Sunday, January 27, 2008

LIVE from the Creek

As teachers from Chets Creek have become engossed in the ideas of how blogging can open the world to them, they have branched off into something new - a new type blog, LIVE from the Creek that will archive their travel to conferences. This blog is the brainchild of Melanie Holtsman, Teacher of the Gifted and Intermediate Literacy Coach who wants to make our professional development real time. Our first undertaking will be a trip to Hollywood, CA for the NCEE (National Center for Education and the Economy) America's Choice national conference January 29-February 2, 2008. Chets Creek is a National Model School for the America's Choice School Design. Ten teachers/ coaches/ adminstrators from the Leadership Team will be presenting at the conference. Not only will we be blogging our own presentations LIVE, but we will blog everything that we see and do. That way, our teachers at home will also be able to learn as we go. We also hope that teachers, coaches and administrators from around the world will join us by listening in, by questioning and by commenting. We can hardly wait! As soon you get a chance, join us!

State Of the School

Today, as is the tradition, Susan Phillips, Principal of Chets Creek, delivered her "State of the School" address. Each year the principal goes through several slides that show the faculty where each grade level is at this time of year based on the "Chets Creek Diagnostic." These K-5 assessments in Reading and Math (and 5th Grade Science) were written by Chets Creek teachers and have been edited and revised over the years. Each assessment is given three times a year. We use this data to analyze where we are compared to previous years and to predict how we will do on our state mandated test, the FCAT. Because we have historical data, we are able to predict our success within a few percentage points! This data also helps us identify and target the "bubble" kids that can go either way and that will need that extra push of intervention in these last few weeks.
Our principal reminds us of our targets - not as a scare tactic, but as a reality check. Can we really improve on 97% of our bottom quartile kids making gains? She emphasizes how important K-2 teachers are to this process, even though they are not part of the state's test. She realizes that our 3rd - 4th - and 5th grade scores stand on the shoulders of the strength of our primary school. She also reminds us again today that it is about relationships. "If you can't relate to a particular child, then find someone who can. It might be a kindergarten teacher, a teacher assistant, someone from the office, one of the custodians, but find someone that will care and hold that child accountable." We know, from research and from our experiences, that children that feel like someone cares will work harder and will want to succeed, not only on a test, but in life.

The principal ends her speech today by asking each of us to take out our dream journals and to respond to several statements, including, "Within our reach lies every path we have ever dreamed of taking. Reflect on the path that you need to take in these next few weeks to prepare your students for our state assessment." And finally, "What is the gift that you can bring to your neediest children right now?" Dreaming is how we get there, but life is the path that we take.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Happy 10th Birthday CCE!

The birthday candles represent the theme
for each year in our school's history.
As the Leadership Team has been studying The Disney Way, one of the chapters reminds us of how important details are to the overall effect. It is obvious at Chets Creek this week that so many people have taken care of the details. Most of that credit goes to KK Cherney, our Media Specialist, and her little crew of worker bees that have made so many dreams a reality this week.

From individual displays for each of the ten years to the time capsule display to the beautiful birthday candles painted by our Art staff, you can see the history of Chets Creek as you walk through the lobby.

Each day WCCE, the student hosted morning news cast, has revisited a video clip from a previous year. On the first day of this celebration week, the children saw footage of that very first day, as Chets Creek opened with children boarding the Magic School Bus with Mrs. Frizzle to journey to their new school. On Tuesday the current children revisited Mrs. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus that brought those first children from three different elementary schools in the middle of the year to the newly built Chets Creek Elementary. Today's children hopped on those same buses and watched a video of that first magic ride. The video then took them through the years with photographs. Even Mrs. Frizzle was the same - well maybe ten years older!

On Wednesday we celebrated with a breakfast for our alumni - children and adults. Alumni were invited back for breakfast and were guest readers for the entire day. Each guest read their favorite Book of the Month from a previous year. This was a chance for the original students and faculty to meet once again and remember and share stories about those years gone by. It gave our present faculty and children a chance to understand the rich history that their present is built upon.

On Thursday all of the faculty and children were dressed to represent one of the themes from a previous year. From Hollywood to Racing to Cowboys, the teachers (the Kindergarten Team on left) entertained their grade level at a birthday bash. The Kinder teachers performed their rendition of the Hokey Pokey to the delight of their students! Then the kids sang "Happy Birthday" and had their chance with the "Chicken Dance!" Each child enjoyed a birthday cupcake and treat bag delivered by the CCE Paraprofessionals!

On the final day of the week-long celebration, the school held a flag raising ceremony much like the first one at Chets Creek. This time the Chets Creek patrols stood with the award-winning honor guard from Sandalwood High School which contained Chets Creek graduates. Principal Phillips briefly reviewed our history as one of the top 20 schools in the state of Florida and then read from the book, C is for Chets Creek which was written by this years' students. Each class wrote a page about the traditions and history of the school.

The culmination of the week was a flag raising ceremony to bury the new time capsule. The first mounds of dirt were turned by current fifth graders, representatives of the "Class of '08." Ten years from now at a birthday celebration much like the one today, this new capsule will be dug up and we will once again celebrate our history. These children that are writing their names on our hearts today will be gone and some of the faculty will have moved on, but there is no doubt that this school has left its mark. Surely, some of us have been changed... forever.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Birthday Bulletin Boards

In the Chets Creek tradition of always pushing the faculty to the next level, all teachers were asked to use Chets Creek's 10th Birthday as the theme for this month's standards-based bulletin boards. No other suggestions or restrictions were given, except that each board should include all of the parts of a standards-based board (title, task, standards, and 4 pieces of student work with commentary). As you walk through the halls, birthdays are on every single board from Kindergarten to 5th grade! Kindergarten boards represent the same diversity as the talented teachers that make up the grade level.

The Mackarados featured a Math board by representing a survey adapted from their Math Investigations unit.

Ms. Sasso also used Math for her standards-based board. She had the children use birthday objects to show how they can be sorted in different ways.

Mrs. Lewis looked at the Social Studies Standards as students wrote about their birthdays now and birthdays of one of their grandparents long ago to understand the concept of history. Notice how she used black and white to represent days gone by and colors to represent the present!

Mrs. Harbour's students celebrated the five senses at a birthday party on her Science bulletin board, "Senses to Celebrate."

Other teachers presented work around the narrative unit, "Small Moments," the genre of writing that we are revisiting after the holiday. Children wrote about birthday memories.

Mrs. Mallon's board featured "great beginning" (orientation and context).
From one of Mrs. Mallon's birthday stories:

On my 5th birthday it was a rainy day. I got a baseball hat. I also got a baseball helmet. I got a baseball bag. Then my dad signed me up for baseball. The next day I played. I hit a pop fly. I got to second base. Then the next person batted. I got to go home. The other person got to second.
Notice how this first grader has added an interesting beginning to open his story that includes the setting. . Each of the stories on her board has a different beginning as evidence of the many engaging beginnings that the class has studied.
While most of the kindergarten teachers used the same paragraph style for their commentary that is featured in the standards book, Mrs. Meissner wrote her commentary using the format from the rubric book.
From Mrs. Meissner's board, you can see the fluency that kindergartners have established this time of year. Below is a transcription of a 3-page birthday narrative!
My Second Birthday
I went to my nanny and pappy's house. Everybody sang to me and I blew the candles and then I opened my presents and I eat my birthday cake. My sister came to my birthday.  My dad came to my bithday
and then I blew the candles and then I jumped in the pool to swim and then I came out of the pool to play with my friends. The cake has my name on it and then I played with my transformers and then I went to play with my toys. I shared with my friends. I got a special present and I went to play with my transformer and it was "Octimus Prime"
and I got two transformers and it was "Star Scream" and my party was fun.
As we opened the time capsule and looked at what our kindergartners were doing ten years ago, we realize how far we have come. Ten years ago we were satisfied if a child left kindergarten writing a phonetic sentence, but today we realize that most of our little ones can grapple with several genres of writing and can form a story in each of the studied genres. As the year goes on, most will master spacing between words and will spell many of the sight words that they are seeing daily in reading. They will begin to experiment with capitals for I, names and beginning sentences. They will not be afraid of multi-syllabic words because they know how to write the sounds that they hear in each word. They will be able to concentrate on the content of their piece and will begin to use editing marks. This is a far cry from our expectations ten years ago! Our time with America's Choice opened up the research and our practice... and we will never, ever be the same...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Readers' Workshop in the New Year -2008!

In Readers' Workshop kindergarten teachers are teaching Reading with Strategies in January. These strategies are so very appropriate as most of the children are beginning to read in Level A and B books (Fountas and Pinnell leveling system). The strategies are meant to teach a child what to do when they see a word that they do not know by sight. The first six strategies that kindergarten teachers teach include:
  • Does it make sense?
  • Look at the pictures
  • Get your mouth ready
  • Stretch the word
  • Point to the words
  • Skip it and read on
The poster to the right illustrates the strategy, "Get your mouth ready." The print is shown with the first letter of an unknown word exposed because sometimes if you get your mouth ready by saying the first sound, the rest of the word just pops out of your mouth! In this case, the covered word is sailboats. Each strategy is introduced, demonstrated and practiced for several days during the short mini-lessons that open the Readers' Workshop.

During the work period you will see teachers giving DRAs (Developmental Reading Assessments) or running records to check a child's reading level, conferring with individuals, and working with small groups of children during guided reading. If children are not working with a teacher, they are reading independently out of their individual reading bin.

The Readers' Workshop ends with a Closing where teachers choose children who they have identified who practiced one of the strategies that the class has been studying during the Work Session. They allow the child to explain to his/her classmates how they used one of the strategies to figure out a word. In the picture to the left the teacher points to the word that is shown to the class with a document camera as the student explains how she used one of the strategies to figure out the word.
This is such a fun time in Kindergarten as children are really learning how to read and the children and their parents - and their teachers - are just so proud!

Skills Block in January,2008

Blends chart
What's new in Skills Block as we come back in the new year? For one thing, the alphabet chart that the children chant each morning has been replaced with a "blends" chart. Each morning the teachers chant as they point to each block: My turn. /bl/ blanket block. Your turn. Snap. /bl/ blanket block... as the children echo the blend and words starting with the blend one block at a time. Children are encouraged and reinforced for using this chart as they write in Writers' Workshop.

The morning message reviews many of the skills that the children have worked on previously such as where to find sight words, color and number words in the room; the digraphs th/ ch/ sh/ wh; words with initial blends; punctuation marks such as periods, exclamation marks, and question marks; capitals for beginning sentences, names, and I; and a review of the vocabulary words that the children have been learning all year. After the holiday most kindergarten teachers add quotation marks or "talking marks" to their morning message. As they work on this in Skills Block, they begin to see the children using the "talking marks" in their writing during Writers' Workshop. Children also point them out in their independent reading in Readers' Workshop.

Kindergarten teachers also continue with the last few books of vocabulary (see the word hesitating in the message to the right) in their Skills Block.

The final activity is usually sounding out 3-4-5 sound words that have short vowels, digraphs and blends - some of the same words that children will need to sound out (segment) as they go into Writers' Workshop and that they will need to blend as they go into Readers' Workshop. Skills Block pulls together all of the skills that we are asking our children to use.

Book Study

We are so fortunate in Duval County that we have "Early Release." This means that every other Wednesday the students leave an hour and a half early so that the teachers can participate in Professional Development. Now that's hardly enough time for a school's entire professional study, so at Chets Creek, because we already have common grade level planning, we try to use these early release times for vertical articulation. We want teachers to establish relationships so that those relationships lead to sharing ideas across grades and disciplines. We are very intentional during these days to arrange activities to promote the dialog that we hope will happen. One of the things that we do at least once a year is to divide the faculty into smaller groups so that they may participate in a book study of their own choosing. Below is a list of some of the books we have offered in the past.

Young Mathematicians at Work: Fractions, Decimals and Percents by Fosnot
Young Mathematicians at Work: Number Sense, Addition and Subtraction by Fosnot
Bringing Words to Life by Beck and MeKeown
The Art of Teaching Reading by Lucy Calkins
When Kids Can’t Read by Kylene Beers
The Fluent Reader by Timothy Rasiniski
What a Writer Needs by Ralph Fletcher
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Craft Lessons by Ralph Fletcher
Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen
Growing Readers by Kathy Collins and Lucy Calkins
Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Teaching the Best Practice Way by Harvey Daniels
Teaching Science as Inquiry by Carin, Bass and Contant
Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson
Driven to Distraction by Edward Hallowell
A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
First Grade Writers by Stephanie Parsons
Teaching for Comprehension and Fluency by Fountas and Pinnell

The books are laid out for about a week after their introduction so that teachers can thumb through them. Then each educator is asked to sign up for the book of his/her choice. The Principal orders all of the books for the teachers to keep as their own personal copies! The Leadership Team does not lead any of these groups but becomes a member, allowing other teachers opportunities for leadership. These small, more intimate groups provide time for discussion and for teachers on different grade levels to become involved with each other in a new way.

This year we are going to change the focus just a bit... We are going to offer some fiction titles! Of course, they also have a tie to school issues or subjects, e.g., Jodie Picoult's Nineteen Minutes about bullying that leads to a school shooting. One of the reasons we are offering fiction this year is that we want our teachers to live the life of a reader. So far, we have only studied non-fiction text and we know that all readers do not prefer non-fiction, so we want to introduce our diverse faculty to other genres. We want to infuse a love for reading, not only in our children, but in our teachers! We want teachers to discuss the story line, but we also want them to look at the elements of the genre and to talk about author's craft. This will be a book study that models what we want to do with our children. We believe that if teachers live the experience then they will be able to think deeper about their own literature circles and book talks.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Today all Science teachers at Chets Creek enjoyed grade specific workshops by Rick Ellenburg, the 2008 Florida Teacher of the Year. Rick is an elementary Science Resource teacher from Orlando and was actually a Kindergarten teacher for many years and has a degree in Early Childhood. Rick talked about centers that kinder teachers can use tomorrow. One of those was the "take apart center" which is a way for youngsters to practice fine motor skills by taking apart telephones, toasters, etc. He suggested cutting the cord off and then putting the appliance in a center with a few screw drivers. You might try loosening a few of the screws to get the children started. What a great idea for some of my youngsters - especially boys - who really need that extra practice!

Rick also talked about "observation centers." Normally we might include a few magnifying glasses and some shells or leaves and acorns for students to observe, but Rick includes pheasant feathers, snake skins, small eggs, rat skulls - more interesting things that children can observe. Rick also keeps small insects and objects in plastic medicine bottles that are the perfect size for little hands.
All in all, Rick believes that Science needs to be integrated into our entire day.

 The questioning that we are talking about as a reading comprehension strategy that good readers use is the same questioning that good Scientists use. We need to make that connections for our children. Science content can easily be integrated into our Language Arts work. Science and reading are intertwined as we think about nonfiction text features and comprehension strategies. Teachers need to develop a knack for asking the type of questions that lead children to think instead of simply giving them the answers. This is the same technique we use in Math - raising the level of thinking without giving away the answer. Bottom line - Science piques the interest of our young students, so let's use it!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Technology... Really?

I have recently been thinking about the technology that our children are growing up with and feeling compelled as an educator to make sure that I use technology to integrate and individualize for the students in my classroom, but I face the challenges of so many educators - living in a school system that is so tied to the past that it has trouble envisioning (and paying for) the future.

For example, I have 5 computers in the classroom where I work - enough to individualize for many of my students - enough to have at least one student blogging all day long. However, three have not been working most of the year. Work orders have been called in since September! One of the remaining computers crashed last week, so I'm down to one that works... most of the time - 30 kids - 1 computer.

I am in a county where each teacher is given a laptop computer (of course, new teachers are still waiting for their laptop this year - how frustrating is that?), but I've had mine for a while. I gave it up this year for a stand alone computer because my laptop had gotten so slow. I used to keep a book beside my laptop because I could read a page or two while it performed an operation. As a result most of my computer work has to be done on my home computer. I wonder what teachers do that don't have computers at home...

We were thrilled this year to get document cameras with projectors at our school. Wow - what a difference that has made in our ability to show writing and math work at our Closing meetings. We can easily correct misconceptions. We have also been bringing up interactive games that the children can play during Skills Block. Last week we wanted to show the children our classroom blog, BUT has been blocked at our school so the pictures won't come up. How disappointing! Children can watch it at home but not at school. (That also means I have to create my blogs at home, not on school time.) When we contacted technology they said it was just too dangerous! Programs like this are reviewed by a Committee and this one has been found to have access to too much inappropriate material. Wish I had been told BEFORE I created the slides!

We have a kindergarten student who is out sick and may be at home for 30 days. What an opportunity! Instead of hospital home bound, we can Skype him into the classroom! Maybe not... The district doesn't think Skype is an appropriate tool, so it is blocked. Our principal recently gave each member of the Leadership Team a web cam! WOW! Of course, with Skype blocked, my students will not have a chance to talk face-to-face with students in Australia who will also be studying Eric Carle next month! I had to load the web cam on my home computer. Maybe we can have a field trip to my house...

The point is that I live in a county that is like so many other counties. They want teachers to embrace 21st century technology, but at the same time they want to protect our youngsters (and I certainly understand that!), but the youngsters are so far ahead of us. I was recently talking to a teacher about Webkinz. The teacher explained a virtual world to me that I didn't even know existed. She said she corresponds with about 25 of her students who have their own Webkinz accounts. One of those was a kindergarten student and his mom was surprised when the teacher said she and the child were trading e-mails! Even our youngest children are e-mailing, setting up their own blogs, have their own phones and can text message - by 5th grade. We have fulltime employees sitting somewhere downtown watching what we are doing on-line. What a waste of money when everything is blocked. Maybe the money could be better spent figuring out how teachers CAN use the technology that our children already use at home. Let's face it - Most of the programs on the Internet can be "dangerous" if used inappropriately or naively. Would it be better to allow many of the programs that we are afraid of and use them to teach our children appropriate Internet behavior? Or do we just bury our heads in the sand and let them figure it all out on their own?

After the Holiday

Have you ever noticed with kindergartners that when they come back from the winter holidays, they seem to have grown?! It's only a two week break but when they come back they seem to have assimilated much of the teaching that you did before the break. When they left, you wondered if they were really getting it, and then you come back and realize that, "Yes! They are getting it!" It is what I call the "magic pixie dust" that gets sprinkled over the holiday!!

As we came back to Chets Creek our Kindergarten Pacing Guide said that we should be working on Reading Strategies in Readers' Workshop and on Response to Literature in Writers' Workshop. Our teachers quickly realized that Reading Strategies (such as "looking at the pictures," "getting your mouth ready," "skip and return") are exactly where we should be in Readers' Workshop, but in Writers' we really needed to revisit Narrative. So-o-o-o when you walk into classrooms, what do you see right now?

In Writers' Workshop, teachers are having students make decisions and cleaning out their work-in-progress folders. "Can you read this? If you can, you should keep it, but if you can't you should get rid of it." The children end up with a few pieces that they can read back to themselves to begin to revise (by adding to it), and to edit (for capitals, punctuation and spelling of words that can be found around the room).