Multisensory Approach to Letter Formation

As per our school’s Learning Improvement Plan (LIP) focusing on student writing growth, I am embedding different modalities of letter formation into our phonics lessons. The students are enjoying a multi-sensory approach to writing: play-dough, chalkboards, whiteboard tables, wiki sticks, letter magnets, wooden pieces, etc. A new favorite is writing our letters with paint brushes in shaving cream. It is a really simple lesson that warrants student engagement.

A typical phonics lesson activity: Lakeshore letter-sound buckets for sorting initial sounds.

Shaving Cream Letters Lesson:

  1. Hold up letter cards and get students to state the letter name, sound, and action.
  2. Students copy the letter, starting at the top, with paint brushes in shaving cream. They form the lowercase and the uppercase for each letter.
  3. Students “erase” their letter with their brushes and repeat the process for the rest of the target letters.

Writing letter ‘v’ in shaving cream.

But What About the Mess?

I find that it is not as messy as it may seem. Each student needs to roll up their sleeves and be reminded not to eat, fling, or touch the shaving cream with their hands. We talk about how it smells good but would not taste good (you may want to note that it is NOT whipped cream). I get students to wipe off any excess shaving cream on the side of their tin (get baking pan tins with higher edges rather than baking sheet tins with lower edges) and then at the end of the lesson we use paper towel to clean the brushes before putting them in water.

Ready for the next letter!

The Benefits

The best part of shaving cream letters is that students do not feel pressure to form their letters perfectly. If they make a mistake, they simply can “erase” and try again! The teacher can observe the letter formation and remind students to hold brushes appropriately and start from the top during the lesson so the practice is meaningful. All students, especially those who dislike pencil-to-paper work, seem to buy-in to the novelty of shaving cream letters. No tears, busy minds at work, and smiling faces… seems like a win to me!

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Classroom Safe Spaces

Creating a safe place for students in our classrooms is so important as it allows them to take a break, develop coping skills, work through their emotions, and ultimately, feel safe, regulated, and calm so that they can learn. Safe spaces come in all shapes and sizes and help a variety of learners. Here are a few of my examples:

I typically incorporate visuals of emotions from the social-emotional program(s) we will be learning that year (such as Zones of Regulation, Mind Up, Inside Out + Zones, Circle of Courage, etc.), good/poor choices cards, and breathing/calm down/yoga activities. I like to keep the space cozy and sensory-focused with sensory bottles and/or fidgets, noise-cancelling headphones, weighted and non-weighted stuffed animals and blankets, and a personal space like a comfy chair, cushion, couch, or tent. As the year goes on, students will identify a tool-kit of strategies that works for them that is available in the area. The idea is that they can use the area as needed, identify how they are feeling, and self-select (or accept) a strategy to regulate and get back to the task at hand. I find that having a safe space actually increases student learning time as long as explicit instruction about the area/strategies occurs. Best of all, students are more regulated and calm!

Task Bag Learning

Today we will be talking about learning with task bags. I worked alongside my Educational Psychologist, Jenn Osberg, and my Consultant, Michelle Michaluk, to create literacy, math, fine motor, and life skills task bags that would meet the needs of my learners. As a primary Student Support Teacher, task bags are part of my regular intervention and we love them because they:

  • are play-based and hands-on
  • cover a variety of curriculum and/or individual outcomes
  • are simple to use and model (if another teacher or Educational Assistant will be implementing them)
  • include high-interest materials
  • promote student engagement
  • can be accomplished quickly (5-10 minutes of practice)
  • can be used with 1-3 students to add social goals, such as sharing and turn-taking
  • are quick interventions that reinforce previously taught outcomes
  • are easy and cost effective to create
  • can be created from “Busy Bag” idea books, simple internet searches, or unused items around the classroom

I have used my task bags with a variety of students, particularly a student who could only say two words when they started in our Kindergarten program. Task bags became an easy way to develop this student’s vocabulary, name recognition knowledge, and keep them engaged. What I like most about these task bags is that after modeling the use of the task bags a few times, they are easy for any other adult to take and use and they fit nicely into any schedule. I use my task bags for intervention times. I have also used them for additional literacy and math practice with Kindergarten students who need additional practice time after our centers. It is quick and easy to pull them for 5-10 minutes and target the specific concept and can be done within their classroom. In the classroom, these task bags could be set up as a center after teacher modeling/explicit instruction. I recommend using task bags with 1-2 students but I have used them with up to 3 learners.

 

I have organized my task bags into two shelves and four categories: 

 

a) early math skills

 

 

 

b) early literacy skills

 

 

c) fine motor skills

 

 

d) life skills  

 

There are countless other tasks bags that could be made and I hope you find use for them in your own room. Please find the task bag labels and instructions attached: Task Bag Instruction Templates. Happy teaching!

 

Classroom Learning Environment Pt. 3

Wow! I have no idea where the time went, but here I am a week away from my 3rd year of teaching. Over the last couple of years I have been working towards creating a positive, safe, and inclusive classroom learning environment. Here is what the room looks like this year:

I have divided my room into 5 zones: a) the guided reading zone; b) the instruction zone; c) the self-regulation zone; d) the student reading zone; and e) my teacher zone.

The guided reading zone is quite similar to how it was last year with a word wall featuring the Fountas and Pinnell words from the 25 and 50 lists, a moving whiteboard, a horseshoe table and large chairs so student have the option to sit or stand, and my “don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover” comfy green chair. This space is great for small group guided reading lessons, Fountas and Pinnell reading intervention, and playing the many beloved phonics and phonological awareness games.

The student reading zone has been updated with whiteboards for word work and writing practice. I added mats with Velcro (a bit heavier than cupboard liners) to make the reading cubbies an even better place to be! This area is a classroom favorite. It is the perfect place for learners to read-to-self while I am working with a small group in the guided reading zone (from this spot I can see what all of the kids are up to!). Students also enjoy Flashlight Fridays in these spaces and are often found cuddled up with a pillow, book in hand.

The instruction zone features the Letterland alphabet train, a letter carpet, plants, and book shelves that divide the guided reading, instruction, and self-regulation zones. This year I have add a curtain to one of the shelves to keep the contents out of sight and out of mind. I also reorganized my books into classroom collections and student resources; I am hoping that I have made it student-friendly enough that students can select books at their level and return them to the right bin… only time will tell. This space is where the whole-class instruction occurs and where we learn about rules and procedures, such as Whole Body Listening. One of my main focuses this year has been alternative seating. In this area, I now have a blue rocking chair, a blue swivel egg chair from Ikea, and 3 sit disc cushions. I have also used bed risers to turn one of my hexagon tables into a standing table. I painted all of the tables with Rustoleum Dry-Erase Whiteboard paint. I am excited to see the look on the kids’ faces when I tell them they can draw on the tables!

The self-regulation zone still has the black comfy couch, some pillows, Telemiracle teddies, and weighted dogs. This year I have added a weighted blanket and replaced my colorful tent (which is now in another calm-down area in the school) with a tipi that I won from One Tribe (check them out on Facebook to grab your own custom-made tipi)! I’m quite excited about this space and think it goes well with the Circle of Courage poster and teachings already in place. This space is a calm-down space for students and a space where students can work one-on-one with an educational assistant on task bags, reading, etc. The space is private due to the bookshelf and the pocket chart (with the daily schedule on one side and good/poor choices on the other side). From my spot in the instruction, guided reading, or teacher zones I can still see the students in the area without there being an entire audience. The students are given the chance and the tools – such as fidgets, timers, and Zones of Regulation and Inside Out visuals – to work out their emotions in a safe place.

Finally, there is the teacher zone. Nothing has changed (except for all of the knowledge learned). The stop sign remains on the desk but what student would want to be in that space anyways? Textbooks or a tipi? Reading rubrics or a reading cubbie? The choice is pretty simple!

I am looking forward to another year in the classroom and cannot wait to see how the kids respond to the environment, grow and learn, and build relationships with their peers. As George Evans notes, “every student can learn, just not on the same day, or in the same way” and this is the space just for that!

Our Favorite Learning Tools!

I asked my Grade 1s to share some of their favorite tools for learning! Here are their top picks:

Emotions/Classroom Community:

This year I combined Inside Out lessons with our Bucket Filling, good/poor choices, and Zones of Regulation emotional programming. I have found that the students are more engaged with the lessons and are able to relate better.. (this could be because we watch the movie together with some delicious popcorn!?). The “Let’s Talk About” book series is also a learning tool that we utilize.

Image result for lets talk about series

Zones of Regulation Curriculum by Leah Kuypers

 

 

Reading:

The Grade 1s enjoy Flashlight Fridays and using our slinkies to sound out words, our ropes to retell a story, and our mirrors to visualize our pronunciation of words and letter sounds!

 

 

 

Sight Word and Alphabet Learning:

The students love forming letters with magnets, salt, play dough, and shaving cream. Writing on our Buddha boards and chalkboards is always fun, too! Some alphabet and sight word games that they enjoy are: upper/lower match boxes with popsicle sticks, bowling, fishing, balloon pop, ball toss, golfing, toppling bunnies, scavenger hunts, fly swatter, cup stacking, bingo dabber, egg flip, and toppling towers sight word/alphabet games. We enjoy sounding out CVC words on our pool noodles and by jumping in our hula hoops. As a teacher, my favorites are the word walls and my Lakeshore rhyme and alphabet buckets with initial sound or word family toys/examples. The picture cards are also a great find! As always, I recommend the Florida Center for Reading Research for engaging, research-based phonics and phonological awareness games.

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Reading Intervention Planning

This year I had the opportunity to attend a Joyful Literacy Reading Summit in Saskatoon. We learned all about helping struggling readers thrive through a games-based approach. I spent the next couple months trying to implement my newfound knowledge into my teaching, as it positively applies to my work as a Student Support Teacher. So far the kids are loving the games and our Grade 1 reading scores are improving!

With my brain full of great ideas and seemingly not enough hours in a day, my first step was to read Putting on the Blitz by Janet Mort. The text offers ideas about setting up meaningful interventions and there are great game-based resources and examples to learn from. My task was to try and figure out how this would work for my students and within my environment with the resources allotted to me. The next step was to approach my room and resources with a different lens. I had to figure out what I already had in my room that could be used to create game-based phonics and phonological awareness interventions. Suddenly fly swatters were looking like tools for learning in our Sight Word Splat instead of for their intended use! However, I did also have to purchase resources and took advantage of great finds at the Dollar Store, as well as, the Teacher Tax Credit. It is amazing what resources you can find when you look at things with a different perspective.

With significantly less  money in my pocket, my next step was to pull everything together and create a phonics and phonological awareness intervention year plan. This year plan utilizes the games that I have already created in my classroom, as well as, the Florida Center for Reading Research’s Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading curriculum. If you are a primary teacher and especially if you are a primary Student Support Teacher, I highly recommend taking the time to utilize this resource. It does take a lot of time to create – printing each game on cardstock, cutting, laminating, labeling the resources in Ziploc bags, and filing – but in the end you have hundreds of age-appropriate lessons, games, and assessments that focus on phonological awareness, phonics, comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary. The best part is that it is research-based and the kids are highly engaged by the games! They ask me to play them again and again!

The intervention plan is flexible in regards to the proposed timelines and activities – the students’ understanding will dictate the speed in which you proceed or review concepts and your classroom resources and game creations will vary from my own but can easily be incorporated into this plan. There are Saskatchewan curriculum connections. And since reading intervention is one piece of the literacy pie for my Grade 1’s, I have included guided reading plans with reading strategies and resources.

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I find that having this intervention plan posted in my room allows for easy planning in my Weekly Planner, which can also be adjusted to meet your planning needs. This planner helps when you need a substitute teacher due to an unforeseen event, such as illness. At a quick glance, my substitute teacher is informed about our daily activities, where to find the materials, who I am teaching at what time, and the behavior and academic needs of my learners. So far I am finding that the two resources work nicely together.

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May your literacy and intervention planning be as joyous as your play-based teaching!

Early Literacy and Guided Reading Lesson Plans

Attached are three lesson plans I use for Early Literacy and Guided Reading intervention times. I recommend using Dawn Reithaug’s letter recognition and sound assessment and The Phonological Awareness Aligned to the Hierarchy assessment to form groups based on need. Then divide your learners into early literacy groups (red) and guided reading (yellow) and change groups according to assessment results. I like to check each month formally (summative) using the assessment. For daily (formative) checks, I recommend creating an excel document with all the children’s’ names and all the letters. Pick a letter each day to test them at random (make sure it has been explicitly taught before) and note if the child knows the sound and/or letter. For instance, Child A might be shown letter ‘m’ and Child B might be shown letter ‘c.’ You can do the same thing with basic sight words for your yellow group.

Early Literacy Lesson Plan 

Guided Reading Intervention Lesson Plan

Guided Reading Intervention Lesson Plan – Option 2

Note: I print multiple of these lesson plans out and put them in a folder, which I clip after each day. By keeping a similar format and having copies easily accessible I can plan my next lesson in 10 minutes (depending on the activity)! I can easily highlight what we will be doing the next day and note any letters that need reviewing based on the data or any adaptations for specific kids. It also helps to keep the “I Can Statements” up in the room to save time. Please view Resources for a First Year SST for specific early literacy and guided reading resources.

Happy planning!

Resources for a First Year SST

As a first year SST, I found myself wondering “what resources do I need to be a successful teacher and support?” These are the resources that have helped me get through the first few months (right after some awesome colleages and kids!):

Reading:

FAIR – researched based phonics activities/games. Great to cut-out, laminate, and file so they are easily accessible. So far I have utilized letter recognition/sounds and rhyme games with great success and engagement from the kids! Note: K level actually translated to Grade 1 in many cases (adapt/gage for your children as necessary).

Letterland – kids love the actions and really retain it. Videos on Youtube, as well as, the Sotrybook are great tools for basic classroom teaching and interventions.

This always helps too:

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#halloween #awesomestaff #teacherlife

Measured Mom – everything early literacy (and math!). Great, engaging activities to get student engaged during small-group instruction. It is a good idea to cut-out, laminate, and file some of these supports so they are easily accessible. I also made kids their own individual books and while they worked on those we played some games one-on-one. The kids loved it!

Raz-Kids – for levelled books for guided reading (totally worth it to get an account!)

Reading Assessments: 

Concepts of Print by Marie M. Clay – for basic/initial reading assessments

Fountas and Pinnell Benchmarking Kit 

Orchestrating Success in Reading by Dawn Reithaug – assessing the 5 main components of reading (great for LIT goals)

Reading Power by Adrienne Gear – great for LIT goals and reading instruciton

Autism:

Circles Curriculum – teaches social boundaries/relationships

Getting Unstuck – how to problem solve

Whole Body Listening – great tool for whole-class listening (pair with both positive reinforcement, such as a marble jar, and negative reinforcement, such as name with checks on board, and you will be set!)

Zones of Regulation – great for emotional thinking and tracking (self-monitoring)

Motivation:

A Love Letter to First-Year Teachers from We Are Teachers

And whatever you do, don’t forget to ask questions.. lots of them!

The Beauty of Sign Language and Inclusion

This is beautiful. The amount of work for the community to come together is immense but it would definitely be worth it! This video also highlights the possibilities created when technology (cameras, Samsung services, Youtube, etc.) is coupled with traditional learning (sign language courses taken by community members). The possibilities of learning are endless. Better yet, the possibilities of creating an inclusive society are at an all time high thanks to technology! 🙂

Teaching Strategies, Lesson Plans, and Classroom Arrangements

Favorite Instructional Strategies

Pre-Assessment

  • KWL
  • Entrance/Exit
  • Bell work
  • Anticipation Guide
  • Texting in answers
  • Interest inventory

–          Brainstorming

During/Formative

  • Plus, Minus, Interesting
  • Thumbs up/down/side
  • Fist of five
  • Yes/No cards
  • Making connections
  • Determining importance
  • Think-pair-share
  • Inside-Outside Circles
  • Peer-teaching
  • TAPS
  • Jigsaw
  • Carousel
  • Centers
  • Multiple intelligences – learned more from what?
  • Metacognition questions (why did I do this/what did I learn/how can I improve)
  • Examples of ideal
  • Work sheets
  • Drawing for comprehension
  • Graphic organizers
  • Venn diagrams
  • circles
  • Narrative
  • Role play
  • Talking circle
  • Lectures with objectives, sheets to follow along, activities after, summary at end

–          Inquiry assignment or student-interest assignment

 Post/Summative

  • Reflections
  • Self-assessments
  • Rubrics
  • Portfolios
  • Interviews

–          Essays

Behavior/Routine

  • Marble jar
  • Proximity
  • Praise students who do it well
  • Give me five = be quiet
  • Continue when silent

–          Contracts (given before for clear expectations)

Questioning:

  • Popsicle sticks
  • Cold call

–          Blend of popsicle sticks with cold call

Favorite Classroom Arrangement

Image one: Horseshoe

Horseshoe plus groups

Image Two: Teacher/Student Work Space

Favorite Unit and Reflection Plans

See kgorhamblog: Unit Template and Professional Development Worksheets

 My Favorite Unit Plan

See kgorhamblog: Health 3/4 Unit Plan: Healthy Eating, Exercise, and the Immune System