Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Transformation Tuesday: Classroom Edition

I got my first Mother Goose Time box in the mail this past Thursday, which was perfect timing, being my birthday and all. It took a great deal of self-control NOT to go in to school on Friday (my last day of summer vacation) to open it up and look through all the goodies!

I'm thinking of cutting the box down to just above the bus and putting in dramatic play so the baby dolls can "ride" to school. 
I find that as the year goes along there are some things about classroom arrangement that looked good on paper (I usually "map" things out with post-it notes before I move furniture) but don't work for whatever reason when you add a bunch of little people to the mix. It's not uncommon for me to make major changes over long breaks. A lot of times there are things that I really wanted to add to displays or create for activities and I just run out of time to make it happen before school starts. I had so much fun incorporating my MGT materials and ideas into my existing displays. I'm trying not to change TOO much, lest I totally throw my students off when they return next week.

Morning Meeting Display - Before
Morning Meeting Display - After the addition of MGT materials
I'm adding A LOT more print around the room because I have several emerging readers that want to read EVERYTHING. I used the  Basic Concepts overview inside the MGT Teacher Guide as the basis for my "Things to know". The little blue pocket chart is perfect for story pieces and "Would You Rather?" cards. I hung up the "Would You Rather?" chart and board games along with my additional anchor charts on the other side of the TV so they are easily accessible.

Re-purposed Ikea hanging basket storage wall rack with pants hangers
The manipulatives that came with the "Fables and Folktales" theme are so colorful and fun! I thought the colored counting sticks would go well with this random assortment of wooden beads that I found stashed in a closet. I also had a giant bag of animal erasers that were originally supposed to be in my "prize box" but have found their way into my collection for the math center. I pulled all the lions out to go with the story of the Lion and the Mouse. My littles always come up with creative and entertaining ways to use the math materials, I can't wait to see what they will do with these!

Pay no attention to the crazy pile of puzzles with missing pieces!

When I was switching out the cards in the Math Center pocket chart with the MGT numbers and shapes, I realized that the ant cards from the anteater counting game I made for our rain forest theme in July would be perfect to use on the day we read The Grasshopper and the Ants, so I left them in the mix.

And last, but not least (actually my personal favorite!) the literacy center is looking much fresher and friendlier with new MGT letter and word cards. I never could get my kiddos to write on the lined poster first semester, even after I modeled it, maybe it's because it looks like "teacher work"... So, this way at least they can engage with it by reading the words and it won't just blend into the background. 



New MGT Letter cards and the word family Cat 
After I cut all the story pieces and game/center cards, laminated them, and then re-cut, that was all the transformation I had time to get done before darting home to avoid the rains from Typhoon Goni.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Choices, Choices...What Will You Choose?

I love my job, even on tough days because I know early childhood education makes a difference. I especially LOVE my job on super fantastic days when I actually SEE the difference it makes: like today. :)

When you have a class of 8-12 students, it's tough to get 1:1 time, but summer session is perfect for it. My student is 7 years old. Academically speaking, that is 1st grade, but developmentally it still falls into the range of early children (see WHO for definition) which is how I currently approach it for strategic planning. Learning English as a second language is hard enough, but when it's compounded by developmental delays and medical issues, it could be a recipe for academic struggle (for student AND teacher).

It's important to give children choices in their learning process for lots of reasons. For me, student's responses to choice allow me to observe how each child learns, where they are in their developmental skills (i.e. Do they even know how to make a choice?) , and what personal interests they have that could be tapped into for future teaching/learning opportunities. Allowing choice within the framework of classroom structure (ask anyone who's been in my classroom, I run a pretty tight ship!) gives children some degree of autonomy in their learning without the classroom spiraling into chaos.

The trick is knowing when, and how many choice to give. I've been intrigued by how this translates in different cultural settings. I worked for almost 3 years in early education and orphan care in Haiti. In institutional settings, there is very little, if any autonomy. They are told what, when, and how much to eat, what to wear, when to get up, when to go to bed, etc. They never had opportunities to make choices in daily life, so when they got to school and I asked them if they wanted to color with blue, red, or yellow, they would either grab all 3 or stare blankly at me, unable to comprehend the question. They had no idea how to make a choice, or what they "preferred"! In that scenario, I had to simplify the options until they got the hang of it,"Do you want the fat red crayon or the skinny red crayon?" Choice isn't just about what the teacher wants vs. what the student wants. Giving choices is a great opportunity to build vocabulary, too. (especially for 2nd language learners)

Now that I'm teaching in Japan, I see a different challenge for young children when it comes to choice. Japan is a group oriented culture, so even at very young ages, in group settings children are hesitant to be the first to make a choice, or to choose something other than what everybody else chose. Japanese culture also places a high value on performance, which can put a lot of pressure on students (and people in general) to strive for perfection, and anything less is often deemed not acceptable. In my classroom this looked like students unwilling to make a choice at all, for fear of it being the "wrong" choice. I say that last bit in past tense, because thankfully most of my littles have overcome that mindset in the past year and a half and are quite adept at making [mostly] good choices when given the opportunity. :)

So back to my super fabulous summer session today! We had 3 hour learning block that looked like this:
Picture schedule found on TpT

We had the discussion that "lunch" wasn't technically lunch, since we finished at 12:30, but the visual worked well enough. Bible was added later, as a result of student choice/request. For morning work, we've been tackling the summer homework sheets sent home by the 1st grade English teacher. Today's paper was unscrambling spelling words and writing them in the space provided. This is not an easy task for an emerging reader with fine motor delays and a short attention span! Enter: choices! I provided colored gel pens instead of the usual pencil to write with and, VOILA, 60 minutes of engaged participation (and reading/writing/learning) later we had 9 colorful spelling words written correctly in the right place on the page! (I should mention we used letter tiles to physically unscramble the words first).

The summer session has focused on the book Caps For Sale, which is one of my personal favorites to teach, and happened to be covered in the 1st grade curriculum, however briefly, just before the end of first term, so there was some level of familiarity. During break time, the student had a few minutes to rest or choose an activity from any center  in the room. The "mobile" block center (I pulled it from the kindergarten room downstairs) was the winning choice. 

"Mobile" Block Center
The Final Creation

I was mostly a silent observer during this play time, and was thrilled with the skills I saw in practice! All the blocks were counted out (in English) and placed very deliberately into position. There was lots of happy humming and self-talk (in English AND Japanese), exploring theme-related vocabulary ("straight" walls) and math concepts ("One more tree, one more rock").

Before we got to story time, my student commented on an unused daily schedule picture ("chapel" - not pictured) that was on the board, and asked to read the Bible instead of Caps For Sale. I had to do some quick thinking to come up with a story on the spot that had relate-able themes or vocabulary... Zacchaeus! BINGO! We read the story, found words we knew - tree, and money - and determined that there were no monkeys in this story (possibly some monkey business), but there was a bird and squirrel pictured in the tree with Zacchaeus.
Our very "well-loved" bilingual Children's Bible

And despite the change in original plan, child prompted, we still had time to read Caps For Sale, and complete all the other activities on the schedule! Oh, Happy Day!!

*You can find the MGT Developmental Skills Continuum (which includes 2nd language learning benchmarks) here

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Summer Musings

While many of my state-side friends have just begun a new school year this week, I am smack in the middle of my summer "vacation", and because Japanese school year starts in April, we're already 1/3 of the way through the school year. I say "vacation" because if you are a teacher or know a teacher personally, you are well aware that the teacher in you never really (O.K., rarely) takes a break. Whether it's summer school, professional development, or scouring the $1 section at Target  (or in my case Daiso, which is the equivalent of the Dollar Tree in Japan) for classroom "must-haves" every time you go shopping, our students are never far from our thoughts, even when we aren't seeing them in the classroom daily.

I chose to stay "home" in Japan on my summer break this year, which is big departure from my usual wanderlust ways. I have been enjoying exploring the rich natural and cultural places that Osaka has to offer.

Minoh Waterfall
View from the top of Namba Parks Garden 

I've also been doing a bit of self-exploration: getting reacquainted with the piano, learning how to paint, and riding my bike at least a little bit everyday. I haven't crashed yet...yay for me! (There's no bike picture, since I'm trying to stay on my current crash-less streak)

I think I have at least half of these "50 Greats for the Piano" somewhere in the recesses of my memory

Coffee, painting, and seahorses. What's not to love? :)
And while my days are filled (and running together) with sleeping in, painting, Starbucks, and leisurely wandering around town, I am still thinking about school. I can't help it, I'm SO stinkin' excited about this new semester! There is a box of Mother Goose Time curriculum on it's way to Japan right now. Starting in September (who am I kidding??!! More like as soon as the box arrives, if not before!) I will be giving you a weekly peek into my classroom through blogs, as we embark on our Mother Goose Time adventure. This is the first time I've had access to the full curriculum, but it's not my first experience with the company. I first learned about MGT when I was up to my eyebrows in curriculum planning for the kindergarten in Haiti. There are several pilot programs being implemented in kindergartens in Haiti using modified version of the preschool curriculum. It was SO nice to not have to reinvent the wheel, using some of those resources! For my first year of teaching in Japan, we did several months of the Experience God devotional curriculum, which correlates with MGT monthly themes. My students LOVED it, and still talk about the stories and lessons they learned. That is the wonderful part of teaching a combined, multi-level class - I get to see the continued growth and progress from one year to the next (and beyond). 

So, my stay-cation thus far has been filled with relaxation, creativity, adventure...and school. And I'm totally OK with that!