Saturday, September 21, 2013

Is it Going to Be Like This Forever?

Every school year I find myself thinking something like, "I CAN'T DO THIS! THERE IS WAY TOO MUCH EXPECTED OF ME AND NO POSSIBLE WAY TO ACCOMPLISH IT ALL!"

By the end of the year my thoughts are more like, "Wow. Things are running smoothly. My students could probably run the class themselves if I weren't here."

And even though experience has proven time and again that things will, in fact, settle into a manageable routine, I still completely panic at the beginning of the new school year. This is true for a lot of areas of my life. Every single new semester in college when I would see the syllabus I would think, "Nope. Can't do it. No way to do it. I'm going to quit. Quitting right now." But then it would all work out and was never nearly as impossible as I thought it would be.

Me every semester. I don't know how I graduated.

Here's the problem. I look at what I am expected to accomplish in a large amount of time (A semester, or a school year, etc) and my brain thinks I need to do it all now. It's all like . . .

I'd talk back, but it's too darn cute.

But this year is different.  Here are a few tricks I've learned to deal with the stress of the new school year starting.

1) Don't Feed Your Feelings of Panic

Your feelings of panic probably aren't doing reality justice. It's not going to be as bad as it seems. Things will become routine and you'll be able to accomplish a lot more than you thought. If a future you from the end of the school year could come they would probably say, "Calm down. You're making it worse by freaking out." Maybe they'd slap you or something. Whatever would be most effective.

The more you dwell on how panicked you are, the more panicked you will become. I'm finally learning how to use logic instead of emotion when looking at what is expected of me.  It turns out my emotions really aren't very good at accurately portraying reality when I'm particularly stressed. Neither are yours.

I don't know! That seems like pretty sound logic to me!

The best way to crush your feelings of panic is to not try to crush them at all. Just let them come and pass and don't overreact to them. Recognize them for what they are, feelings. Not reality.

It'll still come back, but won't stay as long if you don't focus on it.

2) Add Things Slowly

I'm a far more effective teacher by May than I ever am in August, but that's okay. There are plenty of routines and extras I want to work into my lessons, but I've found it's best to begin the year establishing the bare basics and then slowly add things as I'm ready and as my students are ready. I've tried to start EVERYTHING the first day before and it doesn't work. Then I panic and think I'm a horrible teacher because I'm not meeting every single requirement on day one, or week one, or month one. But years of teaching have shown that I'll be able to start adding on little routines and extra things to enhance my teaching and lessons, all in good time.

So my advice is to start with only the absolutely necessary parts of your lessons. Get the basics down and soon you'll find you have that time to add that extra bit before each lesson and before you know it you'll have added that part at the end. 

As an example, right now I want my students to write or a draw a quick summary of what they've learned after math in their journals. It's a good thing. Something that I'm supposed to be doing to help their learning. But we're not quite there yet. 

It's not good to add a more complex routine like that when they are still trying to get the routine of remembering what a pencil is and how to keep it from falling off their desk within the first 3 minutes of class.

Pencils are hard.

3) I Shouldn't Make Lists When There Are Only Two Points

Because then I feel like I have to make a third one.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Teaching Short and Long Vowels

Did anyone else notice how school started again?

Anyway, here's some tips on how to teach short and long vowels to students. I teach first graders and many of them need a lot of phonics instruction. But don't tune out if you don't teach first graders because there are plenty of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders who need basic phonics help as well. Teachers tend to stop teaching phonics explicitly to students after 1st grade or so, but don't be one of them! Some students struggle for a very long time simply because they weren't taught phonics explicitly for long enough. The class moves on and teachers think they'll just pick up on phonetic rules, but some won't. Trust me. I've seen it in pretty much all of my students in special education who struggle with reading.

Granted, many students won't need it to help them read fluently. They've already got it so you might think you're wasting your time focusing on the few who do need it. But the time is not wasted! Teaching phonics will help their spelling improve incredibly. Just because they can read the words fluently does not mean they can spell them, and when they can consciously explain phonics rules, their spelling will show it.

This is a fun and effective way to teach what long and short vowels are, and how to decode CVC and CVCE words. And CVCCECVCE words, if those ever come up.

Here's what you'll need:

5 pencils
5 strips of different colored card stock

Step One: Make Vowel Cards 

Pretend there's some tape there too.

Fold the rectangle and tape onto the pencil. Write the long vowel on
one side and the short vowel on the other. Make one for each vowel.

Step Two: Practice Short and Long Vowels with Students

I start with the letter A. Teach them the short sound with the short vowel marking, and then teach them the long vowel with the long vowel marking. The fun part is reviewing it like this by rolling the pencil in your hand. When you stop, the students say either the short or long sound. As shown below:

Step Three: Demonstrate Short and Long Vowels in Words

To demonstrate short and long vowels in words, use CVC words that can become CVCE words. For instance hop and hope or mad and made. Practice as shown below:

I don't know why it does that little animation at the end. It was late when I edited it. I promise I didn't do it on purpose.

And here's a list of CVC words that can become CVCE words:

When your students are ready you can move onto CVC with blends that can become CVCE. Here a few that work: plan, strip, grip, trip, shin, grad . . . and that's all for now. I can't think of any more.

Also, don't feel confined by using real words. It's always good to throw in some nonsense words to make sure they understand the rule and haven't just memorized the words.