Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Aha! Moment of Teaching

Another professional development day....
Oh joy, another 8 hours of sitting while thinking of all the productive things I could be accomplishing in my classroom!  

That’s what many teachers think when we hear the dreaded “training days” agenda.

That all changed in October 2016 when I heard Katie Garner speak about the Secret Stories® at my school.  It was the best 8 hours of any training I had ever attended.  I walked away with a renewed motivation.  I could not wait to share this tool with my students!   

Upon arriving at school the day after Katie's workshop, the students immediately noticed and questioned the “secret” posters hanging in our room.  I informed them that I had attended a top secret training and I was allowed to share the secrets with them as I felt they were ready.  Instant engagement!  And from that moment on, their curiosity has guided the introduction and instruction of the Secret Stories®.

Later that morning, I shared the first secret with my students.  We just happened to be introducing the sight word “the” and one of my littles noticed that it had a /th/ in it just like the secret poster on the wall.  So because they had noticed, I very dramatically told them the time had come.  I shut the door, gathered them together, and told them their first secret.  From then on, you could say the rest is history.  

Each time I introduced a new secret, it was because of their interest and recognition of the letters in the secrets to words they found in their names... while we were reading, doing calendar activities, completing morning work, during math instruction, or even just walking down the hallway!  

This is my ninth year of teaching, and my fourth year teaching Kindergarten, and I can honestly say this has been the most exciting year of my career.  I have seen so much growth in my students since introducing the Secret Stories® into our room, and the best part about it is... the kids LOVE it!  They are able to read, blend, manipulate word inflections, and write words with fluency, understanding, and confidence! 

Here is some of our writing from October— 
BEFORE Secret Stories®

Now check out our January "ocean-themed" writing— 
just two months AFTER the Secret Stories®

Students finding "Secrets" in their names— 
Er, ir ur love to go driving in cars......"ERRRRR!"

Mommy E® tells 'o' to SAY HIS NAME!

Au & aw have huge crushes on each other...."Ahhhhhh!"
Sneaky Y® will always be sneaky when he's at the end and thinks no one can see him!

The Secret Stories® posters— my favorite classroom visuals!
Here are some of our Secrets!
The Superhero Vowels® in our alphabet train—
and their 'short & lazy' sound-disguises!

Guest Post by— 

Chastity Sharp/ Kindergarten Teacher

George Ward Elementary in Elkins, West Virginia 

Thanks so much to Chastity for this peek into her classroom and incredible kiddos!  I'm excited to hear more as her kinders continue to progress this school year!

Check out the live Facebook Videos from my sessions this year at CCIRA in Denver on the Secret Stories® Facebook Page! (Just scroll down a couple posts down the page to find all 3 clips :)

Live Facebook Video of Sessions at 2017 CCIRA

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Monday, January 2, 2017

"Butter or Buter?" The Best Vowel-Trick EVER!

"Why do I have to write two T's in the word butter when I only hear one sound? And how do I know whether to make the long or short sound for the letter u?" 

As teachers, we know that the trick to figuring this out is based on the syllabic division of a word.
VCV (vowel—consonant—vowel) = "open" syllable = long sound (as in bite)
VCCV (vowel—consonant—consonant—vowel) = "closed" syllable = short sound (as in bitter)

But for early and struggling, upper grade learners,  this "trick" can actually be more confusing than the problem it solves, thus making an already difficult task seem even more complicated, especially for the average "concrete-thinker" (which early learners are).

If you've been following my blog (or are using the SECRET STORIES®) then you know how quickly and easily the Mommy E™ and Babysitter Vowels™ secrets are an easy-fix for this pervasive problem. This is because kids already know that when their mommy (or babysitter) is nearby, they have to behave and do what they're told! And when they are not, all behavior-bets are off!

Framing the abstract VCV/VCCV concepts in this way activates the affective thinking ("feeling") domain— an earlier developing area of the brain that is far more accessible to very young and/or struggling learners, making it a perfect "backdoor-route" for critical skill acquisition!

So let's take a peek at this kinder guided reading session to see just how easy it is...

These "social-emotive" (affective) learning connections to Mommy e™ and the Babysitter Vowels™ are already deeply entrenched within the learner, and it is this inherent understanding that easily and effortlessly drives their decision-making when working with unfamiliar text. 

Excerpt from the NEW Secret Stories® Book—Version 2.0!

Simplified alternatives— like sparkly e or magic e are much less effective for a few reasons:
—Their identity/behavior is arbitrary and not rooted in what kids already know and understand (i.e. one more thing to learn)
—They often will only apply to single syllable, silent e words (bike, rake, use, etc...)

And bossy e, super e, lazy e, etc... don't provide much bang-for-the-buck either, as they work only when the vowel is an e—leaving learners high and dry when attempting to decode all other V—C—V/V—C—C—V words, like motor, making, radar, etc...

All kids need to know is that much like their own mommy, sometimes Mommy E™ just has to get out of the house! And when she does, she'll put another vowel in charge, and that's the Babysitter. The Babysitter Vowel™ just does what Mommy would do if she were there, which is to tell any vowel that's one letter away, "You say your name!" Works like a charm every time!
The Babysitter Vowels™
See for yourself in this video clip...

Knowing about the Mommy E™ and Babysitter Vowels™ instantly equip even the youngest four or five year old learners with the "best-betting-odds for Las Vegas" when it comes to the most-likely sound a vowel will make in a word—even if it's a word they've never seen before!

That's the benefit of storing complex phonics skills in the affective learning domain, rather than the later developing, executive functioning centers. It's also why these brain-based tricks for critical phonemic skill mastery are a 'must-have' for every reading teacher (and their students!)

So back to the original question at the top of this post— 
"Is there an easy way for beginning learners to understand why there are two T's in words like butter?"

YES! But it's a "secret!" ;)
However, you can watch this short video clip from a recent staff inservice PD/workshop to find out!

Staff PD/Workshop
Using Critical Analysis and Diagnostic Thinking
to Circumvent Learners' Lack of Experience with Text

**Keep an eye out for an upcoming giveaway of the new book version—2.0, as well as SECRET STORIES® posters (of your choice) and the Musical Brainteasers CD for sound-skill automaticity. And if you're looking for ideas on how to make great use of your old set, click here! 

And don't forget to grab this winter-themed Secret Stories® Guided Reader—Like a Snowball FREE!
Free Download Window—
SECRET STORIES® Guided Reader Like a Snowball

Saturday, December 10, 2016

"Go-To" Student-Made Holiday Gifts for Parents!

Now you can cross at one more thing off of your December "to-do" list... finding the perfect holiday gifts for students to make for their parents (or class volunteers, secretaries, custodians, etc...!)

Those who follow my my RED DIAMOND Pinterest Boards know that I LOVE (a.k.a. "am addicted to") searching for the best free teaching finds online. But as time is short this holiday season, I thought I would save you a trip to Pinterest and compile the cutest (and easiest!) student-made gift ideas right here, along with a FREE download for the SECRET STORIES® Guided Reader—Like a Snowball, to help keep those guided groups on-track over the next week! (And don't forget to download all of the other freebies listed in the product description!)
SECRET STORIES® Guided Reader— Download it FREE!!
Spotting SECRETS— ER, MOMMY E™, TH, OW, AY, and ING 
SECRET STORIES® Outlaw Words— there, to, do

Okay, first up...
Photo Ornaments from I've never seen anything like this before, but it looks so simple that I'm definitely making these with my girls for their grandparents this year!
Sliced-Photo Ornaments by Joyzz
These next two ideas for easy and adorable Holiday Angels I'd actually found on a teaching site that is not in English, but it had lots of great pictures. I've only included a few of them here, but if you click on the links below the pictures, the 'angel-creation' process is shown step-by-step!
Hand Print Angels
Glittered Angel Rolls

This Hanging-Around Ornament is from Mrs. Goff's PreK Tales, and if you visit her site, she has posted lots more pictures showing different (but equally adorable!) variations on this theme! 
Hanging-Around Ornaments from Mrs. Goff's PreK Tales  
These next two are both tied for my favorites! I saw the first one on Pinterest, and then upon going to the website, Art Projects for Kids, I found the second one. I especially like these because they both allow for easy incorporation of simple math concepts, which the directions mention, as well!
Abstract Winter Trees by Art Projects for Kids

I love this next one—Watercolor Pine Ornamentsmainly because I adore watercolors! The addition of real pine branches in contrast to the watercolor ornaments on black makes it the perfect piece of "kid-art" to frame and keep forever!!  

There was no link to this one, but the directions included with the pin were as follows:
-Have kids paint on thick paper with watercolor paint in desired colors and cut out in circle shapes. Glue circles on black paper. 
-Use a bit of gold glitter to make the ornament clasp.
-Place ornament hook around a thin pine branch and glue as shown (Kids can also make water colored frames for this, or you can purchase cheap plastic ones in black from the Dollar Store :)
Watercolor Pine Ornaments

And my personal favorite.... this beautiful Christmas Tree Window, from Kathy's Angelnik Blogspot.
It's just so gorgeous, and Kathy provides easy-to-follow directions for kids to make it on her blog—Thank you, Kathy!

And these cute little Helping Hands Holiday Mitts are super easy.... no directions required! 
Helping Hands Holiday Mitts
I also wanted to share these beautiful Pine Cone Paper Flowers from That Artist Woman as a nice alternative to the traditional wintertime gift! Believe it or not, they are easy to make by just stuffing colored tissue paper into pine cone groves! Step-by-step directions for the whole thing, including the pots, are shown with pictures on the website!

And last but not least, add some extra "sparkle and shine" to your holiday gift ideas with this easy recipe for Glossy Sparkle by Pixie Pumps! This glittery-glaze provides the finishing touch for student gifts! 

Glossy Sparkle by Pixie Pumps

I hope that these "go-to" gift ideas make your holiday just a little bit easier, and that you and your students enjoy reading (and finding SECRETS!) in Like a Snowball!

Warm Wishes for a Happy Holiday!

PS Be on the lookout for another post coming soon over holiday break....and another chance to win the new SECRET STORIES® Book (and posters!) for your classroom! For notification of new posts, just follow using the "Follow" button in the upper right corner.

SECRET STORIES® Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain-in-Mind!


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