Click to view   Another blog post made me want to write about what I do on this current topic. As teachers we are well aware of how some students work at different speeds. Last year I had many students who worked quickly (and this year, well not so much). My whole classroom management system actually takes care of this issue wonderfully. To begin, students have an unfinished box where unfinished work goes. They know that once they finish something early, they check that box (work in that box goes home at the end of the day as homework). If there is nothing in there, they get to do whatever free-choice activity they are currently allowed to do. Let me explain:
   A fellow teacher at my school painted a tree on my classroom wall. Each student has a laminated monkey in which they begin their day on the green leaf on the tree. According to their behavior, the move up or down the tree. Each leaf allows them a new free-choice activity when they have completed all of their in-class work. Here are the leaves with their appropriate activity: first (sit anywhere-no extra activity so if all their work is finished, they can read); second (draw or color); third (play-doh and whiteboard); fourth (computer); fifth (certificate home).
   Since the placement of their monkeys on the tree dictates what they can do when all work is finished, there is no need to ask, "what do I do now?" This, of course, takes time for the kids to learn, but once they catch on to it, it is very helpful. The free-choice activities can obviously be modified to fit your class, but my kids love these activities. :)

 Click to view     At the end of last year there was a discussion on a chat forum in which I participate about which is more difficult, the beginning of the school year, or the end? My vote: the beginning, hands down! Since I teach first grade, and my kids come from the campus across from us (it's still the same school), this whole transition to elementary is especially difficult (sometimes more so for the parents). The parents have to learn new rules and procedures (at the kinder campus they get away with bringing the kids late, at our campus the gate closes after the late bell and kids are not allowed to enter), meet new teachers, coordinators, and the whole process is just overwhelming for many.
    From a teacher's perspective, it's just very slow (sometimes) to establish those routines, and get the kids into the swing of things. For the first couple of weeks, the morning routine was just dreadful. The kids didn't grasp what they were doing, and I even had a couple of parents contact me about how upset their child was about not knowing what to do in the morning. My morning routine consists of 2 sentences to be written and corrected in their journal, and then read. Of course, the kids come in very nervous and unsure, but boy it sure was a painful process as we learn the routine together. Thankfully the kids understand the routine by now.
   Once the kids actually know the routines and have it down, things begin to move more smoothly. This is when we teachers get to enjoy what we are doing, and actually teach. This is why establishing routines from the very beginning is so important. That is also why I do the same thing at the same time everyday. Once the kids get into a routine, you don't want to steer away from it (sometimes we have to, for assemblies or any special event, but those are occasional and therefore can be managed). I do my Daily 3 (a modified version of the Daily 5) at the same time everyday, as with oral language, spelling, phonics, writing and grammar, math, etc. The kids know what to expect, and they end up being able to transition flawlessly for the most part.
   Now that I am in week 4, my kids have the routines down and I can begin to enjoy what I do, which is spend my day with great kiddos and guide them in their learning. The road traveled to get to this point, however, was very, very rough!
   How do all of you establish routines in your class?

   Children's Laptop Computer clip art  I love doing math centers with my kiddos! Comparing from years past when I did not do centers, and when I have done centers, I see such a huge difference in what the students can do. It is definitely worth it. For those who are new to centers or unsure how to set them up, here is a little of what I do to successfully make my centers work.

   First of all, I need to know how much time I have for math! My whole math time is very strategic and planned out, and I time everything I do in math. This helps me to stay on track.

  How many centers you offer are going to be based on how much time you have, and how many groups you have. I generally have 3 groups (A,B,C) with A being my lower ability group, and C the highest. Now, I also focus on specific skills, so groups can change on a weekly basis. I look at my target skills and group the students together based on similarities of needs among the students. To do this, I use a spiral review before every lesson which quickly shows me old concepts and new concepts, and whether or not students are getting those concepts. I will also use quizzes and math tests to group my students. Remember, groups are flexible, and are based on student needs.

  I have 3 centers, with only 2 rotations. These are the centers I use: 1) Teacher center, 2)Hands-on Center, and 3) Independent center. The teacher-center is exactly what it sounds like. I work with  small group of students at that time. The hands-on center includes math games, flashcards, and specific tasks that pertain to what we are learning (for example, my students are learning about grouping so one of the activities in the center asks them to make different numbers by grouping in tens and using numbers left over). The independent center consists of their math practice pages, and any extra work I put in their folder to help them work on whatever skills they need extra practice in.

  Since we only have 2 rotations a day, a math group does not get to do all 3 activities a day. Here is what a week typically looks like:

  R1 (rotation 1)                                 R2
A-Teacher Center                         A- Independent Center
B-Hands-On Center                     B- Independent Center
C-Independent-Center                  C- Hands-on Center

   This example would be for Day 1 of centers only. Day 2 I would start with group B. Groups A and  would meet with me more than group C as they are below or at level. To reach group C, you want to place more challenging work in the hands-on center.
    You will notice that during rotation 2 I am not with any small groups. I have my two lower groups practicing skills independently, so at this time I navigate the room and work one-on-one with students who need that help. I start my centers with the more capable group (C) doing their practice pages and independent work because they need less assistance from me (they aren't allowed to talk to me if I am working with a group).

My schedule: I keep my mini-lessons in all subjects to 10-15 minutes. This helps to keep the attention of my students, and lower misbehavior. It works miraculously.

10 min- spiral review
10 min- Calendar
10 min- mini lesson
20 min- Rotation 1 math centers
20 min- Rotation 2 math centers

  If you are not doing math centers, you might want to consider it. I enjoy it, even though it took me a while to get into the groove of it. Once I figured it out, it became exciting, and the kids are always excited to do math centers. Try it and see if you and your students don't fall in love with it as well.

What I Eat To Feel Great Part 1: The Genesis of My New Diet

         This started as a podcast episode, but I just had to turn it into a blog post as well. To preface, I am not qualified to give a...