Friday, December 28, 2007

Writers as Writing Teachers

I have always thought that teachers who were writers would make better writing teachers. As writers teachers would understand the difference between writing to a prompt - something that they had to think about on the spot - and writing from their heart about something they feel or remember or know lots about. As writers they would know, as author Jodi Picoult says, that you can edit something that is bad, but you can't edit a blank page. As writers, they would understand that if you just get started, the words do begin to flow. As writers, they would understand the sheer joy in editing something and making it sound like music. The problem has always been how to get teachers to write, if they were not already writers. As a literacy coach, I've done all the normal things, like giving teachers journals, or reading something that I knew would emit emotion and then having them write their responses or having them respond in a journal to a question and then asking them to read their response to a partner and sharing so that they would understand how it felt to their students. Teachers that already enjoyed writing loved these sessions and were usually proud of what they could write on the spur of the moment. Teachers who didn't really write hated them. Oh sure, sometimes they surprised themselves and wrote something that they liked, but mostly they just dreaded the professional development days when they were required to write. I never really turned a non-writer into a writer with those well-thought out professional development sessions...

Finally, I think I have found the vehicle that makes teachers really WANT to be writers, a way for them to get feedback, and a way for them to write for a real audience - blogging! Take Maria Mallon, for example. Maria is an exceptional Kindergarten teacher in every way. This year she decided to blog and she writes an entry several times a week - usually a single picture and an explanation of why the activity is important or the fun the children had. It's an on-line journal of the community life in her classroom. Her kids read it every day. Her kids' parents read it every day. The kids' extended families all over the world read it every day. Her peers read it every day. I read it every day! I can't wait to see what's going on in Maria's room. It's a benchmark for me to make sure I'm moving along with her. Of course, I drop by her room all the time, but the blog entries tell me even more - things I might not have seen when I drop in. But more than that, Maria's own writing gets better and better. She may have already been a good writer before she started blogging, but now she knows she has a limited space to get an important message across. Her entries are thoughtful and entertaining. They teach. Through blogging she has really found her voice. Over this holiday break she wrote our Florida Congressmen because there has been talk of eliminating National Board money, and she believes going through the National Board process made her a better teacher. Would she have written that letter if she had not had so much success with writing on her blog? Would she have had the same confidence? I don't know, but I know that as I read her letter, I could clearly hear her remarkable voice. She is doing all that I would ever hope that a writing teacher would do - she writes. Blogging may not be for every teacher but it certainly is a way for teachers of writing to enter the international conversation...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Literate Kindergarten

Have you ever read that a new book is coming out and you just can't wait to read it? That's the way I felt when I read the quote below about The Literate Kindergarten by Susan L. Kempton.

"This very important book reaffirms the beauty and uniqueness of children’s developing minds and the power that is unleashed when their imaginations are nurtured. —Susan Zimmermann

If Susan Zimmermann - one of the coauthors of Mosaic of Thought -recommended this book, then it just had to be something special - a way to take the Mosaic comprehension strategies into kindergarten. WOW! I just couldn't wait. I ordered the book even before it was published! When it came in the mail I opened it excitedly and started reading it that very night. I was so-o-o-o disappointed. As she opened talking about the importance of song and language, I saw lots of familiar rituals and routines, but nothing really new or profound. Then as she went into keeping play alive and described ways to put writing into Blocks and turning Housekeeping into a Pizza Restaurant, I was reminded of a book I wrote twelve years ago. Her ideas of centers contained so many of the things that I had put into my Pre-K class years ago. I felt like I had come so far from those days when I was satisfied if a child could write a single phonetic sentence as they left Kindergarten. I was now teaching four genres of writing and teaching children comprehension strategies. Was Susan Kempton really suggesting that I take ten steps backwards? And why was anyone promoting this book? I put the book down...

As I have been reprioritizing the stack of books by my bedside over the holiday, I decided to finish the book. If I were going to say that I didn't like this book, then I needed to at least finish reading it. Beginning with Chapter 6: Write to Read, I began to see the structure of mini-lesson/ work period/ share that is familiar to me now. I saw children's writing that looked like what I am seeing in my own classroom. My engagement with this book began to change. I found ideas that I loved and could use, such as the ones below:
  • Make a word card for each child for the writing folder of sight words from the DRA 2. When the child identifies the word, punch a hole beside the word on the card and hold the child responsible for spelling it correctly. How easy is that!

  • Four strategies from Mosaic of Thought can be taught in kindergarten - activating schema, creating mental images, questioning, and inferring... and why... and how. (Loved this!)

  • Dr. Seuss's ABC book can be sung to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." The strategy that she explains with this book is one that I will be trying as we return from the Winter holiday with that very small group of my students who still don't have the letters and sounds. 

  • I loved her explanation of the difference between steady beat and rhythm and how they relate to reading. I guess I knew this at some level but her explanation made it so clear.

  • When lining up use snapping and counting backwards as a calming segue. Great technique that actually reinforces a math skill.
So, now that I have finished the book, I guess I can say that it was really worth reading. I think the beginning that was a turn-off for me was really just a reminder that these are 5 year olds. Most of the children that come to me have had good, strong pre-kindergarten experiences. Some even come in knowing their letters and sounds and how to write their names, but for those other students who do not have the opportunity of a rich literacy background, Susan Kempton's words are a warning- do not skimp on the foundation. As I reflect on that, I have been thinking about ways to build working with play dough, cutting with scissors, and building with leggos for those students that do seem to still need more fine motor development or ways to build reading and writing into our afternoon "choice" centers...

The holiday break really gives us time to think about our students and to reflect on our practice. Professional reading stimulates those thoughts. Thank you, Susan Kempton, for helping me think about my teaching...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Just for Fun!

Early in the school year Deb Cothern and Michelle Ellis suggested that we start two "Tinkerbell" books. The idea was that there is so much we want to know from each other, but we don't always take the time to ask, so... They suggested that we start the books by asking a question of a colleague. Each week, the colleague would answer the question in the book and then would pass the book with a new question to a different colleague. Along with being "Tinkerbell-ed" and given the book (which is called "Pixie Pointers") to write an answer to the question you were asked, the person answering the question also wears a silver Tinkerbell necklace for the week (the guys really loved this part!!) We are now half way through the year and each book is full of advice and suggestions. The only problem is that the rest of the faculty doesn't get a chance to read the questions and answers each week so this week we have introduced all of the questions and answers in a new blog that we will update each week of the new year. Take a peek and see what is on the minds of Chets Creek Imagineers!

Just for fun and enjoyment, take a look at the Principal's blog this week which is a weekly message to the faculty where she "elfed herself!" You'll love it! Happy, happy holidays!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Happy Holidays

As we close 2007 and look toward the holidays, Kindergarten classes are filled with all the trappings of holiday cheer.

One of my new favorite holiday activities this year was found in Cheryl Dillard's classroom. On the last 12 days before the holiday, she hangs a holiday bag for each child with his/her name on it. If the child has a "white" day (which means they don't loose any clips for poor choices) then she adds a small treat to the bag (a piece of candy such as a candy Kiss or miniature candy cane, a small trinket such as a rubber ball, holiday sticker, etc). On the last day each child gets to take home their holiday treat bag!

Finally, school is out for 2007. Children are sent home with visions of sugerplums dancing in the head and teachers are home for a rest! Of course, it is also a time of reflection and planning for the new year... 2008 - here we come!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"All About..." Reports

Kindergartners at Chets Creek have been writing nonfiction pieces for the last month. Some of the classes started with Procedural pieces (also called Instructions or "How to...") and some with Informational pieces or Reports. When introducing Informational non-fiction most of the classes start with a report on something that the children know lots about - themelves. They write "All About Me" Reports. As these reports are finished the children then choose something that they know a lot about to write a report. Some write "All About Tee-Ball or Soccer or Ballet." Others write "All About My Pet Dog or My Best Friend or My Family." Below is one such report on the "Inuits," one of the tribes that was studied during the Kindergartners units about Native Americans. Notice the rich vocabulary that was learned during this unit. Most of the reports follow this same format with a Title, Table of Contents, 3-5 "Chapters," and then some closing such as "fun facts," or a simple closing statement or even a "how to..." tucked in.

All About Inuits

Table of Contents

Inuits Look Like.........1

Where Inuits Live......2

What Inuits Do...........3

Inuits Look Like P. 1

They have mukluks.
They have snow goggles.
They have parkas.
They had clothes.

Where Inuits Live P. 2

Inuit igloos are made out of ice.
The Artic is where they live.
Snow falls.
Snow is on the ground.

What Inuits Do P. 3

Inuits fish.
They ride on umiaks
They throw harpoons.
They hunt for animals.

Fun Facts

They hunt for food.
They have harpoons.
They play games.
They live in igloos.
They hunt for animals.

This report is a good example of a kindergartner reporting information on a particular topic. It meets the kindergarten standard for Reports. It begins by naming the topic (Inuits) in the title. It includes an organizational structure with a Table of Contents and then writing for each of the three "chapters" (What Inuits wear, Where they live, and What they do) related to the Chapter Titles and a closing of Fun Facts. The report includes facts and specific information with content appropriate vocabulary. It maintains a focus and stays on topic without any extraneous information. The writing is accompanied by illustrations that even include labels. The author closes the paper with "fun facts" that include most of the information that has been previously stated.

This report also meets the Language and Conventions Standard for Kindergarten. The author uses a variety of sentences. The vocabulary is outstanding and demonstrates much of the vocabulary that was presented during this unit. Many of these words with pictures were available on a Word Wall for this unit. The author also spells many sight words correctly. Other words are spelled phonetically. The piece demonstrates beginning knowledge of spacing. It also demonstrates directionality and is readable by adults.

Shared Reading

Today the Schultz Center's Literacy 101 visited Randi Timmons and Elizabeth Conte's classroom. Now I have to admit that it's pretty brave to invite a classroom of teachers into your class the week before you have Winter Break (with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads!) but the Timmonte Team did just that and showed just why they have such an outstanding reputation. Randi and Elizabeth invited their children to perform several of the shared readings they have been practicing this week for the teachers who dropped in through live video stream.

The first was a song, He'll be Drivin' 8 Big Reindeer sung to the tune of She'll be Comin' 'Round the Mountain.  Songs are a wonderful way of having kindergartners learn to match the words they say to the words they see, to learn that text runs left to right and top to bottom, or to learn where to start reading a piece of text.

The next was a holiday poem that stressed color words. This poem was introduced to teach the students to use intonation with punctuation which is a part of fluency. We comprehend text better when we use intonation with punctuation so we know how the author intended for the text to sound. Randi and Elizabeth used "echo reading" (I read a line, then you read a line) to teach the poem, but will move to choral reading (we all read together) and then to students reading parts as the week continues.

The final piece was a story that the students wrote as a language experience together with the teachers. The purpose of this piece of interactive writing was to encourage the students to use the vocabulary words that they have been learning as part of their Vocabulary Unit  in their writing. This too was taught by "echo" reading to provide the most support since the text is challenging reading for most of the kindergartners.

After the shared reading, Randi and Elizabeth joined Haley Alvarado and Meredy Mackiewicz who were teaching at the Schultz Center today for a debrief via live video stream. The Timmonte Team shared other poems, songs, a morning message, a class promise, big books, and chants that they have used and will be using when they return from the holiday. Shared reading can be used for Readers' or Writers' mini-lessons, Skills Block or to teach and reinforce content in Science and Social Studies. The only requirement is that you enlarge a piece of text so that all the students can see it together. This is a differentiated technique as it allows your highest readers to actually read the text but provides support for your most challenged readers to read along. 

Thursday, December 6, 2007

December Book of the Month 2007

Yesterday, the Principal presented this month's Book of the Month. Each month the Principal selects a book and then teaches the faculty something new. Why is this important? Because it sets the Principal up as the Instructional Leader of the school. Of course, it also means that she has to have something new to present to this high-performing and diverse faculty, but as the Instructional Leader, she embraces that challenge each month! This month she introduced the very touching book, Great Joy, a new holiday picture book by Kate DiCamillo. The gorgeous pictures are drawn by Bagram Ibatoulline. The strategy that she taught the faculty was the use of digital storytelling by sharing a voice thread.

Not only will each teacher have this voice thread to present to her class in the Principal's voice, but so will families, as the voice thread goes on the web site. It becomes a communication tool for all of our stake holders so that they begin to understand some of our instructional emphasis. The other thing that it does is present something new and interesting to the faculty to lift the level of our work. Before the day was over, at least one teacher had two of her students prepare voice threads to stories they had written and had sent it on to the principal. The school is a-buzz with ideas of how this new piece of technology can be used in instruction. I have thought of a number of ways it can be used with kindergartners... so just stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Kindergarten PLC, 2007

This is the second Kindergarten WOW day of this year, a day where the Resource teachers take the entire grade level of children so that the Kindergarten teachers can get away for a full day of Professional Development. The day began with a demonstration lesson by Haley Alvarado. Haley demonstrated our first Social Studies lesson! While we have had many demonstrations of Writers' Workshop, Readers' Workshop, Skills Block, Science and Math over the years, we have never concentrated on Social Studies.

Haley's lesson began with a review of the chart that the students had made the day before as they had studied "Families." After she reviewed and connected today's lesson with the work the class had been doing together, she explained to the students how to make a family "glyph." After demonstrating the project and checking for comprehension, the children were assigned partners. Each child had to interview his partner and draw a glyph of the partner's family. This twist on the activity provided for practice in speaking and listening.

1.Draw a window for each brother or sister that you have. If you do not have any brothers or sisters, do not draw any windows.
2.If you live with your mom and dad, draw a red door. If you live with just your mom, draw a blue door or just your dad, draw a green door.
3.If your whole family lives in Jacksonville, draw a tree right next to your house. If anyone in your family lives in another state, draw a tree far away from your house.
4.If your family speaks another language, write a 2 on the front door. If your family speaks English only, write a 1 on the front door.

Maria Mallon jumps right in and works with a small group.
As the children dispersed to work on their glyphs, Kindergarten teachers joined the children at their tables to discuss the project with them. As children finished, partners were invited to use the document camera to display and explain their work to the class. At this point Haley helped the class interpret the data of each partnership. "Now if John has the number 2 on his door, what does that mean?" "It means that his family speaks two languages." "That's right, because we know that John's family speaks English and Spanish."

Students explain their work to the group
After the lesson, children joined their Resource while teachers joined together in the Conference Room to debrief the lesson. Teachers discussed many of the things they noticed and liked about Haley's lessons ("warm" comments) and there were MANY things to rave about. Then they moved to "cool" comments where they asked questions, got clarifications and discussed wonderings. One of the many things that the teachers discussed was just how you find time in such a crowded day for Social Studies. The consensus was that you have to be intentional about the lessons that you teach and you slip the Social Studies content into Readers', Writers' and Math - sometimes substituting a Social Studies lesson and sometimes just wrapping the content into the Workshop standards.

After the lesson, Kindergarten teachers organized their Pow Wow notebooks with a conversation around professional behavior and responsibility.

The teacher did a "board walk." Each teacher reviewed a bulletin board of another teacher with a partner and brought their compliments and questions to the table. The consensus was that we appreciate the opportunity to take risks with our bulletin boards, because we believe that being valued as risk-takers has moved our work forward.

Finally teachers brought procedural student work to the table. Using the Instructions Rubric, they divided into partners to discuss and score the work.

All in all, it was a very productive day including lunch off the school grounds - a little time for fellowship! This is a talented, focused group of teachers who knows no limits!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Leadership Begins at the Top

Leadership really starts at the top and at Chets Creek "leadership" means the diversified Leadership "Dream" Team. Made up of thirteen members representing every grade and discipline and chosen for their ability to lead, this group meets weekly. Today the Team left school to meet in the home of one of its members. Not only is it fun and festive to get away but it keeps interruptions to a minimum. The Principal treated the Team to a catered lunch and gave each member a new web cam as a holiday surprise to encourage them in their pursuits of podcasting, videoconferencing, etc.

The meeting began with a personality inventory to find out we are made up of equal parts buffaloes and eagles, with a couple of mice and a single beaver. We have done different types of personality profiles in the past but we have some new members and it helps us to understand each other and to celebrate our talents and diversity when we discuss our differing styles. Be are better as a group because of the individual styles that we bring to the table. The afternoon also included a hefty agenda of tying up loose ends as the year begins to come to a close.

Why is all this important? Because the caring, the fun, and the rigor of the agenda are all models for the way each coach will conduct her/his own Teacher Meetings. It feels professional. There is a feeling of group cohesiveness and accountability. You just can't imagine letting the Team down. This is the foundation for our culture that frees us to be all that we can be, that encourages us to expand creative thoughts and to try new things, and that puts a smile on our face as we walk into the building every day! It is this environment that is the greatest of holiday gifts! It doesn't get any better than this!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Caring About Each Other

Supporting Betsy McCall
Taking care of each other is part of our culture. This week was a perfect example of how that attitude is infused into everything that we do. When we discovered that one in our midst had been diagnosed with breast cancer we rallied around by designing special pink shirts to wear every Friday while she was having radiation. Even the men in our school joined in with a "real men wear pink" attitude!

Practical jokes are a part of daily life!
Humor and practical jokes are also a part of how we deal with each other. When our new Assistant Principal, Moena Perry, missed a message that was written on a stickie note by PE teacher Wes Timmons, he decided to poll every member of the school and have each of them tell him something they "needed!" He wrote every need on a stickie note. When Moena walked into her office, she found her office papered with stickie notes! You'd have to read each of the "needs" to thoroughly enjoy the humor.

Being thankful is a Chets Creek tradition that we model for our children often. For instance, Resource teachers (PE, Music, Art, Media, Science, Character Education) are a part of so many of the incredible things that we are able to do. They take the children of a grade level for an entire day every Wednesday so that a grade level of teachers can meet with their PLC. For each grade level they also spend a day running Centers around a grade level theme. In Kindergarten that themed day is Pow Wow. After the Kinder teachers spend their time making costumes and presenting a live performance, its the Resource teachers who take over the rest of the day to provide appropriate theme-related activities. To say thank you, Kindergarten teachers prepared lunch for the Resource Team this week and invited the children to write thanks you notes during Writers' Workshop. They wanted these very special teachers to know that they are so-o-o-o appreciated.

Appreciation is also expressed to volunteers this time of year. JB is one of those very special volunteers. He hasn't had a child at Chets Creek for years but he continues to hang out, being our go-to-guy for everything. He was the architect for our life-sized tepee! We sometimes forget that he's not part of the paid faculty! One of his holiday gifts to the school is to put up our giant holiday tree in the Lobby. It's one of those older designs where you have to put each branch into the center individually and it takes him an entire day to get it just perfect! Then he spends another day up on a ladder hanging the ornaments that represent every single child in the school. As a way to thank him for years or service, each class brought him something special when they brought their ornaments to hang this year. Some gave the gift of a song or poem and some gave a more monetary gift and some even brought his favorite, Almond Joys! By the end of the day he was decked in a special tee-shirt, a banner reading JB Day '07! and a crown! In typical JB style, he serenaded each class with a holiday song. We officially declared it "All About JB Day."

All of this is to say that in large, high performing schools, it really does take a village and much of the academic achievement has at its base - relationships. No matter how much we care about good test scores, education is about so much more than that. The culture at our school is to educate the whole child by showing them by example how to care about each other, to celebrate with a sense of humor, to always remember to appreciate all that we have, and to say thank you often.

Holiday Book Exchange, 2007

Two years ago, one of the coaches suggested a Holiday Book Exchange. We had so many young teachers who didn't have a stash of holiday read-alouds. We thought it might be a way for younger teachers to build up their libraries and share some of our love of reading at the same time. Teachers have the option of participating in the Book Exchange - or not - but all are invited to the morning Extravaganza. Each teacher that wants to participate draws a name and brings a holiday book ($5 limit) for another teacher on their grade level. The coaches, administrators, and Media Specialist each buy a hardback book that teachers are invited to put their names into for a drawing. The coaches all bring a treat to share.  Different years we have had different entertainment for our Holiday Book Exchange but this year Melanie Holtsman prepared a voice thread of an irreverent innovation of the "Night Before Christmas" featuring our Administrative and Office staff. It was good fellowship! It was funny. It's a tradition!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Standard Snapshot - Kinder, 2007

Standard Snapshots began as a way to help communicate with and educate parents. Four times a year, each grade level sends home an example of a standard piece of student work with commentary about the task the students were asked to do and why the piece meets the standard. The grade level standard piece goes home with a piece of each student's work attached. So... a parent receives a standard piece with an explanation of why it is a standard piece and also a comparative piece of their own child's work addressing the same task and standard.

In Kindergarten we sent home our first standard piece of writing this week.  It is up to the parent to compare their child's work to the standard piece.

When we began sending home Standard Snapshots eight years ago, we showcased our BEST work, but we soon realized that when parents compared our BEST work with their child's work, it was hard for them to figure out what was "standard." Now we select a single piece together as a grade level and look for work that is really representative of the standard at this time of year. This gives parents a good benchmark to compare their own child's work.

As time has gone on, we have also realized that these "Snapshots" also archive our work over the years. It has really become our school's work-over-time!

Live at the Kinder Creek!

Letter Combinations
Today offered another live demonstration from Chets Creek to our County's professional development sight, the Schultz Center. The live demonstration came from Maria Mallon's Kindergarten classroom. What was different this time around is that teaching Literacy 101 at the Schultz Center were Chets Creek Kindergarten teachers Meredy Mackiewicz and Haley Alvarado. Literacy 101 is a yearlong course that meets every other week for K-1 teachers in the county who are new to the county or who are new to the Readers' and Writers' Workshop.

Initial Blends

On this blog, we last peeked into Maria's Skills Block on 10/11/07. This time around she included some of the same activities such as her Good Morning song, a song with the children's names, and the class promise, but today, activities around initial consonant letters and sounds have changed to letter combinations as seen in the first photograph, initial blends as seen in the second photograph and an activity with magnet letters used as final consonants. Each of the first two charts is recited with a steady beat with a student leader.

Final Consonants with magnetic letters

The 30-minute Skills Block is broken into many quick and fun activities. To break down the time requiring the children to sit on the carpet, Maria adds several songs and dances (see photograph to the right) that allow the children to move using a number of different academically-oriented CDs.
Songs and dances for transitions

Maria continues the Skills Block with an activity around word families (-ug, -ot). This activity also includes a song that invites children to practice blending onsets and rimes. After the children have spent a few more days on the word families, these shapes will be added to a Word Family Word Wall in the back of her room. The final activity is modeled and then children finish the activity at their seats. This final activity requires the children to write 4 words from the -ug word family and to draw matching pictures. Maria's Skills Block is well paced, interactive, and FUN!

As the children exit the room with team teacher, Julie Johnson, Maria takes the teachers on a tour of her room. She shows them her Vocabulary Word Wall, an example of the books that are contained in an individual Independent Reading bin this time of year, what a leveled library for Kindergarten looks like, and some of the titles of her genre baskets. All in all, teachers in Literacy 101 got to watch a master teacher at work, Maria had a chance to share some of things that have worked for her, and Haley and Meredy had the opportunity to take a risk and teach adults for the day instead of children. Looks like a win-win for everyone to me!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Living the Life of a Reader

Outside each door at Chets Creek is a sign, like the ones to the left. Each teacher records, either in words or pictures, the books that they are currently reading. Some of the books are professional reads, such as Mrs. Dillard's Impoving Schools from Within which is given to all new teachers at Chets Creek. Some are the theme-related book studies that the entire faculty participates in such as Mrs. Dillard's Inside the Magic Kingdom. Some of the books are favorite rereads such as Mrs. Mallon's The Art of Teaching Reading which is a staple of every reading teacher. Teachers also include books that they read in their own leisure time such as a Jodi Picoult novel  or the non-fiction The Assault on Reason by Al Gore.

Teachers also list their own favorite books. Some teachers include children's books such as Cheryl Dillard's Caps for Sale and Chrysanthemum. Some students ask her about the books when they realize that their teacher also loves some of the same books that they do. Other teachers include adult favorites and sometimes their peers and parents ask about the titles.

Why do we include this personal information in such a public way? First of all, when we know what our peers are reading, it gives us reasons to participate in our own book talks. It gives us reasons to ask about books and ideas and to make book and author suggestions to each other. It helps us live the life of a reader. If we also want our children to live that life, we have to model what that life looks, feels and sounds like. We have to share with the children our excitement about finding a new book, or curling up with a book on a rainy day, or going to the beach with our favorite read. We use these life lessons of being a reader in our own mini-lessons with the children. Some of our children, of course, live in homes with parents who love to read and who have shelves of their own books, but for some of our children, we are the only model that they will ever have. Isn't it the true goal of every kindergarten teacher to instill in each of her youngsters a love for reading? I don't think there is a more exciting goal than that!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"How to" Bulletin Boards

Kindergarten is deeply involved in their Pow Wow celebration but that does not mean that academics have suffered. The classes are also learning about non-fiction text features such as the Table of Contents, a Glossary, bolded text, and learning from captions with the illustrations as they read about Native Americans. They are writing procedural pieces that tell the reader 'how to" do something. The work that is being done in the classroom was evident as bulletin boards went up this week. The Hopi tribe in Julia Lewis' class worked on how to make kachina dolls which is native to their southwestern Hopi tribe. After making the dolls, the students then wrote instructions so that you can make one too! To the right you can see one example which features a picture of the young author with her kachina doll. The directions are written on special "how to" paper that includes four squares down the left side for illustrations with lines beside each square for the writing. At the bottom Julia has written her commentary on how the student has met the kindergarten standard for procedural writing.

In Debbie Harbor's class her Nez Perce natives made medicine bags. After they finished making their bags, they also wrote about the procedures, step-by-step so that you too can make one. Debbie displays four pieces of student work on her standard-based bulletin board but the photograph on the left represents one child's craft, the same procedural paper as seen above for the student to draw and then write about making the project, and Debbie's commentary. Each of the four pieces on her bulletin board include her commentary of how each student met the standards for this genre of writing.

These boards are excellent examples of how student can be deeply involved in content while at the same time they are deeply involved in reading and writing. Pow Wow here we come!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Service to Others...

Kindergarten teachers this year wanted to do something to teach their youngsters about more than academics. They realize that our children are being raised in a time surrounded by it’s “all about me.” Haley Alvarado made the first suggestions about using the platform we have as teachers to show our children that relationships, that caring, that thinking about other people is one of the great lessons in life. Even though Haley was the first to bring it up, the kindergarten teachers were instantly of one mind in their desire to make her vision a reality.

The first of these “projects” is “Alex’s Lemonade Stand.” Each teacher will invite her class to host a Lemonade Stand during one of our parent events during the course of the year. The Timmonte Team was the first to host at our Annual Parent Night. The Mackarado Team hosted at our annual Pow Wow Make 'n' Take and had over a hundred people come through for a cup of lemonade! Alex was a 4-year-old child stricken with cancer who hosted her own Lemonade Stand in her parents' front yard to raise money for research before she succumbed to the disease. All year our kindergartners will be raising money for childhood cancer research as they sell their lemonade.

The Timmontes used their lessons at the Lemonade Stand for this month’s bulletin board. To reinforce non-fiction writing they read to the children Alex’s story on the Internet so they would understand the purpose behind what they were doing. In their unit of non-fiction writing, the children wrote about “How to Make Lemonade” as they learned in preparation for the night event. Others who participated in the selling wrote about “How to Sell Lemonade.” The class even integrated math as they kept tally marks to make sure that they knew how many cups were sold. All this learning for such an authentic event! Does it get any more real than this?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Sharing the Vision...

Last week we entertained a group of principals from Texas for the day. Today we enjoyed the fellowship of teachers from model schools in New York and Florida. We toured classrooms. What did I learn? I learned that all of our kindergarten teachers display an ABC Word Wall that this time of year contains the students’ names and a few sight words, but they also have word walls of Science words and Math words. We also saw word walls of word families. Our vocabulary study was front and center as most classrooms featured a vocabulary wall with picture cards. The best news was that kinder teachers had word walls for a specific purpose and that we have moved from compliance to doing things because we understand their purpose. Good news indeed!

 So why do we spend our time talking with educators from across the country? Because we want to continue learning – to continue looking at new and better ways to improve the academic achievement of our students.  And because every time we give a tour we learn something about them and about our own building and teachers! It’s as simple as that!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Safety Nets

Kindergartners enter their first year wide-eyed and eager to learn. They believe learning is easy, fun and EXCITING! However, they come with widely different preparations. Because of this we devote more energy and time, more attention, and more resources to our earliest learners at Chets Creek. We don't wait to see which children will figure it out and which students will still be struggling at the end of the year. We take advantage of what we know about early intervention and provide immediately for students that start the year behind our entering benchmarks. We identify these children in the first weeks of school and then provide daily"safety nets."

For some children small group work in the classroom every day is enough of a safety net, but for some of our others, we provide a more intensive intervention. It does not mean that we don't expect these students to meet the end of the year expectation, but it does mean that we want to catch them before they fall and prevent challenges later. In groups of 5-6 we pull these students for a 40 minute intervention with a certified teacher during their Literacy Block. The idea is that these children will have a small, intensive intervention without distractions and at the same time, the classroom teacher will have a smaller group of children so she can concentrate on other small groups. Because we use Readers' and Writers' Workshop in our general education classroom, we looked for an intervention that was different. Instead of more of the same, we were looking for a way to address the diversity of learning styles. We chose Reading Mastery because of its direct, explicit teaching that concentrates on phonics and phonemic awareness. This is our eighth year of using this intervention, and we feel it provides a safety net that catches many students so that they can move to the next grade level as confident learners. To prevent the common pitfalls of "pull-out" we have attached each of our safety net teachers to a regular kindergarten class where she spends her afternoons as a co-teacher. This keeps her "in the loop" instead of an island and prevents the problems often found in a pull-out intervention. Providing early intervention with a strong teacher in a small group is a cornerstone of what we believe about making a difference for each and every learner in kindergarten.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fire Safety Week

This is Fire Safety Week so Kindergarten Team Leader Debbie Harbour arranged for three fire fighters to visit Chet’s Kindergartners. In the school’s Dining Room the teachers staged a dark house with a tissue paper fire and a fog machine as smoke! Debbie pretended to be asleep as the three fire fighters came in low to the ground to rescue her! The kids loved it! After the simulation the fire fighters answered questions stressing the 911 phone number for emergencies, having a family meeting place outside in case of fire, and “stop, drop, and roll!”

Then it was out to the fire engine for a tour of the big red engine. Students loved seeing the engine and all of the fire fighter's gear.

Students went back to class to write about what they had learned and to write thank you notes.
Thank you Stations 41 from _____. I learned if you have fire on you, "Stop, drop and roll!"

Kindergartners were given the homework assignment of asking their parents to check the batteries in their fire alarms. In my class, 20 students returned this morning with a note about checking their fire alarm and one even told us that the batteries in his alarm needed to be changed and his mother said he may have saved the family’s life! This is live research, non-fiction information meant to save lives - Social Studies at its best! Wonder how many little fire fighters were sitting in the audience today?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Knots on a Counting Rope

As we enter our integrated Pow Wow unit, we want families to become involved from the very beginning. This week's Kindergarten Homework is another family project based on the book, Knots on a Counting Rope. This touching story is about a young blind boy who enjoys hearing his grandfather tell stories. Each kindergartner is given his own "counting rope" to take home. Family members are encouraged to share stories about the child's young life, about their own life and to share family stories that are passed down through the generations. Each time they tell a story, the family ties a knot in the rope. Youngsters can also tie a knot when they read a book to a family member or when a family member reads a book to them. The point is to encourage families to spend time together, just as the First Americans once did. Children will bring their knotted ropes to school next week and will share the stories of their lives. Sounds like we might have some great new topics for Writers' Workshop...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Positive Postcards

 I was reminded of how powerful our weekly positive postcards are to our culture at Chets Creek.
Each Wednesday a positive postcard is stamped and placed in our cubbie. We are to fill in the postcard and drop it in the Principal's box by the end of the day. She reads each one and then sends it out - great way to keep up with all the positive things going on in such a large school! Postcards can be sent to students, staff or parents. Last week I sent my positive postcard to Eleana, a kindergartner, because she has been such a good friend to another student in our class that has his own challenges. I had watched as she had gently reminded him of the class routines and helped him when he seemed confused. I wanted her to know what a difference her thoughtfulness was making. That same week I received a postcard of my own at home in the mail. Maria Mallon sent me such a thoughtful, generous note. It caught me by surprise and caused tears to well up. I know how Eleana must have felt, because Maria's postcard touched my heart. It made me feel like what I was doing was making a difference... and is there any stronger feeling that that?!

Positive postcards are a cornerstone of our work and our culture at Chets Creek - such a simple routine that infuses positive pixie dust throughout the Magic Kingdom.