Welcome to first grade! Mrs. Paradis, our first grade teacher at NewBrook Elementary School, is in her third year teaching first grade, fourth year overall. She is thrilled to experience first grade again! First grade is a time for us to grow as mathematicians, become fantastic readers, explore the world around us through scientific inquiry, and challenge ourselves to be a positive part of our wonderful classroom community. As you will see, we do a lot of group work in first grade, so it is important that we are all team players that encourage others to do their very best learning. Here's a little secret... Ms. Paradis is definitely not the only teacher in the first grade classroom... ALL of the amazing students are teachers too! They will learn and grow together over the next year.
NewBrook Elementary School has adopted the Eureka Math curriculum (sometimes referred to as EngageNY). The team wanted to make sure that we were fostering a mathematical environment that created consistency in vocabulary and models. In first grade, we have two math blocks: whole group math and FLEX math. During our whole group math, we dive into our discussion about the specific Common Core Standard we are addressing that day. This is where we complete the bulk of the Eureka lesson. During FLEX math, students can break into Tier II groups, which is a more targeted approach for students and typically done in small groups. During this time, there may be a selection of math games, small-group direct instruction, or Zearn time (an amazing computer program!).
Literacy happens throughout the entire day, whether it's through read-alouds, sound games, phonics instruction, guided reading groups, or even something as simple as reading instructions during math. We are constantly practicing our literacy skills in first grade. There are some very structured times for literacy, and I have explained those below.
At Newbrook Elementary, we use a program called Fundations to help students decode and write words using phonics cues. Phonics is the relationship between sound and the written symbol This is daily instruction that is taught whole group. The program is systematic and predictable, which is why the students and I are always trying to come up with some new and clever ways to put the FUN back into Fundations ;) They got very creative last year by creating fun new games that used the material they were learning during this block. While this may not be the favorite part of the day, it gives the students the consistency they need to tackle the foundational skills portion of the Common Core State Standards. At the end of each unit, students take an assessment which gives us a clear picture of what each child needs to enhance part of their literacy learning.
Over the past 2 years, our district has invested in literacy training for primary teachers, which has been great, especially since new research is always emerging on how the brain works and interprets sounds and letters. One of the core areas of literacy instruction we have been learning about is phonemic awareness- the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words. Research has shown that phonemic awareness is a crucial piece in learning how to read and write. We follow Michael Heggerty's 35 week curriculum to practice sound exercises everyday.
Another critical area of our literacy program happens during guided reading time. This is where students typically work in a group of 3-5 students with a teacher to receive on-level reading instruction. The major focus of this time revolves around decoding texts, that means applying skills we learned during Fundations to full stories. This time can also be short bursts of trick word practice, phonemic awareness exercises, or guided writing activities.
The last major area of our literacy learning involves writer's workshop. This is the last part of our literacy curriculum to be started (typically in October). Students receive whole-group mini-lessons that blend into a comprehensive unit of study. After the 10 minute mini-lesson, students break out to work on the writing skills that have been addressed during lesson time. Writer's workshop can look independent, working in pairs, having small-group conferences, or 1:1 time with a teacher.
I do want to express how important it is that your child is reading at home. This can be independent reading, reading to someone, shared reading, or listening to reading. For many readers, first grade is a transformational time where they get to apply their knowledge of print and practice decoding words. Their comprehension skills grow stronger, and they begin to truly enjoy the stories! Reading at home lets them show off their skills, be proud of their work, and get all the practice they need. For this reason, I am asking students to read 15-20 minutes per day at home Monday through Thursday (at least!). If you are concerned about having enough resources, whether it be time to complete this task or having the materials, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. Like I said before my door is always open, and I would be happy to brainstorm some ideas!
Each day your student works incredibly hard to become a better reader, writer, mathematician, and so much more. They explore, write, build, sing, create, and socialize- it is a long day! When students arrive home, I do not want families burdened with hours of extra work. Extra-curricular activities and family time are important. Additionally, students need the opportunity to explore, play, and be little!
Research shows that developing fine and gross motor skills, building imaginative thinking skills, and fostering a sense of creativity are critically important skills for young learners. Additionally, these ‘non-academic’ skills build a strong foundation for learning that happens inside our classroom. Therefore, this year, I will be using an alternative to the traditional homework packet- an experience and play-based homework choice board.
Please make sure to complete the At-Home Reading Log each month and return it with the homework choice board.