Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The First Bend

Today we came to the first "bend" in our narrative writing unit. We have been using the new units of Study from Teachers' College.  After a few weeks of writing small moment stories, the children used a red pen to edit one of their finished pieces. And then, like a museum, the students put out their work and invited their friends to stop by and read their completed story.

After looking at each other's work, the students compared their own baseline pieces to their finished piece and discovered that they has really grown as writers. A few years ago I would never have imagined that first graders could do this type of peer review or self-assessment but today, they did!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What is a Scientist?

Today we had our first 1st grade Science lesson.  It was all about Scientists.  Mrs. Raurk started by reading a simple book about Scientists and then moved quickly into making a chart of what Scientists have,  what they can do, and what tools they use.

The children were so influenced by the experiences they had with Science as kindergartners.  They remembered putting on goggles and lab coats and working with thermometers and hand lenses and balance scales.  They remembered gardening.  They remembered that they were just like Scientists when they wrote in their Science journals.
As the children cut and colored their own little Scientists they talked about all the things that they had done as Scientists and about Scientists they saw on television, in books and in videos.  What a fun way to begin a year of Science investigations.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Does summer reading matter?

If you have been reading this blog you know that we were pretty committed to making sure that our kids read this summer.  Since we were looping our class from kindergarten to first grade, we knew we would have most of the children again this year so we had a vested interest in their reading.  My co-teacher and I mailed postcards and letters to the students and e-mailed pictures of ourselves reading all summer (that's me reading to the grands).   My co-teacher took pictures all over NC of herself reading The Wizard of Oz (which is our school theme this year), that I enjoyed as much as the kids! We sent personal responses to children that sent us personal mail and e-mail and made sure to write when students reached milestones in their reading, also noting it on the classroom blog.  Our class logged over 26,000 minutes of summer reading!

So... here are the results of our summer reading commitment.  Twenty-four  of our kindergartners returned to us for first grade.  Three of those students went to ELL summer school for support and three of the students attended Summer Camp at our school.  In addition to those six, ten others made a commitment at home to reading by logging hours into's summer program and read for over 1500 minutes - the Principal's requirement for getting a prize when they returned to school.

Of the three who attended ELL Summer School, all maintained their end-of the year levels.  One jumped a single level and one jumped two levels.  It has been my experience that these students often drop back a level over the summer so this is especially encouraging.

Of the three that attended Camp at our school - a camp that made a commitment to summer reading, two maintained their levels and one jumped  three reading levels!  The student that jumped the three levels also read significantly at home, logging into Scholastic!

Of the ten that committed to reading at home, every single child jumped at least one level!  Five children jumped a single level.  Two jumped two levels; two jumped three levels and one child actually jumped FOUR reading levels! The child that jumped the four levels was also the child that won our class prize for logging the most minutes into the Scholastic system.  So... of the 16 that actively participated in summer reading - all maintained or jumped levels and some jumped significantly.  I knew the summer reading would make a difference, but we have never before had these outstanding results as we returned to school.

This is the first year ever that we haven't had a single student fall back a level over the summer, so it seems that  the Principal's summer challenge, along with, Summer School and Summer Camp and even our correspondences with the students over the summer were the deciding  factors.  What an encouraging start to the new year!

Monday, August 18, 2014

It's those extra touches that make the difference....

When I walked into my room this morning on the first day of school, I had a list a mile long of all the last minutes things I needed to do before the kids came in.  As I unlocked my door I glanced over at the bulletin
board that highlights our summer reading and noticed all of the rainbow touches for our Wizard of Oz theme. We had worked so hard to put it all together so the children would be excited today and feel like they were walking into a magical place.  As I turned on the light I noticed a hand written note on a pad of hot air balloons, a handmade container with a chocolate bar and a rainbow pen.  The fact that our Principal had taken the time to write a sweet note - just warmed my heart.  Over the weekend she had visited every single class and left every single teacher a note.  We're not a faulty of 20 - We have 70-ish faculty members!  That she would take the time after we had left for the weekend to visit each classroom and write a note - well that absolutely blows me away!

On the first day of school there is always a WOW - something to excite children and just make them want to come back again tomorrow.  The WOW is always related to our theme.  So today we were treated to watching a hot air balloon!  Can you believe it? When we went outside it was lying flat on the ground and we watched as they heated up the air and the balloon.  And the next thing you know, there is our Principal floating away with Dorothy - just like the Wizard!

What an amazing day it has been!  There really is no place like Chets!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Cart Girl Rides Again!

I am sure all schools have traditions that make them special, but one of my favorite traditions at the Creek is "cart girl."  Cart  Girl is usually the Principal or Vice Principal and sometimes a Coach who takes a grocery cart of snacks to each room during Teacher Planning at the most frantic time - for us, that's Thursday afternoon/ night - right before Friday Orientation for Parents and Students.  You're tired and hot.  You're frantic to get everything finished and in walks someone just to cheer you up. 

I will never forget my first experience at the Creek with someone actually bringing me a snack and asking how it was going and what I needed  when I was just about to the point of exhaustion getting my room ready.  I remember thinking - Oh my gosh!  This school really cares about ME!

I know what it is like in the Front Office this week.  Parents are enrolling.  Most have just gotten their class assignments and all those that want a class change are calling.  There are hundreds of decisions to be made.  It is a madhouse up there! No Administrator has time to stop and check on how everyone is doing, but that is exactly what happens. I really do work in a magical place! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

There's no place like Chets!

So... today we followed the yellow brick road to the Land of Chets, walking into the Emerald City by way of a hot air balloon, with the forest and Cowardly Lion on one side and Munchkinville on the other. I am continually amazed at the time and talent in our school.  KK Cherney, our Media Speicalist, with her sidekicks Karen Willet and Nikki Williams, spent weeks in the front Lobby preparing for our return (I might add that this is unpaid labor!)... and it was awesome!  There's something special about knowing that your colleagues care so much that they are willing to put so much of their heart into making the school such a special place for children and teachers.
We walked into the Dining Room with it's hot air balloons and rainbow balloon arches to find gifts of theme-related fun "stuff" - water and snacks, but also a calendar, a lanyard, a themed clipboard lovingly made by a retired employee, right out of Toto's basket.

Grade level skits always begin the day.  It's a chance for grade levels to show their creativity and fun.  My team presented a video this year - all recorded on an iphone!- all about "staying calm and clicking your heels."  It wasn't the video that was so special but the fun we had together making the video. That's what this first day is really about - getting to know each other.  Below is  my awesome 1st grade team - some of the most  talented and passionate teachers that I have ever known. Some of us have been together for years.  Some are new to our team and one is new to our school, but together we will do "oz-some" work this year!  So stay tuned...

New teachers have a special place in our first day with a simple "hazing" activity where they have to create a poem, song, cheer in about 10 minutes time.  It's always fun to watch the newbies as they quickly bond with each other and always come up with something cute!  They end by repeating a pledge promising to have a sensational, fun-filled year!

Finally, there is always professional development and today it had to do with mission and leadership.  We divided into smaller groups and worked collaboratively - a message as to the kind of learning that should be going on in our classrooms.
Then we enjoyed a potluck lunch to remind us that this is a homecoming, a family reunion - a time for us to come together and remember all the reasons that we care about each other.
There is no place like Chets!

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Summer Slide

This summer I have a looping class which means that the children I taught in kindergarten will loop up with me to first grade. Although there is always some natural attrition- parents separate and divorce and move away, parents are transferred, families move back home- about two-thirds of the class end of staying for the second year. I've looped classes before and one of the things that I have seen over and over is what is now being described by Richard Allington as the "summer slide."  It's simple. Children that don't read over the summer most often fall back a reading level when they are tested at the beginning of the new school year and those that read regularly, often visiting the public library weekly, move ahead a level. As you can imagine, the students that fall back are often those that are already behind.

So this year our Leadership Team thought they'd try to do something about it. Reading Allington's research is all it really took to light a fire under this Team. . Before I knew it, our media specialist had met with the Scholastic rep and designed an online summer reading program. She met with teachers and encouraged them to get kids logging in the last week of school. Several of our children were on the computer logging in the minutes they had read that very night. Of course, as you might expect, the students that were first to log on are also the ones that are already ahead and whose families  already furnish a rich language experience in their daily lives.

The challenge has always been how to encourage the others. Fortunately this program offered handouts in Spanish which helped many of my second language learners understand the expectation.  It even provided a paper version that the students could hand in at the end of the summer for those that don't have computer access. We were fortunate to have the Principal's support so she has offered a "prize" to any student that logs in 1500 minutes during the summer. We have pushed summer school teachers at our school and the two camp leaders that meet at our school to become involved.

Now I need to take responsibility for inspiring my own students and keep them reading throughout the summer.  My goal is to have 100% of the students log in at least once during the summer or to bring me a list of minutes at the end of the summer - no small task. This week I sent a personal post card to every student who has already logged in to congratulate them on their summer reading.  I am hoping to start an exchange with those students to encourage them to not only read, but to write. 

I sent a letter to those that haven't logged on yet, urging them to give the program a try and sending them their user name and password and a log in sheet just in case they haven't logged in because they don't have computer access.  Now this will be the third time I have sent this information on how to log in, but I figure if their parents keep seeing it, they might decide that it's important.  And besides most of these students (and their parents) will have to face me again in the fall! I don't know if this extra effort will really pay off but I certainly believe it will. In two weeks I will be sending encouraging emails - instead of using the postal service - and then two weeks after that I thought I'd start sending selfies of me reading at home, in the car, at the beach, to my grand kids, and every other way I can think to read.  I'd do a headstand while reading but I can't do a headstand! I  am hoping the children will begin to send me selfies back of them reading!  Can't wait to see if this eliminates the summer slide in my returning students!