Charlie Brown Wisdom

22 Mar

My sentiments exactly!

This is what I read today for my kiddos.  Our math lesson was about sequencing.  I always try to relate math to something of which they can make connection.  It makes it more meaningful to them, and it gives the lesson a point, purpose, and focus to me.

So I used this as the anticipatory set for our math lesson on sequencing.  Take a minute and read it.

What I wanted to say to them is that sometimes, I am the Charlie Brown to the kindergarten Lucy screaming, “HOW LONG, O LORD?!”  Today was definitely one of those days where my patience was very thin.  I was so being tested by these five and six-year-olds, and I am not sure I came out ahead!

My CT always says, “Do you have to be perfect to be in kindergarten?”  To which her students shout, “NO!”  Praise God.  A great thing about working with children is that they rarely hold grudges, unlike adults, and that one can usually worm a smile out of them.  That makes me want to work with them every day.  They teach me the lesson of not holding a grudge, even when I tend to hold grudges against them.  They worm smiles out of me when I want to rip my hair out.  They give me a hug when I want to throw and egg at a tree (and I have done it!).

Isaiah may ask the Lord “how long”, but he also answered the Lord saying, “Here I am, Lord!  Send me!”  I pray that I can answer the Lord’s calling in the same way.


The ER

21 Mar

I came home last night to an email from my Cooperating Teacher saying, “Oh no, Sarah!  We have a lyceum tomorrow that is mandatory!  Get some rest!”

Teacher speak: “Battle Stations!”

My teacher plans so thoroughly, but we rarely get every subject in and every lesson taught.  In fact, I look ahead at my lesson plans and make word documents/PDF files to utilize, but don’t spend too much time on it until the morning of or during prep time…because then I know I’ll actually be teaching it.  For instance, last night my teacher and I had an extensive talk.  She is being observed by her reading supervisor (she is 60 and still has a supervisor!) tomorrow (aka Thursday), so today was the trial run for how tomorrow will run.  My teacher is a little lax in her time management, but as aforementioned, she is not as lax in her kindergarten management.  They are not one in the same, and one greatly outweighs the other.  Anyways, after having this extensive talk…I come home to receive the email that tomorrow is Que Sera Sera…whatever will be, will be.

So today I walked in with a hot cup of tea and frantically started making copies of everything on my desk, writing comments on comment cards to go home tomorrow, and scrapped my math lesson for today.

While taking a breather during prep today, I commented to my teacher that kindergarten actually doesn’t stress me out and I love the ability to be flexible and exercise the ability to stay on my toes and whip up something spectacular.  As long as I know the objectives, I don’t have to spend hours planning if I have a little creativity!

My CT reflected on a connection (a big word in kindergarten that we strive to use) she makes between kindergarten and the ER.  You never know what’s going to walk in the door, the story behind the students walking in, the wounds they’ve had in the past, or what their brain is really capable of…you just have everything in its place, labeled, and ready to go. Then you get to your Battle Station.

Truer words have never been uttered in that room.  Not only because our class has a huge problem with lies….but because that is exactly what kindergarten is!  It’s a huge ER room.  I pray that all teachers are qualified and certified, like a doctor would be.  I also pray that they would take extra time and effort to look beyond the physical…and discover what’s really hiding behind the exterior.

It’s such a blessing to have two full time teachers in the classroom because we’re able to truly build off one another and serve the students to a better capacity.  More opportunities to observe behavior and try to place rhyme and reason.  It takes a lot to build up a student!  You ever notice how a band-aide always makes a child feel better?  Just that physical object that is known to take away pain and heal.  Teachers have to do that every day…without the physical band-aide.

What was on my operating table today?

  • Praise the LORD my Shaggy identified a triangle.  TWICE!  “What shape am I going to ask you about?”  “A triangle, Miss Urch!”  “Oh, really?  How many sides does it have?”  “Um, I don’t kn….THREE!”  “SHAGGY!  How did you know that?!”  “Miss Urch,” said with big, brown eyes, “…it just came to me!”  
  •  An entire page of words from a student who generally spends the entire time starting into space.  I knew he could do it…just needed to be built up!  (Note: use Transformers when necessary!)
  • Choosing a child in the middle of parental divorce to run an errand.  My little Molly acts like such an adult.  “Why you look so lovely today, Miss Urch.  I am enjoying our errand together.”
  • A discussion with Dennis the Menace’s grandmother.  Ohh, what an eye-opener.

Now it may seem cruel to speak of my students as those who need operating, but let me say that they have operated on my heart as well.  Never have I had to have more fruits of the spirit in my life..and I thank them for that.  I know that whatever classroom I am in, I will not be tested like I have been in this one.  There is something about having a “new teacher” that the students that know their ways around the room think they can be so strategic.  I admire their manipulative ways…but I can out manipulate them every time.  Years of practice.

Kindergarten has taught me to be flexible, embrace mistakes, embrace change, and embrace a lack of schedule.  Each night I drink tea and mentally prepare and reflect.  Because when I walk in that room tomorrow,


Also, on a lighter note, my little Ramona got a FRUIT SNACK tangled in her short hair today!  That’s one for the record book!

The Variables of Kindergarten

20 Mar

If you know me in person, then I think you would agree with my strength of time management.  Sure, I admit to at times have too many commitments on my plate, but managing it has never been an issue in the eye of time.

Which is why it was a shock to work with my CT in kindergarten.  I am still trying to decide what the issue is, but time management is not a priority in my classroom.  …but my CT is really organized and we have a nice schedule that is even color-coded!  Despite this, we never seem to quite make it through everything.  I have spent time planning lessons that have never happened.  Other times, I have been given lessons on the spot and expected to execute them.  (In my teacher’s defense, she does not expect them to be flawless!)

I have been introduced to the Variables of Kindergarten.  This list includes, but is not limited to: students being absent, lyceums that are required, computer labs being closed for testing, video recording that needs to be done, phone calls to answer, birthdays to celebrate, band-aides to be applied, shoes to be tied, lunches to be counted, and snowgear to be put on or taken off (note: our time has increased greatly in the past two days!  At least twenty minutes added to our schedule due to the wonderful weather which results in less student prep four outside!)

More often than not, the Variables of Kindergarten include a great “teachable moment” that could not be recreated or one of those days where everything is just clicking so well that the students should be rewarded extra time (especially if they are enjoying it AND succeeding!)  Another great Variable is when the students just don’t get it.  You try to deliver the instruction in different ways, but it just seems to fly in one ear and out the other.

The Variables of Kindergarten are what make up kindergarten.  Our day is ruled by these Variables, and I find myself loving to “go with the flow”.  One of my teacher’s theories is that if you don’t like change, get out of education.  From her lips to God’s ears!  She embraces this change…and that is something that I have begun to embrace as well.  I could get frustrated at creating lessons that are never taught, but truly, kindergarten is more than just learning academically…it’s about learning how to live life.  When students see my teacher embrace changes in a daily schedule, they are less likely to be time conscious.  I can say, with admiration, that when the students walk in my CT’s classroom, they know she is there for them and will be present with them. I would struggle to be futuristic and be a kindergarten teacher, that is for sure!  In fact, with my personality…I would struggle with being a futuristic teacher!  I want to help my kiddos succeed in the future…so I need to make the most out of today.

Sometimes this means giving a green triangle to the student who still thinks it’s a square.  Sometimes it’s brushing up on Transformers so I can relate to that one student who is attention deficit.  Wearing my earrings from Hawai’i (thanks to my little sister!) when a student comes back from her spring break there is proactive in that she will listen to each and everything I say.

All the times this means acting in gentleness and finding ways to develop students and build them up.  All the times it means walking into school, leaving life in my car, and fully embracing my students and listening to their stories (and sometimes walking out of the room so I can burst into laughter, or tears, and remaining sensitive to the student).  All the times this means acting out of love…and praying for another ounce of patience.  All the times it means to keep my promises…even if I have to write them down on a post-it.

Teaching isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle.  “You teach who you are.”  Thanks, Doug & Block 2.  So, at the end of the day, am I who I want to be?


19 Mar

“Differentiation” is a huge buzzword in education.  This buzzword describes providing students with many avenues to learning imperative concepts.  For instance, having students learn about patterns using pattern blocks, a computer program, or drawing patterns of their own.  These different avenues can help students learn effectively.  There is also differentiation to each student.  Some students may need to create a simple pattern (such as AB or ABB, or ABBC), while others may need more of a challenge (such as ABCBD, etc.).  Differentiation allows each student to be pushed in his or her own comfort zone.  (The technical term for this is the “Zone of Proximal Development”.  (So, if you hear me say ZPD, you’ll know to what I am referring.)  The art of differentiation can be instinctive or acquired, but it is absolutely necessary.

Actually, kindergarten IS differentiation.  Instructing students who are making the transition from home to school is an entirely different avenue!  Each student is at such a different point in their transition.  It takes such different points of impact for understanding to hit with the information and instruction.

Looking at the math standards for Minnesota (as well as my school district), each student needs to know six shapes.  All of my students, save four or five of them, have their shapes down pat.  However, one of my students cannot tell a triangle from a square. No joke.  This is my Shaggy.  He tries so hard!  So, to help him in a very visual way, I gave him a little green triangle pattern block to carry in his pocket. We’ll see how it goes! He had it for the second half of the day.  Between teaching instruction I would go up to him and ask him what shape it was.  He could name it 3 out of 10 times.  He would get really excited, scratch his head, and saw he forgot.  “Miss Urch!  I am just not really that good at memory!”  he exclaimed to me.  At the end of the day, he ran up to his friend’s locker and asked my Dennis the Menace, “WHAT SHAPE IS THIS?!”  When Dennis the Menace said it was a triangle, Shaggy ran up to me and said, “Miss Urch! It’s a triangle!”  I was hoping that being able to physically feel the shape would help him and I’m not ready to give up yet!  He will get it!  (Fun fact: Shaggy drew a picture of Scooby-Doo today in class.  If he only knew!)

Math is HUGE during kindergarten, so we incorporate it everywhere.  Actually, scratch that.  Math is HUGE in life, so we incorporate it everywhere!  This is another great way to challenge the students.  It’s difficult, because I have one student who knows how to multiply, and other students who are struggling to add numbers that are not single digits under six.  There are four daily routines in which we incorporate math: lunch count, calendar time, thermometer time (before recess), and snack math.  We also have math instruction time daily and math workshop two days a week.  I could blog an entire day about this, but I’ll just touch on a way that snack math (or any math) can be used for differentiation.  The kinderchallenge with snack math is really allowing the students to push themselves and be pushed.  For instance, today we had girl scout cookies.  The point of snack math is to discover if we have enough snack for everyone, and how to portion the snack evenly.  Note: if they know the purpose, students will willingly participate in math!  It is just part of the routine!  Our snack today was girls scout cookies.  I had two packages:


We had Do si dos and Trefolds.

So, I looked at the boxes.  Trefolds serving size: 5 and 7 servings.  Do si dos serving size: 2 and 9 servings.

We worked for fifteen minutes to try to figure out how to write a math sentence.  I wrote the first part: seven groups of five.  So 5+5+5+5+5+5+5.  It took a bit, but one of my girls, my Madeline, knew how to write the next number sentence…nine groups of 2!  She had an “ah-ha!” moment!  That is what differentiation does…allows students to have those moments in their ZPD.  The moments in which they can be instructed to reach their full potential.  Once we had our two number sentences, other students could chime in.  One of my boys realized we could count by five’s to find our sum of 35.  Then another boy had an “ah-ha” moment and realized we could count by two’s to get 18.  Snack math success!  If it was only the same students that understood the concepts, I would be worried…but different students have their “ah-ha!” moments each day.  We don’t do snack math the same every day…they would get totally bored.  One of my boys can looked at the number sentences and said, “Miss Urch, why don’t you just write 2 x 9 and 5 x 7?”  Another person could look at him and think he is so advanced, but he really struggles with grouping and renaming numbers…so finding partial sums and sums is challenging for him.

Math really opens up a world of possibilities in kindergarten.  The kinderchallenge of keeping them on their toes and solving problems and feeling successful gives me the feeling of victory each and every day.  Algebra is going to be a breeze!

A Soulful Recovery

2 Mar

If you know me at all, you know I love to read.  I may have to type it again just put emphasis on the fact that I really do love to read. I definitely have some kindergarten tales to tell about my favorite reading experiences. Pre-school even. SO, when my teacher established an entirely new guided reading group for me to challenge the  gifted readers in my class, of course my face broke out into a smile!  I have a mixed group composed of three different kindergarten classes…but each of the five students is reading at a DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) Level 16.  By the end of kindergarten we really hope our students are reading at a Level 6.  It is hoped that students reach Level 16 by the end of first grade, but most likely during the middle of second grade.

Although these students are decoding at a Level 16, because of their age developmentally compared to that of a first or second grade, that does not always mean that comprehension is equivalent to their DRA level.  Which is why I get to work with them.

To prepare for my first guided reading challenge, I took three days to observe a fellow teacher from the second grade wing.  This teacher has her masters in literacy, is trained in Reading Recovery (a big thing in my district and HUGE job security!), and is working on her doctorate in administration.  Needless to say she was highly recommended by my teacher!

She and I got along famously right from the start.  She slowed down a session for three days (since it’s a three day guided program) so I could see the guided reading action.  A few things I took away  “Superman Eyes” to frame new or difficult words.  The student frames the word with his or her finger tips (this is a tactile memory strategy and is proven to be extremely helpful to readers!) Using this strategy before reading the book independently helps readers recall the word when they come upon it in the text.  This teacher also told the students to “read to page eight” but then put a sticky note on the page so they would not go further.  If they reached the sticky note, they were instructed to begin the book again.  Honestly..genius. It helps them be self-directed and it also helped the teacher not repeat the directions or page number over numerous times.

In talking to this woman further, she told me she requested to have an extremely low class because she is gifted in working with those behind and wanted to use her gifts.  “You ask any kid in my class and they will tell you they are the BEST reader in my class.  In fact, they will probably tell you they are a better reader than the fifth graders in school!” she shared with me.  I noticed that her readers were confident with reading strategies…and working on vocal confidence in reading.  She meets with her lowest three every day and then usually another two groups.  She has eight total and has an intense schedule with how often she meets with them.  It is based on a ten-day plan, so three groups meet 10/10, several are 8/10, some are 7/10, and the lowest are 6/10.  It’s brilliant.  The guided reading goes fairly quick at 15 minutes a session, but as she said, dragging it out doesn’t help readers.  It’s the reinforcement and teaching of strategies.

WOW. So much to learn!  I just love talking to her and we got along really well.  So as she is showing me other strategies, tools she uses in her room, making copies of helpful worksheets or resources, and giving me helpful hints, we walk over to her computer and surrounding her desk are several things:

1. Pictures of her two children and her husband in frames surrounding her computer

2. A picture of her with a beautiful girl dying of AIDS in Africa taken six years previous and

3. A card saying “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Having a Bible verse posted on your computer is the equivalent of this:

Having a Bible verse on your computer is the equivalent of having a Bible verse in your house entryway.

…it declares what your home is established on, and this teacher’s home was clearly founded on Christ in her heart.  I thought I was observing a teacher trained in Reading Recovery, but I observed her soulful recovery as well.

I want to make a note to myself to make sure to take opportunities like this teacher did to declare my heart’s love for Christ…and to back it up with action.  She stated over and over her gift for helping those struggling…and I truly think that gift is more prevalent because of Christ in her.

A soulful recovery indeed.

A Magical Tool

1 Mar

I want to introduce you to a magical tool that goes by the name of “Story slip”.  It really is quite magical!  

I’ll back up for a moment.  In kindergarten, we are working on meeting the district and state standards in comprehension.  What this looks like in our classroom is reading at least one story every day for comprehension.  For the first two weeks of my placement it was the fiction chapter book “The Lemonade Wars”, which the entire school was reading.  My third week was focused around President’s Day and the stories were all biographies.  Last week, I was able to pick the books and they were focused around the ABCs.

So, in choosing these five stories, I needed to choose wisely.  I brought home and read over a dozen alphabet books in order to pick five to help students gain understandings of their topic as well as work on comprehension.  After picking these stories, I wrote a note home to the parents saying something along the lines of, “We are using these five stories (state stories and authors) to inspire your child to write his or her own ABC book to present to the class!  

The first magical tool I used was Good Reads.  LOVE it!  I was able to rate stories/how I used them/how I have used them in the classroom.  No more trying to figure out the author of a book I liked! to take a look around!  Such a great teaching tool!  And you can follow your friends too!  It was easy to rate the books so I could pick the five I liked best.  In fact, one of them literally had me laughing aloud! (By myself, nonetheless.)  

For instance, this is my review for my new favorite alphabet book!

After picking my books, I made story slips for the kindergarten class.  These slips are sent home everyday and are either answered on the back and turned in the next day, or (on Wednesdays and Fridays) can stay home and are just for the parents and child to talk about.  So my story slip for AlphaOops was:

Ways this slip is turned back:

1. Blank on the back (not good) but signed. This means the child did not show his/her parent and should not bother to turn it in at all.

2. The parents are instructed to copy down EXACTLY what the child says. 

3. The parents are instructed to copy down EXACTLY what the child says, but paraphrase it to make it “better”.  Sometimes it is incorrect because what the child actually said was what the story is about!

4. The child copies his or her mom or dad’s written answer.

5. The kindergartner writes his or her own answer and the parents interpret.

6. The kindergartner writes his or her own answer and it is legible.

Sometimes I look back and think, “Was that really in the story?” I look back at the text and the pictures…and it totally was!  Other times I think, “Oh dear.  This one just did not get it!”  I can guarantee, though, that I laugh at a lot of the answers!  The minute details or large concepts that they pay attention to always surprise me!  It is a great way to differentiate in the classroom and formally assess, in an informal way, how the students are comprehending the story.

Oh, I love love LOVE story slips!

I’d blog today, but…

29 Feb

That’s kind of how it felt!  After no snow all winter, a tsunami of a blizzard ended up being the second snow day for my school district since the governor declared one for the state in 1994.

Praise God.

A Frog-Chair Kinda Day

28 Feb

It was a Frog-Chair Kinda Day.

When I walked into my kindergarten classroom for the first time, the thing I noticed first was how adorable the frog chairs and table were in the corner, right in front of the teacher’s desk.  Not comfortable enough to read in if you’re over the age of kindergarten, but cute because they match my CT’s frog theme.

Something very similar to this

BUT, lo and behold these frog chairs are not so adorable when they are used as the discipline seats.  Very similar to the idea of the “take-a-break” chair, but better suited for kindergarten.  I think that every kindergartener I know feels the need to take a break..or even take a nap.  No, these chairs are the two-word threat in our class.  I could write an entire novel on what kind of actions get you in the frog chair.  A few of the general norms mixed in with a few of my favorites?

1. Being an “interrupting chicken” and talking while the teacher is talking (

2. Distracting others in the class

3. Being preoccupied with items including, but not limited to: room calendar, book bins, toy cabinet, story cart, etc.

4. Writing marker on face, hands, table, floor, etc.

5. Placing glue in places such as: hair and/or marker caps

6. Moving from designated listening spot

7. Not “freezing” when the lights are off

8. Flat out lying

9. Making farting noises during read aloud. Or biting the Promethean Smart Board cords

10. Being a hypocrite (as in: calling others out while doing the exact same action)

Usually one is placed in the Frog Chair during whole group discussion, but it can occur any time.  This is beneficial to the student, who should be reprimanded, the teacher, who is only doing her job, and the other students, who should not be reprimanded because of one’s outburst.

An example of what this looks like: “Today we are going to talk about patterns.  What is an example of a pattern using letters? (teacher notices Student 1 poking Student 2 and gives stern, solid look. Student 1 stops after meeting teacher’s gaze)  I want you to give me an example that isn’t an AB pattern. (student starts poking again). Student A, Frog Chair. Student B, can you give me an example?”

It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.

After the Frog Chair, my teacher has developed a discipline program where the students are given a packet, displayed visually in the room, of 5 green slips (one for each day. Four for a four day week.) When the student is placed in the Frog Chair, he or she is given a yellow slip and asked these questions:

1. What was the problem? (teacher records it on the yellow slip)

2. What is your plan? (teacher records it on the back of the aforementioned yellow slip)

3. How will you remember this?

My all-time-favorite interaction with this problem was with my Shaggy.

1. What was the problem? “I was writing on my face and arms during calendar time with a pen that I’m not supposed to have.)

2. What is your plan? “I won’t bring my pen to school, Mrs. Urch.”

3. How will you remember this? “Looks up at me…”Um, well Mrs. Urch I could write it down!”

Can’t say I didn’t laugh 😉

Kindergarten Fashion 101

27 Feb

Being in my fourth week of kindergarten, I am able to see what’s trendy and hip in the lives of five and six-year-olds.  The top pics for the season?

Look #1 is for the classy & fabulous kindergartener. A little matchy-matchy, but the headband leaves many stylish opportunities for the hair (ie: ponytail, all down, half up, braids, the options are endless!).  Classy enough to be picked most likely by mom, yet fabulously stylish.

Look # 2 is for the Miss Independent: comfortable in her own skin. The simple tee paired with a burst of color cannot be pulled off by an individual concerned about matching!  She must be confident, and radiant in her own skin. Independence is shown in her ability to lead and be social. This outfit has been seen regularly on my little Eloise. Wear the flower as an accent for hair down, or to accentuate a ponytail.

Look # 3 is for Mommy’s Princess: one who picks her own clothes, both in the store and in everyday wear.  Her personality of loving all things pink and princess is boasted on this stylish everyday dress.  The tights dress it up for practicality during those long winter months, or a ride on the bus! Pull those snowpants and boots right over this dress to keep out the Minnesota chill.

Look # 4 You’ve Got Male: Whether it’s sporting a holiday shirt in February, wearing your favorite flannel shirt (tucked into your tiny jeans with a teeny belt, outfit completed with slicked over hair), or wearing your favorite fleece dinosaur sweatshirt, the kindergarten males know a. the boys don’t care what they wear and b. the girls are too busy caring about what they wear to bother with the boys. Go figure.

Honorable mentions: Twins t-shirts, school sweatshirts, animal print, tanktops in February, and leggings.


In other news, my teacher read an article about a woman who changed careers to set up bedrooms of children with Autism.  Examples of things changed in the bedroom include: taking off the closet doors so the child can see everything contained in the closet as well as using see-through bins to store clothes in.

Interesting concepts! I will definitely need to read that article as well.  This is applicable for one of our students.  We gave him a new job of sorting some math manipulatives before we have Big Book and/or “Making Meaning” after recess. Sorting the bears today definitely calmed him down…it’s a sensory thing.

It made for a quiet "read to self" time after recess! Let's see if it works as well tomorrow...that's the true test!

One of those :-) experiences

24 Feb

One great thing about elementary schools? Themed Fridays, of course!  This Friday in particular was “Wear your Words Friday”.  So…I wore my words!  When else can I sport jeans & a Bethel University sweatshirt while student teaching?  I had to take the offer up!

I thought this would be a great sweatshirt to wear for my kiddos to see (I am learning that everything must be intentional…because I can really miss out on some “teachable moments” if I don’t think through all the scenarios!)…but it ended up being great because of another purpose.

While I was making copies in The Workroom (which, is “the” place to be during prep time), I quite literally ran into a third grade teacher at my school.  He got really excited and asked if I was from Bethel!  “Yes, sir!” I told him.  He was a Bethel grad himself and student taught at my school…then got a job after that!  10 years, 1 marriage, and 5 kids later, he still loves his job!  In fact, I learned, he used to sing in the groups Go Fish and Jars of Clay.

But that’s not even what made me :-). What made me 🙂 was the way his colleagues treated him in that workroom.  And how his one simple comment, “You have to meet Mr. 5th Grade…his lack of organization gives me hope that you can still love the Lord and be messy!” His comment put me at ease, and I saw how comfortable he was mentioning his faith in that setting. I want that!

The conversation with him in that workroom was the only calm part of my Friday. What a gentle reminder that if one who loves the Lord can help calm my spirit in the moment of chaos, think of what calling on the Lord can actually do.

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”Exodus 14:14