Beat the "Back-to-School Scaries" with Capstone and PebbleGo
Does Back-to-School feel like a giant “Sunday Scary” to you? If so, you are not alone! “Sunday Scaries” is a term that many use to capture the overwhelming feelings of anxiety mixed with anticipation that come with Sunday evenings. For educators, students, and families, this term accurately describes the many feelings that come with the start of the new school year. Well, never fear! Capstone is here to help you get your school year started right and fight off those Back-to-School Scaries! PebbleGo, Capstone Connect, Capstone books, and Capstone eBooks were cornerstones during the first six weeks of my Kindergarten classroom. The teacher and kid-friendly features integrate well with any Back-to-School plan, and help chase those Back-to-School Scaries away. Here’s just a few ways Capstone and PebbleGo can be used for a smooth Back-to-School:
Host a Stress-Free Open House
One of my biggest sources of anxiety as a teacher is Open House. When I first started teaching, it was lots of chaos with very little structure, and I would walk away feeling overstimulated and like a failure, which is not the way anyone wants to start a school year. So I decided to bring in two things that I love: books and food. I would play a read-along Capstone Interactive eBook, (most recently, I chose Donut Worry by Christianne Jones) for the kids and families on my SmartBoard. I’d provide cookies and donuts as snacks, which were always much appreciated. This gave others (like siblings) a quiet, calm space to hang out, and allowed me to chat more easily with the families that needed me.
Foster a Responsive Classroom
Even as I enter my second decade of teaching, I still refer back to Responsive Classroom’s The First Six Weeks of School book. My copy is tabbed and well-loved, and has helped me through almost twenty years of Back-to-School Scaries. It reminds me to focus on building a classroom culture and climate that is focused on warmth, safety, good learning practices, high expectations for all, and a love for learning. As I would move through gradual release to build student autonomy, I always knew I could count on PebbleGo during the guided discoveries of all the tech devices in our classroom. I know I can trust the PebbleGo content, and it's highly engaging for my students. I would use some of the great Social Emotional Learning (SEL) or diversity articles as we worked to develop guidelines and expectations for our technology use, turning each lesson into a two-for-one win. Students learn ownership of our environment AND access content that helps establish a classroom where all are welcome…win-win in this Kindergarten teacher’s book!
Establish a Reader’s Workshop
Oftentimes, educators feel pressure to get to the academic content straight away, increasing those Back-to-School Scaries ten-fold. When I mentor teachers, I remind them that the content will come, but focusing the beginning of school on establishing routines and procedures will help students achieve the highest level of academic work in the long run. During my Reader’s Workshop structure, I would meet with students in a guided reading group, and we would rotate stations. In order to give my students in my Guided Reading group the intense instruction they needed, I had to trust that the other students in the room were self-learning and following expectations, and that there would be minimal interruptions to my teaching. That doesn't develop on its own; one has to teach students how to be autonomous and self-driving in their independent learning.
One of the stations I set up was our research station, using a small set of chromebooks that I received via a grant. Students would log into PebbleGo and read/listen to the articles. The wide range of content allows every student to find articles that interest them, and hold their interest so they can work independently for the entire time. The format of the articles stays the same, so students quickly felt successful in finding new and fun information. Eventually, I would layer in cross-curricular projects and learning tools like graphic organizers.
Speaking of listening to articles, the read aloud feature was, and might still be, my absolute favorite feature on Capstone digital products. That little yellow button allowed all of my students to be successful. Non-readers got to access the same content that my advanced readers did. And with everyone wearing headphones, no one could tell who was listening to the audio and who was reading independently. Student confidence grew, and it helped to set the tone for the year that we are all learners here. Even more powerful was seeing the same thing happen when I taught fifth grade. Students who were often mocked for reading below grade level got to access the same content on their screen as their peers. No more “baby books” for them. I can’t tell you how impactful that feature is without tears coming to my eyes, as it has made such a difference for my students.
Support All Readers with Daily 5
Setting up the Daily 5 framework in my classroom always seemed like a daunting task at the beginning of every year. But when we got through those first few weeks, I would realize how much it was worth it. For those of you that might not know, the Daily 5 is a literacy framework that allows students to choose between 5 different tasks during your class literacy block: read to self, work on writing, read to someone, word work, and listen to reading. Readers of all abilities are able to approach literacy in a variety of ways, allowing for deeper understanding and accessibility.
In Kindergarten, teaching the 3 Ways to Read a Book was always one of my first lessons. Similarly to the Daily 5, 3 Ways to Read a Book guides students to approach literacy in different ways. Students are introduced to different ways they can read a book: "read the pictures", read the words, and retell the story. Once students learn about these methods, they have options to choose from when they engage with a book, no matter their reading level or ability. I wanted all students to know they were readers in our classroom, even if they couldn’t read the words yet. I would use the Donut Worry book from Open House as my example for retelling the story. Students loved that they were able to be super successful early on, helping to establish a sense of belonging and encouragement that was the cornerstone of my classroom culture. Plus, I loved connecting it to a donut and cookie snack, and accompanying a class favorite graphing math lesson as well. Capstone Interactive eBooks is my students’ favorite spot for listening to reading. The themes are amazing and highly appealing to students; there is literally something for everyone, and my students never got bored.
Provide for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS)
If you teach in a PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) school, you know that setting clear expectations at the beginning of the year is crucial to its success. While working on establishing these expectations, both in the classroom and school wide, I liked using connected read-alouds. This allowed us to revisit concepts as needed. I read Capstone’s ‘Manners in the…’ (school, school bus, library, lunchroom, playground…) series before we went to that learning station. We’d then make an anchor chart together as a class, and hang it up in our room for the first month or so to help us remember our expectations, quickly reviewing them before we went to that space. I would also guide students to the series digital eBooks during “read to self” time to help reinforce learning. I especially appreciate Capstone’s bilingual books, as many of my Kindergarten students benefited from listening to them in their native language as well as English.
Build a Writer’s Workshop
Trying to cram all the academics into a Kindergarten day is no easy feat. I was always looking for cross-curricular connections and ways to build my students’ understanding of topics. The first few years I taught Kindergarten, I had students who were new to the United States and spoke minimal to no English. It was important to me that they were able to be immersed in a language rich environment that encouraged their learning. The mini-lessons of my Writer’s Workshop became a wonderful place to bring in great vocabulary exposure. I would start by thinking of an upcoming science or social studies unit, and a personal story that I could model writing related to it. For example, I almost always started Writer’s Workshop off with a story about walking my dog. This connected nicely to our Family and Pets social studies unit. On Monday I’d play the “Labrador Retriever” PebbleGo article for everyone to build up an understanding of what my dog was. Then I’d model my writing lesson. Whenever I switched stories or concepts, I would bring a new PebbleGo article in to build background knowledge and vocabulary. Oftentimes I would find students exploring these articles on their own, again giving an extra boost to their background knowledge when it came time for that science or social studies unit.
Plan for the Unexpected
The level of planning that it takes to start a school year is astronomical. Whether you have a team to plan with, or you plan solo, the time and effort to evaluate the scope and sequence of all the core curriculums, is daunting at best. Add to that the fact that you also have to ensure the curriculums align with both power standards and students’ needs, and everything can seem extremely overwhelming. I would start my planning in August, as we all know that prep times get stolen away by the many things that come up daily. I am extremely grateful for Capstone Connect and the amount of time it has given back to me. I can search by my own state standards and find both content and instructional materials that are ready to use and vetted by teachers. When I found out two days before school was starting that I was teaching fifth grade for the first time ever, I knew I would be okay because I could rely on Capstone Connect. Brand new social studies standards I have never once heard of and a curriculum that was incomplete and outdated?! No problem. Capstone Connect brought me PebbleGo Next articles and activity bundles that were super fun and engaging, that met the standards, and that I trusted. My favorite part of Capstone Connect is the activity bundles. Made for teachers by teachers, I found they fit perfectly into my planning. The SEL activities gave me fresh ideas for both non-digital “maker” and edTech projects, that I could easily pull together the day of if needed. Because let’s be honest, no matter how much you plan and prepare for it, the school day is always an adventure.
No matter what your plan is for the first few months returning to school, Capstone and PebbleGo are here to help you get the year off to a great start. I wish you all a happy Back-to-School free from Back-to-School Scaries and filled with so many great moments!