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.

Friday, October 19, 2007


We understand that when teams work well, they are successful in solving problems. Teams are about harnessing the collective talents of a diverse group. In order to provide teams with opportunities to build strong relationships, Chets Creek provides events such as holiday breakfasts, collegiate days, and other celebrations at school, but we also encourage outside events such as Happy Hours after work and team parties and showers, engagement celebrations, etc.. Team leaders are trained on the dynamics of teamwork and are expected to be the one to make sure that no one on the team feels left out. They are expected to provide for opportunities for the grade level to meet outside of school to get to know each other better.

We realize that strong social relationships are the leading indicator of our overall happiness. From Vital Friends we learned that if you have a best friend at work you are more likely to: "engage, get more done in less time, have fun on the job, innovate and share ideas, and feel informed and know your opinion counts."
The Kindergarten Team is an excellent example of how organized events have spilled over in time so that the team directs its own social connections. Tonight the Kindergarten Team met at a local restaurant for dinner after school to celebrate one of its own being named Teacher of the Year. They laughed. They shared stories about each other. They reminisced about other times when they had been together. Sure, they all have families and outside responsibilities, but they know that spending time together is meaningful. Being balanced may be about having great friendships that extend between work and home. These teachers really like each other. They trust each other. They depend on each other. They are not willing to let each other down or to let the Team down. This personal foundation provides the trust that is needed for teachers to truly deepen their work - for teachers to begin to ask for help from their peers and to give honest feedback to each other. They say that many teachers leave the profession because they don't have a friend at work. It's important that we make sure that each teacher has that connection. Each kindergarten teacher has a friend at work that she can go to and ask an embarrassing questions. She has someone that will help when its needed and that will lift her up when she has had a difficult day. And all that makes Chets Creek a GREAT place to work - a place you NEVER want to leave.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Field Trip: Pow Wow

Like all schools, Chets Creek Kindergarten includes field experiences in its learning opportunities. The first such experience this year for kindergartners was at the FCCJ Theatre where students had an opportunity to watch Native Americans dance and sing. Some of the children were riding the bus for the first time or sitting in a theatre for a live performance for the first time. The kindergartner sitting next to me wanted to know when we were going to get popcorn when we first sat down in the theatre! However, the actual information of this field trip is most important to this group of youngsters because they will soon be deeply involved in a Native American unit and will refer back to the music and dancing that they heard today over and over.
About six years ago Kindergarten teachers became uncomfortable with their generic "Indian" Pow Wow celebration around Thanksgiving where all the little "Indians" wore brown pillowcase garb with feathers and pounded homemade drums. The teachers began researching Native American tribes as a professional learning community and decided that each class would research a specific tribe and bring those traditions to our annual Pow Wow celebration. That decision to bring more authentic experiences to our children led to the field trip today. Today the students got their first taste of what a Pow Wow looks like and sounds like. As always, when we begin this unit of study, I am impressed with the teachers willingness to go the extra mile to teach our youngest children how to research and how much they care about getting the "real" information. I am also impressed with the Native Americans' deep spiritual connection with the Earth and their understanding that they are stewards of our natural resources. This year their message particularly resonates with our Kindergarten.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Video streaming: Readers' Workshop

Duval County is very fortunate to have a professional development site called the Schultz Center in Jacksonville. All of the county's professional development runs through this state-of-the- art facility. One of the most popular Schultz courses is Literacy 101 which gives teachers a background in Readers' and Writers' Workshop. For three year Chets Creek has had an agreement with the Schultz Center to provide live demonstration lessons through video streaming. Literacy 101 drops into Chets Creek classes and watches a specific lesson. After teachers at the Schultz Center watch, the teachers teaching the lesson debrief from Chets Creek. This is real time observation and sharing.

Today Literacy 101 dropped into Haley Alvarado and Meredy Mackiewicz' co-taught kindergarten Readers' Workshop.

The lesson began with a musical introduction to the Readers' Workshop using Jack Hartman's Ready to Read.

The mini-lesson was the perfect 4-parts (from Lucy Calkins The Art of Teaching Reading) lasting about 12 minutes:

1. Connection - The teachers began by connecting today's lesson with yesterday's lesson. Yesterday the children looked at a familiar fiction book (Goldilocks and the Three Bears) and compared it with a non-fiction book. The class began a chart of non-fiction features that the teachers quickly reviewed today.

2. Teach - The teaching focus for today's lesson was to add to the non-fiction list, so the teachers showed the students some features that were in a non-fiction text that they would not see in their familiar fiction books.

3. Active Involvement - For the active involvement the teachers had the kindergartners turn and talk ( Can you believe it? Kindergartners turning and talking after 7 weeks of school?!) about the non-fiction features that they had noticed. After a few minutes of talking with partners, the kindergartners returned to the group and "shared out" what they noticed. The teachers added to the list.
4. Link - To link the lesson to the independent reading which followed the mini-lesson, the teachers put a sticky note at each child's place so that they could put the sticky note on any page where they noticed a non-fiction text feature.

As the children transitioned to the independent work period the teachers stopped to debrief their lesson with the Schultz teachers. Some of the debrief was around the lesson but much of the conversation was centered around the positive discipline that Haley and Meredy use in their classroom and that the teachers had seen demonstrated during the viewing.  

After the camera was moved out of the room, the children continued reading until Haley and Meredy were ready to close. At Closing the children shared their sticky notes of the non-fiction text features that they had noticed in their independent reading. 

Video streaming is an excellent tool for teachers in a professional development class because they have the opportunity to see real teaching as it happens with a chance to ask questions of the teachers. It's also good for our teachers because it gives them a chance to share their learning - to make a difference. It's a win-win for us all!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Haley Alvarado

Visitors often ask how we develop "fresh out of college" teachers at Chets Creek. Our new Teacher of the Year is an excellent example of a teacher who has spent her entire career with us.

Miss Haley Skinner began her teaching career at Chets Creek, fresh from the University of Florida. I spent some time in Haley's classroom that first year because she had two little ones that were challenged from the first day of school. As the Literacy Coach and Special Education teacher, the principal asked me to try to help. It was obvious from that first year that this was a teacher with heart, with the "gift" for teaching who would leave no stone unturned in her advocacy for the children in her care.

Haley Skinner soon became Mrs. Alvarado. We were all at her wedding, done is typical Haley style. What I remember most is watching her walk down the aisle in such a beautiful dress with her white tennis shoes! During the next several years, Haley shared an office with Maria Mallon, our own Meme. Maria came to Chets Creek with several years of inner city teaching under her belt. Maria is sunshine wherever she goes, is a Master Teacher, and is the heart of the Kindergarten Team. There is no doubt that Haley was mentored and influenced by Maria. They shared their ideas, their questions, their hopes and dreams and became lifelong friends. After only a few years Haley became a National Board certified teacher... and a mom. It seemed that she accomplished both with little effort in her same "in charge", organized style. She continued to ask questions. She was often opinionated and outspoken, but she just HAD to know how to do the best that she could for every student in her care. She was determined. She was passionate. She was emerging as a leader.

A couple of years ago Meredy Mackiewicz, a college student, was assigned as a one-on-one assistant to an autistic child in Haley's class. Haley has always been willing to take on challenging students. (This year she has a room full of second language learners.) She and Meredy became fast friends. After Meredy graduated and had a year of teaching on her own, they decided to join forces and became the "Mackarados." I spent two years in their classroom every day as their Special Education Inclusion teacher. You learn a lot about people when you see them "up close and personal," and I can certainly say that Haley and Meredy are the real thing - they are amazing! You never go into their classroom that things are not humming. They finish each other's sentences. Their lessons are thoughtful and real. They are teaching 100% of the time. They let their heart and mind, their intuition and experience, lead them. They have conversations with their children - real conversations. Their classroom is a learning village where people take care of each other. Their students are learning so much more than readin', ritin' and 'rithmetic. The Mackarados have also consistently had some of the highest assessment scores at the end of the year.

Haley has always been a "looper". She begins a class in Kindergarten and takes them to first grade. Along the way she develops deep and lasting friendships with many of the families. She is often seen at soccer, tee-ball games and dance recitals. She and Meredy actually make signs to hold up and can be quite an obnoxious cheering section! The families love it! Parents confide in her, but she intuitively knows where to draw the line as a professional. This past summer Haley became an Adjunct Professor at the University of North Florida. How fortunate are her students! Haley is the consummate professional always embracing the newest technology or learning strategy. She is a powerful mentor for new teachers to Chets. She is giving back all that has been given to her. When her mentee had difficulty completing DRAs this year, Haley was there to help. When her peers had difficulty completing all their pre-assessment data, Meredy held down their class while Haley went and subbed so other kindergarten teachers could finish. Haley is a problem solver and is always willing to be the voice for the underdog. This year she has led a movement to incorporate more social projects into the lives of our kindergartners - a movement that I think is catching school-wide. She believes that we have a responsibility to the whole child - a message that resonates with her peers. You will see Kindergartners setting up "Alex's Lemonade Stands" at every parent event to raise money for childhood cancer this year. She is the spark plug for getting Chets Creek to recycle. Each kindergarten class will adopt a family for Thanksgiving and the list goes on...

I am so proud to have learned beside Haley these past years. We are so proud to have her represent our school, our Kindergarten, as the 2007 Chets Creek Teacher of the Year. She is a model to so many of our young teachers of what they too can become. She is an example of how we mentor beginning teachers the Chets Creek-way. But Haley is young in her career. She is only beginning the journey. Remember her name... because I believe the best is yet to come...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Environmentally Challenged

I’m bloggin today about the environment because bloggers around the world are uniting just for today to blog about the environment, and I like the idea of being a part of something much bigger than myself.

Of course, I guess that means that I have to admit that I’m not really very environmentally aware. I think Ed Begley is somewhat of a kook – him and his green self - and I’m not really ready for a “draft Gore” movement. However, several things have happened this week that make me know that I am really out of touch - environmentally challenged. Haley Alvarado, Chets Creek Teacher of the Year, suggested that I quit giving everyone extra copies of the vocabulary unit to edit because we needed to save the trees! She is also on a one-woman crusade to help Chets Creek learn to recycle. I have to admit that I’ve never used one of those green recycle bins for anything except extra storage. It looks like Haley, with help from Debbie Harbour and our Science Wizards, is actually going to get recycling off the ground.

Then last week, Elizabeth Conte pulled 5 pieces of paper out of the trashcan in her kindergarten class at the end of Writers’ Workshop. She fussed at the kids because they had thrown away papers that had a mistake. She reminded them that authors call mistakes revision, but then she said the words that sent daggers through my heart, “Kindergartners, you probably killed a tree with your thoughtlessness.” That look of disappointment in her eyes… She asked the offenders to come claim their papers and put them back in their writing folders. I slipped over guiltily with my head down to claim Jadan’s paper because when he said he’d made a mistake, I just carelessly threw the paper in the trash and gave him a new sheet! I honestly never thought about the trees.

I so admire these young kindergarten teachers who take this world we live in so seriously. They understand that we have a responsibility to those that come after us to protect what has been entrusted to us. They feel the responsibility to pass on their passion about this Earth to the next generation. I am inspired by them... so I promise – to think about wasting paper – and to listen and learn when they talk about recycling! And that’s just the first step…

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Writing Partners

As children begin to write their small moments each day they learn new routines. The chart below is one of those new routines that establishes long-term writing partnerships!
1. After the mini-lesson each student finds her name at a place at the table. Teachers have pre-decided which students will work together matching their ability and paying attention to students that will work well together.

2. Students have a few minutes of quiet time where they envision their story. They are told to imagine their small moment in pictures in their mind, like they are seeing a movie. They are visualizing.

3. Next the students choose the type of paper that they want to use. Some students prefer booklets while others choose several sheets of paper with room for pictures and room for words.

4. "Touch and tell." Touch and tell means that each child is going to have a turn telling her story orally. The children choose who gets to go first and have learned several strategies for making that choice. The first child tells her story. She touches each page as she tells what is going to be on that page. Her partner listens.

5. When the first child finishes telling her story, the listening partner gives her some suggestions. Right now the suggestions are very surface such as, "Make sure to draw pictures that match your words," but as the children continue to talk to their long term partner, the feedback will begin to have depth as they begin to know more about each other. After the first partner finishes telling her story and getting feedback, the partners reverse roles.

6. When both partners have practiced telling their story and have gotten feedback, they are ready to put the stories on paper. Children have had mini-lessons on using the date stamp, on stretching words that they do not know how to spell, on where to find color words on the color word chart, on where to find children's names and sight words on the Word Wall, on how to use the alphabet chart on the back of their writing folder if they need to know what a letter looks like, on how to "sketch" so they don't spend all of their time on their drawing, on crossing out if they make a mistake, and on not throwing stories away. They know that great authors call mistakes, revision. All of these mini-lessons come together as these authors write about their young lives.

Now this is Writers' Workshop!

A Day with the Kindergarten PLC

Each Wednesday a grade level is freed of teaching responsibility for the day to participate in professional development. The students are entertained by the Resource Team as they rotate every 30 minutes through each Resource (PE, Music, Art, Technology, Science, Character Education). I'm not sure that all of the Resource teachers look forward to their first Kindergarten PLC day - which means kindergarten ALL day - but I understand this past PLC day was the best kindergarten first PLC day ever! It took us a while to develop the rituals and routines to make this first day a success, but now, we've done it!!

The teacher's day always begins with a demonstration lesson. After the demo, the team meets back together.  This time Haley Alvarado led the team in a debrief of the lesson. She began by asking Maria to reflect on her lesson. Maria shared the things that went well and offered some simple changes that she would make next time. Then the team listed "warm" comments which included "noticings" - those things that they loved, the things that were standard driven, the things that they each want to incorporate into their own lessons tomorrow. Then came "cool" comments which are "wonderings" - questions that they still had, clarifications. The demo was such a success because every single teacher left reflecting on her own Skills Block and seeing things that she could change or incorporate. This demo lesson will be followed by a "show and tell" at the next Teacher Meeting next week where each teacher will bring one favorite Skills Block activity to share.

The demo/ debrief was followed by the Team revising and editing their Star Vocabulary Unit. All of the teachers have been teaching the unit since school started and were now ready to edit the first five units/ books. They now have the experience with their children to see what worked and what didn't. After some general discussion, the teachers divided into pairs and each pair revised and edited a single unit/ book. Below are photos of the teachers as they worked with partners. This group of teachers is truly a professional learning community. As they interact you can see their enthusiasm and their genuine respect for each other. It was a GREAT day!

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Data

As the first half of the first nine weeks comes to a close, it is time to take a look at the data and make decisions that will drive instruction. Data at this time of year includes teacher generated testing that mirrors the state mandated FCAT in 3rd-5th grades. In 2nd grade, the bridge year, we look at the DIBELS and also an FCAT-type assessment administered to each student. In K-1, data includes  teacher designed testing. Analyzing the data begins at the Leadership table. The Leadership Team (as seen above) drills down to each individual student as they make decisions on how to help each struggler. As always most of the students in grades 1-5 that are at-risk are students who are new to Chets Creek!

At a teacher meeting the grade level looks at its own data, each teacher comparing her class against the other classes on the grade level and the previous year's data at this same time of year. Below is an example of a profile sheet (except teacher's names are on our summaries). It is always interesting to hear kindergarten teachers as they analyze why certain classes begin with more at-risk students and others with less. Because most of these teachers have done this for many years now, they know their own profiles and their own strengths and weaknesses. They often identify areas that they will need to work on to pull their particular group up to grade level. Conversation also surrounds those students who top our data and how we are going to meet their unique needs. We drill down again to the individual student level so that teachers leave these meetings with a plan for each individual child. Conversation from this meeting drives the demonstration lessons that will be planned in the upcoming professional development. Data is the cornerstone of our work.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Small Moments

At the half way point for the first nine weeks, Writers' Workshop is in full bloom in Chets Creek Kindergartens. By this time of year each child has published his first piece and most classes have enjoyed their first Publishing Party! Each family has helped the little author decorate a folder of favorite things. These folders (as seen below) act as a list of topics that children care about and can write about. You never hear, "I don't have anything to write about," because teachers just remind students to look at their writing folder covers for ideas! Children self select writing topics each day.On the back of each folder (see below), teachers include an alphabet list. It is not unusual to see children turn their folders to the back and quietly say the ABCs to figure out what a letter looks like or to match a sound. This strategy for figuring out a letter has been taught in a mini-lesson
You might also see students look at the alphabet chart on the wall that is part of an every day ritual of shared reading to find a letter, word or sound. The children are free to go up to the chart and find what they need. They also use the word wall for letters and for the first sight words that have been posted and the color chart that has all the color words. Once words are up in the classroom, children are expected to use those resources when they need a specific word, letter or sound. Mini-lessons have been taught to help students internalize these strategies.

Children are free to choose the type of paper they want to use to write. Some children prefer story paper where they have a place for a picture and a place for writing. Some children prefer a single blank page and others prefer a booklet. All of the different types of paper have been introduced during mini-lessons and children know the routine for getting paper when they need it. At this time of year some children are still telling their stories through drawing pictures and are being encouraged to add details to their pictures that match their story. Others are using pictures and a letter string to represent the words. When you ask them to "read" what they have written, they "tell" the story and will sometimes point to the letters although there is no relationship between the words they are saying and the letters they have written. They don't always tell the story with exactly the same words. Still others are beginning to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the words they want to write and are writing the sounds that they hear. A few children are even beginning to use spaces between words. The longest "story" at this time of year is only a couple of sentences. Some children use three or four sheets of paper to tell their small moment in pictures and words (as seen in the 4-page story above)!

Teachers have had mini-lessons on taking a small moment to write about instead of telling everything that you did from the time you got up until you went to bed. The lessons are taken from Lucy Calkins' Units of Study for Primary Writing. These units will guide much of the Kindergarten design for these young writers this year.

During the independent writing time, the teacher goes around and confers with students. In the picture at the right bottom, the entire table is listening to the point that the teacher is making for a single student. The idea is not to just make a single piece better for a single child but to teach the writer something that they can use today and forever more. These youngsters take writing seriously because their teachers take it seriously. The teachers realize the reciprocal relationship between reading and writing and can tell as much from analyzing writing as they can from listening to a child read. These amazing authors have so many great stories to tell!