Monday, September 5

Let's Reduce Student Anxiety at the Beginning of the Year...and Beyond

Have you noticed an increase of both diagnosed and un-diagnosed anxiety in your students over the last few years? I sure have!

I'm starting year #23 of teaching and have concerns about how much anxiety I'm seeing in students these past few years. Each student's story is their own and particular to them, but I will say that I just can't help but think that increased testing and pace of life at school and home play a role.

Anywhooo, I am making a deliberate and concerted effort to keep things calm and peaceful in my classroom and started the first days of school centered on four statements with my students.

So, on the first day of school, amidst teaching a bunch of the most important procedures and routines (bathroom, cafeteria, where to locate important items in the classroom, etc), I spent much of our day around these core statements.

Growth Mindset, perseverance, kindness, Growing Firsties
You might be asking yourself, "Why are there only four statements? How did that last the entire day?" Here's how it went down...

It might be helpful for you to know that I had intentionally placed kids at tables with friends from their class last year - this was a huge help for many when they arrived for Meet & Greet the night before. Students that are new to our school were spread out across the tables and I made a point of introducing the new student to the kids at their table very early in the day.

We started our first day with JUST the first statement "It's okay to not know," but had the students helped me compose it, Shared Writing style. I introduced myself, of course, and then talked about how I was both totally excited and nervous about starting the new school year. That starting a new school year makes me feel big feelings, that some of those feelings are almost opposites, like excited and afraid. That our feelings are our feelings and we have choices in how we handle them.

I told them about these things that made me nervous:

  • I wasn't sure what my new students would be like, 
  • we have new math curriculum (Bridges) that I haven't taught before,
  • I wouldn't be getting to spend as much time with my family as I did over the summer, 

Then I shared the statement and asked for their help in writing it on the whiteboard easel.

It's okay to not know.

I picked the statement, but they eagerly helped me remember to start with an upper case letter, put spaces between my words, spell sight words, and end with a period. I reminded them, "See - you already know a lot! There will be things about first grade that you know already and there will be things you don't know and no matter what, it's okay! It's okay to not know."

Then we practiced taking some deep breaths, because sometimes when a person doesn't know something, they forget to breathe and they don't even realize it. Breathing is always important, especially so when we are worried and stressed. So we practiced some more breathing.

(You might be wondering when effort and taking action when stuck and giving your best try will enter the picture...don't worry...it WILL...for day 3. For these first days, I just want my students to start our KNOWING that there will be things they don't know and that IT IS OKAY.)

Then, we carried about the day, learning about where important items like tissue, pencils, recycling/garbage baskets, band aids and such are kept. I answered some questions from the students about those kinds of things.

Then we started the launch into the next statement, "We are kind," by first reading, Chrysanthemum.
This is an affliliate link. I love to pay it forward and am an Amazon affiliate,
receiving a little bit of compensation for orders made from links I provide.
Half of my monthly earnings go to my local food pantry and community outreach.
We will use this book as a touchstone book for retelling, kindness, vocabulary, character change, dramatizing characters, etc, throughout the school year, but for this first reading we focused on kindness and how when someone says or does unkind things, it hurts feelings.

Then, again, Shared Writing style, the students helped me remember to start with an upper case letter, put spaces between words, spell sight words, and end with a period. This time, I added (but ultimately erased) a segment on how we don't say, "How do you spell?" in first grade. See the blue underlines under "It is okay?" in the first statement? I went back to that and reminded them that the English language is tricky and sassy and even kinda naughty so when we spell words we don't know, we spell them one part at a time.

Which means, not only are we kind to others, WE ARE KIND TO OURSELVES! When something feels hard, we have to make sure to remind ourselves that, "It is okay to not know." That throwing a pencil down or crumpling a paper because you feel like you can't spell a word right are NOT being kind to yourself. (I'm foreshadowing here my day 2 addition to "It's okay to not know." So bear with me and keep reading.)

By the way, this important work also helps lay a foundation for my "Let's Be Kind" mini-unit of projectables, printables and original poems.

After that segment of the morning, we learned about and practiced the recess and cafeteria routines and procedures, followed by heading out to recess. It was the calmest I have ever felt on day one of school.

Since our school has a new routine from last year to go from recess to lunch, we had stuff to sink our teeth into about what felt confusing and made them worry. So after lunch I took questions and we discussed how to handle those situations.

Which led to core statement #3..."We are helpful." Which I wrote again, Shared Writing style. As you know, kids are different. Some take things in stride more easily than others. Some listen very closely and can handle changes without a problem. Some feel worried and internalize it without seeking help, then get stuck and frustrated and break down or shut down.

So, we talked about how it's kind to be helpful to others. Specifically to our recess/lunch routine, when you know what to do, you can look for others who look worried and confused and offer your help. You might say something like, "What can I do to help you?" or "Let me show you where to go."

Then we brainstormed ways we can be helpful around our classroom. Locating items, remembering the direction about what to work on when we're done, pushing chairs in, noticing when someone looks like they need help, following the steps of our morning routine, etc.

Now that there were three statements, we read and reread them Shared Reading style.

Then we practiced our line up procedures again and headed to Music class. Upon returning, we added Core Statement #4.

I can do this!

Our discussion about this tied the previous three statements together and also is super important in our efforts to be kind to ourselves. Whenever we have that worried feeling, we want to switch to "Power Mode" and tell ourselves, "I can do this!"

We practiced saying it in strong, confident voices because when we feel confident we sound confident, hence the somewhat lame stick figure drawing with muscles. 

My goal is to help all kids know that problems are normal and part of every day life, throughout your life. That just because you encounter a problem, you aren't "bad" or "dumb" or anything of that kind. When you know and expect that problems will occur, you have a better mindset and attitude about handling them.

A better mindset...a Growth Mindset. You might like these three posts, which include freebies and read aloud suggestions. Click any image to get to that particular post.

Building a Kind, Caring, Growth Mindset Classroom Community...

Perseverance...

Growth Mindset...


Then we worked on our first day time capsule with the opportunity to practice that confident, "I can do this!" attitude while I circulated, complimenting them for their efforts and nudging them to spell part by part but not get too caught up in perfect spelling.

After recess and popsicles, we re-read our chart in animated voices. I took questions and told them what to expect when they arrive at school tomorrow, gave them their Take Home Folders (which I'd pre-filled, rather than attempt to have them go through the mailbox routine.) and we headed out to lockers and end of day spots in the hallway.

So - that's it - that's how my day went. Was I exhausted? Yep. But not so much as previous years.

At the end of the day I even had energy to take a picture of our chart and email it to the parents to help the, "What did you do today?" discussion at home. I also shared with them that we would add this to it the next day...

All problems can be solved.

So, do I have data to show that this helped reduce anxiety in my students. I do have data of the qualitative, not quantitative, kind. Multiple parents of my students with diagnosed anxiety emailed me to say thank you for such a calm start to the year....that their child(ren) had been very nervous and full of tears about going to school the first day, yet felt great about going back the next day, saying, "I can do this! It's okay to not know stuff."

Now THAT is data I can carry in my heart.

Readers, you are FULL of awesomeness and I would love to hear what YOU do to help reduce your students' anxiety in the comments.

Friday, June 24

Tips for a Successful Writing Workshop

Writing Workshop has been a important and delightful part of my classroom for over ten years. My students and I absolutely adore writing workshop! Yet - I'm still in a constant state of refinement and tweaking of workshop.

Here are some tried and true tips for what has worked well over the years, regardless of the writing curriculum I was using...Let me know which tips you find most helpful!

Growing Firsties - writers workshop tips

Make sure to pin this post so you can come easily back to it when you want to add more layers to your workshop or have more questions.

Heads up - this is a MONSTER BIG post! Took me over two three months to write (#reallifefirst #thenbloglife) and there's SO much more I could say about each tip. #teachingiscomplex #whichiswhyiloveit #mostdays #somedaysijustwantjammies

Here we go...

Growing Firsties
(There are some affiliate links in this post.)
Here's an anchor chart we build together for stamina. It applies to stamina everywhere, not just writing workshop,but I thought I'd throw it in here in the event you find it helpful. 


This one's a big deal that can have a big impact...
All writers need to feel successful. As a teacher who ditched the deficit model decades ago, I am eagerly on the hunt for positive, genuine ways to compliment each writer as often as I can. Not only is this kind and humane, it respects the writer's developmental stage and builds on his/her strengths. And they ALL have strengths.

In an effort to be strategic...
Compliment based on your teaching points...and do it in a loud-ish whisper...it's another opportunity to reinforce what you're teaching. And...it will benefit all who overhear it.

In order to feel more genuine, your compliments will often sound like "noticings."

If your mini-lessons are about including introductions, your compliments (noticings) might sound like...

"I notice you introduced your piece with a question!"

"You're trying out a sound effect in your introduction!"


If your mini-lessons have been about improving writing stamina, your compliments might sound like...

"Check out the way you're really sticking to it today! You're not letting anything distract you from your important writing work!"

"Wow! I noticed that you turned your body away from your friend so that you could stay on track with your work. Powerful decision!"


If your mini-lessons have been about editing, your compliments (noticings) might sound like...

"Look at you, going to town, editing your piece for punctuation!"

"I see you edited for using capital letters only for names and at the beginning of sentences!"

Several years ago, I had the chance to see Peter Johnston speak about Choice Words and it helped shape how I talk to children....as a parent AND educator.


I was mesmerized the entire time he spoke and had many take aways. (In fact, I got to see him again on April 30th and it was incredible!!) The way we speak to children has consequences, positive and negative, on how they view themselves and the world.


To that end...
Growing Firsties
because that's what they are. Address them as writers when you gather for writing workshop, in your mid-workshop interruptions, and when you gather for sharing. You might sound something like this...

"Writers, in workshop today, I want to teach you about a strategy that can help you when you are stuck for an idea...."

"Writers, I'm interrupting your powerful work to share with you something I noticed _____ doing when she was figuring out her closing sentence."

"Writers, I look forward to hearing your work during our sharing circle today. Please gather around the rug for sharing."

This next one might make you a little itchy...or feel the urge to throw tomatoes my way. But please...hear me out!
Growing Firsties
If you've got your tomato in hand, please, before you throw anything...read the next pic, then come back up to this one. :)

Why content over conventions? For the same reason we want kids to spell using their very best approximation instead of just writing words they know how to spell correctly. 

Wanna read piece after piece that sounds like a laundry list of repetitive sentence formats...written that way because it's safe...the writer knows how to correctly punctuate and capitalize that sentence format? Me, either.

In order to "write like a reader" you have to "read like a writer" and be willing to take risks.

Laundry list writers described above are writers who don't want to take risks.

To build risk-taking writers...honor their content...frequently and enthusiastically.

Take a look at this first grader's writing....it's a review of an absolutely hilarious and adorable book by Eve Bunting...Frog and Friends. Quite possibly my class' favorite book series. Just. Too. Cute.



The conventions make it a bit difficult to read. This writer has made wonderful progress this year, yet I still needed him to read it to me. When he did, my writing teacher heart was SOOO happy!

Check out his content...

How awesome is that? Talk about incorporating the teaching points of Opinion Writing:
Introduction that hooks your reader...Check
Details that keep your reader hooked...Check
Include facts and opinions in your piece...Check
Closing sentence that makes the piece sound finished (without using the words, "The End.")...Check

His parents gave me permission to type up the review and put it on Amazon, where many folks have marked it helpful and now it appears as the first review. Talk about exciting for this firstie! {Click here if you'd like to do that, too. Just scroll down to the reviews and mark it as helpful.}

You can check out my opinion writing unit in this blog post or see it on TpT by clicking here or the picture below.


This one is big.
Growing Firsties
When you (respectfully and honorably) hold your writers accountable for conventions that are appropriate for where they are at developmentally, you are communicating your belief in them. You are communicating that you know they are capable of what you're asking of them and that you won't accept less.

Developmentally appropriate accountability means you are working at the cutting edge of your students' learning.

How do you know what's developmentally appropriate for each child? Look at their writing and notice what they are doing sometimes, but not always.

For a child who is putting spaces between words sometimes to often, but not always, it would be developmentally appropriate to cheerlead them to put spaces between all words. Yet, if they are including spaces only occasionally, you'll want to pick a different convention to hold them accountable for...look closely at their spelling - are they including multiple dominant consonants for words, but not all words? Holding them accountable to sound stretching for multiple dominant consonants in most to all words would be more developmentally appropriate.

For a child who is including ending punctuation correctly sometimes to often with multiple sentences, it's appropriate to hold them accountable for correct ending punctuation at the end of most to all sentences. Yet, if they are using ending punctuation incorrectly, you'll want to look closely and find a different convention.

When, with respect and positivity, you hold students accountable for what is within their reach, not only are you helping prevent sloppy habits from forming, you are encouraging them to be more invested in quality work and their rate of progress will likely improve.

Even though it's not necessarily so, do what you can to....

In the opinion piece above, you may have noticed the circles at the bottom of the paper. Those are editing circles. I have a blog post about how I use them - you can read it by clicking {RIGHT HERE} and download the paper as a freebie (there's an additional freebie in the post, too).

When we, as teachers, provide topic after topic to writers (especially reluctant writers), we are enabling the lack of investment of these writers in coming up with their own writing topics.

It is important to make it an expectation.

Growing Firsties

When writers know that each day they are going to write and that they will be selecting their topic for the majority of their writing, they are much more likely to be invested in their writing.

When writers see and hear all the time that ANY story (not just special things) can become a writing topic, the pressure is off and the floodgates open. For some writers it takes longer than others.

My class is always CRAZY about this book, Ralph Tells A Story, written by Abby Hanlon, former first grade teacher. It is absolutely PERFECT for launching Writing Workshop and also for rereads throughout the year.
Time spent together near the beginning of the unit (after immersion in mentor texts) with table groups generating topic ideas and listing/illustrating them on 12x18 construction paper is time well spent. It gets the ideas flowing and builds investment in the topics.

Yet...

Growing Firsties

Some writers will need a scaffold for topic generation. And, all writers are stuck sometimes. (Hence the topic generation time described above...those 12x18 posters can be a scaffold throughout the unit.)

In my writing workshop, I will typically provide two topic ideas as a scaffold for "back up" ideas, because I want my writers to write during the time they are given (as opposed to sitting there feeling frustrated that they can't come up with something). 

But, I don't make them too exciting because I want them to come up with their own ideas that they are interested and invested in writing about. Topic generation is an expectation of all my writers, but I'm not unreasonable...all writers are stuck sometimes.

During a narrative unit, I'll generally say something five or so minutes into the work time like, "If you are still stuck on finding a topic, it's important to get started. If you haven't started, write the beginning, middle, and end of waking up this morning to get ready for school or the beginning, middle and end of your arrival at school today." 

Then, as I walk around the room, I'll be complimenting those friends who were slow to start that day, saying things like, "Check it out, Jonny - you had a hard time getting started today and now you're started and on a roll writing about your morning! Doesn't that feel so much better than sitting there not working? I bet you're proud of yourself for getting started!"

During sharing time on days that I've had a couple writers stuck for a little bit, I'll say something like, "As we listen to each other's hard work this morning, you will probably think to yourself, 'Hey, I could write about that topic, too!' because writers get so many ideas from each other all the time. Thank goodness for so many chances to be inspired by our classmate's writing!"

Another scaffold for building time management is to use a visual timer. In the past, I have shown timers on the smartboard, but I usually have a chart of some sort that I want the kids to refer to while they work, so I bought one of these babies and have it hanging on the wall.


I have the 12 inch one that you can hang on the wall or set up on a table or shelf. It's large enough for all to see & my kids and I love it every year. I've had mine for four years and it is so helpful at keeping everyone on track, including me. They also make 8 inch and 3 inch versions.

Something that has helped my writers as spellers a lot is differentiation.
Growing Firsties
One of the best ways I have gotten information about the specific word work my writers need is from Words Their Way.


The inventory test is SO helpful, providing specific skills that each writer needs to work on. Once you score the inventory test, you designate the stage of spelling the child is at and from there you can provide instruction specific to their needs. There are additional Words Their Way Word Sort books that contain assessments and sorts to help build skills. In my first grade class, I have spellers for these stages, so I have and use all three of these stage-specific books: Emergent, Letter Name and Within Word.

In addition to using these books, I've also used my ELA Common Core Crunch packs for additional practice. Available by individual month, or in semester bundles or as a yearlong bundle, too. When you download the Previews, there are three freebies in each month so you can get a taste before you buy. #freebiesrock




Sharing has become a precious and essential part of writing workshop. When I first began writing workshop, this was the hardest part for me to make time for. I'd keep conferring until time was basically up and we had to clean up. Now, my students won't let me not share. AND, I don't want to miss it, either!
Growing Firsties
I was too intimidated in college to share my writing. I didn't want to put myself out there. I was not a good writer. Just think how much I could have grown if I'd shared my work with others and gained their perspectives? My confidence would have improved and so would my quality. I didn't feel comfortable writing until I had a few years of teaching writing workshop under my belt. Most significantly so when I was teaching third grade and we had a set of Lucy Calkins Units of Study for grades 3-5. THAT is when I started realllly loving to teach writing! And it evolved...to the point where I created some writing units for Personal Narrative, Opinion Writing and Friendly Letters. My students (and I) LOVE these units!!!

Why do we want students to share? 
Motivation...many students tell me their favorite time in writing workshop is sharing time. They enjoy sharing their own pieces, sure, but they also love hearing other writers' pieces, too.

Inspiration...we get ideas from others...topic ideas...illustration ideas...writers' craft/authors' move ideas

Accountability...for students who tend to avoid work, knowing that they'll be accountable to sharing their work helps them gitrdun.

Community...sharing builds a community of learners that can inspire each other. The playing field is leveled and includes and celebrates ALL learners. You might enjoy this blog post *right here* about building community. It includes read aloud suggestions and a few freebies, too.

Depth...my responses to what the students have written articulate and reinforce any of the teaching points I've already had...in connection to a current student's writing. I LOVE opportunities to re-state important teaching points to a captive audience.

How do I do it?
Partnerships - I have done partnerships a variety of ways over the years This year I tried trios (many students had kind of a lot of absences, and it made last minute pairing up a conversation I wanted to eliminate from our already busy days). It went so well, that I plan to continue. 

We spend a lot of time learning about Whole Body Listening so when we begin implementing partner sharing in writing workshop, my cuing sounds like, "Your listening should be such high quality whole body listening that anyone walking in the room can tell who is partners with who."

Partner sharing lasts for 6-8 mn. During partnerships (technically trio-ships), partners take turns each sharing a highlight from what they wrote that day. Maybe it's a sentence or two where s/he tried a writers' move from a mentor text; maybe a couple of sentence that s/he thinks the partners will enjoy. If the timer for sharing hasn't gone off yet, partners begin to work on coaching each other for editing conventions, especially ending punctuation & capitalization of names and the beginning of the sentence.

Sharing Circle - Once or twice a week I have a sharing circle in place of partnerships. We meet in our sharing circle for 10-12 mn, facing one another in an amoeba-ish circle. Everyone brings what they wrote that day but two to three students share their piece in it's entirety. The students listen to each other so closely during sharing circle - it is AWESOME! And it provides another opportunity for me to reinforce teaching points and also publicly (yet respectfully and positively) nudge a writer to work on a particular aspect of their work.


Growing Firsties
This is similar to an earlier tip, but goes a bit deeper. Rather than referring to what you say when you get the students attention or to make your teaching point, it shifts the lens more specifically and personally to when you're conferring directly with a student.

With my students, I'm transparent about the fact that I'll be complimenting and nudging each and every one of them throughout their day, for ALL their work as first graders (academics, habits & behaviors). 

When I'm teaching writers about what to expect in workshop (writing, math AND reading workshops), I tell them that there will be times I work with them one on one, in small group and in large group. That I get to be their "cheerleader" and their "nudger"

So, during a conference, after I've decided on the specific nudge, I'll state it using "writers" to make it less personal. 

Instead of..."You need to go back and edit for ending punctuation."...I'll say..."Writers make their work easier to read by making sure it has ending punctuation. I'm going to show you a strategy for doing that and then you can get started."

Instead of..."You don't have an introduction."...I'll say..."Writers hook their readers with their first sentence, written to introduce what they'll be writing about. Sometimes an introduction starts with a question like, 'Have you ever...' or 'What if''...What kind of introduction are you thinking about writing?"

Compliments during a conference may also use "writers." For example, I might say, "Writers use repetition carefully and on purpose. You did exactly that on this part right here!"

Growing Firsties

While I'm teaching a specific writing genre in a unit of study, I want my writers to get as skilled as possible within that genre and have the opportunity to apply my whole group mini-lesson teaching points in their pieces. It takes several completed pieces within that genre to grow in the nuances of that genre.

There are important reasons to focus instruction and practice on a specific genre for a period of time. All while building the undercurrent that writers write and illustrate with intention and purpose in all types and formats of writing.

On the other hand, I lovvvve when students (and students love it, too) have the opportunity to self-select their genre. Some students are reallllly passionate and motivated by certain genres. This year, I have a big crew of boys who are totally jazzed about writing informational books. They write incessantly about dinosaurs and sharks, specifically. They talk about their writing on the playground and in the halls, they research their topic by selecting books about the topic, they watch tv shows and youtube videos about their passion. Why would I want to squelch that?

My workaround is to provide a minimum number of completed pieces within our focus genre and then they can use writing workshop time for choice writing.

In addition, choice writing is one of the things they can select when they first arrive at school in the morning. It's also included in our Fun Friday choices (some writers choose to write over iPads, games, puzzles, math tools & building!).

I decide on how many pieces will be required based on how long our pacing guide gives us to instruct on that genre, how much actual work time there will be. When they get to choice writing, they can still write within the genre we're working on. Choice writing pieces, once complete, go home right away. I collect the required pieces and send them home after we've ended our unit with a mini-celebration.

Growing Firsties
I cannot speak enough to the value of mentor texts and weaving that we read like writers and write like readers throughout the day, day after day. With every topic. With every read aloud.

While I read aloud, a pause to reflect on the writer's moves might sound like this.

"I'm going to reread that part. Listen to how the author stretched out the importance of that detail by adding extra sentences about _____. It helps us know how strongly the character felt about ____. In your writing you can add extra details about the important and special parts, too."

"Check out how this author used three synonyms right next to each other to help put a picture in our mind about the character. It says, Anderson was strong. He was as mighty as three sturdy trees. The author really wanted us to picture Anderson's strength! Strong. Mighty. Sturdy. All synonyms.You can try that in your writing, too. When you want your reader to understand something really clearly, you can put three synonyms near each other."

I'm starting a series of posts on my favorite read alouds for each of the writing genres that we study and will include links within this post.

That said, though, I have to give a HUUUUUGE shout out to Stella, written by my friend Janiel Wagstaff! She is AMAZING!!! My class, both last year and this year, literally CHEERS when we start a new writing unit. They want to hear how Stella writes in that genre. Stella is the cutest, spunkiest character and she does an amazing job teaching about the different writing genres. You DEFINITELY want to check Stella out.
Stella Set of 4 books


I am THRILLLLLLLLLED to FINALLY post this post!!!!! 

Hope you're just as excited to try out some new tips!!!!

Let me know what works for you! And...don't forget to PIN it so you can find it easily.

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