Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Whole New Mind

Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind was our first school-wide Book Study this year. When you think that we are preparing our children for jobs that don’t yet exist, it is so important for us to grasp how education today will fit into life tomorrow. I heard much of this same information from Marc Tucker last Spring as he talked about the urgency for change in our teaching which means moving our children from left-brain thinkers (the jobs that we will be exporting) to right-brain thinkers (creativity demanding jobs of the future). As Dr. Tucker stated, routine work done by people and by machines will be a small percentage of the work done in the United States. Most of the work skills in our future will be creative in nature (60% of the jobs in the next 10 years will be based on creative thinking!) so there is reason to give our left-brained children right-brained experiences. As I think about that change, I think about the model that we now present to our learners.

I have always believed that teaching is one half science (left-brain) and one half art (right brain). The pendulum in education swings between those two extremes. The science is in knowing the research – knowing what should work and why. There is no question that right now the pendulum of education has swung far into the left brain - the research and skill areas. Some teachers might think it’s actually struck there! But teachers should take full advantage of this time in our history. They should soak in the knowledge that comes from research. They should use their own on-going action research in their classroom to inform practice and challenge their assumptions. On the other hand we must never lose the art, the right-brain creativity that is the heart of teaching. The art is in knowing the child – knowing from experience and intuitively what will work. In our country, in our county right now, our perception may be that we are stuck in a left-brained, regimented, compliance mode, but we know that the pendulum will swing back to the middle where diversity of thought will be encouraged to yeild solutions. Being courageous enough to take everything that is offered to us now - while science is the emphasis - and then to integrate that knowledge into what we know to be true, to combine the art and science and to do what has to be done to make sure every child is a success story – Now that is what quality teaching is all about.

If we can model that as teachers, then the next generation of children has the hope of seeing beauty, whimsy and engagement in their work and their lives. They have the hope of understanding the value of relationships, of thinking unconventional thoughts and of making bold leaps in imagination as they find life's meaning, life's calling, in their work. I hope that is the environment that we are building for our children at Chets Creek - a place that is fun and engaging where people regularly laugh and take risks, where relationships and caring about others is the foundation upon which everything else is built and where all of that comes together in increased skill and expertise that drives outstanding results. That is our gift to the next generation of children. May we stand tall in the dawning of this Creative Age.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Vocabulary Continues

Chets Creek Kindergarten teachers assessed and now are ready to teach the words for each of the "Star" books - lessons they have written themselves to go with their favorite read-alouds. Below teachers demonstrate the word frightened and then the students show what they think they would look like if they were frightened!

Frightened is one of the six vocabulary words taught as the class has enjoyed the read-aloud Where the Wild Things Are. Other words for this unit include private, tame, adventure, rumpus, longing. As the students study the word frightened they also make a two-column list of things that would be frightening and things that would not be frightening. There is certainly nothing to be frightened about for these youngsters because vocabulary is alive and well in their kindergarten classes!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Partner Reading: Let's Read Together

Since kindergartners cannot sit for very long and read by themselves in independent reading, partner reading is a way to extend the Work Time in the Readers' Workshop early in the year. Partner reading extends the amount of time that the children read, building stamina in these very young children. Before beginning the teacher pairs children with similar reading abilities and takes into consideration personalities. These parings may change as she finds out more about the children as readers in the weeks to come and identifies partners that do not work well together, but eventually partnerships are meant to be long term pairings. In a mini-lesson the teacher demonstrates with a child (or her team teacher) the rituals and routines of partner reading:

  • We sit knee-to-knee and shoulder-to-shoulder.
  • We decide who is going to choose the book and read first.
  • We put the book in between.
  • We take turns reading.
Each point of partner reading is demonstrated. The teacher demonstrates what it looks like to sit knee-to-knee and shoulder-to-shoulder and gives non-examples! She discusses how to decide who should go first (by being a friend: "You may go first today and I'll go first tomorrow" or by playing a game with a winner such as "Rock, Paper, Scissors" - demonstrated on the left). The teacher shows what "book in the middle" means and again gives non-examples. And finally she talks about taking turns which means "you read a page and then I read a page." After the discussion and demonstrations the teacher chooses a partner group and "makes them famous" by having all the other children watch as they demonstrate, once again, what partner reading looks like and sounds like.

The mini-lesson to teach this procedure takes about 10 minutes. After the first day of practicing just partner reading, the children will spend about 10 minutes in independent reading and then at a signal will spend about 10 minutes in partner reading. These times will slowly lengthen as the children are able to read for longer and longer periods of time. As the children mature as readers this will be the place where they help their partner practice strategies for decoding unknown words such as "sounding it out" or "skip and return" and it's where they will begin to have book talks discussing books with their partner. This was a great beginning! Happy reading, little ones!

Friday, September 7, 2007

"Star" Books

An earlier post (“Star Vocabulary”) included a list of good read-aloud narrative books that we introduce each month in Kindergarten at Chets Creek. We call these books, “Star" Books. When we first began Readers’ Workshop in Kindergarten seven years ago we had trouble figuring out what we were suppose to be teaching in our mini-lessons and what we should be conferring about during the Work Time – especially early in the year when most kindergartners were not reading! A summer trip to study with Lucy Calkins at Columbia University’s Teachers College clarified the procedure for us. Our “Star" Book program is based on the research of Elizabeth Sulzby and the work of Lucy Calkins and her colleagues. We know that some of our Kindergartners at Chets Creek come into Kindergarten as conventional readers. For the other youngsters a strong oral language and reading readiness program is needed before they are ready for conventional reading. How could we provide that foundation within the framework of the Readers’ Workshop?

This is how our program is structured:

1. We begin by reading the Star Books each day as a good read aloud. This starts on the first day of school. We repeat these readings every day, introducing about 4 new books in a normal month. We read the books with intonation until the students can say much of the book with us. We also retell these stories with props and talk about the beginning, middle and end of each story. Each of these stories was chosen for its strong narrative story elements (characters, setting, problem, events, and solution). In the retelling below you can see the class acting out Caps for Sale as one student pretends to be the peddler with caps on top his head while the others pretend to be the michievous monkeys!

2. Each child selects a Star Book to include in his individual book bin so he can practice “reading” the story during his independent reading time of the Readers’ Workshop (which means that the teacher has multiple copies of each Star book).

3. After the students have heard the story for at least 4 times, they are ready to meet with the teacher during Work Time for an individual conference. During the conference the teacher gives the child a Star Book and asks him to “read” the book. Of course the teacher is expecting the child to orally retell the story as he turns each page.

4. As the child retells the story, the teacher uses the Kindergarten Pre-emergent Reading Scale to decide the level of the retelling. As children hear the stories and practice during Work Time, their retellings begin to have more and more detail and they move from one level up to the next.

5. The teacher gathers children that are reading at the same level into small groups and works with them during the Work Time to lift their retellings to the next level.

6. When children reach Level 7 on the Pre-emergent Reading Scale and have made the letter-sound connection in writing, they are ready for conventional reading and are given the DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) or a running record.

Through this series of steps kindergarten teachers know quickly who is ready for conventional reading and who is not. Teachers identify the level of each child’s oral retelling and that drives instruction for the mini-lesson, small group work and individual conferences during the Work Time. This procedure has proven highly successful for our kindergartners.

One of the surprising benefits of this program has been how well our students are able to write retellings later in the year. We believe that the detail and length of the written retellings later in the year is a direct result of the oral language retellings early in the year!

Home-School Connection

One of the cornerstones at Chets Creek is its proactive involvement of families in the education of our children. One of the ways that Kindergarten provides for two-way conversation between home and school is to send a home-school plastic folder each day from school to home and then back again the next day. On the front cover is a monthly calendar that has important days marked. Each day the Kindergarten teacher puts a stamp on the day of the week to let the parent know about the child's behavior. Anything except a white star gets a written explanation so that the parent can talk to the child at home about any problems or issues that the child had during the school day.

Inside the folder are the Teacher's Weekly Newsletter which informs families about classroom happenings, the weekly Connection which informs the family about school happenings and any permissions, notices, student work, or any other paperwork that the family needs to see. The family knows that all of the paperwork will be in the folder each day. Children are taught, beginning the first day of school, where to put their folders as they unpack their backpacks so the teacher can quickly scan the stack for any important messages. On the back of the folder the teacher and family write notes back and forth. Maybe there will be a note from the parent about the child not feeling well the night before or a change in how the child will be getting home. It may be a note from the teacher explaining some incident at school or reminding the family that the child needs lunch money for the next day. Often the teachers use printed sticky labels if the note is for everyone in the class such a hint to ask the child about something learned during the day or a reminder about the field trip tomorrow. The goal is to write in every child's folder at least once a week! "Catching them being good" is a favorite teacher entry! The Principal even models writing in folders by writing in at least five folders when she comes into the classroom for any kind of observation. It is this type of open and continuous flow of communication that helps parents understand that we really mean that we want to be partners in education!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Star Vocabulary

Kindergarten teachers formed their own professional learning community and have been working on their own Vocabulary unit over the summer. The Vocabulary Study corresponds with literature that they typically introduce in Kindergarten. You will recognize each of these well-loved stories! Below is the words that will be taught for each book.

Caps for Sale (see activity to the right)
disturb – ordinary – imitate – refreshed – upset – mischievous
Three Billy Goats Gruffmeadow – gobble – villain – creak – hooves – cunning

Where the Wild Things Are
private – tame – adventure – frighten – rumpus – longing

Goldilocks and the Three Bearstempting – gruff – enraged – necessary – shrill - terrified

Harry, the Dirty Dogclever – dashed – disguise – furiously – lovingly – adventurous

Red Riding Hoodconsiderate, delighted, devious., horrid, alarmed, naive

A Pocket for Corduroypatiently –– hesitating – dilemma –– tumbled – damp – sidetracked

Peter’s Chairfussing – rascal – jealous – arranged – cradle – cooperate
Mop Top
soaring - floppy - stubborn - vacant - stumbled - thrilled

abandon – gather – daydream – anxious – blush – comfort

The Little Red Hen
eager – scampered – selfish – ripe – cozy – lazy

Jack and the Beanstalkprecious - nonsense - underhanded - cackle - tidy - panic

The Gingerbread Boy
crumble – strut – sly – sniff – proud - curious

Big Alrescue – tangled –– enormous - clumsy – fierce –daring

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
cellar – skyscraper – efficient – settled – straightened – resourceful

The lessons for the vocabulary are based on suggested vocabulary activities from Beck and McKeoen's Bringing Words to Life. All Chets Creek Kindergarten teachers will be using the unit as an integrated part of their Skills Block. Much of our professional development this first half of the year will be bringing experiences with the vocabulary activities back to the table each week so that we can discuss and edit the unit to lift it to the next level.