Archive for the 'Professional Criticism' Category

Jun 19 2013

Preschoolers and Urban Farming

IMG_4603 IMG_4547 IMG_4545 IMG_4741 IMG_4448 IMG_4447This is a short post about the new things I am trying out in my preschool. Since I last wrote, I moved my preschool to my home. At first, this was a purely economical move as the price of heating and cooling my rented space was astronomical. It ended up being a blessing though as I am able to now incorporate hands-on learning that I couldn’t before.


My step-son is in FFA and needed a “farm” type of project, which posed a small problem-we live in town (a VERY small town, but still in town). My husband decided that chickens were completely doable and so he and my SS built a coop, and a house (here is the link to a video a local news station ran on our project:). With this small project, we started to think that we could do even more, like growing vegetables, and this is where the school idea crept into my mind; wouldn’t it be great if my kiddos could learn all about reading, writing, math, and self-sustenance? Wouldn’t they gain experiences that might make their learning “stick”?


So far, it has been a hit with my kiddos. I am only teaching two sessions-two hour blocks-of a summer academy right now, but my kiddos LOVE the mini-farm they help me with. They beg to feed the chickens each morning and collect the eggs. They run out to the squash plants (planted in a recycled tire) to check the blossoms. They know that the blooms on the tomatoes with turn into fruit. They are so excited to see the tendrils on the cucumber plants growing longer each day and reaching up the trellis.


Moving to my home and letting my students work with me has been a HUGE part of our summer together-I know they are learning as they ask to read about growing pumpkins and growing orchards of apples. The only problem? The kiddos are convinced that I’m going to buy them a mild cow:)


Enjoy the pictures…Happy Teaching!


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Oct 24 2012

Reciprocal Teaching in Preschool–Teaching Each Other to Read

This is a great example of reciprocal teaching in my classroom. We use the technique quite often (I teach a new skill and a student takes over to act as teacher. He then teaches the skill to another student). I have had amazing results so far.


The students in the clip are both 4. The boy has mastered several sight words and has learned to read the book, “Cat and Dog”. He is now teaching the girl to follow each word with her finger, and read the book. Before I caught the lesson on my phone, he reviewed the sight words with her! I LOVE IT!!!



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Oct 24 2012

5 Reasons to Teach Writing in Preschool

By writing, I don’t mean learning to trace letters or numbers…I mean reflective writing based on literature models. Can that be done in preschool? Yes, it can be taught in preschool, but it looks much different than it looks in upper grades.


I know that writing is just as important as reading…why? Because while reading is the passive form of taking in information, writing is the active form of GENERATING information. It’s obvious which takes more thought to accomplish–which is more difficult. Here are the REASONS I teach writing to the preschoolers in my class:

  1. Writing teaches thinking and questioning- You really have to know what you’re talking about to write, right? Of course you do or it is very evident. Preschoolers know this too; they know when they don’t know enough about a subject to write about it that they have to research and find out more. This is thinking in action. Can a three-year-old realize that he needs to know more? Yes! They start asking questions to fill in the blanks. How would they know they didn’t know enough if they hadn’t tried to write? They probably wouldn’t!
  2. Writing encourages proper grammar usage and correct speech- I am an English/Writing major and incorrect speech is particularly irritating to me…I just can’t help it. So, even though I am constantly correcting spoken words, it seems that small children don’t internalize that. But, they DO internalize correct speech when they are made to write it. Correct grammar usage is a by-product of writing in my preschool.
  3. Writing makes a child synthesize information- Children have to be able to really understand a topic to write about it…they have to process all the information from a text to be able to pull out pieces to talk about or make connections. There is no way around it…writing forces synthesis.
  4. Writing makes children confident in their academic abilities- There is no better way to make a child feel confident about his abilities that to have a real piece of work to praise. Writing is like a beautiful piece of art that can be analyzed and touted! My children are never as happy as they are when they complete a piece.
  5. Writing is F-U-N- Is there really anything more interesting to a child than himself? Nope…and they LOVE to talk about themselves as well as write about themselves! I am never disappointed in what the children have to say about themselves. And, they can go on, and on, and ON.
I told you it looked different in preschool, but I can’t help to think that these first attempts at writing reflective and personal pieces will pay off for an elementary, middle school, and high school teacher several years down the road:)

Using “special writing paper” to write reflections on The Little Red Hen.

Writing is a must in my preschool class…I can’t help but think it stretches their little brains to amazing new places.


Happy Teaching!

Writing personal narratives…they were mostly symbols with occasional letters and numbers.

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Sep 19 2012

I Finally Differentiated my Classroom!

Woohoo! Yes! Yes! Yes! I did it…I finally understand exactly how to differentiate and am doing it daily with great success. Are you ready for the secret? Well, if you’re a public school teacher and reading this hoping to accomplish differentiation with 125 kids, you’ve come to the wrong place. And that is the sad part; I couldn’t teach to every child until I left my old life as a middle school Language Arts teacher. I couldn’t teach 120 to 150 kids (yes! I had 147 one year!) in a different fashion. Most kids got the same from me–and I just couldn’t do any better no matter how hard I tried.



It is disheartening, that while many say they can differentiate and I’m sure a few super-people do, mostly it’s just handing out a different form of a worksheet. In the best cases, it’s doing what a teacher friend of mine did, “separate your gifted and let them teach themselves while you work with the middle and lower.” 


I hated that I was forced to teach all kids pretty much the same way. Yes, writing does sort of differentiate itself, but, much of the time, my high kids were bored, my middle kids were satisfied, and my low kids were lost.


But, with my new career that has all changed. Teaching in a small preschool has opened my eyes to creating a classroom where everyone can learn…everyone DOES learn. And the amazing fact is, I know where each of my kids are academically and socially. I also know that I’ve said this before…that I knew where all my 120 kids were. But, a sad truth, I didn’t. I couldn’t! It wasn’t that I was lying, I could tell whose paper was whose without a name on it, but I couldn’t really get the depth of knowledge of each kids because I had too many. I now have 10 and I KNOW them.


Yes, I have 10 kids and that is all. I know exactly what each can and cannot do. E-X-A-C-T-L-Y what each can do, and now I can push them to go further. I direct one to the writing station because she is “almost there” with writing complete words. I can take one to the rice and bean sort, or the paint table because he wants to write, but has limited motor skills. I know that one of mine came in writing his name and is now learning sight words, and since he is fascinated with math facts, is learning to count money and to count by 2′s. And, I one loves the writing center and can barely be torn away long enough for art! She is destined to be a storyteller!


I’m not trying to yank anyone’s chain, or call anyone to the mat for saying they ARE differentiating with a large number of kids. I just know how difficult it is and wonder how in the world it can be implemented completely. Maybe there is an answer to teaching in over-crowded schools and giving each kid exactly what he needs…I just couldn’t do it.


This little guy is working on sight words, but struggles holding a pencil. Here he is using fine motor skills in transferring small items through a funnel.


In my mind, you have to have small classes. You have to know your kids…everything about those kids. Then, and only then, can you really set up a classroom that works for every kid at every ability. Small classes…tiny, tiny classes. That’s where it’s at!


Happy Teaching

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Sep 09 2012

Decor in My Preschool

So, since I am a veteran to teaching, but a newbie to the tots, I really thought about how my “classroom” should look and function. My first concern was a building to house my school…that was easy enough. I found an old dress shop uptown and that was that. Then the difficult part; it was being used as a machine shed/building garage when I took over the lease. EWWWWWW!  Lots of cleaning, paint, and carpet and I finally had a fresh space.


The real issue, though, was how to set everything up. Since I didn’t profess to knowing how to decorate for preschoolers, I just went into my default decor mode–warm, inviting, and peaceful colors and furnishings. I decorated my classroom just as if it were my home, and I have to say, I LOVE IT! And, it seems others do too. Most people that walk in say it is “homey” and that is just what I was going for. Please take a look at my pictures, and feel free to tell me what you think:)

My window decor. 


Reading nooks.

Another reading area

Our table for crafting, writing, and building (it was set up for open house here, but you get the idea:)


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Sep 07 2012

Pre-K Science Experiment–Growing a Popcorn Seed

This is an easy science experiment for the Pre-K room…observing corn growing. Here’s how my students completed the task and the materials you’ll need:


  • Ziplock Baggies
  • Paper Towels
  • A Popcorn Seed
  • A Magic Marker


  • After showing the children an ear of corn and reading a short non-fiction piece on plants, I handed each child a popcorn seed
  • We wrote our names on a baggie in marker
  • We wet one paper towel and folded it in fourths
  • We placed the seed INSIDE the damp towel
  • We taped our baggies into a sunny window

It was like magic…the popcorn seeds grew roots in three days and within a week were what I photographed below. The children learned that seeds need rain, sun, and (eventually) soil to grow. We were also able to journal about the experiment through painting. It was a H-U-G-E success.

A successful experiment!

Popcorn seed in the baggie.

Happy Teaching!

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Sep 06 2012

Un-Worksheeting the Pre-K Room

I have always been anti-worksheet, and I’ll tell you why; they’re boring. Like, soooooooo boring! I hated them as a student, but trust me, I used them as a teacher (well, in the beginning). And, I don’t want to put anyone down who is currently using worksheets. They may have their place in the world, it’s just that I really dislike the fact that they are pre-made and no one has ownership of a worksheet. Seems unoriginal, and who likes that?


So, how exactly can a person teach basic skills without worksheets? Easy…the kids create their own. They like it and so do I. Let me give you an example: learning to write your name. This task is better left to a worksheet right? I mean, they even have a free program that lets you put in the kid’s name and it prints it onto a cute little sheet for the kiddo to trace for days. Fun? Maybe for a minute or two. But, what if I did this; what if I wrote a name in magic marker and then gave the kids a crafty little project…cover your letters. Cover them with what you say? Ummmm…beans? Yarn? Glue? Glitter? Toothpicks? You get my point.

Practicing the spelling names in glue and yarn


The next time you are teaching something that seems worksheetable, reconsider for just a minute. Could the task be done in a way in which the kiddo feels in control? Has a say? Wants to actually complete the task?


Good luck un-worksheeting your classroom…it really is worth it:)


Happy Teaching!

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Sep 04 2012

What’s the Difference in Teaching a College Freshman and a Preschooler? Not much!

So, if you read my last post you know that I went from teaching writing to 8th graders, to teaching preschool. But before that, I taught in high school and even did a stint as a guest professor at a local university. You would think that much of my background knowledge, my schema, would not transfer…well, you’d be wrong. I realize that good teaching is good teaching, but yes, there are differences between college students and preschoolers. Among those:

  • College students DO NOT pick their noses in front of their friends
  • College students WILL NOT pass gas next to their professor and then ask if it smells like “dog food”
  • College students KNOW that that time is limited…BUUUUUUUUT
  • Preschoolers DO NOT have to be reminded to balance their life
  • Preschoolers WILL NOT argue when asked to share or play fair
  • Preschoolers KNOW the golden rule
So what have I learned in my four weeks as a preschool teacher? That much of what I ALREADY KNOW is completely applicable. I know to share a mentor text when I expect good writing (albeit in paint:). I know to use natural materials so my kiddos can see the beauty around us. I know that students learn from great literature (and fairytales ARE some of the best!), learn from being in nature, and learn from their own natural curiosity.
I know that my preschoolers will thrive with the same techniques I used in teaching college freshman.
And, if you’re wondering, it DID smell like dog food:)
Happy Teaching!

Preschoolers responding to the literature, “Mouse Paint”.

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Sep 04 2012

It’s Been a Long Time…

I have not posted on my blog for nearing a year now-and it was for a specific reason- I was frustrated. I was frustrated in my 8th grade Writing position, and frustrated with mandated curriculum. Frustrated by students who were not held responsible for their own work, and by a move to go to Standards-Based Grading. I was frustrated that I was called to the mat by co-workers (fellow teachers) for a post that I had written in which a dangling modifier (OMG!!!) had led to a misunderstanding of my blog post. Heartbreaking to have to explain to my principal that one single word didn’t mean that I hated my district!

I was so disgusted that I just let it go; the blog, the idea of a great working environment, and the dream of making a difference in public education. I let go of the fact that I used to adore my profession, and that teaching was a great joy in my life…teaching writing was my life.

Fast forward 10 months: I am a secondary education teacher that has walked away from public education to open my own private preschool and tutoring service, and I couldn’t be happier. I love my new kids (who knew that preschoolers actually LIKE school?) and I love their parents who trust me to know what I’m doing. I love the fact that I now walk to work-I opened my school in an old building less than a block from my home-and can make it back home in time to cook supper for my five kiddos.

From 8th Grade Composition to Preschool Composition

But, most of all, I love that I am now in charge of my own curriculum and things make sense; I can teach a child to write before the state mandates, and we can learn math, science, and reading whenever we decide we are ready. The children make their own decisions about their learning-they know what they are interested in and what they’d like to learn to make their little world more fulfilling. And, I L-O-V-E that! My learners are cognizant of their needs, and desire to learn…OMGosh! It is possible!

Can I pay my bills yet on my new pay? Nope! Can I love it and know that, “I have built it and they will come”? Yep.

So, if you’re interested, please follow me on this new journey into what can be.

Happy Teaching!



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Jul 21 2011

Preparing to Teach in 100+ Degree Heat Without Air-Conditioning–Innovative Teaching Suffers

I’m much like many teachers across the country in later July…we start looking toward our first school week coming up in August. For me, my first school day is August 15th. August 15th…hmmmm, the middle of August, in Missouri, with NO AIR-CONDITIONING! OMG (I mean, Oh my God!!!!)…it’s hot!

**A newsclip from Fort Wayne, Indiana

Starting in mid-August for me means:
~Teaching without my classroom lights on (those lights produce sooo much heat!)
~Leaving my windows closed (if it’s 100 outside, it’ll only be 93-95 if I leave the window closed…100 if I open them)
~Trying to talk over the fans running on the highest speed
~Giving constant water breaks
~Trying to remain a professional while presenting myself with sweaty pits, a sweaty back, a ponytail, and sweat dripping from my lip (while in a dress!)

So, what’s the big deal…I mean, lots of people work in the heat, right? Yes, lots do…but, are those people held to strict benchmarks that can make or break them? I have to have EVERY minute count with my students, but when my room temperature registers close to 100 degrees, how much writing can I get out of my kids? I am asking them to give 100 percent to a revision on a piece of writing, and they are begging to go out for a drink, to lay their head down for “just one minute”, to sit in front on one of my two fans (which is awful because I’ll have 30 kids in my room all vying for a 3×3 foot box fan!)

The biggest problem for teachers is, we have a terrible time pushing for learning and innovative thinking when the kids’ bodies are subjected to such high temperatures. I can weed in the heat, I can mow in the heat, I can even paint in the heat, but none of these activities require my brain to do much…my brain is on auto-pilot. If I want to push my brain, my body has to be comfortable…it is just nearly impossible to push for creative/innovative thinking when your body is so hot in distress.

Therein lies the problem, kids and teachers are lethargic and the worksheets come out…bye-bye great intentions for innovative teaching! Here is a quote from Mankato, Minnesota English teacher, Mrs. Kane: Kane says, “You tell them to sit quietly and relax and lower your blood pressure and life will be better, and give them review sheets and quiet activities so they don’t lose their minds in the heat.”

Sad, isn’t it? There has to be a way to provide relief for students that are sweltering in hot classrooms across the country…we have to do something differently; it’s only fair to our kiddos.

Happy (hopefully COOL) Teaching!

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