Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Close Reading with Furby

Furby Ads: A Close Read
by Guest Blogger, Kindergarten Teacher Tracy Ruark


We have been challenging ourselves this year by looking at the new common core verbiage, close reading, as it refers to our kindergarten classroom.  We have defined close reading as "detailed and careful analysis of a written work." As part of our immersion into close reading we have been involved in a book study, Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts. One of their many suggestions to get students to practice thinking and talking about issues closely is to take a look at age appropriate ads, like the ones children see on TV and in magazines. I thought long and hard about a toy that would engage my 5- and 6-year-olds.  I knew that if I showed a superhero, the boys would be all over it and the girls would fall asleep and if I showed a Princess/ Barbie Doll commercial the girls would go crazy and the boys would revolt. So after a long search I decided to go neutral...Furby!

I had my product, but I wanted the students to see the product from two different perspectives. I wanted them to begin to think deeply about how the author of each ad pulled them in, much the same way that an author pulls them into a story.  I wanted to make sure that they were fully engaged and that they listened through the lens of word choice but also took in images, characters, colors, font choices, etc.  I decided to use a Furby video commercial and a Furby paper ad. I knew the video ad would fully engage them, but I wanted to see how they would respond to the paper ad when I read it to them.

Finally, the moment came and the room fell silent as I played the Furby video ad - 100% engagement!  All the students eyes were fixed on the screen as it lit up with color and sound. When the ad completed,  hands shot up wildly, with the kids saying "I want one, I want one!" I asked them, "What was it about this ad that made you think you had to have a Furby?" We began to bullet point all of the specifics they used in the ad that stuck with the children. They said, "It talks", "You can name it", "You can feed it" and "it hatches eggs - it even hatches golden eggs!" "You can pull its tail and it laughs", "You can get an app for it and it works with a tablet."  While this didn't really get to specific word choice, it did get to the images and ideas that had been expressed that stuck with the children.

"Ok," I said, "Now lets look at the paper ad."  I began to read, with great intonation, the paper Furby ad. The students were a bit more wiggly but that was to be expected since it wasn't as engaging. After I finished reading the ad I asked, "What did you notice about the ideas in both ads?" We began to bullet again the choices in the paper ad versus the video ad. One of my boys said, "Well, there is only one picture of a Furby on the paper ad so how do you know if there are any others." "I guess you would have to go to the store and look." I said. "I don't like that," he said. One of my girls raised her hand and said, "I noticed that in the video ad it said they had a tablet that you could use with the Furby but they don't say anything about it in the paper ad. Why not? I think they need to say it in the paper ad too."  And so it went as the children continued to look at the ways in which the Furby ads were different but also at ways the ads had pulled them in and made them want a Furby.

So what does all this have to do with reading?  Granted the children are not yet used to looking deeply, comparing and analyzing, but as they continue to do this type of looking and thinking orally, they will be ready to do it in the texts they will be hearing.  If we look at this again will they notice the bright colors that dance across the page? the words the author uses specifically to play on their emotions and draw them tightly into the experience? the audiences that each type of ad is trying to capture?  Will the students be able to look at another perspective and put on the lens of their parents?  Would their parents like this toy?  Would they think it was worth it?  Oh, the opportunities are endless...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Praying for Rebecca

I work with a family of teachers - a large family - we have over 1300 K-5 students - who have passion, dedication and heart.  We believe that relationships with our students and with our colleagues make the synergy that drives our academic success.  Earlier this year one of our kindergarten teachers was diagnosed with cancer - osteosarcoma.  She is a mother of two year old twins and the loveliest person you'd ever want to meet  The staff has rallied behind her,  providing snacks and meals, and texts, cards, and notes, lighthearted baskets for her chemo days, endless prayers... Her co-teacher just spent four days with her in Gainesville when she needed someone to accompany her for treatment.  Today Melanie Holtsman, our Reading Coach, unveiled this newest video card to say how much we care.  We decided to all buy yellow theme shirts to wear every Friday in support of Rebecca. She is a remarkable colleague who is a part of our Chets Creek family.  She is always the giver so I am sure this is especially difficult for her, but it is such a powerful example of why I love this place so much! Join us in prayer... Chets Creek Strong!

For Rebecca from Once Upon a Teacher on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Kindergarten Math Professional Development

Today we had a day of Kindergarten Professional Development in Math.  Oh my!  What a fantastic day!  Not only did I get to spend the day with a grade level of teachers I adore, but Suzanne Shall, who is our Assistant Principal, slipped on her Math Coaching hat and ran the TDE.  What a treat, in so many ways!

We started with a demo in the famous Mall-ard class!  There was so much to take back into my own class that I don't even know where to start.  Since this is my reflection, I guess I'll give you the high points for me and the things that I will be taking back!

1. The demo started with Math Journals. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture but they use composition books with a cross drawn so that the students have 4 squares on each page.  These quick activities review skills/ standards from previous lessons.  Today's skills were: 1) How many more in a tens frame, 2) using pictures of 10 bundles to count by tens, 3) "counting on" starting with 6 donuts and then 3 are added, and 4) a 4+1 __ and 1-1 __ from our One More, One Fewer Math Investigations Game.  They actually set the timer for 5 minutes and called time.  Students that finish early know to go to the left side of their page and start writing the numbers by 1.  This routine is so firmly established that it looked like most students finished. The compositions books were put away so seamlessly that I didn't even notice how it was done!

2.  They transitioned to the carpet with a math song with the words on a chart and a child pointing to each word as the children sang.  They use Math in Motion by Mr. Al and Math in Motion by Jack Hartman and change the song every couple of weeks. This week the skill is counting by 5's.  Now, I know I have had both of those CDs at some point in my career.  They are not new, but I can't find them now, so I ordered them both and they will be here on Tuesday!  Woo hoo!

3. Next was a quick skill review.  Today they used an interactive game.  Only 5-6 minutes but today a quick review of ten frames with students sometimes identifying the number filled and sometimes identifying the empty blocks.  At the debrief later, Cheryl would share some favorite 5-10 minute Math Skills that she uses.

4.  We are in the middle of a geometry unit so today we saw the Math Investigations lesson about filling hexagons with shapes. The lesson started with the essential questions and then began with the comedy team of Mrs. Dillard and Mrs. Mallard pretending to be the students and playing the game together.  I blinked and the students were at their seats, playing while the 14 of us (!) milled around talking to students as they worked.


Mrs. Dillard closed by going back to the essential questions and having students she had pre-selected come to the front and explain the combinations they had used as she filled in a design.

5.  At the end Mrs. Dillard used an "exit ticket" as an informal assessment.  She had five shapes on a piece of paper in a plastic protector sleeve at each student's desk.  She asked the students 3 questions and each student marked their answer and held it up.  This way she could do a a quick assessment of who got it and who didn't.  Master teacher in action. 
They did all this in a one hour Math Workshop!  The reason they can do so much is because their rituals and routines are so incredibly seamless and their time is tight not a second wasted.  As the children got out materials and put them away it was without directions.  They simply knew what to do.  Amazing!

As always, the teachers went back to the conference room and the debrief was full of praise and insight.  If we had done nothing else today, the entire day was worth seeing colleagues teach!  

But that was just the beginning of what Suzanne had planned with our Math Lead Cheryl Dillard for us to do.  We had been assigned a chapter to read from  Number Talks: Mental Math Computations by Sherry Parrish.  Instead of debriefing the chapter, we played a word/ definition/ picture game with partners - love when the coach models by using a teaching strategy we could do in the classroom.  Then we watched 5 minute video clips from the chapter with kindergarten teachers and students.  It makes such a difference when you can see a teacher demonstrating the principles.
This chapter is all about using ten frames, rekenreks and  dot cards to teach subitizing and conserving numbers, one-to-one correcsponse, counting by 1's and counting on by using 5's and 10's.  All of this is our foundation in these early grades.  That's not to say that we didn't have trouble wrapping our minds about how we would fit all this in! Suzanne has copied a stack of work we could use in the classroom tomorrow which is the sequence for implementing these strategies as part of a daily skills review.

The rest of the day was about showing us tools that we could use during our Math Workshop and for our small groups.  Our county has bought i-Ready, which is a computer program.  Although we are expected to use it, there has been little professional development on this massive program so we went through some of the reports and how they could be used to inform parents, but also how to use them to inform instruction, such as forming small groups and then monitoring progress.  Unfortunately we are a school, not living in the 21st century with our technology so the barriers to implementing this program with kindergartners often seem insurmountable but as is our way, we shared the barriers and our frustrations and then quickly went to sharing solutions and ways that teachers were making it work.  Our technology is so less than ideal, but our children will live in an age where technology is part of their life, so we have to embrace what we have!   We looked at the Toolbox Lessons (Access code: NASM-X9SA) for i-Ready and some of the cpalms lessons that might supplement our lessons and our own professional development.  Although some of the lessons were taped right here at Chets Creek, we were especially interested in the videos, Is it still a triangle? and Compare Hexagons for this geometry unit.

The thing about Suzanne is that she walks in the shoes of a teacher.  She has a family.  She knows how tight our time is and how much is being added to our plate every day without anything coming off so, instead of just giving us a list of resources that we could look at "when we have time" (as if that ever happens!), she made sure that she had carved out time in our day so  that we could look at some of the sights right then and there and see what we could find on our own. That way she assures that we will know how to return to the sights and actually use them later!

Suzanne always ends with time for partners to discuss what they learned and what they want to do with what they have learned and then has them share with the group the first thing that they saw that they want to implement.  You have to have time to synthesize and reflect and then develop a plan.  Each of us left with a plan.

I don't mind telling you that my head is swimming, but what a great day of learning.  Maybe other schools do this on a regular basis like we do at Chets Creek, but that was never true in the eight schools I taught at before coming to Chets.  Recently I inquired from someone in the county about wanting professional development in a reading technique that I knew was being offered in our county, but not at my school.  The person suggested that if I wanted the training, I should transfer to that school!  They so don't get it. Chets Creek is about being a learner and collaborative teaching. It's the leadership, the collegiality, the passion, the synergy that makes it work - that makes it different here. That's why I stay here.  That's why I love my job!

Coming next time: Mathematical Practice.  Can't wait!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Kinder Math Standard-based Bulletin Board



Our kindergarten standard-based Math bulletin board went up this week.  It is based on a Math Investigations lesson called, Six Tiles in All, in which the children had to take six one inch paper tiles and make a  design to share with the class on one inch grid paper so that each tile was touching another tile in some way.

This is the standard.
K.CC.B.4 – Count to tell the number of objects
4. Understand the relationship between numbers and quantities; connect counting to cardinality.
b.  Understand that the last number name said tells the number of objects counted.  The number of objects is the same regardless of their arrangements or the order in which they are counted.

This was the task.
Six Tiles in All asks students to use six one inch tiles to make different arrangements.  Each arrangement has to follow a special rule – each tile has to touch another tile in some way.  The teacher showed several arrangements and also had the students identify non-examples.  Then several students demonstrated their idea of how the six tiles could be arranged.  The students were then challenged to find different arrangements of their own six tiles and to choose one way to record and then share with the class, using paper tiles and one inch grid paper. 

On the following day these same paper tile arrangements were used as quick images.  Children were encouraged to explain how they remembered the image to reproduce it.

This task begins to meet the standard by having the students practice different arrangements of a single number, 6.  To meet this element of the standard the students needs to demonstrate their understanding of this same concept with other numbers.  They would also need to count the items in each arrangement, understanding that the last number said is the number of objects.

This is the background information.
Six tiles are used for this investigation because six is the number that most kindergartners can count with accuracy.  Because it takes two hands to represent six, students naturally work with two numbers to make combinations of six.  In addition, six is one of the largest amounts that can be mentally visualized and manipulated and instantly recalled.  This is also a number kinders are intimately familiar with because most of them will turn six during the year!

This investigation gets to Piaget’s work with conservation which is a foundational skill in number sense.   Conservation of number is the understanding that the quantity of a given number of objects remains the same regardless of how it is spatially arranged.   Six is six is six. The child that sees six tiles horizontally as six but then has to recount those same tiles when they take another arrangement would be unable to conserve numbers.  But a child that identifies the horizontal as six, and then the same six tiles rearranged to make a rectangle as six, would be able to conserve numbers.  The child that has conservation does not need to recount the same tiles as they take different shapes because he knows that the number stays the same.

This investigation also gets at subitizing which is the ability to immediately recognize an arrangement as a single unit.  The ability to see the particular arrangements of indentions on a die and know it is 5 without counting would be an example of subitizing.  This investigation, like dot cards, ten-frames and rekenreks, provide students with the opportunity to practice subitizing.  Quick images help a child practice subitizing and visualizing what the number looks like with different patterns of that same number.  

The board contains the work of six different students.  Below is the work and commentary of one.
Eren was especially proud of his arrangement which he said looked like a chess board.  He liked that the “ends” were touching and that it was a design that no one at his table had imagined.

Nia thought it looked like a zigzag and Alex recognized the checked pattern when he said it looked like a checker board.  Tommy said it looked like racing and when Sawyer said he couldn’t see racing, Tommy explained that it looked like the racing start line, the checkered flag!  Love the fact that these very young children are beginning to challenge each other in their number talks!

ESOL Rant Update

Since my last rant about having to take 5 courses of ESOL while I am in DROP, I have corresponded with everyone in the county at every level to try to find a way to meet this requirement and actually learn something. Couldn't find anyone willing to give me an independent study. My only options seemed to involve long drives for boring put-you-to-sleep lectures or busywork computer courses - neither of which appealed to me. Finally I found out I could test out! Know how I found out? Facebook!- something not mentioned in any of my correspondences with the district!  So today I took a half day of instructional time away from my kindergartners, trucked out to UNF, spent 45 minutes trying to find a parking space (really UNF, if you're going to charge me $3 to park, at least send me somewhere that I can find a parking space!), and spent a couple of hours passing a test to add the ESOL endorsement to my certificate.  Did I mention the $200 it cost me to take the test?  Or the $75 to add it to my certificate? Did I mention that by taking the test I didn't learn a single thing that will make me a better teacher to my precious ELL students- something I desperately want!

So... I am $275 poorer and not one bit smarter, but I have jumped through the hoops to assure I can teach another year.  Do I sound mad and disappointed?  I am.  I'm mad at my county for presenting lackluster professional development in an area that is so important.  I'm mad that my county refused to accept real hands-on application level work to meet this requirement. For the first two classes I was able to volunteer with ELL children and their families at the MARC , a community center in the midst of a large mobile home sight that houses many of the ELL families at our school, but someone decided that that was not good enough to meet the requirement. So,  instead of volunteering every week - 180 hours - to tutor my ELL students in their community and putting a face on education for their families, I felt compelled to opt out with a test!  That time could have made a real difference in the academic progress of my children and the engagement of their families, and who am I kidding? - it could have made a difference in my life!  If the county is willing to accept bare minimum professional development for teachers - professional development devoid of passion and engagement - are they willing to accept the same bare minimum for its students?  Yes, I'm disappointed...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Falling in Love with Close Reading

I love reading a  good book that offers me something that I can use immediately in the classroom.  Better than that is a book study where I can read and think with colleagues who have similar passions. By discussing what I read, just like our children, I guess, I form new ideas and build on my thinking.   Before the holiday, Reading Coach Melanie Holtsman asked who would like to study the new book, Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts.  Melanie had been introduced to the book and the authors during her study at Teachers' College this past summer.  Close reading is one of the new buzz words that came with the common core and we have been actively pursuing good information on the subject, so I, along with 30 other colleagues, quickly signed up.  We've done lots of book studies over the years at Chets Creek and done them in all sorts of different ways with different leaders and configurations, so I was interested in how Melanie would choose to roll out this Book Study.

As usual,  Melanie did not disappoint - using her natural insight and creativity.  She decided to incorporate some of the lessons and strategies she had learned this summer into the book study and she also has kept in touch with the authors of the book through Twitter, so each week, Melanie LEADS the study with a short introduction, some time for the participants to talk about what they read, and an activity that helps teachers feel the engagement of a learner.  When I can, I attend both the morning and afternoon sessions, although they are on the same topic - I guess I'm really a professional development junkie!  However, the mix of the participants is difference and it never fails, that the emphasis is different because of the interests and engagement of each group.  We've only studied the first two chapters and already I am hooked on this design for a book study.  I can't wait to read each new chapter and to see how Melanie will help us look closer at our reading... and our lives.  I'm sure this isn't easy for Melanie.  It's not like this design was just laid out there and she's following some script.  She really has to think deeply and creatively about how she can present the content to a group of adult learners who have such high expectations.  She takes risks, the kind of risks that she is asking teachers to take.  She teaches us the way that she expects us to teach our children.

I have attended so much professional development during my years as a teacher and much of it has honestly been VERY BAD.  It is so refreshing to look forward to reading a chapter and to get up on the morning of the book study and hurry to make sure I'm not late so I won't miss a single minute.  That is the same feeling I want in my students each morning that they come to class!  The best part is that I leave the book study with a new insight and a smile on my face - invigorated and excited!  Does it get any better than that?

Stay tuned as this book study continues to come to life.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Working on the Work


Today was one of my favorite days.  It was a WOW day (a Working On the Work day).  Our children spend the day with our Resource teachers and we spend the day studying together.  We started off our WOW with a demo lesson by our Literacy lead, Maria Mallon.  All 14 of us loaded into Maria's room to watch her masterfully teach one of the new lessons from Lucy Calkins' new Units of Study for Teaching Writing.  We opened with narrative writing after the holiday and Maria demonstrated the 5th lesson, the last lesson in the first bend of the narrative genre.  I love watching a colleague work!  Maria masterfully taught the children how to use their pencil for reading and for writing.  She taught them to use the eraser end for "rereading your work and the point for writing new words" as the children co-wrote the beginning, middle and end of a story together about our trip to watch the Polar Express at the church next door.  Besides using a magic pencil  I also loved how she demonstrated using "writing in the air" as an active involvement.  Maria gave each student his or her own writing pencil and then had them use it to "pretend" write or "write in the air" a she wrote on the paper on the board.   Both of those tips - using a magic pencil and writing in the air - are things that we can teach in our classroom tomorrow.

Melanie Holtsman, our Literacy Coach, is the producer of our literacy professional development and she and Maria designed this learning opportunity together.  Melanie studied at Teachers' College last summer so she has been able to artfully incorporate pieces of that "Lucy" training into our professional development this year.  She shares some of her learning from the summer and from a recent day with Lucy with us, and the greater community at our school PD blog, Live from the Creek.  Check it out.  It's almost like being at Teachers' College!

Melanie always tries to have us experience something as a learner so that we feel comfortable incorporating it into our lessons.  Today she had us "write a story in the air" or tell a true story from our childhood to a partner - orally tell a story to our partner.  She suggested this as  way to have our students get ready to write.  In others, instead of simply telling our students to "turn and talk" about what they are going to write, to actually have them tell their partner the story with a beginning, middle, and end to jump start their story writing.  Can't you just see how that would work?

After lunch together - we always order in to save time! - our Science lead Tracy Ruark took over for the last hour.  Tracy shared the content of boxes that were loaned to Chets
by the Safari Club for us to use in Science.  We looked at pelts and skulls and I even learned about "scat" - felt like I'd visited Duck Dynasty!  The boxes also included books and lesson plans.  I know how much fun the teachers had with these items, so I can just imagine how the children will engage with them!  We ended by talking about Tracy's latest Science lab with Sound.

I LOVE the teachers I work with.  They are engaged.  They are never at a loss for questions and share an endless supply of creative ideas.  There is no questions that I will be a better teacher tomorrow because I shared time with them today!