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.