Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sensory Tables: One of the Best Tools For Differentiating Your Instruction. I Promise.


Before I get started, I'm going to warn you, this is gonna be a big post.  I have a ton of stuff to show you, I have questions that I want to answer, and I want to give all the information I can.  So grab yourself a beverage, make yourself comfortable and get ready. 

I recently polled my Facebook readers, because I was curious about how many kindergarten teachers especially, still use sensory tables or some kind of sensory ‘play’ in their classrooms. I was so incredibly bummed by the number or teachers that have been mandated by their administration to remove sensory play from their curriculum.  The reasons?  "No time . . . no room . . .not rigorous . . . not academic . . ."  So I'm on a mission to save our sensory tables.



I'm here to plead with teachers, administrators and anyone who will listen to  . . . "please do not neglect your sensory tables."  This is a serious plea.  Hear me out, before you abandon those lovely tables full of gloriously colorful, squishy, scratchy, soft, hard, pointy, smooth, bumpy and smelly materials.  

You know I'm going to need to talk to you a bit about how sensory tables allows you to differentiate for your class.  I have to, because here's the thing, sensory work is not only academic, but it also addresses a student's learning profile and their interests! ( . . . and when you're really good . . . you can meet their level of readiness too.) 



kindergarten sensory table
I know you've seen these visuals before, but these little posters really bring it all together and show why we need to keep these valuable early childhood activities alive in our classrooms.  Differentiating isn't JUST about meeting academic readiness.  (Don't tell them I said this, but I think some administrators think that's all differentiating really is . . . I'm a lucky one that has an administrator that knows better! )  It's also about keeping these little guys engaged, feeding their interests and setting the hook for learning.  

Our learning profile considers the different ways that we are most comfortable learning, how we demonstrate our understanding and our intelligences.  If you look at the Multiple Intelligences chart below, you can see all kinds of MI categories that would benefit from sensory work.
Kinesthetic learners need the movement and feel of the sensory table. Linguistic learners enjoy the dialogue associated with working with other students at the sensory table.  The interpersonal learner loves working with other students.  The spatial learner develops stories and scenarios for play based on the contents of the table. The logical/mathematical learner loves the sorting and classifying of materials. Depending on the materials, the naturalist can even be engaged by a shell collection or different types of rocks added to a sensory table.  I could go on, believe me.  What I'm trying to say is, it's differentiation at it's finest and isn't that what every administrator wants to see happening in your classroom.  I think there has been this misguided notion that sensory work is 'fluff.' So in an effort to bring about a different notion, to give sensory work the reputation it deserves, I'm here to offer you some visual proof that a sensory table work is not only academic, but it can be aligned to Common Core Standards, address learning profiles, interests and readiness levels of students.  


Here's just a few ways I've used them in my classroom.  
(I want you to notice as I go through these, much of the time my sensory tables are actually totes and buckets.  That's because I almost always have more than one going at a time.  You don't have to have an actual table for every sensory activity.)


Two students working at this stations were 'digging up dinosaur bones' with real and nonsense words written on them.  It was differentiated by readiness so that some students were digging up 3-lettered words and some were digging-up 4-lettered words.  I could have different levels of academic readiness working at the same time.  By the way, this is purchased Crayola sand on clearance at the end of the summer and Milk Bone Dog Biscuits painted white.  I used a Sharpie to write the words. They've lasted for 3 years. Seriously!(RF.K.2)


These little water orbs are perfect for the beginning of the year sorting activity, and they are cheap.  I'm talking dollar store cheap.  We sorted them by color, counted them and even used them to weigh common classroom objects like scissors and markers.  (K.CC.B.5, K.CC.C.6, L.K.5a, K.MD.A.1)

I love bringing in seasonal themes to make my sensory table even more engaging.


November in Michigan means deer feed, and I can always get a dad or two to donate a bag.  I like using these because after students find all the rhyming cards, they can shuck some corn.  Don't laugh.  It's highly addictive AND great for fine motor.  Really!!! (RF.K.2a)






 I use fall colored rice for another sensory tub that I use around the same time of the year for sorting syllables. And this time, I added some fine motor work by having students pin their sorted cards under the correct number of syllables.  It just adds that little extra bit of fun and interest to keep them engaged.  (RF.K.2b)



Christmas means evergreen plants. (Always be careful with allergies and your table materials.  It's really important.)  My room never smells better than when I have various evergreen boughs in my table.  Last year I put these small seasonal items in the table along with the boughs and students had to seek, sort, count and graph what they found.  When they finished, they could use scissors to cut up the needles of the bough...smells GREAT and wonderful fine motor work. (L.K.5a, K.CC.B.5, K.CC.C.6)



I like shredded paper, because it's another Dollar Tree item and it's available in lots of colors.  Of course for Easter, you need Easter grass. (RF.K.2c)

Shredded paper in the spring also doubles as grass for a bug theme.  And when you add a clothes pin with a foam lady bug and a bug catcher cage (Dollar Tree item!) then it's an instant hit!

I often use whatever is available and on hand when the need arises.  This fall when I was working with my Word Family sorts, I wanted to spice things up a bit so I grabbed a bucket of acorns for my guided reading group to dig through and sort word families. (RF.K.2.c)




During our study of polar animals, these little guys were in our table along with some tinsel, fake snow and Styrofoam.  Students retold facts they learned about polar animals through retelling.  It was one of the most favorite sensory stations all year.  (SL.K.2, SL.K.4, SL.K.6)




Getting Started
So now you're asking yourself, how do I get started.  Where do I put the stuff, won't it be expensive, how do I keep it under control?  Let me try and answer some of your questions.


The Table
Yes, a sensory table is a wonderful thing to have to do sensory work.  This is mine.  It's NOT my favorite, but it does the job.  It has a lid, a removable tub and the tub has a drain. But let's face it, for being a big piece of furniture in my room.  It's kind of ugly.


If I had my choice, I would get one of those heavy, wooden ones with two tubs and a shelf on the bottom.  Now that would be AWESOME.


But let's face it, you don't REALLY need a table.  I have two of these short sided tubs and I've been known to use a small box, tote or bucket.  You really don't need anything new or fancy to make sensory activities work in your classroom.  And your kids won't care what you use.  Trust me.




Materials
This is a big one.  I know many of you worry about the cost of filling a table or a tote.  However, you can get really creative and it doesn't have to break the bank.  I've also had teachers tell me that when they are planning for sensory materials, they often add the items they are needing to their newsletter and parents can often help them out.


I actually keep a list of ideas and items for each month of the year in my planning binder.  They're part of my Getting Started with Sensory Table Activities Pack and will be included in each new monthly Sensory Table pack as well.



 I like to use items that will last a couple of years.  I have my kids wash their hands before and after they use the table so in my mind, there aren't as many germs (right?).  In any case, colored pasta is always a good way to start the year because it is large and with it you can easily teach clean up procedures.  And the color . . . I love using the neon colored food coloring for these because it just turns out so pretty.



Rice is also a good material to use.  In the winter months, just white is just fine, but of course, dying it makes it spectacular.



Green for St. Patrick's Day with discarded gold carnival tokens (I printed real and nonsense words on them.) Who doesn't like searching for gold?

Natural items are fun and cheap.  I can usually wrangle a couple of boys to collect acorns each year for me, but you can almost anything you can find outside.



Colored sand just makes things POP!



How about some garbanzo beans painted gold as in leprechaun's gold for St. Patrick's day? And hey, a pot for your gold is the perfect container for some St. Patrick's Day sensory fun.





Staying Organized
There's a couple of tips I've picked up from using sensory tables over the years that will help you stay organized.  First of all, I like to keep all of the items that a student is going to need close at hand.  Under my table you'll find a small drawer system, my extra sensory tote, and other materials I may use for that particular set of materials.  I change things out as the contents of the table changes.  You'll also notice I have some command hooks hanging from the sides.






I do that so when and if there are response sheets (I like to laminate mine when I offer them.) that go along with the activity, students can have a place for their response sheets without putting the clipboard IN the table.  
In the top drawer of my container, I keep my response sheets and instructional/I Can cards.  If they are differentiated, there will be three different envelopes with coordinating colored dots.  I also have clean up materials (Don't you love my Dollar Tree dust pan and broom?), various containers for sorting (I'll show you how those work in a minute, and things like scissors, hole punches or any other materials that correspond with the tasks cards for the materials that are in the table.


I often allow my students to choose how they want to sort their items, either in buckets (Stick a little velcro on the back of the cards and on the bucket for quick change over of sorting labels.)  this sorting tray (Dollar Tree . . . again!) or from a rope with clothes pins.  Everyone loves a little variety.  





How will my students know what to do?
I have instruction sheets for the main activity.  They look something like this.



or if there is a response sheet it looks like this:





But I also have modeled the activity prior.  When students complete the activity, they have a set of task cards that I have chosen for them to use and that make sense to use with the materials in the table.  Students can look through the task cards and choose an activity.


It might be sorting, counting, cutting, weighing, measuring . . . but the part they like is THEY get to choose, and I don't have to worry about them using the materials in appropriately or doing 'nothing.'


The task cards are all aligned or address a specific skill.  So when your administrator walks in and ask what on earth your students are doing at a sensory table, you have the standard right there to show them.   


Getting Students Started and Expectations
As with anything, this is a station you need to model, demonstrate expectations, make the expectations visual, follow through and establish a routine.  It will take some students no time at all.  They will catch on the first time.   There may be a few that will have to have more practice than once.  They will need to be excused from the table if they can't remember how to use it.  It doesn't take too many times of being excused from the table, before those students figure out what they need to do.  



I also have a set of procedure and expectation cards that I like my students to go over in the beginning before they start at the table.  It provides some visual reminders.

I also think that when you can build on familiar activities, it makes returning to the table and the tasks easier.  So even though the table materials may change, students still understand the activities and processes for completing activities.  The skills may evolve over time, but it's the novelty of the contents that will keep them engaged and motivated to 'play.'




So is your head spinning or are you excited and ready to jump in?  Trust me, you will be their favorite teacher . . . teacher of the year . . . maybe of all time when your students get to put their little paws in your table.  But if you are still having some difficulties figuring it all out, don't worry.  I have a packet that might help.



I actually created a Getting Started with Sensory Table Activities for the beginning of the year and early skills.  



And I also have an All Year Long Sensory Pack which contains everything in Getting Started with Sensory Table Activities, but also will have new materials and activities added to it each month of the year through June so that you always have fresh sensory activities for your students.
If you'd like to learn more about them, just click on the pictures and it will take you to my TpT store.  There is a preview there that will give you a better idea of all that is included.

And just in time, you can get them on sale during TpT's Back to School Boost Sale.  It's ONE DAY ONLY!!! Everything in my store is 20% off plus another 10% off when you use TpT's not so secret sale code: BOOST.  It's a good thing too, because there are a couple of things I forgot to get during the last sale.  Just click on the button below to head over to Tpt and start shopping.




In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, just drop me a line and let me know if you find anything AMAZING to add to my own sensory table.  






Monday, August 11, 2014

#Colorizeyourclassroom with Astrobrights, A Freebie and a Giveaway from A Differentiated Kindergarten


Who wants to add color to their classroom without having to break the bank on color printer ink?  Just about everyone.  Well, Astrobrights Papers recently sent me a sweet packet of their new papers and a gift certificate to Office Depot, and I'm dying to show you what I did with them.  



When I talk to teachers about providing fun, engaging and interesting materials for their classroom, one of the biggest frustrations I hear is, ”I would love to print everything in color, but I just can’t afford the ink.”  It’s true! Color ink is probably one of the greatest expenses to teachers today, unless, of course, your school provides you with a color printer.  But that seems to be the exception these days.  But we can't just eliminate color from our class.  It's so important! 


Did you know . . .

That when you use color, not only does it make learning a more fun and impactful experience, but it also accelerates learning by 55-78 percent, and it increases comprehension by 73 percent.




So when I find an opportunity for teachers to add color to their classroom without using a color printer, I know I have to share it.   And when I wake myself up in the middle of the night, because I can see how this color will help you differentiate your instruction, well then I’m so delighted I can hardly contain myself. 



But before I get to the differentiated part, let me tell you a little about this amazing pack of colored papers.  There are so many choices in this set, and the colors are SO beautiful.  My mind started going in a hundred directions when I opened that box they sent me.   And because each paper pack contained both card stock and paper, I  could totally see it being used in so many ways and how incredibly engaging it would be for my kinder friends.  

So many ways




The colorful card stock can provide a vibrant and interesting palate for students working on fine motor with paper punches. . .




 . . . and then those punches can be used for so many activities like . . .


  . . .sorting




 . . .and counting and making patterns . . .


Astrobrights


 . . . and using creatively for a name activity.  Oh yeah,  this is going in my first week of school plans for sure.  My kinder friends are going to LOVE these colors. 




Colorize Your Differentiated Instruction
I've talked about differentiating with color before (visit "Using Color to Help You Tier Differentiated Instruction"), but now I want to show how Astrobrights can make it even easier for you.

Setting Up Your Math Stations
Here are my math stations colorized with Astrobrights papers.    You can see names on my board that are separated into groups of four students each.  Next to each group is a number.  The number corresponds with the numbers that are located on my math stations in the drawers below the numbers.  These are the activities that each group will use.

You'll notice that my student names are written on one of three different colors.  These colors represent three different tiers of instruction. Orange is tier 1, green is tier 2 and blue is tier 3.  When a student goes to their math station, they just need to know what color card their name is written on in order to know which activities in the drawer are meant for them.  I don't need all the 'orange' student together, nor all of the blue students together.  Colors can mix and students will still be working at their own level of readiness.  I'll show you how in a bit.


I've included a template for the name tags which are super simple.  Basically cut out the colored part. . .



. . .and the white center . . .


 . . .and glue and laminate them.


I know you're probably thinking that it sure would have been nice for me to make those editable so you can type your students' names in them, but I don't want them to be permanent.  These tiers should be flexible.  Just because a student is a Tier 2 for one activity doesn't mean they will always be a Tier 2 for every math skill.  I need to be able to erase and change colors quickly as I am constantly assessing students and adjusting their instruction in response to that assessment.



Now that you have your names set up, you'll need to label your stations.  


I've made it pretty easy for you with a template to either print the entire label on an Astrobrights paper like the ones below. . .


. . . or you can print the frame on an Astrobright color and the number portion off on white. Glue the white on top of the colored frame and laminate.  These numbers will correspond with the numbers that are next to the student groups.  So if a group of students have a 6 next to their group of names, that's the station they will attend.



The Activity
I am going to demonstrate with a  simple number order lesson.  I've given you a map below to kind of show you the process of tiering an activity.  ( It's just a visual, to show you how it's done.  I certainly don't do this with every lesson.)




In your lesson plan book, it might be an entry in your math stations that looks like this:




When student Group 6 heads to their math station, this is what they will see.  Everyone knows which materials are theirs, because they are separated by clear poly envelopes and labeled by with an Astrobrights corresponding colored mega dot.




It's just a simple laminated dot taped to a poly envelope, but it's a great visual for students to know 'I am orange, I use the materials in the orange envelope.'

I just used my circle paper punch to make them.




Let's say you wanted all your student so use the same answer sheet, but use different ranges of numbers for this activity.


Instead, inside their drawer this is what they would see. By using Astrobrights papers to colorize the spinner cards, you can easily distinguish between the different groups.  (You'd want a couple more spinner cases for those groups with more than one tier attending.)








Game Spinners

Students can load their spinner case with their appropriate spinner, and you will know that they are working at their own level of readiness.





There are so many more ways you could use these papers in your instruction . . . a different color for different word families, math fact families, Dolch sight word levels. . .  and without printing in color! 


Of course, if you would like a copy of the math spinner activity and all the templates above, please feel free to grab the free packet below.



These Astrobrights papers are just an amazing tool to have, and now you can even enter to win your very own. 



You would win!
That's right! Astrobrights is giving my Differentiated Kindergarten readers the chance to win a packet of these gorgeous papers and your very own $50 gift certificate to Office Depot  to help colorize your own classroom.  All you have to do is enter below. 


And because one chance to win just isn't enough, Astrobrights is challenging you to #colorize your own classroom.  Their #ColorizeYourClassroom contest allows you to show off your own creativity from now until September 12th, 2014.  



How To Enter #ColorizeYourClassroom Contest!
It's easy.  All you have to do is share a photo of how you are colorizing your classroom on Astrobrights Facebook Page.  There will be one winner from each state and a Grand Prize Winner.  Plus, you can get extra entries for every original lesson plan you upload to their page.

For all the details, visit facebook.com/Astrobrights

So what's your plan for colorizing your classroom?



This is a sponsored post. A Differentiated Kindergarten has received payment, trade and/or products from Astrobrights in exchange for promoting, however all opinions stated are my own. Open to US residents only. Winner will be chosen and posted on this original post within three days of contest end.



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