Thursday, August 30, 2007

Independent Reading

We started the first day of school with independent reading. The students “read” during the Work Period of the Readers’ Workshop from genre baskets of books on their table. By now most kindergartners have brought in their own book bin. A name label has been added and a colored dot to indicate the color table where the child sits (see picture on the left). Often we are asked - what in the world can you put in independent book bins when the children can’t read?! In this second week of school, each child was invited to bring in two favorite books from home. Many of the youngsters brought books from their home library and couldn’t wait to share their favorites with their friends. Of course, all children don’t have the luxury of a home library and so today they will be invited to select two books from the classroom library.

In addition each child has a Nursery Rhyme folder in his book bin. In this folder a page is reserved for the words and a picture of each of the 12 nursery rhymes that are introduced during Skills Block. As the Work Period begins in the Readers’ Workshop you can hear the buzz of children "reading." Through the buzz you can always hear several children singing or saying a nursery rhyme as they point to each word. Of course, their finger is not always in the right place, but they have learned that the letters hold the meaning.

Next week each child will be invited to add an alphabet book from the ABC basket in the classroom library to each book bin. Now that is “reading” kindergarten-style!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Skills Block Begins!

Skills Block is designed to be a 30-minute fast-paced, interactive time in addition to the Readers’ and Writers Workshop that immerses students in “skills.” In Kindergarten these skills include Phonics, Phonemic Awareness, Vocabulary and Spelling. At Chets Creek, Kindergarten teachers begin Skills Block with some of the following activities:

The Star of the Day
Star Names – This program was adapted from Lucy Calkins’ work with the New York City Schools (a similar program has been introduced by Pat Cunningham) and involves choosing a student each day to be the “star student.” Activities using the student’s name may include looking at the first letter in the child’s name and comparing it to other names in the classroom, counting the number of letters and comparing to other names, describing what the letters look like (a circle, two sticks, a cross), mixing up the letters of the name, etc. The idea is to teach children letters of the alphabet and their sounds using a context that is interesting to them. Their names are of high interest!

Nursery Rhymes – Nursery rhymes are the child’s first language. The rhymes offer rich vocabulary and the rhythm and rhyme that will be so important in early reading. At Chets Creek the teachers use a 12-week curriculum that introduces a new rhyme each consecutive week, emphasizing phonological awareness. The lessons also include beginning comprehension skills and shared reading. This curriculum was written for Chets Creek teachers.

Morning Message – Many Chets Creek Kindergarten Teachers begin posting a simple morning message the first week of school. The morning message includes text that is relevant and often includes student names! The morning message is used to identify letters and sounds, sight words, and punctuation.

Vocabulary – more about this later!

At the beginning of the year in Kindergarten, Skills Block runs a little longer than the 30 minutes that is intended, just as Readers’ and Writers’ run a little shorter until students build up stamina. Because Skills Block is fast paced and usually teacher directed, students can engage a little longer. As the year progresses Skills Block settles into it’s 30 minute time slot as Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop stretch toward one hour.

Skills Block is a favorite time of day for both students and teachers!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Inside the Magic Kingdom

Each year our Principal, Susan Phillips, includes a book as a gift to each faculty member on Opening Day. The book is related to our theme, but always has a message. By gifting staff with a book, she sets the tone that this is a school that reads! Along with the theme, this book gives us all a central focus to begin the year. This year's choice was Inside the Magic Kingdom: Seven Keys to Disney's Success by Tom Connellan. I have just finished reading the book. What did I learn?
  • "Just when everyone is saying how great you are is when you're the most vulnerable." The message to Chets Creek is not to sit on our laurels. If we begin to believe our own press, we lose the edge of what makes us who we are.
  • Little things make a big difference. Pay fantastic attention to detail. I have seen this played out again and again this week from the costumes and characters that greeted the children on the first day to the themed decorations in every single room. 
  • Pixie dust is the special feeling you have about a place. I guess Tinkerbell lives deep within my heart because I've certainly got pixie dust about Chets Creek! 
  • Everyone walks the talk. To work in a place where everyone is willing to do whatever it takes to make every single child successful is a dream come true for a teacher. Here I am surrounded by people who sincerely care about the children in their care. It makes all the difference.
  • Reward, recognize, and celebrate. We start every single Professional Development meeting with celebrations - just a reminder of all the good things that are happening each and every day. Our Principal recognizes our peers each week in her Memo, listing all those who go above and beyond. This is a reminder to me as a coach that I too need to continue to remember to highlight all the good things that are happening in Kindergarten. It's good to know every once in a while that someone really notices all the extra time and commitment.
  • The Disney organization will listen to anyone with a creative idea. This reminds me not to think that I always have all the answers, but to put my ego aside and to listen. Good ideas can come from anyone. If it's a good idea, I should use it and give credit.
  • It takes passion and commitment. One with passion is better than forty who are merely interested.
This is just one in a series of books each year that set the tone for how we will work together as a community of educators. From our first book study of Roland Barth's Improving Schools from Within to this year's choice, we are reminded once again that we are a family of readers who believe that together we can change the world, one child at a time.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Readers' and Writers' Begin

I'm often asked what you do in a Readers' Workshop and Writers' Workshop at the beginning of kindergarten. After all, most of the kids can't read and they can't really write much, so how do you begin? To answer that questions I thought I'd let you peek into one kindergarten classroom as they begin their Workshops on Day 2 of the new school year.

Elizabeth Conte and Randi Timmons began their Readers' Workshop with their youngsters gathered on the carpet as they talked and made a chart to illustrate the rituals and routines of the three parts of the Workshop. As they made the chart they explained that the Mini-lesson begins the Workshop with the teachers teaching and the students listening. They explained that the Work Time is the special time when students get to read! To convince their young kindergartners that they could already "read," they demonstrated "reading" a story by talking about the pictures in the book. Finally they talked about the Closing where one of the teachers or one of the "Princes" or "Princesses" got to tell what they learned as a reader. This first Mini-lesson took about 10 minutes. During the Work Period the students were invited to their table. In the middle of each table was a basket of genre books selected from the Genre Library (at right). After about 15 minutes of the students browsing through books in their basket, the teachers rang a simple bell to let the students know that it was time to clean up. "Clean up. Clean up everybody everywhere..." Finally the students were invited back to the carpet so the teachers could reinforce the same chart used in the mini-lesson once again. The Closing took about 5 minutes.

After a brief musical interlude (learning the motions to a jazzed up rendition of the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill), the students settled back down on the carpet for Writers' Workshop. This Workshop once again began with a Mini-lesson that reinforced the idea that everybody has a story to tell. As Mrs. Timmons told her own true story about her husband calling her the night before after he hurt his wrist playing baseball, Mrs. Conte drew the illustration.
After the teachers finished the story and picture, they gave the children some "think time" to come up with their own story idea. Children were released to their seats for Work Time as they thought of an idea. Even on this first day children quickly began drawing and writing and telling their story to their neighbors as they worked. They were anxious to share their stories as the teachers "made the rounds" and knelt down to listen. Not a single child was reluctant to get started! As the teachers rang the bell again, children began singing the "Clean Up" song because they knew that the signal meant that it was time to clean up. During the Closing several children proudly displayed their work and told their stories.

Even though these wee ones can't read and write in the traditional way yet, they love to look at pictures in books and try to make meaning. They also love to draw and tell about their lives. It's really not magic... or maybe it is!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

...and the dreams begin!

On this first day of school, kindergartners and their parents were greeted by Mickey and Minnie, all the Princesses (Cinderella, Snow White, Belle...), even Captain Hook and Tinkerbell and a host of other Disney characters. They entered the magical Dining Room with its tulle streamers and chandelier to Disney-themed music. As the Fairy Godmother (Principal Phillips on the left) entered, she gave kinder families a chance for last minute pictures and hugs and then asked all the adults to move to the sides of the room so that teachers could escort their little ones to their classrooms. As parents waved good-by and threw kisses, they were invited to join the Queen of Hearts (Media Specialist KK at the right) at the PTA sponsored Boo-Hoo Breakfast.

Thus begins a magical day in which the goal is to "make their day" and "make them want to return tomorrow for more!" Early in the morning each kindergarten class got a tour of the school. Then it was on to a Magic Show. What else would you do on such a magical day? The children returned to class in time to pick up their lunch boxes and money for lunch. The afternoon began with a visit to Cinderella's magical carriage and with the first official class picture. Children returned to their rooms to learn some of the rituals and routines of the classroom and to explore their new environment. The day ended with a chance to go to the Disney-themed bouncy houses, manned by PTA.

I received an e-mail tonight from a parent that plays a game with her young son each night at the dinner table and asks him to name his high and his low for the day. After his first day of kindergarten she said, "He propped his head on his little hand, thought for a minute and in his sweet little voice said, 'Today was so good I didn't have any lows. It was highs and highs and highs....just highs all day!'" :) It really was a magical day!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Welcome to the Magic Kingdom!

Teachers returned to school on Monday for pre-planning. At Chets Creek we returned to the Magic Kingdom! Everywhere you looked the school was wrapped in magical lights and fairy dust. Each team prepared a skit over the summer. This summer project provided an opportunity to jump start team camaraderie. The Kindergarten Team is pictured at right as they ready themselves for their presentation (back row: Karen Meissner, Maria Mallon, Randi Timmons, our Speech Therapist Moe Dygan, new kinder teacher Cheryl Dillard, Chevaughn Sasso - front row: Elizabeth Conte, Team Leader Debbie Harbour, Meredy Mackiewicz, Julia Lewis -very front: Haley Alvarado). Now, I won't tell you exactly what the Kindergarten Team is wearing under those coats, but they certainly made us believers! They are ready to introduce all of our wee little first timers to Fantasy Land!
After a catered breakfast and each team's presentation (with prizes for the BEST!), the rest of the morning was in the capable hands of Principal Susan Phillips and the Leadership Team. On the left, meet our Leadership and Office Team. They helped plan and provided a fast-paced and fun-filled morning that primed us for the year ahead. Teams competed against each other as they played Disney-themed games. Not only do these "games" give teams a chance to meld together, they also give the Leadership Team an opportunity to observe the dynamics of each team. Woven into the morning was a reminder of our mission and a glimpse into the promise of this new fantasy-filled year. Being at Chets Creek is indeed being a part of the Magic Kingdom! Their dreams...Your future...Our legacy!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I've been tagged!

Okay... I've been "tagged" by Melanie Holtsman!

I had to look this up because I had no idea what it meant to be tagged. If I read this right, it looks like a chain letter (aren't some of those illegal now?) in e-mail. As I thought about how I could use this in my own blog, I thought it might provide a good way for readers of this blog to get to know the Kindergarten Team at Chets Creek - since they will be reading about them all year! First I will state the rules for tagging and then I will tag each of the kindergarten teachers and ask them to leave their own information at their blog or if they haven't set up a blog to leave it as a comment. You will love reading about this fascinating team!

First, the rules:
1. Post the rules before you give the facts.
2. List 8 random facts about yourself.
3. At the end of your post, tag 8 people.
4. Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they have been tagged.

My 8 facts...
  • I am a first-time grandmother to the most beautiful child in the world, Kallyn Lily Timmons. Being a grandparent is the absolute BEST!
  • My son, Wes, plays for the AAA Atlanta Braves during the summer and teaches Physical Education at my school during the off-season. His wife, Randi, is a kindergarten teacher at Chets. We often get to eat lunch together. We keep it all in the family!
  • I have been married to my high school sweetheart - love of my life - for 37 years! Jimmy is a Physical Education teacher at Mayport Elementary School and coaches baseball at Fletcher High School.
  • My daughter, Courtney, is a Senior at Florida State University (Go Noles!) and is majoring in Special Education. I think she likes being a student because she wants to get her Masters degree before she finally gets a job! I don't blame her - this is a great time in her life!
  • I LOVE to read, especially on the beach in the late afternoon.
  • I did my undergraduate work at a small Methodist girls' college (Columbia College) in Columbia, SC and it's the best thing I ever did! Being in that small, supportive environment fostered leadership qualities that I didn't even know I possessed!
  • My mother had a dancing school while I was growing up so I began teaching dancing when I was 16. I even had a scholarship to teach dancing in college and supplemented my early teaching salary by teaching dancing classes on Saturday (made $6200 that entire first year as a Special Education teacher!) I have long retired those dancing shoes but I am still moved by music. My favorites are goldie oldie "beach" music and contemporary praise and worship music. Music touches my soul.
  • I have written my name in lower case letters since the 2nd grade. I had a teacher, Mrs. Gilmore, who loved the poetry of ee cummings. cummings is known for his lack of capitals and punctuation. Mrs. Gilmore had such a profound influence on my young life that I began replicating her favorite poet and have continued the practice every since as a tribute to that life changing agent. In the early years writing my name in lowercase letters reminded me to believe in myself but now it reminds me of the difference one teacher can make in the life of a child. I know... because it happened to me!
So now, I tag Haley AlvaradoElizabeth ConteCheryl Dillard, Julia Lewis, Debbie HarbourMeredy Mackiewicz Maria Mallon, Karen Meissner, Chevaughn Sasso and Randi Timmons.
Getting to know you... Getting to know all about you...