More Questions and Answers About Our Centers Rotation- And a Free Download!

Heidi and Kimmie at La Verne’s Independence Day Parade
 

Roynon School’s “Float” and the Kids
 

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend, and that ALL of you are now finally enjoying your summer break!  It has been incredibly hot and steamy here in sunny Southern California; in fact, it seems a lot like a sauna outside! It’s not usually this humid, so it feels pretty miserable at the moment, unfortunately. Of course, our town’s local Fourth of July parade went on and was as big a hit as it always is!  This was the first year that my school,”Roynon,” actually had a float and an entry, so that was exciting!  The theme was “Racing to Read,” and the 90 children that participated all brought their favorite book to show the crowd, which was cute!  Some rode in the trailer float, and many more rode their bikes.  Parent volunteers walked along the side of the road and passed out candy to children that came out to watch the parade.  And me, my 20 year old daughter Kimmie who is a Kindergarten aide at my school, and some others helped carry the “Roynon” sign the headed up our entry.  Although it was INCREDIBLY HOT, and we had to walk nearly three miles, it was still great fun! I got to see lots of my students from this past year and other years as well.  A couple of them looked like they were about to have a heart attack from seeing me “out of context,” and were jumping up and down and screaming, “Mrs. Butkus, Mrs. Butkus!!!!!!!”  Kimmie and I were in laughing our heads off at their silliness and excitement.  It really was cute, and I have to say- it sure feels GREAT!  Teaching just doesn’t get any better than that.

Parade Participant Honest Abe
 

I even got to meet and get my picture taken with a local “Abe Lincoln Presenter” named Robert Broski.  He told me that he does school assemblies and presentations at libraries and things like that.  His favorite question from children is, “Hey…. aren’t you dead?”  🙂

 

Next week is the National I Teach K! conference in Las Vegas, Nevada!  I am soooo excited; it’s like going to a great, big, four day Kindergarten teacher party!  I am looking forward to a fun and educational week in Las Vegas!  (Well, okay;  I’m mostly I’m just looking forward to the FUN part!)  I am planning on leaving on Sunday and staying until the whole thing is over on Thursday, and then driving home on Friday.   I’m hoping to connect with my fellow presenters, meet some new friends from all over the place, and put some real-life faces to names from the internet world!  If you are going to be there and would like a chance to “meet and greet” over lunch, my and the HeidiSongs Facebook “group” have decided to meet for lunch at the entrance to the Crystal Springs Booth in the exhibit hall on Monday at the beginning of the lunch hour.  We’ll wait about ten minutes or so, and then make our way over to the concessions and eat lunch together while we chat and get to know each other in person!  Sounds like fun to me!  Everyone is welcome, so come on down!  (Okay, don’t get TOO excited; we’re all buying our own food, LOL!)  But I think it will be a fun way to get to meet some people, especially for those of us who might be attending the conference alone and would like to meet some friends. The downloadable I Teach K! catalog is available here.

Now back to business!  The questions and answers below are posted in response to some questions that arose after last week’s blog post on my center rotation.  The person that asked the questions left them as comments on the blog, and after I answered them, I thought that with a little bit of clarification, they might be good general blog entries rather than just comments on the blog that few might think to read.  I hope that the questions and answers are helpful to you!

More Questions & Answers About Our Center Rotation
 

Question:  It sounds like all of your class rotates through to the teacher table each day. Does each rotation last 15 minutes?

Puzzles are a nice, easy center!
 

Answer:  Yes, they do go to the teacher table every day.  And actually, each rotation lasts about 20 minutes, with about 4-5 minutes passing time in between. As I said, this works for me due to the presence of my aide three hours a day and the volunteers that I have. All of these people know that if the children in their group finish up or lose attention, they are to direct them to another activity that I have indicated. It’s usually a puzzle or a book, but often it could be:
– looking at the chicks
– watching the tadpoles or insects
– playing with the Number Pattern Blocks or the Alphabet Pattern Blocks – doing a puzzle, or playing with a selected manipulative that I have put out, etc.

Alphabet Pattern Blocks
 

I rotate in and out the things that each table group can do when they are done to keep them fresh. Also, it has to be something that they can do very near to the center that they were at. I prefer that they keep that activity right at the same table where they were working before, because I find that the troubles come when they leave their group and form a new, independent “cluster” on the floor somewhere and wind up getting rowdy or something. They will stay under control (usually!) as long as they are right there with the adult. If there is nobody there with that group at that table, then they definitely have to stay there when they are done.

Number Pattern Blocks
 

Usually, all they may do when they are finished will usually be simply read a book at the table. I don’t want them to rush through their activities so that they can goof off together on the floor somewhere alone where I can’t see them very well, like behind the cubbies! And the more attractive that I make the “go-to” activity when they are done, then the more likely it is that they will rush through the activity to get to it. And that was never the point, was it?

Question:  I’m really seeking to improve the structure of my centers this fall.  I will be going from a half-day program to a full day one.  I hope to have groups in the morning and groups in the afternoon.  I will have an aide for most of the day–but no volunteers that I can count on to supervise a center on a regular basis.  Do you think I could make your system work with 2 centers really being independent?  With RTI requirements, I need to meet with some students every day.  Do you meet with every group each day that you do centers?

Math Center Table
 

Answer:  Yes, I meet with every group, every day.  However, occasionally there are times when it is not possible, such as if there is an assembly or some kind of special event.  In that case, we may do just two centers on one day and the other two centers the next day.  OR, we may just do a two station rotation on that one day.  That means that we will have them do the same art project at two centers, and the same language arts activity at two centers (one group would be with me, and one group would be with my aide.)  That way, we don’t need to worry about “messing up” the next day’s schedule and we are done our rotation on time to go to the special event.  In this case, I would catch up on the math lesson later in the day.

Art Table Center
 

I believe that the key to getting to every group, every day, is timing the rotation so that you definitely make it, and then planning your other activities so that the rest of the class isn’t going crazy while you pull those groups!  Getting them into a routine that works for you is essential.  It’s important to train your class to do what you want them to do, and count on this “training period” taking more than one day!  In Kindergarten, it usually takes a couple of weeks before I feel confident that the children understand the routine and the procedures for my group rotation.  But I have to say that my primary goals for these first couple of weeks are not necessary academic; they are procedural!  The most important thing I am doing during the first couple of weeks of school is getting the children into a routine that allows me to teach them in small groups without constant interruptions.  Equally important is that they learn how to act in a whole group situation; that is, to sit and listen without blurting out comments, and to follow directions, etc.  When you focus on these things being your primary goal, it kind of takes the pressure off for the academics, I think.  I just keep reminding myself:  “I only need to teach them how to just “be” in school properly right now.  Nothing else matters much; the rest will come.”

Language Arts Table
 

I can remember one year not too long ago, I had such an incredibly difficult class that I realized I was a good two weeks behind my pacing guide due to the fact that I was having to go OVER and OVER the rules and procedures to make them work.  It was totally discouraging and frustrating, but classes like that “happen” from time to time, and we just have to roll with the punches and do our best.  If you are a brand new teacher, just start praying NOW that you don’t get that terribly difficult group right off the bat!  It’s much easier to know what is really “normal” and then get slammed with that “off” group of kids, then continually second-guess your own abilities all year long and wonder if this is really all your fault.
As far as making the rotation work without regular volunteers, it is certainly not as easy, but it can be done.  I have done it many times!  At my school, there are five K teachers, and there are always days when some of us have no volunteers at all. We learn to get by. There are years when we have volunteers maybe two days per week and never any on the others. And the days that we do have them, there is only one person, not two.

An Easy Art Center Activity
 

When we have years like this, we plan accordingly.  The art projects are MUCH simpler. The children learn to set up the art project for the next person, too. That is part of their responsibility and something we train them to do at the beginning of the year.  Both the teacher and the aide know that one of us will get a little less done each day due to the need to stop a bit earlier and help them finish up if necessary and get ready for the next group. Usually, at the fourth independent table, the teachers with fewer volunteers do what they refer to as “Mini-centers.” So when they get to that station, the children split up and go to individual mini-stations. Two of them might go to a listening center, two to a computer center, and two might go to Sing and Spell Puzzles, or Velcro Books, do a Sight Word Splat (see below for more info on that!), or a science center, and so on. Their names are posted at each mini-center and rotated each day, so they know where to go. We put hooks on the wall or at the table, and that is where we hang a sign with each child’s name.  The kids find their names and go to that center.  They go with a partner, and they are divided up so that two kids that are “bad news together” are never sent to the same mini-center together. That usually works out fine.

Sight Word Splat Mini-Center
 

Not surprisingly, there are always a couple of children that are always “lost,” and never seem to know where to go.  I try to assign these children a buddy that is a bit more aware of the procedures, etc., and ask that child to take the lost one with him.  That usually works!

I would highly recommend this type of center rotation if you lack volunteers but do have an aide. That way, you can let them do some art independently, then do mini-centers independently, and then you can do reading groups, and your aide can do math. You can always switch back and forth with reading and math as you wish. I almost always do reading and let my aide do the math, but then might do some more whole group math lessons in the afternoon (or in the morning before groups start) to make sure that my kids are getting some math instruction from me. It helps a lot!


The Original Sight Word Splat Frame
 

More Sight Word Splat Frames!
This summer, a teacher friend of mine is tutoring her granddaughter, who was actually in my class last year!  We were brainstorming some more ways to help her little sweetie remember the word “what,” which was “deviling” her in particular.  My friend had her watching the DVD for Sing and Spell Vol. 2, which has the “What” song on it, and also asked her granddaughter to sing her the song many times “to teach it to Grandma.”  I also suggested that she take the child outside and have her write it several times with sidewalk chalk, and maybe build the word with playdough, which always seems to help kids remember pretty well.

A New Sight Word Splat Frame
 

In addition, I made up some different versions of the “Sight Word Splat” that she enjoyed coloring last year.  This is a picture of her working on them at home, and I am sharing these new masters with you today as a free download!  They are blank, so you can write the word of your choice into them and have the children trace around them next year when you have the need.
If you remember from reading about this activity in a previous blog post, the children trace around and around a sight word many times with markers.  (It’s really just a large scale version of sight word rainbow writing.) We used highlighters to make it fun, and then later we got out some scented markers too, just for fun!  But the thing they loved the most were definitely the bright highlighters!  I’m going to watch for them when the school supplies go on sale in August.  And last year, I got my “smelly markers” free with a rebate from Office Depot when they went on sale, too.  I’ll certainly be watching for that deal again!


Homework for the First Week of School!
I am experimenting with using Microsoft Word on my Mac, which is something I have really NEVER done before.  My goal is to be able to upload documents on my blog or on my website that you could actually edit easily if you use a PC and use Word, as so many people seem to do.  So today I am posting my homework sheet for the first week of school as a free download.  I am hoping that many of you will be able to download, open, and edit it on your own computers easily.  So this is a test!  If it works or doesn’t work for you, I would love it if you could let me know with a comment on the blog or on my HeidiSongs Facebook page.  If it doesn’t work, I don’t know if we will be able to get it fixed or not, so there are no promises here, because I’m a Mac, not a PC!  (And I LOVE my Mac, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!)

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Heidi Butkus

About Heidi Butkus

Heidi Butkus has been teaching in California public schools since 1985. She has somehow managed to stay in Kindergarten all of those years, with the exception of five years in first grade, and also taught a parent participation preschool for a short while! Combining a strong knowledge of brain research with practical experience, Heidi has created a wealth of fun and engaging teaching techniques that work well with diverse populations. She has presented at conferences nationwide, and is the owner and founder of HeidiSongs.com. Heidi has also created fourteen original CD's and DVD's for teaching beginning reading and math skills, three musical plays designed especially for young performers, and has written some picture books and many other teaching resources. Heidi's multimedia workshops are filled with fun and motivational educational activities that have been classroom tested and revised for effectiveness with all types of learners.
  1. Heidi, The download worked fine for me, but I have a Mac. It was fun to be able to go in and change the text. What a gift to all of us! Thank you! (…and I am hoping this works for pc users, too!!!)

  2. Heidi, The download worked great for me! Thank you so much for your hard work. I really liked it. I love your blog and all the information you have had recently with the questions and answer format. Looking forward to your sessions next week in Las Vegas!

  3. Heidi, you start homework the first week of school and continue all through the year? do your parents ever get frustrated with the amount of homework you send? in the past I have had issues with a few parents that seem to get "tired" of doing homework with their child every week. some say that they have too much going on..after a while it seems like I am doing a lot of work and only 3/4 of my class is benefitting! have you ever considered doing a reward program for completing homework?
    I love sending work home for my students..sometimes I just feel like it is a lot of extra work for me too!
    thanks for the download!

  4. Hi, Hillary!
    My district mandates 15 minutes of homework per night, in addition to reading to or with your child. So since homework is required, I never gave it too much of a thought to feel bad about it! But I do try to make it count, in that it should be a learning activity, and not just a way of wasting time.
    I have collected used Happy Meal toys and other types of old toys that my family and others didn't want, and I have acquired a pretty good prize box. When the children return their Read Aloud Chart each month, they a prize from the box. And, from Dec. to June, they are supposed to practice sounding out words each evening as well. (This is usually very short- maybe 3-4 extra minutes, and the parent signs off.)
    I actually have not had any parents complain about the amount of homework in many years, except for one, who was a single mother with a very long commute. We arranged for her to catch up on weekends. MOST of them, I think, really do understand that it's important for their child's success.

    I feel for you regarding the 3/4 of your class not completing the homework. I have certainly been there! I used to work in a much rougher neighborhood, and had a lot of trouble with that sort of thing. But on the other hand, I don't remember ever expecting that to change, or anybody ever doing anything about it. At my present school, if a child is not doing the homework, a teacher will call after a week or so and find out what is going on? They really approach the parents and follow through on it, because everyone is expected to do it. At least that is the way it is in Kindergarten; I can't speak for the rest of the school.
    All I have to say is that, perhaps, if you commit to following up on kids that do not do it, then you'll feel better about putting some more time into it.
    Otherwise, you might consider making each evening an oral activity that they might do with the parent, and then the parent signs off on it. There is no (or at least, rarely) written work. So there is not much for a child or parent to mess up on. The parent only has to sign that it was completed. When we did this years ago, most of the parents probably really did the activity and signed it off; a probably few lied and signed it anyway; every now and then, some body would refuse to sign it because they COULDN'T lie, and had no intention of completing the homework with the child. There was always somebody in there that just wanted to know why I didn't simply give the kid a worksheet? And then there is always a kid that loses their paper completely, don't forget.
    BUT…. once you have it typed up and saved on a format like mine, all you have to do the next year is change the date at the top of the form, as well as any relevant messages/holiday dates, and you're DONE!
    Heidi

  5. Hi Heidi, Thank you for all your hard work and sharing you do. The download worked for me and I am on a Mac with Word. My husband was always a Mac and I had to switch over when we got married, but I HAD to have Word added because I could not get the hang of Quark. 🙂 Thank you again.

  6. The download worked perfectly! I love it! I love your center explanations! …exactly like I do mine. The Kinders LOVE the rotation & I agree w/ EVERYTHING you said..the hardest part is getting the centers to time out right…& there are those who always know where to go & one who gets lost. You validatE what I already do, but make it so much better! You are one of God's biggest gifts to K teachers!

  7. To Deda:
    You could not get the hang of Quark! That's a shame, cause it can do so much! It's funny- you are the first person I have met that actually says they have USED it! I use it for all of my word processing, and Word just plain drives me NUTS! (I have to use it and a PC at school.)
    🙂
    Heidi

  8. To Beadboard:
    Oh, my goodness- that is such a wonderful thing to say! You just gave me goosebumps! Thank you so much! You just made another day in front of the computer worthwhile!
    Heidi

  9. Hi, Heidi, the download worked for me, too! This will be extremely useful for me. Thanks for sharing. Will you please either post or reply with more info on your "sounding-out" homework you mentioned? I would love to hear more.

    I'm at a So Ca school, too–low poverty, low English, most kids don't go to preschool, most come to me not even knowing how to write their name!!! We will be going from 20 kids to 30 next year with NO Aide (I've already been without an aide for about 5 years now, which was almost doable with 20 kids, but 30????? EEEEEEEKKK!) and NO parent help either. We just don't get parent help in the area I teach in. I am so scared about the whole management issue of 30 kids with ONE adult!!! I am so jealous that you have an aide and parents to help you. I just bought your math CD and plan to get a few more, in the hopes that the extra music will help with at least some of the management! I do a lot already, but I really lke the idea of being able to sneak learning into it!

    Thanks for a great blog and loads of help!

  10. Hi, your website is WONDERFUL! Definitely chocked with Gold! Can you post or send me copies of your monthly "READ ALOUD CHARTS"? I am setting up homework folders for my 1st/2nd combo class for next year. I am in a very low SES school and I think this would be a best practice. I can't find the charts for download anywhere on the site. C Saulter [email protected]

  11. To Pastor James,
    Thank you so much!
    The Read Aloud Charts are not posted anywhere, because mine are filled with copyrighted artwork from DJ Inkers. If I repost them, I will have to come up with artwork of my own to replace them, and so then probably I will wind up selling them as a downloadable set, because it's likely to be a lot of work. I'll be working on them ASAP, though!
    🙂
    Heidi

  12. hi heidi,
    i have a question…you and your husband seem to be some tech whizzes or gurus…so maybe you can answer my question and give some advice.
    in my classroom i only have one computer (my workstation when i am teaching and then kids get to use it sparingly if we are having centers or small groups.) I have a document camera and just a screen for it…no promethian or smartboard…very hodgey podgey put together…but it is workable. The issue is I stalk/visit your site almost daily and drool over the many videos i want to purchase to use for sight words and such….however i have no idea how i can do such without a dvd player hook up….is there some kind of cord or hookup that i can use to make this possible?..i have my own portable dvd player…i thought maybe there was a way to "lay it down" under the document camera to show the dvd on the screen (laughing at me even trying this and certainly admitting it here)….but don't think it will 'spin' being at an angle. I am not tech savvy….and just want an answer so i can stop fretting over this and running it through the windmills of my mind! Is there a way to make it work….or not?
    thanks for all your freebies too…i particularly am in love with the secret sight word papers, and the pattern block letter/number pages (what size paper do i print these on?)…haven't bought them yet…but they are on the wish list!
    again….thanks!
    laura
    [email protected]

  13. To Laura,
    I am no "Tech Guru," but I'll certainly try to help! Is it possible for you to play the DVD through your computer? That way it should show up on your big screen via your projector. Is that possible? Also, I don't know if perhaps your document camera has a way to connect directly to your DVD player, but that would be the best way to do it. I would experiment with other DVD's first before buying ours, I think. Or, you could buy ours and then return them if you can't make it work. I don't know if you can make it work by just laying it down under the doc camera or not, but I wouldn't count on it. I would get some help from someone at your school that is good with technology (maybe there is a tech person in your district that can help?) and let them solve the problem for you! That's what I always do when I have technology issues at my school!
    The Alphabet Pattern Blocks just print on regular 8.5" x 11" paper, thankfully! I made sure it would be easy enough for all of us to deal with.
    Good luck! You can always email us with more questions.
    Heidi

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