Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Eric Carle Celebration Day

As a final tribute to Eric Carle this year, all of the Kindergarten children celebrated him and his books on the day before Spring break. As a professional learning community our 14 kinder teachers decided together under the direction of Team Leader Debbie Harbour that this is the way they would like to end their unit. This is not an idea from a Teacher's Manual or a directive handed down but a group of teachers who meet regularly on the school clock to collaborate and who decided that their children deserve a special culmination to a unit they have loved. This is only one example of the collegiality that permeates this grade level.

The teachers decided that because the grade level is so big that they would divide the classes in half and provide the same rotation of Eric Carle-related centers on the celebration day. Centers included starting with a pancake breakfast as they reread Pancakes Pancakes.

Playing Bingo was a great review of the books, characters and details of the Eric Carle stories that have been studied. As a whole group activity playing Eric Carle Jeopardy was another opportunity to discuss the details of his stories and his life.

Completing crafts was a reminder of popular books such as a caterpillar necklace for The Hungry Caterpillar and a ladybug hat for The Grouchy Ladybug.

 Joining in a scavenger hunt where the children answered riddles about some of Carle's animals using hints from the stories was a great way to get outside and find pictures of the animals spread over the grounds. Below are some of the riddles.

I start as an egg on a leaf
And then with disbelief
I say bye-bye
And become a beautiful butterfly!
What am I? caterpillar

I’m a beetle with a light
Who flies through the dark night.
I light the way
For many to come and play.
What am I? firefly

Busy, busy, busy…
No time to chat!
But finally, I catch a fly…
Just like that!
What am I? busy spider

With water around my shell
My decorations look swell!
But it’s time to upgrade
With a house remade!
What am I? hermit crab

From “head to toe” I move
Like animals in the zoo,
I’m the biggest monkey
Who walks upright like you!
What am I? gorilla

I rub my wings to make a chirp.
It’s a love song – not a burp!
She makes not a sound;
Her true love she’s found.
What am I? cricket

On my back I’ll stay
With some dismay,
So give a flick
So I can give a CLICK!
What am I? click beetle

Aphids for breakfast
But a whale’s slap too soon,
Now I’ll have to eat
By the light of the moon!
What am I? ladybug

On a brown leaf I’m brownish.
On a red flower I’m reddish.
It’s flies I eat
Cause they are so sweet!
What am I? chameleon

“Will you be my friend?”
A little mouse asked with spunk.
“Find a friend your own size,”
I said with a swish of my trunk.
What am I? elephant

All of these activities are designed to give the students one last review of the books they have been studying. Kindergartners leave kindergarten loving Eric Carle and his books. It's no wonder!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Eric Carle Author Study Continues

No study of Eric Carle would be complete without looking at his art. Throughout this author study students have replicated Carle's art to help understand his stories. Above the Mackarados invited students to color large sheets of paper and then cut the large papers into smaller pieces, much like Carle does. These smaller pieces were then sorted by color to make pictures. One of the things the children noticed was that in most of Carle's books, he has a wonderful yellow sun, so most of them included a yellow sun! They mentored themselves to this outstanding illustrator!

Other art and craft work includes large class murals, click beetles that really click (because they are attached to clothespins!) and lightening bugs that really light up (with the help of small Christmas tree lights!)

While the beginning of the Eric Carle Author Study introduced books by the author and focused on hearing the story language and learning to retell the simple sequences (such as using pictures as retelling parts of The Very Busy Spider in the mobile at left), the later part of the study builds on the retelling by emphasizing other ways of responding to the books during the Readers' Workshop. Responses include oral and written reactions to a book. For instance, they might include a child retelling the story in his own words (or by using a story map); discussing or creating artwork to show comprehension such as illustrating a favorite part of a story; drawing, talking about or writing about connections to a story; or making predictions based on illustrations or portions of the story. Some teachers will even introduce Venn diagrams and have the class talk "across" books by showing them how they can compare and contrast books by the same author. While this is not necessarily a Kindergarten standard, many students are ready for this type of comparison to help them organize their thinking.

The power of this author study is in listening to the children as they talk to their partners about their response to books. It is amazing the level of conversation you hear!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Centers

As I walked through our kindergarten classes on the day before "Good Friday" the children were abuzz with activity. Classrooms were full of centers as the children worked happily from one to another.

Our Kindergartens spent part of the day with a host of Easter/Spring-themed centers, usually lasting about an hour. Each class sets up 5-6 centers and the children went from center to center until they had completed them all.

Every class dyed eggs! Some teachers prefer putting out the colors and letting the students dip one end in a color and then the other end in another color. Some prefer the "spoon on the color" method and others the "tried and true" put them in the color cup and wait! This year I even discovered that you can paint boiled eggs with watercolor sets! Just use masking tape to cover the brown and black in the watercolor set and you'll end up with a rainbow of beautiful Spring-colored Easter eggs! This might be the best way to color eggs yet!  I am always amazed at the number of kindergartners who are so excited about coloring eggs, because they are doing it for the very first time!

Some of my favorite centers this year included the one at the left where the children had to sort a bag a jelly beans by color (reading the color words, of course!) and then count and write the number of jelly beans beside each color words. Edible graphs! Each child was allowed to eat one jelly bean of their favorite color when the activity was finished!

Another of my favorites was an activity where the child had a dozen numbered plastic eggs in an egg carton. In each egg was a different item. The child had to shake the egg and decide which item was in the egg and then cut out a picture of that item to match the number. When all the items were matched, she could open each egg to see if she was correct before she glued the pictures on the numbered eggs!

Like most kindergarten classes across America, we also spend part of our day having an Easter Egg Hunt! Of course, there is always a little academic goal hidden in the fun. Most of our kindergarten teachers number each filled plastic egg (sent in by the parents) with a Sharpie. Each child is given a checklist with the numbers and is instructed to check off each number as that egg is found but only one egg for each number. After the eggs are collected each child lays the eggs out in order from 1 to _ to make sure he hasn't missed any!

What a wonderful way to celebrate the season with a little number practice! Of course the same could be done by putting upper or lowercase letters of the alphabet on each set of eggs or even children's first names, depending on the skill that needs the most practice. Regardless, the bottom line is learning fun! Happy Spring!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spring Break or Bust

Do we need a Spring Break or what?! Just seems like this has been a challenging week - A parent sent the Assistant Principal and me an e-mail with concerns about her son's kinder teacher. Instead of e-mailing my disappointment to the AP that the parent had not gone to the teacher first, I mistakenly e-mailed it to the parent instead! In another stiuation, I've got a teacher that is upset with a tutor. The tutor has been volunteering for several years. I have a conference to mediate the situation and it leaves a pit in my stomach. This week one teacher snapped at another because her kids were late getting out for dismissal, or at least the teacher felt like it was a snap. On another occasion a teacher sent out her kids for dismissal with a substitute and one of the teachers went to her to complain that she shouldn't send the kids out with a sub because it was too hard on the rest of the team - since when? It just seems there has been a lot of mistakes and negativity this week all over the building... Oh yeah, we have challenges here in Dreamland too!

So why all the snipping and sniping? It is hard to keep a high flying team's morale high ALL of the time. I think it boils down to teachers being tired... and stressed. Actually I think it always happens this time of year when teachers are worried about high stakes testing and students that might be retained and parents who think they aren't doing enough... and negativity begets negativity.

Morale traditionally seems to take a dip this time of year, so what's a coach to do? What I want to do is pinch their little heads off... but instead, I'll take a deep breath and remember that there is always another side - the teacher whose mother is sick or who is trying to buy a new house or who is dealing with a sick child of her own or even difficult behaviors in her classroom - the parent who is worried sick that their child might fail or is trying to figure out how to keep a marriage together or make the next mortgage payment. We all have our own stories and we deal with them best when we try to walk in the other person's shoes and not take anything too personally. I also believe in confronting difficult situations head on and simply trying to figure out what the problem REALLY is. Putting your head in the sand only makes the situation bubble and boil (from the voice of experience!)

The Kindergarten Team Leader recognizes the same symptoms that I do even though we haven't had time to talk and so, being proactive, she has arranged a breakfast get-together next week and has asked each teacher to come to the early morning get- together with a "drop for your bucket" - a positive comment written about a colleague. That should help remind us that we all have the same goal - doing the best for the children in our care. If that doesn't do it... how many more days until Spring Break?!!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Where Kindergarten and High Stakes Assessment Meet

I know this is a blog about Kindergarten, but I don't care who you are, this next week is about our state test, the FCAT! Kindergarten, of course, is not a tested grade, but it doesn't mean that we don't get involved. Each primary K-2 classroom "adopts" an intermediate classroom during FCAT week. We really do believe that testing results reflect the entire school, regardless of if you are teaching in an accountable grade or not. Primary classes do all sorts of fun things to relieve stress and to let the teachers and children know that we are all pulling for them. Below is a partial list of some of the fun! The following little ditties were written by a second grade teacher, Beth Young, and shared with all the primary teachers as one suggestion that they could do for their adopted class. The primary classes will deliver a different basket of treats each day to their older peers with one of the appropriate poems.

**Individual boxes of candy hearts with the words “Put Your Heart into it!”**Sure, you’ve heard this test is big,
but your HEART is so much bigger!
When you put your HEART into it,
From the start, you’re the winner!

**A river rock colored with sharpies and then googlie eyes and a smile added with the following poem.**
Mr. ROCK-ROCK is such a cutie!
To be strong is his duty,
But you are even stronger still,
And ROCK the FCAT? You totally will!!!
Mr. Rock-Rock says, “ROCK THE FCAT, DUUUDE!” and “ROCK ON, MAN!”
(So we do!!)

** Plastic Easter eggs filled with Smarties.**We are so very EGG-cited!
Actually we’re delighted!
It is what’s INSIDE of YOU that counts,
So hear our confident shouts:
You’re gonna do so EGG-cellent,
EGG-cellent, EGG-cellent!
You’re gonna do so EGG-cellent,
EGG-cellent, EGG-cellent!

**Since it is March, I found (at JoAnn’s) plastic St. Patrick’s Day coins with clovers on them.**
Ok, you’ve heard of luck before.
That’s what this CLOVER COIN is for.
We figured that it couldn’t hurt,
But you need it ‘bout as much as dirt.
You’re smart AND serious, it’s true .
You’re best is all you’ll need to do!

We already KNOW you’re smart,
Remember they want to see how SERIOUS you are!
Show ‘em!

**Bear Stickers**These stickers are to remind you
Of everyone in your life who
Is so ‘Beary’ ‘Beary’ proud of you!
Like us!!

Do your ‘Beary’ best!
At-risk students all over the building will receive positive postcards at home this week from previous primary teachers letting them know that they believe in them. These same teachers will stop by to speak to their previous charges letting them know that they care! Primary classes all over the school will deliver banners, motivational signs, cards and individual letters to the intermediate students that encourage the children to do their best this week! One class made a necklace for each student in their adopted class with each bead representing something such as concentration and strength to never give up. Another primary class is buying lunch for their adopted intermediate class.

Some classes writes short one-liners to attach to a little sweet treat for each student in the class each day such as:
Chocolate mint sticks that say, "Stick it to the FCAT!"
Red and white peppermints that say, "Here's some encourageMINT".
Peppermint Patties that say, "You are MINT to be a star today!"
Pack of gum that says, "CHEW up the FCAT!"
Extra Gum that says, "You are EXTRA special! Stick with it!"Tootsie Rolls that say "You're on a ROLL! Keep working hard!"
100 Grand "Fun Size" candy bar that says, "You're worth 100 GRAND".
Chocolate eggs that say, "You will do EGGS-celent on the FCAT!"
Chocolate Hugs and Kisses that say, "Hugs and kisses to you today!"
Smarties that say, "You are such as SMARTIE! Keep up the great work!"
Bubble gum that says , "Don't forget to fill each BUBBLE completely!"

Bubble gum that says, "Blow out the FCAT!"
Starburst that says, "You're our STAR! We're so proud!"

Nestle's Crunch that says, "CRUNCH the FCAT!"
Blow pops that say, "BLOW the test away!"
Pixie Stix that say "Here is a little Pixie Dust! Give it your all!"
Plastic eggs filled with candy that say, "CRACK the FCAT!"

In some intermediate classes the primary class will start the day by performing a rap, song, or poem to encourage the students ... and teachers! Performances will include this song, "Beat the Test" written by Cheryl Dillard and performed by her kindergarten class to the "Adams Family" tune.
Beat the Test (snap, snap). Beat the Test (snap, snap).
Beat the Test - Beat the Test - Beat the Test.
The FCAT is finally here.
There is nothing to fear.
We will give a cheer.
Because you are the best!
Beat the Test (snap, snap). Beat the Test (snap, snap).

Beat the Test - Beat the Test - You’re the BEST!

As I was walking upstairs taking pictures for this blog, one of the intermediate teachers stopped to tell me that Kindergarten Teacher Karen Meissner has sent a little treat each day of the test to one of her fourth graders who had been in Karen's kindergarten class. The intermediate teacher said it made the child's day and made all the difference in the child's attitude and confidence. You see, FCAT really is a family affair!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

"Goodbye" Words are a "Snap!"

Sights words are words that children learn by sight. Children don't sound the words out - they just memorize how they look instantly. Some of our teachers call these "snap" words - words that children know in a snap! They can recognize the word and write the word without peeking!

Sight words are reinforced in Skills Block. In Mrs. Timmons/Conte's class they have a daily routine for these Goodbye Words. Sight words are listed on a chart - usually chosen from the class' writing of common words they are using in Writers' Workshop and beginning to learn (for instance, many children write my as mi). Each day the class reads through the words. As the teacher points to each word, the class says the word together and then the teacher does a few individual checks. If "most" of the class knows the word (teacher judgment), the teacher places a check by the word. If some of the class still needs practice with the word, the teacher puts an X beside the word. When the class has three consecutive checks, the teacher strikes through the word on the chart as the class says goodbye to the word. That word is then placed on the word wall and students are held accountable for the word in reading and writing. It becomes a "snap" word. The words are Velcroed to the word wall which is child high so if a child is still having difficulty with the word he can come snap it off the word wall, take it to his desk, copy the word, and then snap it back to the word wall. As each word is learned, a new sight word is added.
Word Wall

Each class has their own routine around how the class learns sight words but it is a part of each class' daily Skills Block. Actually, it's a snap!