I am so excited to be a final year in the Urban Teacher Residency Partnership Program (UTRPP). I am a senior in college at the University of South Florida (USF) and I am teaching in the classroom all day four out of five days every week. This year I am working in first grade alongside my collaborating teacher (CT). My CT has done an amazing job of welcoming me into the classroom and making me feel like a real teacher. I cannot believe that I could (and hopefully will) have my own classroom a year from now.
I have been granted so much time and freedom to teach my students thanks to the UTRPP and my great collaborating teacher that I taught my first lesson (that I designed myself) on the first Friday of the school year. I did a read aloud of Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. This was one of my favorite books to read as a child and it made me very happy to share that love with my students. I helped model what a reader does before, after and during reading to my students as I read this book. I also connected this activity to Social Studies through the standards SS.1.C.2.4 Show respect and kindness to people and animals, and SS.1.C.3.1 Explain how decisions can be made or how conflicts might be resolved in fair and just ways. By doing this, I made a connection to the Florida Educator Accomplished Practices (FEAPs) through FEAP 1A: Align instruction with state-adopted standards at the appropriate level or rigor. My students and I participated in the “Wrinkled Heart” activity. For this activity, the teacher has a paper heart that he or she crumples as student say mean phrases to it. The teacher then smoothes out the heart as students say nice and helpful phrases like “I’m sorry” or “What would make you feel better?”
It was amazing to see the reactions of my students when we did this activity. My students were very scared to say anything negative at first; I really had to ensure that they knew it was okay and they would not get in trouble. They were able to immediately point out the differences between the regular heart and the wrinkled heart. My students also noticed that even after smoothing out the heart with kind words, there were still wrinkles. I informed them that even though we say sorry, we may not always be able to fix what we have done wrong so we need to avoid saying or doing mean things. Then I sent the students back to their seats and we worked together to decide whether or not certain activities would give someone a “happy heart” or a “wrinkled heart.” The document below is something that I created myself for this activity.
I had the students cut out and then glue kind and mean activities onto the hearts. (I found the behavior pictures online. I do not own them.)
My collaborating teacher really liked the fact that I guided the students in a step by step process with cutting and gluing the pictures. I had the students simply cut all of the pictures out and then put their scissors away before getting out their glue sticks to glue the pictures down. I decided to do this because I wanted the activity to occur as quickly and easily as possible and create as little mess as possible. I also made sure to model how the students should cut out and glue on the pictures to remind them how to handle these tools. My CT thought that this was a great way to make sure the students stayed on task and were engaged. I did a few examples with the students and then had them complete the rest of the activity themselves. I collected their papers afterwards and I only saw one mistake where a “mean” activity was placed in the “happy heart” but I am not sure if this was done on purpose or if it was an accident because it was the first time the students had used glue/scissors during the school year. All in all, I think the lesson went really well and I think the students really understood what I was trying to convey to them.
My first week was the pre-planning week, which allowed me to work alongside my CT to set up our classroom. We have designated areas on the walls for English Language Arts (ELA – Reading, Word Work, and Writing), Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. We also have an area for student work to be displayed. I took on the challenging task of reorganizing our classroom library. I created new sections for the books based on student interest.
There are sections based on the content areas: Language, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. There are two sections of Story Books. There are two sections for books about animals: Animal Stories and Animals (informational). There is also a Poetry and Songs section alongside Fables, Folktales and Fairytales and Seasons and Holidays. The final section is Favorite Authors and Characters. I looked up ideas for library organization online and found this section, which I thought was really interesting. This section contains books that students really enjoy and are familiar with such as Caps for Sale, Clifford books, Dr. Seuss books, books by Kevin Henkes, etc. I really like this section because it is easy for me as the teacher to find books that I want to use for read alouds and then I can put them back in this section so students will have easy access to them. We also have plenty of chapter books but these will not be introduced to the students until later on in the year.
I also created a new system for checking out books in the library. Each student has a close pin with his or her name on it. The student can choose a book from a section once he or she has put the close pin on the bin. When the student has finished reading the book, he or she simply has to find his or her close pin and return the book to its rightful place. I really like this system because the students put the books back where they belong so it is easier for me and the students to find the books they are looking for. When I reorganized the classroom library I looked through every single book and put it in its correct spot, which took a lot of effort because students forgot where they took their books from. So far, this checkout system has worked really well and the students really understand the entire process. The other issue arises when students want to check out multiple books but I tell them to pick two books from the same section (and because there are a great variety of choices in each section, the students can still choose to great but different books).
Another part of decorating the classroom that I took on was decorating the door. I really like the idea of door decorations because I think that they help to welcome students into the classroom and make them feel at home. My collaborating teacher and I were not sure what to do at first but we found some inspiration off of Pinterest and then I hand made all of the parts to the door.
Then I made some owls based on a design I found on Pinterest. I cut out each layer of color and taped it on. I laminated each of the owls so I could reuse them in the future.
Although I do not have a picture of it (the door currently has the name of my collaborating teacher on it and so in order to protect her privacy, I have not included it), at the top of the door is the phrase “Look who’s in 1st grade!”
I am really proud of my door because it is the first door that I have ever designed and made for a classroom. I have lots of ideas in mind for the rest of the year. I know and fully believe that instruction and content should come first but I think designs and decorations that are inviting and colorful give the classroom a warm and caring environment that fosters learning.
I am so excited for everything to come during the rest of this year!