag chair, loveseat, or two other types of chairs.  I already have one bean bag chair, and the students really love to read on that one.  We will see what I can find!

I'd love to hear your thoughts or questions.  We can work through this together!