Monday, March 2, 2015

Because Even the Quiet Changes with Time...

We bought one of those fancy baby monitors that sounds an alarm if movement goes undetected for an extended period of time. We even managed to make it work in the moses basket, because of course I am not letting this baby sleep in her crib yet. That is a whole room away… No, she sleeps beside our bed, where I can hear her while she sleeps. When I drift off, I sleep better knowing that I will hear that alarm sound if anything, God forbid, goes very wrong in the night.

The new-mommy me has learned a lot about listening- even while I sleep.

I listen for sounds from baby girl -sweet coos, hungry cries, painful whimpers… I listen for it all. I listen  to the doctor's orders. I listen to advice from mommy friends who often tell me more than any specialist or book ever could. I listen to my mom, probably more now than I ever have in my life.

But in those quiet, middle-of-the-night moments when it's just me and baby girl, or those precious periods of rest, I listen with all my heart and soul for a breath of heaven, leading me on through all this newness of mommy life.

Christians are notorious for referring to our "quiet time." It means different things to different people, I suppose, but I think it really has become a catch phrase for one's time spend alone in the Word, studying and meditating. I have struggled with the whole notion of a "quiet time" since I have had a newborn in the house.

I have struggled with the time, and I have certainly struggled with the quiet.

But I am gradually beginning to learn something about these so-called "quiet times." My own quiet time looks completely different these days. So different, in fact, that I thought I was failing here. I thought I was abandoning my time with my savior.

But then I realized something… those verses on the refrigerator or scribbled on a notepad have helped me read the Word in a completely new, altogether dependent way. Those sleepy hours of whispered prayers for comfort or direction or peace from this new-mom anxiety have been pleas from the depth of my soul. And all that listening? Well, all that listening comes from some of the most precious moments of quiet I have ever experienced.

It's true - even the quiet has changed for me. Even the silence is different. But it is this silence - this quiet- that is changing me the most. 

Of course, I don't mean to discredit those free hours of Bible study. Uninterrupted time spend in the Word was a sweet thing for me, and at times I have longed for the privilege of a typical "quiet time" again. But I am learning that you grow differently at different stages of life, and this kind of quiet, allotted sparingly to me now, is my saving grace.

After all, God can redeem even the smallest of moments for His glory and our gain.

So I continue listening for anything that may awaken my heart to a crucial moment - be it an alarm or a whisper in the night. I will listen, and I will let any sweet sound carry me now, until the quiet changes - and changes me - once again.

"Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me…" ~John 11:41-42

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Using Anagrams to Construct and Develop Sentences

In a recent LETRS training, our instructor shared a wonderful activity for helping students develop their awareness of word order in constructing sentences. She introduced the idea of sentence anagrams, an activity in which students examine words and rearrange them in a logical order to create a sentence. I have begun using this exercise with my students, and while it proves to be challenging at times, they love it. I simply write the words on small notecards (I usually cut the cards to conserve paper) and place the words on the table in a random order. They immediately begin playing with the words and possible word orders. It's amazing how intensely they focus on this sentence-building exercise.

I always use words within the sentences that reflect the current phonics skill we are studying for reading/spelling. The wonderful part about this activity is that it provides fluency with reading and application of the particular phonics pattern, without any anxiety that struggling writers may experience in a standard dictation exercise. I still use dictation regularly, but it is used in conjunction with sentence anagrams as well.

Here are two images of sentences from different grade level classes. This shows how even basic sentences can be used as anagrams with younger students compared to more complex sentences for older students.

I take these anagrams one step further by providing students with blank notecards, on which they write a word they would add to the sentence. Sometimes I specify which part of speech I would like for them to add, (adjective, adverb, etc.) while at other times I give them complete freedom to experiment. Again, they love this. Not only does it help personalize the activity for them, but they have so much fun combining their ideas to create silly -but still grammatically sensible- sentences.

I usually give my students markers with which to write their words, and we note the fact that their descriptive words make the sentence more colorful. In the images below, you can see how a few students began to expand the original sentences with their colorful words.

You can easily incorporate this concept into your daily instruction with small groups! It takes little preparation, and once you establish the routine of the activity, most of the "work" is done by the students.

For those of you who teach younger children, I have a pre-made option available in the Tally Tales TPT store that could be used as a center or independent learning activity for young readers and writers. This activity pack, "Sentence Building and Using Details to Write Stronger Sentences" builds upon the concept of sentence anagrams, but is particularly appropriate for use with smaller children.

This product contains a variety of colorful pictures with corresponding word cards for building a sentence. While not necessary when working with older students, the pictures are particularly supportive for young learners who are in the foundational stages of writing and constructing meaning through print.
These are all ready to print, cut, and laminate for a center full of sentence anagrams! Of course, you could also pull them to use as a tool in small group instruction.
In addition, I have provided a word bank to which students may refer when writing their own sentences.
 I also included posters for "I can" statements that correspond to this activity.
I hope this post will be helpful to you! I would love to hear about your experience with sentence anagrams, should you choose to incorporate them into your daily instruction. Good luck! :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Just Another Miracle-of-Life Blog Post

I haven't been around much lately. In fact, it's been over a month since I shared a blog post.

But I've been a little busy… Giving birth and tending to a newborn will definitely deplete your blogging time. But that's okay.

I have been trying to decide how to share our good news with you, blog friends. How do I share our new-baby experience in a way that is significant and special for others as well?

I could write a long explanation of how it felt to meet our baby for the first time… but I'm not sure how to describe that. I will say that when I was a child my grandmother used to tell me that she thought she knew what it was like to love someone... Then she met my dad. She really felt love then. Pure, joyful, uninhibited love. When they handed me our baby for the first time, I remembered her words, and I knew exactly what she meant…

And I could also share that my husband said the way I looked at her, that first time? Well, he had never seen love look like that on anyone before…

I could write about all the things that current moms already know and future moms have already heard… That from the moment you leave the hospital, the lack of sleep, the anxiety, the hormonal roller coaster, the frustrations, and the uncertainty of suddenly being so responsible for such a little piece of big life can hit you hard... That going home can be really, really overwhelming.

But I could also describe the way all of that pales in comparison to the fact that I would do anything -anything- for this little girl. So when you think about it, none of that really matters. She matters. She is so much more than sleep or emotions or hormones, and while those things are certainly significant struggles, I don't want my conversation about her to revolve around them. She's so tiny, and yet she's bigger than all that. And our home is such a beautiful place now with her in it…

I could say that after years of subconsciously (or consiously) wondering what pregnancy would really do to my body, it turns out that the only weight about which I have really concerned myself is hers. The only physique about which I really care now is hers. And my body? Well, it gave me her… this bundle of love in its purest form. So how much can I really criticize it now?

So at the end of the day, this is all just another blog post about the miracle of life. Regardless of the words I choose, it all falls short of reality. Anything I say, anything I write… it's all what current moms already know and future moms have already heard. This little baby is the greatest blessing of our lives.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above…" ~James 1:17

So, thank you for reading this very ordinary post to share and welcome our own little miracle, Miss Ambree Kathleen. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tactile Word Bracelets: A Multi-sensory Word Technique

Earlier this semester, I had the privilege of undergoing a week-long training workshop through Orton Gillingham. During this training, we learned a specific Red Word technique to use with our students. (Red words are more commonly referred to as sight words or high frequency words.) During this technique, students have a repeated, multi-sensory experience with each word by first writing the word in "bumpy writing." The plastic screens available in the sewing section of most craft stores are excellent for this exercise. Students place the screen behind their paper as they write the word. Then, they can trace over the word and feel it as they spell/reread the word multiple times. We use the red word technique throughout the week, and we are creating books of our words, which the students will take home at the end of the year. 
The activity I want to share with you today is one extension of the red word technique that I use to help students review prior words, and it could easily be incorporated into your classroom through small group sessions or center activities! However you choose to use it, this provides a wonderful tactile experience for young readers and can be quite beneficial in supporting word recognition and fluency. 

In this activity, students create bracelets with words they have previously learned through the red word technique. These may be words with which they are still struggling, or simply words which require repeated exposure. I create the bracelets by folding one piece of paper, accordion-style, and writing three or four words on each space. I cut the paper into individual strips to create the bracelets.

The students place the plastic screen behind their bracelet and trace over the word with a red crayon, spelling each word aloud as they write.
Then, attach the ends of the bracelet with a small strip of tape. Students have a tactile word bracelet they can wear, touch, and reread throughout the day!

Note: Students should wear the bracelets on the hand they do not write with, so that they may use their dominant hand to trace the words.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Resources for Teaching the Sounds of /ch/ and /j/

As previously described, I am gradually developing a variety of phonics-based resources within The Tally Tales TPT store. You are welcome to peruse the product listings within the store. However, I often find it to be helpful to see a bit more detail/description of the products, rather than the snippets provided within the TPT listing. Blog posts about products are always helpful to me. You may not find this post to be helpful, but if you are looking for resources to support this particular skill, then I hope you will gain something from descriptions of my new product here.

With this product, I have focused on the sounds of /ch/ and /j/, specifically with the spelling patterns ch- (at the beginning of a word), -ch (at the end of a word), -tch (at the end of a word), and -dge (at the end of a word). 

I have included one rule poster that might be most beneficial for teaching common spelling patterns of /ch/. This poster includes examples and exceptions for the -tch spelling pattern. However, it is important to note that the use of this spelling pattern is dependent upon vowel sound within the word. Depending on your students, you may need to review vowel sounds thoroughly prior to beginning instruction with this skill, and/or continue to reinforce vowel sounds or long/short terminology throughout instruction.

The first activities within this product focus on the various spellings of /ch/. Two sort activities are included, and they are differentiated to meet the various needs of different learners. The first set includes the full words for students to match the correct spelling for /ch/, while the next set is missing the spelling pattern, about which students must decide.  You could either use these as different sort activities for different students, or you could use both sets for all students, as they advance with this particular skill. 

Here's a preview:

The same format is available for an activity that combines the sounds of /ch/ and /j/. Students will sort words by the appropriate spelling pattern for each sound. Again, this activity is differentiated: one set includes the full words for students to match the correct spelling for /ch/ or /j/, while the next set is missing the spelling pattern, about which students must decide.  

Here's a preview:

To finish it off, I have also included a few pages of printable flashcards, each of which contains a word with either a /ch/ or /j/ spelling pattern as well as the corresponding picture for the word. This would be particularly helpful for students who are a bit more dependent upon visual support as readers. You could use these flashcards with a student or have them use them independently/with partners to help develop fluency with these sounds and words. This would be a beneficial, but quick, fluency activity.
All images throughout the post should redirect you to the Tally Tales TPT store, where you will find this product listing. I hope you will find it to be a useful product for you and your students! However, should you need additional resources for this skill, you might find these links to be helpful: