Thursday, January 26, 2017

Welcome Friends!

Howdy, friends.

It's Laura Williams from Down River, Texas (Not really a place on the map, just a figment of my imagination! It represents more a journey and not a destination. Hmm, kind of like teaching.)

Were you looking for me? 

I have missed you so so so much. At the end of December 2016, I had a mid-week crisis and changed my identity! (Just teasing. It's been in the works for a while.)

Why don't you FLOAT on down to my new blog, which looks identical to my old blog. When you get there, add your email address to get my latest blog posts!

WARNING: My blog is currently being re-imagined for your viewing pleasure.

I promise you lots of AAAMAZING things are in store for you SPRING 2017!

In the meantime, I am still operating my blog, the outdated but not hated one, and TpT store under my vibrant new name which embodies the journey we are about to go on!

Relax, down river. I'm still here you help you be a WONDERFUL teacher! #youareloved

See you soon,


P.S. If you want to be added to my mailing list which I will use to send FREE tips + resources, I am currently in the process of getting that all worked out. Email me with the subject line ADD ME, or something of the sort, so I don't think you come out of a blue can!

I want to talk to you and see how you have been.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cooperative Learning Strategies

Howdy, friends.

I am getting more preparation done for my classroom as I know you are too (if are lucky enough and have not started school yet!) I presented some staff development workshops this summer and was able to share my classroom with other teachers in my district. Just for the record, these teachers are the inspiration behind "Kindergarten Down River." They helped me realize the full potential of my vocation. Thank you, Texas friends.

During these workshops, a specific format is used. It goes something like this: I model and share a piece of a lesson and then the teachers share the instructional strategies they saw present. This really holds me accountable for the correct modeling of these strategies. Finally, the teachers apply the strategies that I shared during the workshop by modeling their own mini-lesson with a small collaborative groups.

I am a "newer" teacher in comparison to many of the teachers whom I meet at these workshops, but they are truly so excited to learn "new tricks" (as one sweet teacher shared with me in an email today.) In college, this newer generation of teachers has been taught more about building a classroom community of learners, rather than being taught content knowledge (I have a real problem with this--but that is not the topic of this post!)

Many of the cooperative learning strategies that can be utilized in the classroom are much newer to a large group of these teachers. I must say, my school district has put a lot of emphasis on the structure of the classroom and I have yet to see a classroom, at the schools I have worked at, with individual desks separated into "the grid."

Here are a few tricks that you would see if you walked into Kindergarten Down River:
Students are grouped in teams of three or four.
  1. All students are separated into teams of three or four.
    • Smaller groups allow (force) students to communicate.
    • Any group larger than four usually is more problematic as far as behavior is concerned.
  2. Each student chooses a number in the group (1, 2, 3, or 4--depending on group size).
    • Students have the choice to pick the number so they have ownership of it.
    • Each student is required to know the response to my question because they do not know who is will be called on in their group. (I tell them after they have time to discuss! This way every student is "on the hook" or accountable!)
  3. Each group is assigned a different color.
    • I place $1.00 small metal buckets in the middle of the tables that are the color of the team. (Target sells these in the party aisle. Hobby Lobby has some in seasonal and party sections.)
    • When I dismiss groups to join me at the rug or line-up for lunch, I use their group color.
    • There are other variations to this: You can use shapes, numbers, or academic vocabulary words that change but meet a specific unit. I have lots of great ideas on how to do this, but I stick to colors as it is just easier for me to remember. Once you get in a habit, it is hard to break it!
  4. I have a small metal bucket with spoons in it. Yes, I said, "Spoons!"
    Cups or Buckets to Label Table Group/Spoons to Call on Students
    • Each spoon has a number on it. The number written on the spoon represents the student in the group is that number for their group (See Step 2 if you forgot already!)
    • I just bought these new Crayola plastic cups the last time I was in San Antonio at H-E-B for 66 cents.
    • I only used standard white plastic spoons for this with Sharpie marker written numbers. My friend, who I often collaborate with, gave me a great idea this summer. Have you been to a frozen yogurt shop lately? Does your favorite shop stick a funky spoon in your yogurt when you pay? Mine does! Take a break, grab some "fro-yo" (I think that is what the youngsters call it), and SAVE YOUR SPOON. The future of the Earth depends on it. Think about your carbon footprint. You can save the planet!
  5. Here the routine I use to implore this strategy now that you have all the key pieces:
    • Tell the students that, "In just a minute you will be responsible for discussing a question with your team. It is important that all team members have a turn to speak. When each member has a turn to speak, you need to work together to come up with a response for your team. You will not know who I will be calling in, so it is important that everyone is ready to share."
    • Ask ALL of the students a question. Have all the students repeat the question. (This helps build language skills which is very important in a classroom with a high ratio of English learners.)
    • Then, tell the students something to note that they need to begin. I say, "Heads together," and use a visual cue. The visual cue I use for this command is I put both of my fists together which represents the word, together.
    • I allow enough time for students to process the information, being mindful that some students need additional time.
    • Then, I call all of the students "back together." I say, "Back together." All of the students who are finished put their eyes on me. Anyone that is in the middle of their conversations, finish up quickly and then put their eyes on me. (This is a routine I teach that values all students and their processing times.)
    • I grab my metal bucket with spoons in it and I mix them up. As I am mixing them up, the students all stare at me because they are very curious as to what number I will pull out of the bucket. (This is why I emphasize that each student should be prepared.) I pull a spoon out of the bucket and reveal the number to the students. Typically, they all shout out the number on the spoon. This is one less job for me and helps them read their numerals which supports our mathematics standards!
    • I say, "Everyone listen, as number 1 from the purple table shares." Everyone listens. I usually thank that student for sharing. Then, I say, "Everyone listen, as number 1 from the blue team shares.." and so on. I KEEP THE SAME NUMBER FOR THIS ROUND OF REPORTING OUT. There is no need to switch them each time, or it lets students "off the hook." It is important that each team reports out and you hold them accountable.
  6. Use this cooperative learning strategy in all subject areas, no matter what grade level you are in and you will see your students' language skills greatly improve.
Happy Communicating!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

July Brings Preparations for Next Year...and More Shopping!

Howdy, Friends!

A cool breeze kept me out and about today! Me and a sweet teacher friend (a third grade teacher and aspiring campus leader) had a shopping day after running errands at Central Office. After our errands, we shopped with our friends, Jo-Ann and Michael (...wait for it....Jo-Ann's Fabric Store and Michael's Arts & Crafts Palace!)

Michael's, pleasantly to our surprise, was having a 50% off the green clearance sticker sale (I was able to get lots of useful supplies for my classroom for $1.50 and under).  I will have to post some pictures of what I found when I finishing unpacking all of the bags! Exhausted after hitting the town, we ate with Jason of the Deli.

As if this wasn't enough excitement for the day, I received the feedback from the staff development science training I did in June. The teacher participants really learned a lot and gave excellent feedback! Thank God for my vocation! I will be sharing important pieces from this training in two weeks as I will be delivering it to two different groups of teachers. If you are looking for ways to make science instruction more meaningful with literacy opportunities, stay tuned!

Number Puzzles 1-20
The evening wouldn't be complete without working on some projects for next year's buckaroos. Today, I printed some of the number puzzles from a Kindergarten NEW Math TEKS Support Pack I recently created. I printed and cut the puzzles for numbers 1-5 as this is the beginning focus in September.

This set of numbers was printed on blue cardstock. Each set of numbers I print will be on different colors of cardstock to scaffold the activity for English learners and others who will need the additional support. For instance, numbers 6-10 will be on pink, numbers 11-15 will be on green, and 16-20 will be on yellow cardstock.

This is a great way to differentiate activities for students. I opted to use the same color for 5 numbers so there is still a challenge for the other students. If you use these in your classroom and need more scaffolding, you can print two puzzles in the same color cardstock. This is just one way I color code for my students in need to additional support.

I am wrapping up the evening creating a new bundle which I hope to release tomorrow! I think it is my most exciting bundle so far as every person I know who is an elementary teacher could benefit from it. Keep checking my blog, store, and Facebook page for the unveiling!

Happy Sleeping!

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