Saturday, August 1, 2015

Differentiating Your Classroom with Ease

Over the last year, my school and team have taught me so much about differentiating. In 5th grade, I so struggled with this and when I differentiated I was moving mountains. But really - I felt like I deserved a gold medal. It was exhausting and overwhelming and rarely happened.

This year my 1st grade team has taught me so much about differentiating and my thinking about DI has shifted. Today I wanted to share with you what's working in our 1st grade classrooms.
For me, differentiating no longer means creating separate games/activities/learning targets. It doesn't mean that some students do more work or students are being taught different content. It does mean tweaking activities, so they have the just-right scaffolds and pushes for my students. To me - right now - differentiation means...
(1) I know where my students are and respect that they are individual learners.
(2) I begin with the end in mind. I am a master of content in my classroom and know where students need to go.
(3) I trust that I am a professional and can create an environment in which students are able to grow and succeed. I can move my students from where they are to where they need to be (or higher) through intentional decisions in my classroom.
Believing these things, our team has developed structures and organization to help us be intentional in our planning. Today I'm sharing some ideas, resources, and specific examples that have worked in my classroom. They won't work for everyone (or even all my students), but they are a starting place, a place to start the conversation, a place to motivate us to do more.

Like most teacher stories, it all starts with school supplies. Now, you definitely don't need all of these materials to differentiate, but these are resources I use to keep myself and my students organized. If I could only pick one supply it would definitely be color-cardstock - three reams of Astrobrights colored cardstock - green, yellow, and blue. I also use the coordinating circle stickers for identifying materials for each group that aren't copies on colored-cardstock (i.e. playing cards, dice, etc.) bead container from Micheals (make sure to use a 40% coupon and then ask for the 15% teacher discount) holds my pound-of-dice I use for differentiating math games and centers. Then, I picked up colored folders and book bins for storage from Walmart!
We flexibly group our friends into these 3 groups - green (below grade-level), yellow (on grade-level), and blue (above grade-level) for math and reading. To make it easy to remember think of a first grade outside picture (green = grass, yellow = sun, blue = sky). Our kids can move anytime they are ready, no big deal. We group math based on unit pretests (every 4-5 weeks) and reading groups/colors are based on Guided Reading Levels. This year I had 2 yellow groups and slowly transitioned my 2nd yellow group into a blue group. This transition from grade-level to above grade-level happened by the end of March and my friends were SO excited. At the beginning of the year (before we're making choices on our own), we help structure our time with rotation boards for Daily 5 Reading and Daily 3 Math. (If you're interest in the below chart you can grab it here for free.)
Color-coding groups really helps with planning and organizing my small-group materials. Under my teacher table, I keep a black 3-drawer Sterilite container under each side of my teacher table (I snagged these on sale from Target for $9 a piece). I organize my guided reading materials by my colored groups - green, yellow, blue, as well as, the round the group meets. I add the rounds for any guest teachers (substitutes) we might have in the classroom. Keeping materials below my guided reading table, allows me to easily grab materials and get started when a new group joins me.
Right behind my teacher table, I also keep these color-coded bins organized and stocked for Guided Math. (I snagged my bins from Walmart) Often the manipulatives travel from bin-to-bin, but the assessments and mini-lesson materials are group-dependent. I love having my materials at arm's reach, and it's easy to restock them at the end of the day.
When planning centers, word work, and small-group activities, I try to make copies on colored card stock. This helps students immediately know what materials they should take from the bin or hook. 
There are times, when it doesn't make sense or isn't possible to use colored card-stock. In times like these, I use these colored dots to attached to the paper or ziploc bag. (If you didn't want to purchase stickers, you could always print a full-page of color on Avery Labels - easy peasy!) 
At the beginning of the year and/or when groups change, stickers are the perfect reminder to students what materials they should be grabbing. I would never print our reflection sheets/learning logs on colored paper because it's not cost effective and just unreasonable. A sticker is an easy alternative.
Also, when we're using center materials that are not printed on colored paper/cardstock, I'll put out these stickers. I typically print 100s boards, playing cards, etc. on white card stock because all my groups (regardless of level) will use them. So, I'll put the materials/cards/boards in a baggies with a sticker so student know which cards they are using. In the below picture, my friends are playing Go Fish. Green group is playing Making 10 Go Fish and Yellow/Blue are playing Making 20 Go Fish.
So, these are the basic materials that we use. Now, for examples of these resources in action!

Each part of our Daily 5 reading block includes elements of differentiation. Below is our Word Work center. (You can read more about how Word Work runs in this blog post.) The 4-5 activities in Word Work stay the same each month but the word rings are traded out. (These words come from our Reading Street program and are copyrighted. So unfortunately, I'm unable to share these. I'm so s0rry!!) During Daily 5 or centers, students choose the activity they can do (pyramid words, super sentences, etc.) and then the word-ring that is just-right for them. Students are able to work on the same activities, but with their just-right words.
One of our consistent Word Work centers is Sound Sort. Students need to be able to differentiate between different sounds and then, apply them to their own reading. Phonics helps develop automaticity as students read these patterns, and continuous exposure allows students to make the connection to their own writing, reading, and spelling. With that said, basic sound sorts of single-syllable don't offer 'just-right' practice for all our friends.

The first level of our sound sort includes mostly CVC and CVCe words, perfect for students who are approaching grade-level. The second level includes words that often include multiple phonics patterns or include blends (ex. celebrate, nudged), and, for patterns that sound identical, I leave blanks (i.e. power/pound would be p__wer and p__nd). The third level includes several phonics patterns, inflected endings, and higher-level sight words. On this highest set, I always include blanks where the phonics patterns belong.
After printing the cards on color card stock, I place them in a plastic bag above the Pocket Chart using a magnet. When students choose word sort, they know to grab their ‘just-right’ color and get to work!
Another of our favorite Word Work centers is Sentence Scramble. Each set includes 6 sentences and each sentence is centered around one of our must-know words of the week. I call each baggie a 'Level' because kids love the idea of playing a game and leveling-up. Level 1 is the easiest and Level 6 is the hardest.

When I am preparing materials, I make two sets of sentences - on-level sentences and above-level sentences. Both sets match their individual words for the week. Later in the year, I'll also add a third set for my approaching grade-level friends.
Green (approaching grade-level) - capital letters, punctuation attached to last word
Yellow (on grade-level) - no capital letters, punctuation is unattached to the last word
Blue (above grade-leve) - no capital letters, punctuation is unattached, the must-know word is a blank where students have to arrange the sentences and then, decide which of their must-know words fit
The first time I introduced the activity, I was SHOCKED that it was so difficult for students...but it is. To figure the order of words, ensure the sentence makes sense, and add punctuation/capitalization is a challenge! They love it. :) Most students work in partners and that is fine. Typically, it takes 2 rounds of Daily 5 for friends to unscramble all 6 sentences and record them.
One final example of differentiated word work is our colored folders for our Versatile Tubs in Word Work. Our skills for the week were Short E and Beginning Blends. The green folder is focusing on short e, the yellow folder is focusing on blends using picture clues, and the blue folder focuses on blends in the context of complete sentences.
Now, I never print recording sheets on colored card stock. Again, it just doesn't make sense. Instead, we place recordings sheets into colored folders. For examples, in our listening center, the 3 colored folders fit on top of the shelf. Students can choose any book to listen to. Then, after carefully listening, they pull a comprehension recording log out of their folder.
The papers in the green folder often include a word bank and space for drawing their ideas, the yellow folder includes more lines for writing, and the blue folder includes a recording sheet for a 2nd grade reading skill. (You can grab these differentiated listening to reading sheets here.)
In Math Stations, we use Sterlite Tubs to hold our materials. When students go to grab a math tub, it holds 3 folders - green, yellow, and blue. Students grab their just-right tub and get to work. If we were playing a game of Go Fish - the blue folder would have cards for Make 20/25 Go Fish. The Yellow Folder would have cards for Make 20 Go Fish, and the Green Folder would have cards for Make 10 Go Fish. Same game, just-right for all my friends.
Playing cards are fabulous for easy differentiating, as are dice. I ordered a 'Pound of Dice' from Amazon and was amazed to receive over 80 colorful dice. Each color-set included  3/6/8/10/12/20 dice, as well as, a place value dice (included multiples of tens). These dice allow me to have the same center in a tub with three different sets of dice - one for green/yellow/blue.
For example, in our Fact Family Center we loved using our Fact Family Triangles (they come in sets of 5) to relate addition and subtraction. I placed the triangles, a recording log, and 3 sets of dice in the bin (each set in a ziploc bag with a colored sticker). My green group is working with two 6-sided dice (sums within 12), yellow group is playing with a 12-sided dice and a 6-sided dice (sums within 18), and blue group is playing with two 12-sided dice (sums within 24). The learning target - "Students will be able to relate addition and subtraction." is being reviewed and practice with just-right materials.
Spinners are another fabulous tool for differentiating. We use all kinds of spinners - subitizing, within 5, within 10, within 20, +/-10...all perfect for playing Race to 120. As I watch students play this game, it becomes evident to me which students 'get' the 120s chart. If students are individually counting numbers larger than 10, I know they are still struggling with ten more and less. If students are having to individually count the dots on the dice, I know we haven't mastered subitizing. Using different spinners for different students (even if they are playing together) allows each student to practice the skills they need. If we build the foundation and provide the exposure, mastery will come! (You can snag these spinners and center for FREE here.)
Below is another example of spinners in action. This picture shows my on-level group working with double-digit addition that does not require making a ten (i.e. regrouping). These specific spinners actually were adding groups of ten.
 In my blue group, students were still working on the same skill (addition within 120...I believe my friend misread her first spin calling it 105....but oh well...the math is still solid!) but with larger numbers, many of them required making a new ten. You'll notice the materials are the same as the yellow group, but she chose just to decompose...whereas the friend above also needed the concrete model of base-ten pieces.
As you can see, structure and organization keep differentiation simple and meaningful. I'm not about reinventing the wheeling or creating 3 completely different activities for every centers/small-group activity. It just doesn't make sense and quite frankly, it would never happen. I am not planning 15 different reading/math tubs each week. Rather, I pull 4-5 Word Work activities each month and just change out the word rings each week. I plan 5 math tubs and just change-out the cards or numbers in the tub each week.

If you're interest in any of the resources I've mentioned, you can snag them below!


Differentiating gives students access to the content and material that is just-right for them, and it requires little management. This is what is working for my team. What works in your classroom? How do you manage differentiating with your friends? I'd love to hear about your system!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Daily 5 in Primary Classrooms

Over the last 8 weeks, we have covered a lot of ground. We've explored each other's classrooms, traded ideas, asked questions, and remembered why The Daily 5 matters. Creating lifelong readers requires daily, dedicated time to read. We, as teachers, must give students time to fall in love with books. 

In this post, I've shared where we have gone and given you a 'hub' for all things Daily 5. You can click on any of the pictures to be taken to take specific post for a refresher or reread! 
We started the study laying the fountain for what we need to actually begin Daily 5 in our classroom. What physical materials? This was a simple post with the nuts-and-bolts of Daily 5 - What do I need to get started? I've shared some of my favorite materials for Daily 5, and then, at the end of the post, you can enter for a chance to snag these things for yourself. With that said, know that the bare bones of The Daily 5 is BOOKS...and a lot of of them. If you want kids to love reading and spend time reading, you've got to have books from which they can choose.
We explored how we build independence throughout the first weeks of the Daily 5. Building independence is the most critical part of setting-up Daily 5 in our classrooms. Without independence, we would never be able to pull small groups, confer with students, or assess growth. There would be off-task children, there would be talking and off-task behavior, and most importantly, there would be no reading and writing taking place. As we're building independence, my 1st graders hear me ask (over and over) - "If we do __________, will that make us better readers and writers?" This is our driving question.
We talked about the explicit routines and procedures we teach students for each round of the Daily 5. These procedures set the ground-work for independence and are the lynch-pin of a successful reading block.
Knowing the foundation lessons that need to be taught and how to foster independence, we learned that the crux of the Daily 5 is students spending time reading real books. Read to Self is the first choice we introduce and the most important. Students don't become readers with computer programs and busy work. Students fall in love with reading when they are given time to read and learn in a classroom where books are valued.
Throughout the study, I have heard several teachers say - "I do Daily 5...I just don't let students choose. It's too much for them." Friends, I'm going to be really honest. If you have layed the ground-work, built stamina, and fostered independence, choice is the inevitable conclusion. If choice is 'too much' for your students, it's likely you need to go-back and practice. Choice is a CRITICAL part of Daily5 because it provides students with ownership of their learning and freedom in the classroom. Our students are capable of SO much, and we need to trust them. This can be scary and intimidating (especially with little friends) but it's VERY possible. 
Later in the study, we were introduced to the math component of The Daily 5, The Daily 3. The Daily 3 and Guided Math are a small-group approach to learning mathematics, just like we meet with students daily during Guided Reading, we meet with students as mathematicians. It is a deviation from whole-group math instruction. While there is still time for whole-group, you invest your efforts and resources into meeting with small-groups of students each day.
Although not an official chapter in the book, Word Work is a critical part of teaching children to read. Students need repeated practice and exposure to high-frequency words and phonics patterns. In this blog post, I shared some of our favorite Word Work centers - sentence scramble, word sorts, pyramid writing - and how I differentiate so all my students are working with just-right words.
Additionally, Listening to Reading provides students the opportunity to hear fluent reading and through listening to reading, students have access to more books than they are able to read independently. Listening to Reading provides an incredible opportunity to engage with any book they are interested in; rather than just what they are able to read at that time. 
With less than 2 weeks until my new 1st grade friends arrive, I am excited to hit the ground running with Daily 5. Are you ready? If you're not using a full Daily 5, what parts of the study are you putting into action? What do you want to make work this year?

I'd love to hear your ideas and your take-aways from this study! As I begin a new year of Daily 5, I'll make sure to share how it's going and what it's looking like with a new group of friends. Until then, good luck friends! 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Classroom Organization: Tips and Tricks

My name is Catherine, and I am an organization addict. It's true friends. I love procedures and order and know my classroom runs smoothly because of these things. Today I'm sharing with you how organization helps maximize learning in our classroom and how I maximize my time as a teacher. Now, my room is definitely not 1st-grade ready, but the key organization pieces are up and running from last year or have been added this summer. Since I'm not ready to show the big-picture, this post may jump around a bit. Still, I hope you enjoying seeing how my classroom runs! :)
We'll start in our classroom library where you find our wooden display shelf and our student book bins (from Really Good Stuff), as well as, Sterelite containers for themed books. If you search #1stgradebookshelf on Instagram you can sneak a peek at our weekly themed-bookshelves. I love these shelves because they expose students to a wide variety of books and authors, and build excitement. My friends can't wait to see what books I've chosen for us on Monday mornings! Plus, my friends BEG for extra reading time on Monday mornings.
I store and organize all of these books by month or general theme. I try to keep one theme in each bin, but sometimes small themes (like teeth or Valentines Day) double-up in the containers.
For student book bins I label them by number and attach the labels with permanent Glue Dots. Over all of last year, I only lost 3 labels by using the glue dots...making library set-up a breeze this year!
Next, onto our library: I have two LARGE metal cabinets. When you open them up, you find my Reading Street Leveled Readers (on the first shelf) and then, hard-back books (Seuss and Willems) and Listen to Reading Books.
I place listen-to-reading books in plastic bags if I have multiple copies of them. If I only have a single copy of a book, it goes in the bin solo. I sort the books into three groups - fall, spring, and anytime books. This makes trading out books for listening to read simple. I typically keep 5-6 different book choices in our listen to reading center. (To learn more about our Listen to Reading center here.)
For all of the listen to reading books, I use Glue Dots to attach the CD case and CD to the inside cover of the book. Although these CDs are loaded to my iTunes account, attaching the CD allows me and other teachers to always have access to them.
On the right in the above cabinet picture, you see a bin labeled "Weekly News". Last year, our team was blessed to receive Scholastic News from Donors Choose. We split up a subscription (5 copies per classroom), laminated the magazines, and saved them for future years. These are FABULOUS nonfiction articles, and we didn't want to lose them! This summer, I organized my magazines and clipped them together by month, so they are easy to grab this year.
On the bottom shelf, you see our Reading Street leveled readers. I keep these organized by story (meaning I mix the colors) and rubber band them so they are easy to reference. You can read more about how I make Reading Street work in a Daily 5 classroom here.
Directly across from my metal cabinets are floor-to-ceiling built-in green cabinets. I store my personal things coats, umbrellas, school bag on the left side and then, school things on the right. The bulk of the space is taken up by Guided Reading sets. Our school does not have any book room or guided reading sets, so using Scholastic $1 books I've started my own 'book room'. Be warned this is the least organized space of my room! I keep the books in plastic bins by guided reading level (my picture books are in plastic bags on the back of the top shelf and my chapter books are on the bottom shelf. Attached to the inside of the door, is a list of guided reading levels and what books I have. It's too easy to forget what I have, so this makes it much easier!
Moving to the right 3 feet, we're met by my Wall-o-Cubbies. I have 30 cubbies in my 1st grade classroom and use the last 6 cubbies for storage. I store things that I want my students to have access to in these cubbies because they are 1st grade sized. Even if completely stacked, students can reach the top bins. 
I clearly label every bin so my friends know exactly what to grab and where to put materials back. This helps keep things organized and allows students to be in charge. My friends know that anything with a label can be touched by a 1st grader. If a bin doesn't have a label, they need to ask me before touching! (The bins on the left are size small and the ones on the right are size medium.)
On the left, you see a thin, unlabeled bin. My friends know they must ask first to open this container (because it's unlabeled). It holds all the dice I use for math games and differentiating math centers. I picked up a bead container from Michaels (with a coupon and my teacher discount) and it's the perfect way to store dice!
Then, we have our Math Center tubs and our Word Work tubs. I use the Large Sterelite Clip Top Tubs for centers and absolutely love them. I know they are definitely an investment...BUT take it slow and collect them one unit at a time. (A unit included 6 containers). My first year of teaching I purchased 2 units (12 bins) and they are still in perfect condition. They are big enough to hold a sheet of paper without folding/bending it, as well as, the bins don't open when dropped..a key detail in 1st grade! ;)

As my students make their reading and math choices, they grab the correct tub and during Word Work they also grab a word ring (as seen hanging from a Command Hook in the picture on the right). You can read more about our Math Centers here and more about Word Work here. If there are extra 'pieces' to a center that don't fit in a container (i.e. a 100s board as seen on the left or magnetic letters as seen on the right) I keep them on the bottom of the containers. Students will look at the visual directions (math and word work)  on the top of each bin and know they are missing something!
Additionally, our number lines hang from a Command Hook.  I purchased mine from Carson Delrosa, laminated them, hole-punched the end, and hung them. This keeps the number lines organized and easily accessible to my small friends.
Turning another 90 degrees, you see my teacher-table/guided reading table. I use my desk as a writing center, so I maximize the space behind and under my guided reading table for storage. Two years ago, I purchased a 10-drawer rolling cart that sits behind my desk. (You can buy it on Amazon or at Sams...although it's only $25 if you grab it from Sams!) Each drawer stores materials for the week. My drawers are labeled - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Copy, Laminate, Scholastic Reading Club, Extras, and a blank label. I use this blank label or 10th tub for emergency sub plans. Should I ever need to be out unexpectedly, I have 2 days worth of materials/lessons prepared...just a little peace of mind for me!
Across from the rolling cart, you have my teacher table. I keep a black 3-drawer Sterilite container under each side of my teacher table (I snagged these on sale from Target for $9 a piece). The one on the left (below) stores Guided Reading Materials and the one on the right remains unlabeled because they are my personal drawers (notes/cards, teacher data, and then, snacks). I organize my guided reading materials by my colored groups - green, yellow, blue, as well as, the round the group meets. I add the rounds for any guest teachers (substitutes) we might have in the classroom. Keeping materials below my guided reading table, allows me to easily grab materials and get started when a new group joins me. (If you're not familiar with how I color-code my groups, you can read more about it here.)
On the top of my desk, I keep a tri-container (a gift from a student) of writing utensils. I don't like students bringing any materials to my teacher table other than their blue work folder because it typically takes a lot of time and results in a messy learning space. In one container I keep highlighters and markers, in the second container I keep dry-erase markers, and in the third container I keep pencils and pens. 
Right behind my teacher table, I also keep these color-coded bins organized and stocked for Guided Math. Often the manipulatives travel from bin-to-bin, but the assessments and mini-lesson materials are group-dependent. I love having my materials at arm's reach, and it's easy to restock them at the end of the day.
Organization is the key to a smooth-running classroom. It helps students know what to expect and gives them structure when working. My biggest takeaways from this year are (1) label things that you want students to be able to use independently (2) keep things at 1st-grader height and (3)figure out a color-system that makes management easy.

So, tell me, is organization something that comes naturally to you? What tips do you have for keeping it manageable? I'm always looking for new ideas, so I'd love to hear what works for you!