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!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Testing Rant

I have already ranted about the excess amount of testing in our county at the beginning of this school year for our youngest learners.  In our sixth week of school this year, our district finally revised its testing calendar and dropped the Science, Music, Art and PE pre and post tests that they had originally required of Kindergartners.  They also dropped the Reading, Math, and Science tests they had originally required at the end of each nine weeks and only required post tests in Reading in Math.  Hallelujah! However, they added  post tests for the computer programs we have been using... when we were able to get to the computer lab, as we worked around the computer testing program (we have one lab for 1300 students!)  To say this year was full of disorganized chaotic testing is an understatement.  The amount of hours of instruction lost to a ridiculous testing schedule is disgraceful.

Lucy Calkins made a statement about testing being the Titanic of the Common Core, and I think she is right. I'm not sure how testing got tied to the Common Core because there is nothing in our new standards that require the type of testing that is being done today.  Certainly we need to understand where our students are at any given time so that we know how and what to instruct, but it seems we've just gotten into testing, as if by simply testing students, they can improve!  We miss the point entirely.  Assessment completes the prescriptive cycle of identifying through assessment, writing a prescription, selecting the appropriate resources to instruct and then assessing again to identify the new targets.  Testing without engaging appropriate instruction is simply wasteful.

As I was leaving school this afternoon, I caught this picture outside the Test Administrator's Office.  Fifty-eight boxes were taped and labeled, ready to go to the District's Testing Office.  That's not the school required FCAT that was given in the Spring but 58 boxes of required county tests given to our K-5 students at the end of the year.  These will be used for performance pay for teachers although the inaccuracies are mind boggling.  I know that the intent is to move the county forward, but it just seems like the implementation has been boggled at every turn.  We were fortunate to have a Test Administrator who was able to shoulder the enormous time and responsibility of organizing the distribution and administration of such a massive testing schedule (I guess you could say her part time job was being the only Assistant Principal at our very large school!)  Her talent and perseverance were noticed and appreciated by all.

As for my school, we tried, as we always do, to carve a course through the mine field and to just keep doing what we know works.  We gave the assessments that we absolutely had to give, although it is difficult to trust the results of a new test - we were not able to depend on it for anything.  We did the best we could in a "red" school (meaning we do not have the technology infrastructure that we need to support the expectations of computerized testing) and tried to soothe the hysteria of high performing teachers who often were on the verge of tears knowing how hard they had worked and how much they wanted to prove it. The principal continued to work on relationships and easing the stress and pain, instead of playing into the panic.  She continued to assure our faculty that if we continued to keep our eyes on our students, we would prevail... and we have.

With a population that is changing (our second language and free/reduced numbers continue to climb) our results continue to remain high (we had the highest writing scores in the county!)  Our teachers are collegial and continue to depend on each other.  We are not always in charge of our own fate, but we are in charge of our destiny. We continue to see through the fog into the eyes of the children.  Now that is leadership.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Wonderful Land of Chets

Each year at our end-of-the-year luncheon, the Principal unveils the new theme for the following year. It's always such fun to guess what it might be. For the 14-15 school year we will be in "The Wonderful Land of Chets" because we know that "there is no place like home!"
Chets Creek Elementary - No Place Like Home 14-15 from Once Upon a Teacher on Vimeo.

End of the Year Luncheon

Each year, we close out the school year with a luncheon. We never pay for the luncheon (my husband had to pay $20 to attend his end-of-the-year school luncheon!) This year our luncheon was a gift from the Church at Chets Creek. Can't think of a better gift from the best business partner on Earth (their property is adjacent to ours)! The food at Clark's Fish Camp was delicious and of course, the d├ęcor of wild animals fit perfectly with our "Walk on the Wild Side" theme.

 Each year the presentation by the Principal is full of laughter and tears. It is always very emotional for me because I always do a lot of reflecting and that one hour reminds me of so many of the highs and lows of the year which is always a roller coaster of emotions. The Principal starts with letters she has received from parents and children and often staff members, and reads them out loud. Oh my! I wish I could post every letter so you could get a flavor for the type of people I work with! The Principal then calls many teachers and staff members up for awards - some funny, some serious, but always genuine. This year, as usual, you could feel the anticipation, the love and appreciation in the air.

I am honored and humbled to work with an amazing group of women on my kindergarten grade level and this year many of them were honored. Debbie was honored for breathing new life into our long tutoring partnership with Landstar and for volunteering at the MARC. Maria and Cheryl were honored for having more visitors than anyone in the building. What an awesome duo to represent Chets Creek to the visitors that come to see what we are all about. Pam was recognized for leading with heart as she has given sacrificially to our teaching friend who has been battling cancer this year. Tracy was honored for her work at the MARC and she and Vicky were honored for living through the battle zone - or for making a difference in the lives of children - depending on how you look at it.  Each kinder colleague could have been singled out because they are, without exception, teachers who care deeply about what they do.  Most of our grade level are "eagles" and we take a lot of grief for that - too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.  We can be loud and demanding and more than one speaker at our grade level meetings has complained that they can't get a word in and that we all talk over each other.  We have been working on that, but on the other had, you never have to ask for a volunteer, because someone usually has the task completed before you ask!  They are doers - movers and shakers.  Yes, they are demanding and super critical, but it's because they expect perfection.  For me, the word that describes them best is passionate.  They expect results... and they get results.   I love this group of women.  Being with them really is like flying with the eagles!

One of the most joyful moments of the intensely emotional luncheon is the end-of-the-year video, prepared by our Reading Coach, Melanie Holtsman.  If this doesn't say it all!  Love closing up  a year... so, you can begin thinking about the new one!  Enjoy the video!
End">http://vimeo.com/97523012">End of the Year - Celebrating A Walk on the WILD Side 13-14
from Once">http://vimeo.com/onceuponateacher">Once Upon a Teacher on Vimeo.https://vimeo.com">Vimeo.&gt

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Opinion Writing

For our final Kindergarten Writing Unit, we finished with Opinion Writing using Lucy Calkins' new writing lessons. The depth in the lessons really stretched our thinking and our delivery.   We have been thrilled with the level of writing the children have been able to produce.  It is certainly true that when the level of instruction improves, so does the level of writing!  These are a couple of examples of the children's work.

The first one comes from Levi who was super excited that he was able to use one of our vocabulary words, private, in his writing!  His opinion is that he should be able to go to the bathroom in private - without his baby brother opening the door on him! He gives the reader a little story when he says that his brother put his hand in the toilet water. He even gives the reader a solution for fixing his problem on the final page!

 I want to be private when I go to the bathroom because my baby brother


opens the door on me!  One time my baby brother broke into the























bathroom and stuck his hand in the toilet water!



Yay! My baby brother is not broken in the bathroom.  I am away (from him).

1.Put him in his bed. 2. Walk away. 3. Go to the bathroom!  Thank you for listening.  Love, Levi

Ana decided to write her letter to a large audience - the people at the beach.  She begins with a story about going to the beach with a group of family and friends. She thinks they should quit going to the beach because they could get sun burned, even when they wear sun screen.  She gives some compelling reasons for skipping the beach and taking the chance of a sun burn such as getting sick, missing vacation and having to put ice on your back.  Her delightful pictures and speech bubbles give plenty of extra detail.  Pretty good argument Ana!

Dear people that go to the beach,
I think people shouldn't go to any beach anymore because you can get really bad sun burn  because...
 
Because one day I and Mommy and her friend Amber and Laura (were) all at the beach and my sister got sun burned.
 
Even when you got sun screen you can get sun burned because you can get sweaty. If you get really sweaty you can get sick. 

Then you'll have to go home and you will miss all of the vacation.

Then you're going to have to stay home having ice on your back.

The children wrote letters to their families, many asking for a new pet.  We so convinced the children that they could change the world that Paige was quite distraught when her letter for a new puppy did not produce the desired result!  Other children took on bigger topics such as Jehan who wrote to his neighbors trying to convince them not to pollute the pond near his house because it is making the fish sick and Finn who wrote the Chinese government about his concern that they are taking sharks' fins for medicinal purposes! Nazar and Finn had quite the discussion as Finn wrote to try to save the sharks and Nazar took the opposite argument trying to get rid of sharks based on a shark attack he had witnessed.

To celebrate, our kinder class met with a 1st grade class.  We paired each kinder partner with a first grader.  We shared our persuasive letters and they shared their narrative stories. Each partner pair practiced giving compliments and we ended with cookies and juice.  I think it was a relationship that will continue because it gave both groups an authentic audience for their work.    The most exciting part for me is that we will be looping up with this group of children to first grade.  Can you imagine what this group will be able to produce next year when we get to this unit?  Can't wait!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Such a sweet tradition

Today in a plain brown envelope a mom sent me a copy of Dr. Seuss' book, Oh, the Places You'll Go.  She asked if I would please write a note to her son about his kindergarten year.  When I opened the book, his preschool teachers had already signed the book and the mom's note explained, that it was her intention to send the book to each of his teachers at the end of the year secretively, and then to present him with the book at his high school graduation!  Is that not the sweetest tradition ever?!!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mckenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation

Out of a tragedy rises a legacy of hope.  McKenzie Noelle Wilson, the beautiful young daughter of Blake and Stephanie Wilson died suddenly - cutting short the promise of a future filled with love, caring and hope.  The Wilsons could have chosen to spend the rest of their days mourning the senseless loss of their faith-filled daughter, but they chose instead to start a foundation in her memory that would embody all that she was.

The Foundation raises money through the sale of LiveNGrace bracelets, the 5K McKenzie Run, and various projects through Kenzie Clubs all over Jacksonville.  The money is used for an orphanage in Africa and to support two MARCs (McKenzie Academic Resource Centers) in town - one of which is in the Portside Community that services Chets Creek Elementary, where I teach.

Teachers at Chets Creek volunteer their time at the MARC.  I volunteer on Mondays during the K-1 day for two hours each week with two other very faithful and dedicated  Chets Creek kindergarten teachers and a retired Speech Pathologist.  I mostly work with six of the children from my own class who come faithfully.  I have met their families - had conferences because I could easily grab a sister or aunt as an interpreter (most are second language learners).  I have met their older brothers and sisters who often pick them up at the end of the day and their baby brothers and sisters.    For one of the children in particular,  the extra tutoring meant the difference in him passing or failing kindergarten.  I was able to work on skills prescriptively, knowing exactly what each child needed. The children seem more at ease at the MARC.  They laugh easily - they kid with each other - and they share deep personal things.  That intimacy carries over into the classroom.  They know me as more than a teacher but as someone who cares deeply (and someone who will tell their Mama if they get out of hand!)

Tonight the Wilsons invited all the volunteers for their many programs to the Schultz Center as a thank you for giving time and talent to children.  They reconnected us with the mission and with the memories of a beautiful young girl who left well before her own mission was complete.  As I sat there, and wondered how the Wilsons get through such a ceremony that honors the one that they loved so dearly, I wanted to say to them - We should be giving you the award.  It is an honor and privilege to be at the MARC and to carry on the work that McKenzie herself was never able to finish.  I hope they know what it means to be able to have a clean, cool place to spend a few hours each week with children that you care about.  And...  I hope McKenzie is smiling.  I know she must be so proud!