Wednesday, July 22, 2015

All About This Kinder Teacher {Kinder Tribe}

As a teacher-blogger, there are few things better than the opportunity to collaborate and connect with other teachers. And some may argue that Kindergarten teachers are an entirely different breed altogether... and I'd have to agree! Haha! That's why I was so excited to connect with fellow Kinder teachers as a part of the Kinder Tribe. They are hosting a linky called "All About This Kinder Teacher"... it's a great way to connect and find fellow kindergarten bloggers!

I'm Caitlin, and I've been teaching kindergarten for 6 years. I wasn't necessarily looking to get a teaching job in kinder when I graduated, but that's where I ended up... and totally fell in love with it! Here's a little peek into my Kinder life:

I totally couldn't live without a projector in my classroom. I use it ALL. THE. TIME. I show educational video clips, use interactive online games, model lessons on the document camera, have GoNoodle brain breaks, and more! It's such a useful tool, especially for young learners who are very visual and need to get the wiggles out often!

I have many school supplies I love, but my favorite ones to use are Flair Pens! I just love the way they write and they have so many fun colors to choose from. 

Only one other kind of pen has started to give them a run for its money... Inkjoy Pens! But the Flairs are still tops for me.

As for my favorite Kinder book, it is literally impossible to choose just one. Any number of books could have landed on the top of this list! I went with a series that is not only one of my favorites, but the kids' favorite too: The Pigeon books by Mo Willems.

These books totally crack me up. When I'm reading them, I pretend like the Pigeon is actually asking my students those questions, and they always get all into it and respond "NO!" every time he "asks" them to let him do something. So fun!

There are so many great Kindergarten blogs out there. My very favorite blog is The First Grade Parade, but since Cara's blog is technically K-1, I'll say that my favorite Kindergarten only blog is Mrs. Wills' Kindergarten. I swear, Deedee always comes up with the perfect kindergarten activities. I can't get enough of her math journal prompts and editable sight word RTI pack. And don't get me started on her reading/writing activities... every last one is amazing! It's like she reads my mind and comes up with the exact activity I want to use in my classroom. Love her!

Lastly, I love Kindergarten because...

They are SO excited about ALL things school!

We may have our work cut out for us at the beginning of the year (potty accidents, crying, runners, repeating instructions 5000x) but you can't deny a kindergartener's excitement for learning. They get so happy about anything you tell them - they get as excited over getting a brand new pencil as they would to go on a field trip! And boy, do they love you. They make it fun to come to work every day. I just LOVE working with this age!

I hope you'll link up with the Kinder Tribe to connect and find out more about fellow Kinder teachers! There are some great ones out there!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ways to Successfully Implement Centers at the Beginning of Kindergarten

Have you been wanting to implement centers in your classroom, but aren't sure where to start? With just a few steps, you can have your kindergarten kiddos successfully participating in small group center activities within the first two weeks of school!

Six years of teaching kindergarten has taught me the importance of implementing centers in the classroom. They help encourage student independence, motivation, and work ethic. They allow students to feel successful by completing an activity by themselves. And most importantly, they can be FUN! Every year, my students beg and plead for center time to arrive during the day. Taking the time to implement a few important routines and procedures at the beginning of the year can set the stage for successful small group center activities all year long.
Let's flash back to my first year of teaching. I had no idea how challenging teaching kindergarten was going to be, especially at the beginning of the school year. I very quickly learned the hard way what happens if you don't explain every detail to your students. And I mean E V E R Y detail. Because 5-year-olds will continue to find new ways to surprise you with a "Why would you ever think that was a good idea?!" moment. That brings me to Tip #1:

Teach your routines and don't leave out any details. Sit your students down and explain to them what center time is and what they will be doing during this time. When I first start explaining my center routines, I let them know that they are going to be with a small group of their friends that are going to stay together the whole time to complete different learning tasks (of course, I put it in kid-friendly speak, but you get the idea!). I let my students know that they are to stay at their center the entire time until it is time to switch. Letting students know this expectation will help reduce the amount of students that wander around to other centers bothering other kids.

This is also the time to introduce what transitions they should listen for so that they know when it is time to either switch centers or clean up for the next activity. The transition I like to use most during center time is the clap and response: I clap a beat and the students stop what they are doing to repeat the claps back to me. I like using this as an effective attention-getter because it requires my students to actually stop, respond, interact, and listen for my next instructions. They know that when they hear "The Quiet Clap", that they are to stop, clap, look, and listen. It's a quick and easy way to let my students know what they will be doing next. You can also do a speak and respond attention getter: You say a statement, and they respond with the rest of the phrase back to you.

Attention getters like "1,2,3 Eyes on Me!" and "Class, Yes!" are simple transition responses you can use that are easy for kids to remember. You can pretty much make up whatever phrase you want - the options are limitless!

Tip #2: Practice, Practice, Practice. I can't stress this step enough. If there is one thing you will want to do to prepare your kindergarteners for the routine of centers, it is to have them practice being at centers! You don't even have to have real centers for them to do when you get to this step. I tell my students to pretend they are working hard at centers - they love this part - and to listen for my attention getter to know when they are to stop, look, and listen. They pretend to write with their pencils or cut an invisible piece of paper and they think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread! I let them go on for about a minute and then use the Clap and Respond strategy, they clap it back to me, and then I have each group practice moving together to the next table as if they were going to the next center activity. We go through that again and again until they return to their own table seats.

Why is this important? 

Well, now your students have actually experienced what it is like to stay at one center for a specific amount of time and switch to the next one after that. Beginning of the year kindergarten students need those tangible experiences to really understand what it is you want them to do. It isn't enough just to tell them, you have to show and do.

Tip #3: Press the "Easy" button. The beginning of kindergarten is already stressful enough, so why add more to it? Another way to successfully implement centers at the beginning of kinder is to make your life easier by using simple centers for the first go-around. Use center activities that students can do independently so that you are not running around the classroom putting out fires every day. Here are some ideas for simple centers you can use:

Shapes, pattern blocks, play-doh, stamps, roll and cover games, sight word tracing, alphabet arcs, and easy cut & glue activities are all wonderful choices for your first rotation of centers at the beginning of the year. These are all simple, yet academic, centers that your students should be able to do independently, for the most part. Pressing the easy button with your first few rotations of centers will allow you to help students in small groups, complete assessments, and make yourself more available to all of your kindergarteners.

Tip #4: Don't Rush. It's okay if you need to do these simpler centers for the first couple of weeks of kindergarten. You will know when your students are ready for more rigorous activities. As the weeks continue, you can keep some of these activities the same and slowly add in 1-2 more difficult centers until they get the routines down.

Need some ready made activities for your beginning of the year centers?

Letter sorts are a perfect activity for the beginning of the year. These printables help students work on letter identification, formation and distinguishing between uppercase and lowercase letters. They are a super easy task for kindergarteners to complete at center time all while helping them practice letter concepts.

You can find these printables in my "I Can Sort My ABCs!" packs in my TPT store. There are two different sets: Uppercase/Lowercase Letters and Mixed-Up Letters. Click on the pictures below to check out both packs; and make sure you download the preview on each one - there's a freebie for you to try out to see if you like it!

Pocket chart centers and predictable sight word practice pages can also be an easy activity for the beginning of the year. My Time for School {Predictable Sentence Builders for Little Learners} pack is filled with activities to help your students practice and grow their skills in sentence structure, writing concepts, punctuation, sight words, and reading/tracking print. Predictable sentences are repetitive and help students recognize words and structure.

It has differentiated activities to fit your students' needs including multiple recording sheets to choose from; Read, Write, Build, Draw printables, pocket chart activities, and more. Click on the preview picture below to take a closer look!
Hopefully some of these tips and tricks will help you pull a little less hair out during the first few weeks of school. Would you add any more tips to this list? I'd love to hear of everyone's strategies for center success!

Monday, July 13, 2015

TPT Conference 2015: Come Together, Go Further! {Vegas Fun}

There aren't enough words to express how amazing and inspiring this week was at the TPT Conference in Las Vegas. I didn't go last year, and I was seriously bummed seeing everyone's photos... so I was determined to get there this year and I'm so glad I did! I'm linking up with the fine folks at The Elementary Entourage to share my memories and experiences from Vegas 2015.

To prep for the conference, I created some stuff to use and give out at the conference including business cards and a personalized notebook filled with all of my session note templates! I got my business cards printed at Vistaprint (with a 50% off code!) and got my notes bound at OfficeMax for only a little over $4! Not too bad at all! I highly recommend using these places if you plan on attending next year. There were also various nametags to personalize for all the blogger meetups I was attending, so I got those typed in and printed out on cardstock.

I drove myself and two of my roomies up from Phoenix and it was so fun spending the week with them! Love these girls!

Janae from The Sharpened Pencil & Maribel from Learning in Wonderland! 

Our trip wasn't without its mishaps and whirlwind moments... we checked in early at the Venetian only to discover that they had moved our room over to the Palazzo... so we had to lug all of our luggage, embarrassingly, THROUGH THE POOL AREA and across all of tarnation to get to the other side. (Sounds like the punchline to a joke). And of course I had brought a million tote bags filled with various items, so needless to say I was sweating to death and my arms almost fell off. But we made it! And then hightailed it over to our first blogger meetup of the day... the Make a Splash Teacher Bash! It was so fun to immediately meet tons of new bloggers and my pals Ashlyn and Lindsay did a great job of hosting. They had awesome prizes and I won a TPT gift card! Hooray!

Thanks to Lindsey Petlak for the photo!

That night was the TPT Blogger Meetup and I can't even tell you how fun and crazy it was! Over 1,000 people filled the room and I was lucky enough to travel around the huge room meeting tons of great teacher bloggers. Rachelle from What the Teacher Wants hosted the giveaway portion and she was a total hoot! She kept the fun going and insisted that everyone who one act as if they had just won a prize on the Price is Right. I was so blessed to hang out with some of my Arizona blogger friends and meet tons of new ones from all around the country!

Most people that were there last year told me that this year's meetup was double the size of last year's... we may just have to shut down the entire hotel for the meetup in 2016!

Thursday morning kicked off with grade level networking sessions, which I absolutely loved. It was such a great thing to meet other kindergarten bloggers and connect with them. Maria from Kinder Craze and Hadar from Miss Kindergarten led the session and came up with a super cute "Find Someone Who..." game (as if Kindergarten teachers wouldn't make it into something fun) that helped break the ice and get teachers mingling all over the room. I loved meeting these fabulous ladies!

Hadar (Miss Kindergarten), Elyse from A is for Apples

Finally, it was time for the first sessions! I went to Erin Cobb (Lovin' Lit)'s From Teacher to Teacherpreneur session and IT. WAS. AMAZING. She was hilarious and definitely told it like it was. I learned so many great tips from her and she was so generous to give us a Teacher Planner to use for the year... I can't wait to use it!

The next day was the full TPT Session day and Team TPT kicked it off with an inspiring and wonderful Keynote. It was incredible to hear from Paul, Amy, and Adam... their speeches were so heartfelt and inspiring and I could not be more thrilled to have leaders such as these at TPT. Hearing them say how much they value sellers, buyers, teachers, and students just made my heart so full. I love how much they involve everyone in important decisions and changes to the site. They asked our input on what was possibly the most important decision of the weekend: Amy's job title, which is now officially the "Director of Seller Happiness." She is so positive and energetic that it fits her to a tee! Rachel Lynette was the keynote speaker and it was great to hear her TPT story... she has really been there since the beginning!

They went through a slideshow during their speeches and a picture from our Arizona blogger meetup last month appeared! We were so excited!

After the lovely keynote, we spent the day attending four more sessions... I wish I could have attended them all, but the ones I did get to go to were great! I went to Deanna Jump & Deedee Wills' session and they were so funny! They definitely gave some great tips and resources, including the website PicMonkey, which I used to make the first collage at the beginning of this post! So easy! I also was lucky enough to attend sessions led by Rachel Lynette, the TPT data team, and Laura Candler. Every presentation was so different, yet SO helpful and eye opening. They all gave great information and advice that I am really going to dive into and use immediately.

To cap off the conference, TPT sponsored happy hour where we were all able to come back together and hang out for one last hurrah. There were suggestion walls, a photo booth, picture slideshow, food, and lots of great people! I felt so blessed to be able to hang out, meet, and chat with some of my favorites! I was so humbled to get to meet and thank Paul Edelman, who is the man responsible for creating TPT and changing all of our teaching lives forever. Without him, this opportunity wouldn't have even happened!

Here's some more photo fun with some of my best bloggy buddies, the GoNoodle Cabana Party (seriously, how well do they treat teachers? They are SO generous!), and The Primary Pack meetup (so fun, girls!):

My photo booth souvenir from the TPT happy hour is now proudly displayed on my refrigerator, automatically making it the most amazingly decorated fridge of all times (complete with The Office magnetic poetry, of course.)

Love these girls!!!

My biggest takeaway from the TPT Conference is how amazing the TPT community is. Every last person I met this weekend was so nice and kind and the connections we all made were invaluable. Rachel Lynette said this quote in her keynote speech: "A rising tide lifts all boats". And it's true. We came together to make each other better and encourage one another. This weekend was so inspiring and fun and I feel so blessed to have been able to be a part of it. Until next year, I leave you with my favorite quote from Team TPT that sums us up perfectly:

Did you go to TPT Vegas 2015? Share your fun memories and link up your blog posts by clicking on the button below! It is going to be so fun to see everyone's pictures and hear about everyone's experiences!

The Elementary Entourage

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Currently July

I'm not sure how I feel about it being July already (fastest summer ever?), but one good thing that always comes from the beginning of the month is Farley's Currently!

{Listening}: Joy Williams, "Before I Sleep"
Okay, everyone. Stop what you are doing and go buy this album. I absolutely loved The Civil Wars and it killed me that they broke up in their prime. But now 1/2 of the Wars, Joy Williams, has released a new solo album and it is amazing. Totally heartfelt, beautiful songs and lyrics, and of course her voice is unreal. Loving this entire album at the moment.

{Loving}: Summer!
Even though it seems like this summer is flying by, it's been a really great one so far! I just got back a week ago from traveling to Iowa for my brother's wedding and it was a blast. I loved meeting his wife's family and spending time with my family and friends who were able to travel to the wedding with us from Arizona. Last week, we also had an amazing time at our Arizona blogger meetup! I'm so grateful for the awesome friendships I've made with my fellow bloggers! We had a great time hanging out, eating food, and getting awesome prizes!

Speaking of awesome prizes, you can still win one of three SWAG bags that we all took home from the meetup! Click here to go enter the Rafflecopter... it is full of awesome stuff from GoNoodle, Lakeshore Learning, and Creative Teaching Press, among others!

{Thinking}: About my upcoming year: New School, New District!
As the next school year is quickly approaching, my new job has been on my mind a lot! After 6 years of working at a school I loved with a team I loved, my job was cut due to budget cuts. However, through it all I gained an exciting opportunity to work at an amazing school in a new district and I am so nervous! It's going to be strange to be the newbie where I don't know anyone or anything about the school. Change is always hard, but I know it's exactly where I'm supposed to be! Here's hoping it goes well. :)

{Wanting}: To get my stuff moved into my new classroom.
On the heels of my last paragraph, my living room is half filled with boxes, file folders, tote bags, and crates of all the stuff I had to move out of my old classroom! The rest is taking up space in my parents' garage. I am chomping at the bit to get it all moved in and start working on my new classroom. I know it's going to be a long process!

{Needing}: To get everything ready for VEGAS!
I. Am. So. Excited. For. Vegas!!!!! I wasn't able to go last year and it was so hard seeing everyone sharing their amazing pictures and not being a part of it! I've got most of my stuff ready... ordered new business cards, printed out my session handouts, got my name badges ready for various meetups.. now it's putting it all together and making sure I don't forget anything! It's so close... who else is going?!

{All-Star}: Giving Encouragement
I was having a hard time thinking of something that I'm "good at" without it seeming overly full of myself, because that is so not me! Then finally it came to me... encouraging others. I get so thrilled when my friends get amazing opportunities.. I get so excited for them and feel proud of their accomplishments. I love encouraging others and lifting their spirits. It makes me happy to make others feel supported and good about themselves that I always make a point to try and do that.

What are you currently up to this month? Click on the button below to head to Oh Boy 4th Grade to link up and share!