The “Mirrors and Windows” in Your Classroom Library

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A thoughtfully designed classroom library is the heart of the early childhood literacy environment. So much of value comes from a collection of books, right at the children’s fingertips, that take into account their abilities, interests, and experiences! The message sent when classroom life revolves around the library space and materials, and when text activities are integrated into daily classroom life is, “This is a reading place. Books and reading are valued here.” As Christopher Lehman (2014) points out in a recent blog post, “What we make visible in our classrooms, in our schools, even in our lives, shows what we value, what is important, and what we feel and believe.” Seeing books and reading at the epicenter of classroom life speaks louder than any words could about what we value for our students and their learning.

There are many articles and books to help new and experienced teachers craft amazing classroom libraries. For example, in a recent post on her blog, Elizabeth Moore (2016) shares thoughts (and pictures!) about creating and using classroom libraries, and she links to suggestions for crafting classroom libraries for multiple age levels. So many such resources exist that I won’t repeat their messages here. However, one aspect of the classroom library that deserves special consideration is how the contents of a classroom library reflect the characteristics, backgrounds, and experiences of the children who will use it. Rudine Sims Bishop (1990) is often credited with coining the term mirrors and windows when referring to the special capability of books to provide children with a view out on the world as well as back on themselves. She says,

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books (p. 1).

You can watch author/illustrator Grace Lin conduct a TEDx Talk about her motivation to ensure that her books act as mirrors and windows for her young readers: http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/The-Windows-and-Mirrors-of-Your

Children use books to make meaning of the world and of its many inhabitants that have lives and experiences different than their own. Children can also, if provided the chance, use books to see themselves and their experiences affirmed as valued members of the classroom and the world in which they live. As children’s author Nikki Grimes explains, “Where better to introduce a child to the multiplicity of races and cultures in our world—and to our common humanity—than between the pages of a book?” (Hall, 2016, p. 18).

In spite of this potential, however, children from traditionally underrepresented groups have often failed to see themselves mirrored on their classroom book shelves, and publishers still have a long way to go to ensure that books reflecting the multiplicity of the world’s cultures, family styles, and races enter the book market. However, teachers populating their classroom libraries do have more choices than ever before to ensure that the books on their shelves act as mirrors and windows for their students. Here are a few of my favorite titles that may support that goal for your students. Hopefully these book suggestions will spark your thinking about how your classroom library can act to affirm the value of all of our children, their families, and their lives and will send you racing to the bookstore in search of mirrors and windows for your own students.

 

These two books, one with fanciful drawings and lyrics, the other with real photographs and straightforward language, prompt children to celebrate themselves and others as important parts of the bigger world.

 

 

These books, depicting children’s experiences in their neighborhoods, bring the world closer to home, displaying the vitality and beauty to be found right in their own backyards.

 

 

Books like these, displaying various family styles, provide opportunities for children to see all kinds of families in their many varieties and complexities.

These books, which tell the story of children who adapt to an unfamiliar classroom while also mastering a new language, will be especially appreciated by dual language learners and any children who face the challenge of moving into new classroom environments.

Both of these books address issues of children who feel different from their peers but who, with love and support, manage to succeed and thrive while staying true to themselves.

ssanden-2This post is brought to you by Dr. Sherry Sanden. Sherry is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Literacy at Illinois State University. She is a former first- and second-grade teacher and child care director. Her research interests include the ways that teachers learn about and use books and reading in early education classrooms. Check out Sherry’s past posts at this blog here, here, and here.

References:

Bishop, R.S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and using books for the classroom, 6(2).

C. Lehman. (2014, February 10). Wear your heart on your sleeve (and walls and actions and) [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://christopherlehman.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve-and-walls-and-actions-and/

E. Moore. (2016, April 2). ICYMI: Classroom libraries to support reading workshop for every grade level [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://elizabeth-moore.com/bethmooreblog/2016/4/1/icymi-classroom-libraries-to-support-reading-workshop-for-every-grade-level

Hall, A. (2016). Turning the tables. Literacy Today, 33(5), pp. 18-20.

Tips on Communicating with Parents Regarding CCSM

“I don’t like math.” “Math scares me.” These are common statements made by children, parents, and college students alike. The fears and negative views many people have regarding mathematics may be reflective of prior negative experiences and/or a lack of procedural and conceptual knowledge. With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and its focus on building a conceptual understanding of mathematics in addition to procedural skills, many parents have found themselves challenged in understanding the different approaches introduced by the CCSS. And the confusion about these standards may stir some of those old fears of mathematics in parents. It is important for teachers to realize that some parents may struggle with both understanding the approach of the CCSS as well as in assisting their children with homework related to the CCSS.

Teachers need to consider what they could do to help parents in understanding the CCSS. Although there are many negative views regarding the CCSS, many parents, especially those of younger children have an open mind towards the CCSS. It is important that we attempt to help parents understand the CCSS and the different pedagogical approaches that tied to them. There are a few things that we should try to do to help:

Family math nights. Many teachers/schools offer a curriculum night where the purpose is for parents/guardians to meet with classroom teachers to learn about grade level curriculum and expectations for the school year.  Although this is a great event, specific concepts and pedagogical approaches are not often discussed. Another night focused on specific mathematical concepts that children are learning and possibly focusing on those concepts that may be new in its teaching approach will be very helpful for parents. At this meeting, you can clearly explain various concepts and how you are teaching them. If possible, offering math nights throughout the school year will be even more beneficial since new concepts are frequently introduced. This certainly may be difficult to do in terms of time and difficult for parents as well, but it will help with parents’ anxiety and possible anger towards the CCSS. If possible, work with the other teachers in your grade level team to develop something together. You may consider having the parents bring their children along with them. Parents may benefit from your explanation along with seeing their students in action in your classroom. If math nights are not possible, offer parents an opportunity to ask you questions about homework or concepts either in person on the phone.

Also, during these math nights or even during a curriculum night, be honest about the CCSS. Explain the goal and focus of the CCSS. Many parents will be familiar with the negative backlash but may not have a good grasp of the standards. Explain the differences between how the parents may have been taught and the CCSS. Most parents want to understand the CCSS and will appreciate an opportunity to learn about them and ask questions about them. For parents of younger children, this could build a solid foundation and a positive view of the CCSS.

Communicate consistently. In addition to family math nights, attempt to stay in constant communication with parents regarding the mathematics their students are doing in the classroom. If possible, provide weekly updates of the concepts being learned throughout the year. Be cautious of the language you use in your communication with parents and in introducing concepts to your students. I have been told by many parents that their children tell them, “The way your parents do this problem is wrong.” Or “we don’t do it that way anymore.” Both of these statements can upset parents and both are untrue. There are many ways of solving various problems. And yes, many parents learned a more traditional or procedural approach to mathematics. But that does not make it “wrong.” When teaching children, let them know that their parents may have learned a “different” way. And that they “will learn different ways, and will also learn how your parents were taught too.” It is important to remember that as teachers, we want to provide our students with many different ways of thinking about the various mathematical concepts we introduce. Some may be more conceptual, some may be more procedural but all serve some purpose and assist in children’s ultimate understanding.

Provide resources for parents. As part of the communication with parents, include resources that could help parents understand the mathematical concepts you may be teaching. These resources may include various websites or handouts that you have explaining the concepts being taught in your classroom. However, as mentioned above, make your self available to meet with parents if they have questions. And you should try hard to encourage those questions. Parents may feel embarrassed that they don’t understand various concepts or cannot help their children. Do your best to be approachable and make them feel comfortable to come to you for help. Also, in addition to resources, send activities or activity ideas home that children and parents can do together that enforce the concepts you are working on. With the early grades, many games can be used to build various concepts in the CCSS. Provide those game ideas to parents so they can have fun together with their children and help their children build that strong foundation and love of mathematics.

Mathematics in the early childhood years should be a fun topic to both learn and teach. Many of us have fond memories of learning math when we were younger and others do not. But as early childhood teachers, we have the opportunity to ensure that our students are exposed to mathematics in a fun and interactive way while developing a conceptual understanding of the many concepts that they will learn. We also have the opportunity to demonstrate this to their parents as well. Although this can be challenging, doing so will be worthwhile and beneficial to both parents and their children.

Alan Pic HomepageThis post is brought to you by Dr. Alan Bates. Alan is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at Illinois State University. His research interests include children’s mathematical development, teacher’s math self-efficacy, and parent-school interaction. Check out another post on the ECE Teacher Talk blog from Alan here!

Incorporating Video Games into the Classroom

At the beginning of this year, my first year teaching, I was nervous to introduce myself on Welcome Night knowing that some parents would be apprehensive to see such a young teacher waiting to meet them. There are obvious qualities of seasoned teachers that make them desirable to students and parents, but I am here to share one of the many strengths that a new teacher possesses. One of the amazing advantages is the ability to relate to students and bring their interests into the classroom. As a young teacher, I have the capability and willingness to pull the world of video games into the classroom. By doing this, I have formed meaningful relationships and helped reluctant students to become more engaged in their learning. In this blog post, I will share three different examples of how I was able to bring my students’ love of video games to life in the classroom.

Reading

As a new teacher looking through Scholastic book orders is dangerous. Keeping my tight budget in mind, I can’t help but immediately add any videogame books to my cart. It all started with a series of Minecraft Handbooks. I bought them for my class, and they were an instant success. Almost the entire class wanted to be on the waiting list to read them! After that I bought books like Cool Careers in Video Games and Pokémon: The Official Adventure Guide. I think my initial draw to these books was selfish; I wanted to read them! I was able to share my excitement with my students as I introduced the new books to our class. Over the past year I have bought many other video game books including Diary of a Minecraft Zombie and The History of Video Games. These books are a huge hit, and I have had to buy multiple copies to meet the need.

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The video game bin in our library is empty. Even though only one reading group trades books a day, I guarantee that this bin will be empty again after I put in the books from our latest order. How can I be mad when I see kids sneaking books I know they just cannot wait to get their hands on? How can I be mad when I have kids whispering behind clipboards asking if I can slip a certain book into their tub instead of putting it in the library? My job is to get kids excited about reading. Video games are a way to do just that.

Writing

After seven rigorous PARCC tests last month, both my students and I were feeling bogged down. In the weeks leading up to the tests themselves, we spent considerable time hitting annotating, supporting evidence, and essay structure. I felt that I had sucked the fun out of writing, and it broke my heart. I sat down with them and had a heart-to-heart about all that writing can be. I wanted them to understand that writing can be a fun way for them to show their creativity and express themselves. In an effort to spark some excitement for writing, I opened up a few days for some free choice writing. When presenting this idea during Writer’s Workshop, I tried to give them a couple of ways they could turn their favorite video games into writing pieces. Two of my students asked if they could work together to write a story about Pokémon coming to life. I initially hesitated knowing that letting these boys work together would open that option up to the whole class. I gave the boys a chance to pitch me their idea, and as soon as I accepted it the whole room was buzzing with excitement. My students were more excited to write than I had seen in a while. Many of the stories tied into video games. Another pair wrote their own version of a Minecraft player’s diary. Two girls wrote a story about our class finding a portal into the world of GoNoodle Champs. This simple free choice writing opportunity took on a life of its own and became more than I could have asked.

Social Studies

Earlier in the year we used one of our writing units to do research on Native American Tribes. The students were very interested in the unit, and they really enjoyed becoming experts in the tribe they researched. We also talked a lot about what it would be like to live with our tribe. One day after we had finished our unit, a student in our class was reading a book on Minecraft, and I got the idea to build a Native American Tribe on Minecraft. Minecraft is a virtual world where players are able to build and create whatever they want. I discussed my idea with the student, and he was immediately intrigued. I decided that I liked the Inuit Tribe the best out of those that we researched and knew it would be the perfect tribe for the virtual world. I enlisted the help of my brother, and together we created a modern version of an Inuit Tribe from the past. I brought the following picture to school and shared it with my students. They were very impressed!

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Overall it has been a challenging first year. One thing I have learned is to celebrate my strengths. I love being able to relate to my students, and I wouldn’t trade that. Seeing how these positive relationships have impacted my students has been very rewarding.

Have you used video games in the classroom? Have you incorporated other student interests? If so, post about it in the comments section. Let’s use this blog as a platform to discuss and share ideas to increase student engagement!

IMG_5888This post was brought to you by Miss Andrea Siefert, ’15. Andrea graduated from Illinois State University in May of 2015 with a degree in Early Childhood Education. She now teaches third grade at Adams Elementary in Quincy, Illinois. This is Andrea’s first post on the ECE Teacher Talk blog; welcome, Andrea!

Incorporating STEM Education in the Preschool Classroom

A recent survey, conducted in 2010 by Change the Equation (a nonprofit, nonpartisan corporate initiative to further math and science learning), revealed that nearly one-third of Americans would rather clean their bathrooms than do a math problem. These findings become extremely troubling as we consider the fact that we currently live in a global society where more and more employers are seeking employees who have knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, and math. The only way that we can ensure that students leave their K-12 education experiences with the skills, knowledge, and dispositions needed to work in these fields is to start early with young children. Thus, I argue that STEM education should be incorporated in the preschool classroom.

What is STEM education? STEM is a label that is given to describe educational content and processes in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM education involves problem-based and project-based learning that allows learners to explore real-world problems, simultaneously developing cross-curriculum skills while working in small, collaborative groups. Essentially, there are two different approaches to STEM education. The discipline-specific approach emphasizes teaching students content and processes embedded in each of these four disciplines separately. In other words, a teacher who is applying this approach may teach science concepts and processes and then move on to technology concepts and processes and then on to engineering concepts and processes. There is little or no overlap between these four disciplines within this particular approach.

The second approach to STEM education focuses more on integrating concepts and processes embedded within the four disciplines while teaching. For example, while a teacher is teaching science concepts and processes, he or she may also discuss concepts and process associated with mathematics and or technology. Furthermore, this secondary approach to STEM education also integrates STEM concepts and process into the other subject areas as well.

Why is it important to incorporate STEM education into the preschool classroom?

One reason STEM education should be incorporated into the preschool classroom is that children at this age are well-suited for this form of learning. A recent study conducted by the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) revealed that 4-year-olds have the cognitive ability to learn about the concept of weight by watching adults sort toys. Moreover, many have already begun grappling with STEM concepts (i.e., observation, data collection, analyzing, predicting) by the time they enter kindergarten. Hence, we should begin to refine and strengthen these concepts and processes during the preschool education years.

What should I keep in mind as I engage in STEM education in an early childhood classroom?

  • Allow children’s natural curiosities to drive the content. As we already know, children are naturally curious beings. The best place to start incorporating STEM concepts in the early childhood classroom is by building on the questions or inquires that naturally emerge in the classroom.
  • Encourage an inquiry -based approach. STEM education works best in environments where students are encouraged to pose critical questions and apply scientific and mathematical processes to find answers to these questions.
  • Integrate the “arts” wherever feasible. STEM education works well in contexts where students are granted to freedom to incorporate music, drama, and or some form of visual art into the process. Hence, teachers can make STEM education in their classrooms more engaging and meaningful to students by integrating one or more of the “arts.”
  • Collaborate with parents and other community members. The disciplines and processes involved in STEM education require collaboration between many different groups of people. As such, early childhood educators should seek to involve parents and other community member in the implementation processes as often as possible.

Photo on 2015-11-11 at 10.55 This post is brought to you by Dr. Terry Husband. Dr. Husband is an assistant professor of Early Childhood Education at Illinois State University.  He teaches courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels related to literacy instruction, assessment, and issues of diversity in schools. Check out his past posts on the ECE Teacher Talk blog here, here, and here!

Freshman Year in the Real World

Transitioning from college to the real world brought with it a series of emotions from sheer excitement and determination to fear and doubt. I have known that I wanted to be an early childhood educator since the time I was playing school in the basement with my younger sisters. Fast forward to the present; I am graduated from Illinois State and have landed my first teaching job. After becoming extremely proficient in the lengthy online application process for a number of months, I received an interview for a preschool position near my hometown. Upon arriving, I learned specifically what the job would entail, including that it was for a self-contained special education preschool classroom and I would be working alongside three therapists to offer support for the students in my classroom.  While this was not a classroom I first envisioned myself in, I was excited for this opportunity to learn more about the special education world. After being offered the job in August, I accepted and soon entered the first classroom I would be able to call my own. As we enter the spring semester of this school year, I have learned and grown an immense amount professionally. Here are some of my biggest take-aways from my “freshman year” in the real world as a teacher.

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Have trusted mentors

I owe much of my first year success to the people who took the time to help guide me through my first year of teaching.  I am fortunate enough to have been hired into a school that has offered multiple levels of support. I was matched with a “teacher mentor” who happens to be the preschool teacher in the room next to my own. This allowed me to have someone I knew it was okay to go to with any questions or advice, without feeling that I was overstepping or taking time away from their day. If I had a question that my mentor couldn’t answer, she would direct me to someone who could. While this co-worker was assigned to me as my official mentor, the rest of the preschool team also offered much insight as we met weekly as a team to discuss lessons, specific needs of students, and things going on within our district. In addition to my wonderful preschool team, I had the great fortune to work with a team of therapists that instruct the students with me. This included a speech pathologist, a physical therapist, and an occupational therapist. They offered insight on how to better my teaching to meet the needs of the specific learners present in my classroom. I was extremely nervous taking over a classroom where not only the students’ needs were so high, but this was most of my students’ first time ever stepping into a school. It has been my goal from the beginning to offer a high quality learning experience for my students. With the guidance of the many mentors provided, I felt more at ease when trying out new strategies and lessons with my amazing set of kids. My suggestion to all new teachers is to ask if a mentor program is offered at the school you are interviewing at and what levels of support will be offered. It truly makes a huge difference in your first year experience.

Improve with feedback and self reflection

Piggybacking off of the tip to find a trusted mentor, fellow educators or administrators are great resources to help polish your teaching abilities. I am constantly searching for feedback to reflect upon in order to improve my teaching. Many recent graduates fall into the mindset that they know everything there is to know about teaching, with their new diploma and fresh teaching perspectives in place.  While I am confident in my ability to utilize my knowledge on teaching practices and philosophies, I entered this year looking to improve every step of the way. I began the year by trying to reflect on the strengths and weakness of each day or week. I also thought about what goals I would like to achieve by the end of the school year. By writing these things down, it helps to guide you in focusing on your areas of weakness and working to improve them. In addition to reflecting independently, I asked my principal to come in and observe me. I also visited surrounding districts’ classrooms that were similar to mine to see how their classrooms were set up and organized. Then, I asked the therapists in my room for any feedback on my teaching and how to improve, since they see me teach every day.  These are some examples of how I am working towards making my teaching more intentional. As a teacher, it is crucial to view yourself as a lifelong learner and always be looking to improve your teaching abilities.

Take note of the small victories

I started writing down what I call “Little Triumphs” which is just what they sound like; a friendly reminder that it is the small successes throughout the school year that make the biggest impact in the end. Some entries I have included:

“Sam* didn’t cry during dismissal for the first time all year.”

“Jack* initiated play on the playground with a new peer without teacher prompts.”

“Sarah* accurately addressed all teachers and peers by name when greeting them today.”

From an outsider’s perspective, one might think these are not noteworthy accomplishments that would cause a teacher to be jumping for joy. However, as your students’ teacher, you learn their strengths and deficits. After working with them day in and day out, it becomes extremely rewarding when you witness one of these little triumphs that help students move closer to their goals.  I enjoy sharing these little triumphs with parents, in order to celebrate the steps our students are taking towards greater successes, socially and academically. When a school day seems to be going terribly off track or I’m feeling discouraged about my ability to get through the day, I simply look harder for the little successes that are taking place all of the time or look back in this notebook to remember all of the wonderful occurrences I have already had the honor of witnessing.

Everyone’s freshman year of life is filled with many trials and tributes. I feel very fortunate that my first year of teaching has been a rewarding one and has solidified my choice to pursue this career. It has fueled my excitement for working with young minds, but has also increased my desire to learn even more about the diverse learners I can come into contact with in order to better educate them.  The best piece of advice I have received in regards to anyone’s career path came from a supervisor at ISU; to paraphrase, she said that you may think success looks like a straight path up, but it is actually a disorganized, squiggly line full of unexpected twists and turns.

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This already holds true to my own timeline, as I accepted my first teaching job in a setting I never imagined myself in and ended up finding that it was an even better fit than I could have expected. To all educators who are just starting off, never forget the reason you started. You are making a difference with every conversation you have with a child or parent, every effort to change your lessons to fit the needs of your kids, and every morning you show up to work with a smile on your face ready to greet those young minds.

*Names were changed for the privacy of the students.

juliaspencer3This post was brought to you from Miss Julia Spencer. Julia is a 2015 graduate from the ECE program at Illinois State University. She is currently teaching at Pleasantdale Elementary School in the special education early childhood classroom. This is Julia’s first post on the ECE Teacher Talk blog. Welcome, Julia!

An Answer from Every Child for Every Question….And It’s Free!! No Way!!

Formative assessment is a must in every classroom. When done well, it can provide a window into a child’s mind, not just what they know, but how they know it. Questions can be asked, but this will only provide information about the student who shares an answer. We can listen in on small group conversations, or think/pair/share situations, but we can only hear and evaluate so many conversations at one time. While conferring with each individual student is undeniably valuable, it takes a lot of instructional time.

If teachers want to know every student’s answer to every question, they typically give a test or a worksheet to complete. Students may not get feedback about their performance until after their work is graded. They may have to wait until the next day or even longer. By then, they may have forgotten how they even determined the answer.

Maybe you’ve seen those fancy student response systems. Many work with specific interactive white boards. Each student has his or her own hand-held device. They click a button to choose an answer to a multiple-choice question. A graph is then displayed on the board that shows the results of the students’ responses. This question/answer/discuss cycle can take just a few minutes! To make matters even better, all of the responses can be retrieved later to know how each student answered each question. If a school is fortunate to have a set of student responders, teachers have to share.

Not anymore!! Now every teacher can determine how every student in his/her class would answer every question and have a record of each student’s responses for free! Yes free! (My favorite four letter word!)

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These strange looking boxed shapes are the answer. Each child has their own Plicker card with a unique quick read code (QRC), which can be printed from the Plicker website. They hold the card so the letter of their answer is at the top. The teacher scans the room using a cell phone or tablet loaded with the Plicker app.

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Here’s a quick video to give you an idea of what this would look like. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mI-eBHhEqzs

It really is that simple!! Mary Amoson, a kindergarten teacher, makes it easy for her students to use their Plicker cards. She writes a student’s name on the back of the card and uses colored markers to label the choices for A, B, C, and D.

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Perhaps the greatest benefit of using these cards is the anonymity each child has when answering the question. No one will know if they gave a correct or incorrect answer, so they are honest in their choice. However, when the graph is projected on the wall, each student will know how they did. This presents a perfect opportunity for teacher feedback. Even before the correct answer is revealed, questions like, “Who can tell me why you picked A as the answer? Why do you think others chose this answer?” After further discussion, you can even repoll the same question to see if more students select the correct choice. Assigning each student with a specific numbered card, will allow you to know how each child answered each question. You simply pull up record on the app whenever you’re ready to check.

As with every great tool, there are a few considerations. Students will have to learn not to hold their card behind another student’s head or other body part when you are scanning the room. It is also not advised to laminate the cards, as the glare may interfere with the ability to recognize the QRC. With heavy use, they may not last long. Never fear! Other teachers have come up with some great suggestions for organizing, storing, and protecting Plicker cards.

Formative assessment and feedback has never been easier or more informative for both teachers and students. Plickers has a great help site to get you started and post questions, along with other sites to show you how to use this tool! Print out your Plicker cards today and have fun while learning so much about each of your students!

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Other Resources:

http://jonathanwylie.com/2014/03/18/plickers-classroom-assessment/

http://www.emergingedtech.com/2014/12/getting-started-using-free-plickers-for-assessment/

organize your plicker cards http://teachphysed.weebly.com/plickers.html

rashiff-2 This post is brought to you by Dr. Rena Shifflet. Rena has spent over thirty years in public education as a classroom teacher and district technology coordinator. As an associate professor at Illinois State University, Rena works with preservice elementary education majors and practicing educators. Her research interests include preservice teacher education, professional development schools, and the use of technology for teaching and learning. You can check out past ECE Teacher Talk posts by Rena here and here and here.

Using Everyday Moments to Teach Literacy

Everyday routines and activities are a wonderful way to naturally and meaningfully teach phonological awareness skills, alphabet knowledge, and concepts of print. I purposefully set goals, target standards, establish timeframes for activities, and carefully choose materials as I create lessons for all areas of development. These are all important aspects of teaching and things that I would encourage all teachers to do. We need to be intentional in our practices. Too often though, we can be so focused on the written lesson plans that we have prepared ahead of time that we miss those teachable moments. The children remind me of this almost every day. Often their curiosity about print leads to meaningful conversations and at times teaching concepts that I never would have considered.

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Retrieved from Delta Dental NJ

Two weeks ago: We were all sitting on the rug during circle time and one of the children’s job was to do the calendar. I asked him what day of the week it was and he just stood there looking at the weekly calendar. I encouraged him to say the days of the week as he pointed to each one on the chart. He did this and stopped on Thursday. (It was Thursday by the way.) I said, “Good, so what day is it?” He responded, “Tuesday.” I had him do it again and he gave me the same response, “Tuesday.” At this point I was slightly confused and wondered why he kept saying Tuesday when he accurately stopped and even said Thursday, which is where the star was. I said, “Today is Thursday.” Can you say that? He didn’t respond or repeat what I said. I was getting even more concerned because this was a child who I thought knew the days of the week and understood the daily routine. I didn’t understand what he was thinking and why he wouldn’t say it was Thursday.

Now, at this moment I could have simply moved on. The children on the rug were getting a little restless, and I was watching the clock to make sure we finished circle time “on time” so that children had plenty of time to play in centers. Instead I asked him what was wrong, and if he needed more help. His brilliant response was, “Yes, there is a problem. I see a “T” and it says “t” but Thursday doesn’t make that sound. It has to be Tuesday.” I was so thrilled by his observation, and it all made sense to me now! Partially because this was a child who up to this point hadn’t really attended to print too much or seemed very interested in literacy activities, but yet he just made a very insightful discovery.

I then focused all the children’s attention on this and took the time to explain that he was correct and that the “h” changed the sound. (Not a concept I typically teach or would plan for in my lessons, but it came up, and he needed an answer so that it made sense to him, and he could move on.) The other children were interested in this too and began asking questions and naming other words that made the same “th” sound. I was no longer concerned about finishing circle time because we were having a great conversation and we were learning!

Last week: We read a Scholastic Magazine about bears during shared reading time. I pulled up the story on the SMARTBoard as they began to look at their own individual copies. The title on the cover read, “Shhhh…. The Animals Are Sleeping!” The child from the previous week quickly responded while he was looking at this paper, “It’s happening again.” Another child said, “Yeah it is!” I said, “What’s happening again?” He said, “ The “h” is doing it again. I don’t hear an ‘s’ sound.” Once I realized what they were talking about, I enthusiastically responded, “Yes, you are right! You guys made a great observation and are really looking at the words.” They were quite proud of themselves and several others got excited about this discovery as well. Once again, not what I was planning to cover, but I was so proud of their thinking, and it was necessary to follow up on our previous discussion about letters and sounds.

At that time another child asked about the dots after the “shhhh.” I explained what those dots meant and then introduced them to a period. They enthusiastically began to scan their papers for more of those “dots.” It was another great discussion and lead to others asking about other punctuation marks on their papers.

ellipsis

To top it all off, the next day, yet another child in the class proudly handed me a book he had written the night before at home. It only took me a second to notice the “shhh” written on the cover followed by a period. The child said, “I knew you would like it, and I even put one of those dots at the end.”

These are wonderful moments for me as an educator! I love seeing my children get excited about learning. I am so glad I did not rush through the daily routine of calendar time, and that I gave the child a chance to express himself. His question about the letters on Thursday enhanced the learning experience for the entire class. I know that they still may not fully understand these concepts, but I believe that these small teachable moments are laying a foundation for their future reading, and it makes learning meaningful. May we all remember to allow time for discussion and take advantage of all those teachable moments that come up naturally in our classrooms.

IMG_0396 This post is brought to you by Cassandra Mattoon, M.S. Cassandra teaches Pre-Kindergarten at Thomas Metcalf Laboratory School at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. She has been teaching in the field of early childhood education for 19 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in ECE and a master’s in curriculum and instruction. She has experience teaching first grade, third grade and been the director of a child development center. Check out Cassandra’s past post on the blog here!

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