Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book Exchange

There are some things that even a picture can't do justice and our annual Holiday Book Exchange is one of those things.  It's simple, really.  Everybody that wants to participate comes with a children's holiday book in a bag to the Mallard's room (which is a treat itself because it is already festive and full of little holiday touches that just make me smile).  Teachers don't follow instructions very well so even though the instructions are to put your book in a bag, about a fourth of them come wrapped. When you walk in - 20 minutes before the school day starts- you get a number and breakfast furnished by Reading Council (which means I had to get up at 6:15 to heat ham biscuits and talk my husband into helping me).  There is a little time for fellowship... and then it starts.  Led by that wacky Principal Grinch, the haggling and stealing begins... and oh my, it is so much fun!

During a season when it's just too easy to get stressed, this moment of fun and laughter is a welcome respite.  And, did I mention that you also have to wear a tracky sweater?  Now, I have a closet full of tacky sweaters that were once a most important part of my teacher wardrobe, but these folks take this tacky sweater thing seriously as evidenced by delightful little Sarah in her adorable "stockings by the fire".  The outfit also comes with a frame around her head. 

It's really not work when you enjoy your job this much!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Math TDE

I realized today - once again - that I work with some amazing teachers.  My mind is so full, it just might burst!

Today was a first grade Math TDE.  We began with a demo lesson with Cheryl Dillard.  Cheryl is our Math Lead and so understated.  When you ask her about this or that, she just tells you what she's doing, like it's just another simple idea.  Then when you go watch all those "simple" ideas put into action, you are simply blown away.  There is no curriculum for the skills that Cheryl adds to Math every day - no book of Math Journal ideas, but she has the innate ability to look at her students, compare them to the standards and where they need to be, and find the exact activity to move them in that direction.
Cheryl teaching decomposing
Math Journal
I really wish I had videotaped the entire lesson because I find I need a rewind button because I am continually thinking, "How did she do that?"  It's just effortless.  There are so many new ideas that I find I have to prioritize.  I'll implement this one and that one right now and then after a couple of weeks of adding those to the routine, I think I'll add that other one.  By then, of course, Cheryl has moved on to the next.  I sit here just thinking how thankful I am that I have teachers right down the hall in both Reading and Writing and Math that help push my thinking.  We have talked about pushing the children's thinking up a continuum and that's exactly what happens as we begin to debrief these lessons.  It pushes my thinking up the continuum and there is new learning.

Math Coach (She's really the AP-we don't have a Math Coach!) Suzanne Shall was ready to push that continuum too as she reminded us of all the reasons that we are where we are.  She reminded us of the early days when we embraced Stigler and the TMMS study and realized that students from other nations were coming to take some of our highest paying jobs in the US because we didn't have enough students prepared to take them!  We recalled the days when we realized that the Math education in our country was severely lacking and how we slowly and painfully switched our thinking to embrace a more conceptual math.  Because we adopted Math Investigations so early, we now have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of that labor as we have students in high school, college and in the job force who were part of this new Math wave.

Suzanne had us work problems that our current students will work in second and third grade and it was obvious that we still need to bump up our own thinking.  What Cheryl proved to us is that our children can think at that level and they can do this work.  I remember how dubious I was in those early years that we were expecting too much and I how I worried that what we were doing might not be developmentally appropriate, but now I realize that if we allow students to begin to work at that concrete level for as long as they need, that they will have the building blocks to naturally move to representational and abstract thinking.

I am not a Math guru.  I have made it my life's work to teach children to read, but as I have ended up teaching Math these last years, I have found a new challenge and interest.  I can get just as excited when the light comes on as a child embraces and understands a Math concept as I ever did as they unlocked reading.  And I have to say...  I'm really proud of the Math work going on in my classroom...  There's a pretty strong foundation being laid...

As we left our TDE, Suzanne had us do one last exit ticket, that I have reproduced below - always teaching the example of what it is she wants us to do...

First Grade Math TDE  Exit Ticket

1.        Please mark the circle to represent the topic that allowed you the most reflection.

Classroom Observation; Debrief  (Dillard)

Shifts in Math:  TIMSS, 3-Prongs of Math, Instructional Implications
Instructional Sequence of Math (Concrete-Representational-Abstract) w/Engage NY video Alignment: Standards, Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment- Grade 1 and 2 Lessons
Tweaking Student Sheets; Creating Exit Tickets

Analyzing Addition ; Subtraction Student Work- Beginning of Grade 2, Unit 1
Second Grade Work Session Video (Justo ; McLeod)

Beyond the Standards- cardinality, equality, and decomposing

2.      What is one thing that you will implement in the next two weeks?

o   Reteaching one on one to clear up misconceptions from previous day during skills block.
o   I will target 3 skills during calendar as well as work on 3 skills during the block. 3 days of journal and 2 days of number bonds.
o   Move students from concrete to representational in small group support.
o   Differentiating student sheets for higher level students.
o   Analyzing student work for their next step.
o   Skills Block- use exit tickets for small group & one-on-one instruction.
o   Run a better skills session.
o   Incorporate instructional concrete instruction
o   I want my skills block to include more of what I saw in Dillard & Mallon’s room. Add the hundreds chart, guess my number, asap!
o   Adding more of what I saw in calendar math this morning into my math centers.
o   Using math games more because they are very beneficial.

3.      What is one long-term implementation goal that you have?
o   Look more closely at the standards to guide my instruction toward second grade.
o   Becoming more comfortable with the addition strategies.
o   Pushing the rigor of the work to allow students to problem solve and explain.
o   Rewrite student sheets with larger numbers & exit tickets before I start a unit.
o   Strategies for next step (2nd grade) push to the next level!
o   Having students always talking about how they reached an answer to a problem, giving them enough time to explain their answers.
o   Have a good flow during the math block by making sure all materials are prepared and ready. Kinds knowing routines.
o   Moving toward written visual representations with my students instead of using manipulatives which will get them ready to show expressions.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Infomational Writing - the Second Bend

One the great things about life at Chets Creek is that we take professional development very seriously.  We often provide professional development on the clock but there is a non-negotiable expectation - you are expected to be engaged and to participate.  Last week first grade met for a day of professional development while our students were treated to a special all-Resource day.  The students really look forward to their special day, and for us, it means no lesson plans for subs!

The day always starts with a demonstration lesson.  Maria Mallon hosted all 14 of us in her classroom for a Lucy-inspired (Lucy Calkins) lesson.  We are just beginning the second bend of Informational Writing.  Maria is our grade level lead so her job is to stay just a few lessons ahead of the pack so she can prepare us for what is to come.  She and Reading Coach Melanie Holtsman worked together to provide the perfect day.

The thing that always impresses me about Maria is that her classroom is just so joyful.  I can just imagine being a little first grader sitting on the floor at her feet.  I would believe every single thing she said!  She is so genuine and it just pulls you right in. I just feel good in her room. It just makes me smile.  Of course, there is also a lot of learning going on.  Her rituals and routines are such perfection that you feel like you want to rewind and figure out,  "How did she do that?"  The children transition with such ease.  On this day she transitioned with a song for fluency.  The kids went soundlessly to their seats on the floor and she started...  First she told them how incredible they were and how proud she was.  Then she launched into the gist of the lesson - which was about using all the tools in the room - the charts and rubrics and mentor texts and words around the room...  Then it was off to writing.  The children look like busy little bees.  Every single child is engaged in the process of writing and the only sounds you hear are productive conversations between partners. Maria mills around purposefully stopping to chat with a few students, asking purposeful questions and just generally supervising the flow of the workshop.  Before you know it, it's time to Close and the children quietly put all their supplies away and in a blink are back on the carpet.  When they are settled Maria reads the informational rubric and challenges the children to work toward the second grade standards.  You can see the excitement in their little bodies as they already begin to rise to the occasion.  I think I want to be a first grader again in Maria's class!

Then it's to the conference room where we debrief with Melanie, commenting on the things that we really liked in the lesson, asking Maria questions about things we still wonder about.  I think each of us questions how we  would do the same lesson and we make a mental list of things we want to try or change tomorrow.  That's what "starting with a demo" is all about.

Then it's to the work of the day.  As we wait for the Calkins Reading Units to be released this summer, we know we need to ramp up our reading instruction. Melanie digs in and begins to challenge us to push the continuum of thinking in our classrooms.  She frames the work that will be expected in second and third and fourth grade that is changing with the Common Core so that we begin to define a path from where we are to where we need to go.  Melanie doesn't give us the answers.  She doesn't spoon feed us but challenges us to think.  We don't need dummy-proof curriculums. We don't need scripted Core Curriculums but we do need teachers that think.  We need teachers who can look at the data, but so much more than that - teachers who can read the room, who KNOW their students as learners and from that wealth of information can take the standards and define the teaching that needs to be done. That's what will transform education.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Making Words

Making Words is a program the district bought and dispersed to first grade teachers without any explanation.  It's based on Patricia Cunningham's work.  I had used the program many years ago and liked the concept but struggled with all the little individual letters that students were suppose to have and manipulate.  They got lost.  They got mixed up.  I just never found a way to manage all the little slips of paper.... but I liked the concept...

So when I found this updated program in my box, I wasn't impressed.  However, I kept looking at it on my desk and wondering how I could fix my earlier management issues.  I really liked the way it took a set of letters and built words.  It was suggested as a Tier 2 intervention for RtI, but I just didn't need "another" small group.  However,  I am very happy to say, I think we have found a great solution that uses the best of the program for several different group of students.

I introduce the letters and words.  For most of my kids, having them write the words on a white board works just fine.  When I say, "1-2-3 Turn." they turn their white boards toward me so I can do a quick check to see who has the word and who doesn't.

 For the majority of my kids, they don't really need the extra step of manipulating the letters.  For my highest kids, I challenge them to figure out the mystery word, which uses all the letters for the day, before I get to it.  They take this challenge seriously and you can see them trying out words in their minds and boards until they figure it out!  My co-teacher pulls a group for Tier 2 RtI intervention and has the students do the same words with the class sitting at a table and actually manipulating magnetic letters and the ESE teacher pulls her students that need the extra manipulation to another table and has them do the same words with class with a set paper letters ( you can easily manage the paper letters with a smaller group of students). 
We actually have four different groups of students using the same words and letters and meet the need of a vast number of students.   Woot!  Woot!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Off the Clock

When I walked out of school today, it was already dark.  That's not so unusual, but what is it that keeps teachers at school so late?  Today I was working with a Math Coach ( actually she's the AP- we don't have a Math Coach - but she knows more than any Math Coach I've ever worked with!) and two other teachers, writing new Math Unit Assessments.  With new standards and new state assessments, and a new Math computer program, come the need for new aligned assessments.  No one is doing this work for us.  So, if we want our first graders to get the foundation they need to be ready for the rigor of more complex math, it has to start with us.  We can't wait for a few years, until children have failed, to start asking why are they failing.  We need to scaffold instruction now so that never happens.  This is not work that can wait.

I am so fortunate to be in a school where there is a cohort of teachers who don't mind doing this work... and it is "work."  There is nothing easy about it.  It takes time and lots of that time is off the clock.  But the benefit... the benefit is that why we are hashing out what the big ideas are in the next math unit and what the question stems should look like if they are to be aligned with the new FSA specs, and the new Math computer program language (i-Ready), we are  learning.  We are all learning from each other. It makes us think about different ways to reach children and different strategies for teaching.  And... the bottom line is... I will do a better job of teaching because I have spent this time working through this unit.

Now if someone was just interested in paying me for all this extra time...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Texting in the Classroom

I have written often about how pitiful the technology resources are at my school - not that administrators don't work to stretch every single resource and get as much usage as they can.  The county simply doesn't supply the needed resources to our school.  We're on a list somewhere to be updated at some time, but in the meantime...  So often I have a lesson planned and can't get on Youtube or the Internet is down or whatever - seems like there are always more problems than solutions.  Our Media Specialist, who works tirelessly to keep everything going and helping us find solutions, is amazing, but the resources simply aren't there.  I do have four land computers that are old, but they work as student stations and a laptop for my desk. I am thankful for those.  However, I do not have wireless, so even though I have my own ipad, I can't get wireless and I'm really not allowed to use it anyway - rules about not using your own stuff, because...  there's a long list (most of it probably justifiable). 

Anyway, we have been struggling with ways to take anecdotal notes in Writing, Reading and Math and even Behavior with two teachers and a Special Education teacher all servicing the same students.  We've used lots of systems over the years - notebook (it's too inconvenient to keep one notebook for several teachers), sticky notes (they fall off over time and they still go into one notebook so you can't see the last note that was written), individual notebooks for each student at their desks (they get so ratty by the end of the year and there's really not enough room at their tables), stickers (they aren't  big enough for everything I want to write), and on and on and on.  Nothing has really been very efficient... until...  we found an app!

Although we can't get a signal on our iphones in much of our building, we are able to get a signal in our classroom because our room is on an outside wall, so one piece of technology that I can use is my iphone.  For two years we have been using an app called Confer (we have had some recent syncing problems, but it was flawless for the first year, and I'm sure it will be again).  It was developed by a Nationally Board Certified Teacher - imagine that?!  A teacher with a solution! This app allows each of us to take notes during the day and then to sync at the end of the day and get each other's notes.  So, if I'm working with a child tomorrow, I will know that my co-teacher worked on conventions today during a writing conference or that the ESE teacher worked through a total melt down with a child yesterday in her room so I need to reinforce a specific behavior today.  We have very little time in our packed schedule to actually talk to each other about all the little conversations we have with children or all our noticings or wondering about specific children but this is a way we can keep in touch and keep a record of the progress students are making.

I never really thought to explain to the kids what I was doing while I was taking notes, so today one of the children asked me who I texted all day on my phone!  I wonder how many adults or other teachers have wondered through my class and asked the same question?!  I quickly pulled up my notes on this particular child so he could see what I was doing, but for anyone that has peeked into the classroom and seen us "texting," we really are taking notes!

Stop by.  I'd love to share what we are doing!  LOL!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What are they thinking?

Sometimes it is hard for me to understand what the decision makers are thinking when decisions are made. One recent decision really has me scratching my head.

Our county has put a lot of eggs in one basket.  The basket is a computer program called iReady.  Not only is it being used for progress monitoring in Reading and Math but also will be used this year to monitor many teachers' progress with their students.  That score along with a teacher's evaluation and professional development plan will be used to decide if a teacher is "highly effective" and  theoretically will eventually be linked to teacher pay, so... this computer program becomes pretty important.  I don't really think the program was ever designed to be used in this way, but that's probably a different blog!

As I have been working on rewriting assessments with some of my first grade peers, we have been trying to align test questions with what we anticipate will be on the state's FSA (state's high stake assessment), Florida's version of the Common Core, our curriculum, and this iReady computer program - all things with accountability attached.  I have to say it is often difficult to see the alignment. iReady professional development has been very sketchy, to say the least, although we are now finishing the first nine weeks of this school year.  The truth is that our school doesn't really even have the infrastructure to support such a computer program.  At best, with my four computers and 35 children, I may get students on for one Reading lesson and one Math lesson a week - hardly the suggested exposure,

Recently the county gave us iReady "cut" scores to make decisions.  If a child received below a certain cut score they were to be administered a DAR, an instrument that breaks down reading skills in simpler parts. This assessment allows a teacher to pinpoint exactly what the problem might be so that interventions might be targeted - a sound goal - but the cut score is too high.  In one example 22 of 35 students, 63%, were identified as needing this extra assessment which also assumes extra intervention is needed.  Fourteen of those 22 are reading at the level expected for this time of year according to the DRA (a long used and reliable measure of reading levels) and 19 are making "Satisfactory" in Reading this nine weeks on their report cards (6 have S+ and 3 have E's!)  This is common across our grade level.  I am not at a school that generally has a higher than normal percent of students struggling (we have been an "A" school for years) and yet according to this cut score, I would have well over half of the students in my class in need of extra intervention, Tier 2. Really? 

Is it really necessary for me to spend about three weeks of reading instructional time to give these students a test that will tell me nothing?  Is it necessary for me to spend time each week giving these students Tier 2 intervention when they don't need it, so that I don't have enough time to provide the intensive intervention where it is really needed? Maybe the decision makers will figure out the problem... eventually... after all the instructional time has been wasted?  I can only scratch my head and ask, "What are they thinking?"