Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dave the Potter

Book of the Month is a long time Chets Creek tradition.  Each month the Principal introduces a new book to the faculty as part of our on-going professional development.  Each year the books are picked specifically with goals in mind.  Some years they have been about school culture.  Other years they have been about vocabulary strategies or good read aloud strategies.  This year the emphasis has been on deepening comprehension to ready our students for the rigor that is expected with the implementation of  the Common Core Standards.

Today we were treated to the new Book of the Month. The mood was set as we walked into a darkened Media Center with a center spotlight on a potter's wheel.
You could hear the steady hum of the wheel as Chet's artist Karen Willet shaped a pot while we watched in total fascination. Soon Principal Susan Phillips began to read with dignity and grace ...  We followed along as she read the beautifully illustrated Caldecott Honor book, Dave the Potter, the story of a prolific South Carolina slave whose talent and strength shown through the great pots that he created.
After the reading we were challenged to use a  close reading lens (illustration, word choice, history, what was not stated...)  with small groups to discuss and come up with the central message of the book. This inspiring story captures the human spirit, overcoming all obstacles and flourishing.  What a treat this professional development was!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Combining Old Learning with New

Today we start our new author study on Kevin Henkes books. Kevin Henkes is a favorite first grade author and one first grade teachers have studied for ten years. Today, however, the learning technique was new. Mrs. Ruark used "stop and jot" which is a new technique for first grade teachers and students to help them keep their minds active and engaged while they are listening to a read aloud. Now that's called "rigor."

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sleepover, 2015

One of the things I love the most about our annual First Grade Sleepover is the way that family's get involved in the event.  This year our theme is "...lions and tiger and bears. Oh my!" to go with our Wizard of Oz school theme.  One of the things that families are asked to do with their child is to make lion, tiger or bear - stuffed animal for Sleepover.  The directions are emphatic that you don't have to sew and that the idea is simple to have fun with your child.  The week before they are due, we make stuffed animals/pillows with the children that come from the large mobile home community.  These children are mostly second language students and so we incorporate making the animals/ pillows during the day that we tutor after school in their community.  Parents are invited in to help stuff and make the creations but we supply all the "stuff."   The picture on the right below with the big bear show the pillows that the students made together after school. 

A parent in the classroom volunteered to make four extra pillows, just in case another student showed up without one, and of course, they did, but for the parents that are actually able to work with their children to make something special, this becomes  a wonderful shared experience.  The pillows and animals come in the week before the event to they can be displayed in the lobby on the evening of Parent's Night.

On Parent's Night students come with their family to make a keepsake pillowcase.  Each student sends in a pillowcase ( and we ask that parents that are able, to please send in an extra), so that we make sure to have a pillowcase for every student that shows up.  We had over 100 children show up with their families to make pillowcases!   The first grade teachers have plenty of stamps set out with acrylic paint so each child can work with his family to make a pillowcase.  As they leave, the students are given a little bag of Teddy Grahams.
It's just such a nice tradition!  Teachers who now have grown children talk about still having the pillowcase that their child made in first grade.

The actual day of Sleepover begins with a parade filled with first graders in pajamas, dark halls, flashlights and glow-in-the-dark bracelets.  The students ended in the Dinning Room watching and meeting the Wizard of OZ characters while they ate breakfast and the Principal (in her red sock puppet pajamas... with footies!) leading a dance party where teachers danced on the stage and students danced to all the popular kid songs.  

Then it's off to Center about literature run by the Resource Team.  The music teacher reads a children book about a party under the moon that includes singing and dancing.
Coach provides an active outside game that included a read aloud!
Art read the popular Paddington that ended with a painting art project.
And Mrs, KK, our Media Specialist ended our day with a shadow puppet show of one of our favorite books, Ira Sleeps Over complete with popcorn and dancing with a disco ball!
What an amazing day!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Speed Dating at School!

I don't know if you've ever done speed dating, but it's not something this married lady of over forty years has ever considered!  However... as the Leadership Team at Chets Creek pondered a fun way to help teachers get to know each other better (we are almost a hundred teachers strong!), Principal Susan Phillips came up with a novel approach to the problem.  She suggested an activity that resembles "speed dating," with more seasoned teachers on one side and newbie teachers on the other.  She gave each side four questions to start the conversations and then rotated every five minutes!  Oh my! Such a joyful hum of conversation sprinkled with bursts of laughter.  Such a fun way to get to know some new staff members!

The Principal even let us ask her questions to close.  She was really honest with her answers so I'm pretty sure lots of teachers learned things they didn't know about her - but... I'll never tell!

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.