Monday, October 27, 2008

Parent Fair

One of the things that I noticed as I visited outstanding schools across our state as the Florida Teacher of the Year is that each incredible school had an equally incredible parent component to their program and made sure that success was linked through the child to both the home and the school. As I sat back tonight and watched our own parents enjoy a Parent Fair, sponsored by our Special Education teachers, I was proud of the activities that we brought to families to make their work with their own child more successful.

The night began with a special presentation by Dr. Susan Syverud of the University of North Florida. Dr. Syverud, recommended to us by intern Heather Goode, grounded our night in the type of foundational activities that parents should do when reading with their child at home. Next parents chose from four different activities:
1. Working with Your ADD Child was a hit with special consultant Elaine Culvyhouse from Hope Haven. This well attended session went well over time as parents gained insight into working with an ADD child at home.

2. Parent who attended Reading Strategies were presented specific handouts and suggestions to help with reading nightly with their child. The session also highlighted videos of teachers from Chets Creek reading to their own personal children as a way for parents to see what reading at each age/ grade level looks like. This information and the videotapes are available at the Chets Creek website. On the left hand bar of the web site, just click Read to Your Child. Parents at this session were also given books to take home to read with their child! Wonder if they will go home and read with their child tonight?

3. Session Tree offered a hands-on demonstration of Math Strategies at each grade level. This session featured Chets Creek teachers Tammi Sani, Kathy Nelson, Debbie Rossignol, Wanda Lankford, and Christina Walag as they sat around tables with parents demonstrating and discussing math strategies that would help parents help their own child with homework. Each parent was also given a baggie of manipulatives to take home to use with the homework activities.
4. The final session was a preview of our favorite web sites for children by our own Media Specialist KK Cherney. She showed parents how to go on the Chets Creek web site, onto the Media portal to get to the best games and activities.

While all of these activities were going on downstairs, upstairs Principal Susan Phillips was meeting with our Spanish speaking families. With parents divided into three groups and a Spanish speaking teacher interpreting for each group, the parents discussed their needs and challenges. This annual meeting is a time for parents to be heard and for teachers and administrators to explain and meet the needs of this special population.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that child care was provided?! As many teachers were involved in sessions, others were involved in child care along with Extended Day helpers provided by Extended Day Director KK Cherney and paid for by our very own PTA!
So many people went into making the night successful but that's one of the nicest things about working at a school like Chets Creek. So many people are willing to rise to the occasions and chip in to make a night for parents worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Professional Development in Technology

We are very fortunate in Duval County to have an Early Release Day every other Wednesday. That means that the children leave an hour and half early so that we can participate in professional development. Each of our Early Releases begins with a touch of technology as we choose two new Geeks from the Creek - two people who are using technology to enhance their instruction in a new or creative way. These chosen models present a quick lesson to us all on what they have been doing and then document their work on our on-going blog. Today we used the rest of our Early Release time for continued technology development. Teachers identified six topics that they wanted to learn more about a couple of weeks ago through an on-line survey and today each teacher had the choice of attending a workshop that she felt would enhance her own instruction. The workshops offered by our own faculty were:
Adding to a Wiki
Basic Excel
Using Web 2.0 Tools
Using Your Document Camera

I attended Debbie Harbour's session on using Voicethread in the classroom (shown to the left). Debbie and several other teachers have made voicethreads which they have added to their blogs. In fact, Melanie Holtsman actually helped me with a voicethread about this time last year but the truth is that she did most of the work and I didn't learn enough to do it completely solo the next time! I can be a really slow learner when it comes to technology! Of course, that's one of the best things about working at Chets Creek. You don't ever have to do it by yourself because there is always someone who is willing to help. I think now that I've seen Voicethread enough, with my experience with Melanie last year and watching Debbie today, that I feel pretty comfortable about trying one on my own!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Video streaming has Restarted!

Continuing our mission to share what we learn, video streaming started again at Chets Creek this week. These are live lessons that are broadcast as they happen from the classroom to our professional development site, the Schultz Center. Yesterday kindergarten co-teachers Julia Lewis and Laurie Thomson (pictured on the left) video streamed their Readers' Workshop Share Chair, a Writers' Workshop mini-lesson and work session before they stopped to debrief with the kindergarten and first grade teachers who were attending Literacy 101 at the Schultz Center. Later in the day third grade teacher, Jenny Nash, video streamed a Readers' Workshop along with a tour of her classroom to 2nd-5th grade teachers who were also at the Schultz Center attending an intermediate Literacy 101 class.

Today veteran video streamer Michelle Ellis taught a small group lesson in her kindergarten classroom using materials from the new reading adoption while kindergarten teachers at the Schultz Center looked on (pictured on the right). This group of teachers, however, are Literacy Leaders who have been chosen by their own school to be model classrooms in our new reading adoption. As Michelle finished the lesson, her teaching partner, Debby Cothern was at the Schultz Center to help with the debrief.

From now on, I will only be highlighting the first grade streams done at Chets Creek since my focus this year is first grade. For a review of all of the streams including pictures (and sometimes videos!) you can join the educational Ning or check Suzanne Shall, our Standard coach's, blog. There may be a few days delay on getting the videos up since we are doing all the editing in house, so please be patient!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


As part of our new reading adoption each child has a thick assessment booklet (about an inch and a half thick in first grade!) It includes a baseline assessment, assessments at the end of each of the ten themes in our newly adopted Core Curriculum to see how well the students understand the stories and skills that are taught through the Core stories (Selection assessments), and also cold assessments at the end of each theme that assess the skills and strategies that were taught but that are not tied to a specific story (Benchmark assessments).

At Chets Creek we have always given our own overall reading assessment three times a year  and on-going individual assessments such as running records anecdotal records, quick quizzes as we teach a skill, and by observing and taking a reading “on the carpet.” Although we believe that the pendulum has swung too far into the formal testing arena, and especially this extra layer of county suggested assessment, we do believe that data drives the instruction in our classrooms. We must know how our children are progressing in order to know what to teach tomorrow. that we have these new assessment booklets for each child, how should we use them? As we come to the end of this first nine weeks which parallels the end of the second theme in our new Core Curriculum, we are interested in knowing if our first grade children at Chets Creek are keeping up with their peers across the district. While we are incorporating every part of the Core that fits easily into what our experience tells us to be true (such as the sequence of skills and the scope of strategies and skills for first grade), we have really struggled with what Lucy Calkins refers to as "pop around" mini-lessons that jump from one focus to another instead of the in depth work we have done with a single strategy over time (such as that proposed in Debbie Miller's Reading With Meaning). With 96% of our children last year at Chets Creek scoring 3 or better on the Florida FCAT, it would be malpractice for us to abandon the very practice that put us on the trajectory of really reaching 100% of our students. So we have moved very slowly and carefully into areas that seem contrary to our previous training and experience. On the other hand, we know that we are all (the researched-based Core curriculum and our eight years of training and experience with the America's Choice reform design) coming from the same research base and it's just the details that we are trying to figure out.

Monday, October 13, 2008

And the Winner Is...

Congratulations to Debby Cothern – this year’s Chets Creek Teacher of the Year! Debby is a looping Kindergarten-First Grade Teacher who was one of the first to pioneer co-teaching in our building. Debby's mom, Barbara Ellis (pictured below with Principal Susan Phillips), is also on staff at Chets! We like to keep it in the family! Debby and her teaching partner, sister-in-law Michelle Ellis, were also one of the first teams to embrace live video streaming and have regularly streamed lessons to the Schultz Center. Debby has also been featured in several America's Choice training videos that are used across the United States for professional development. Debby and Michelle will be highlighted once again this year by video streaming live to the Literacy Leaders who are leading the roll out of the new reading adoption. Debby is currently a Literacy Coach and has long been a Team Leader at Chets Creek. This year she represents her grade level on the Leadership Team. Debby has that quiet strength that is so important to a well balanced team. She is reflective, a true professional, and always steps up to lead her team to do the right thing. At a school of super stars, Debby will represent the depth and quality of this faculty well. Congratulations Debby Cothern – the BEST of the best!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

October's Book-of-the-Month: Grace for President

October's Book-of-the Month is the delightful Grace for President. Books-a-million describes the book in this way:

"Where are the girls?" When Grace's teacher reveals that the United States has never had a female president, Grace decides to be the first. And she immediately starts off her political career as a candidate in the school's mock election. But soon, she realizes that she has entered a tough race. Her popular opponent claims to be the "best man for the job"--and seems to have captured all the male votes--while Grace concentrates on being the best person . In this timely story, author Kelly DiPucchio not only gives readers a fun introduction to the American electoral system, but also teaches them the value of hard work, courage, and independent thought--and offers an inspiring example of how to choose our leaders.

Principal Susan Phillips always uses each new book-of-the-month to teach the faculty a new strategy. This month it was another new vocabulary strategy, since we recognize the importance of vocabulary on comprehension. As always, she treats the teachers like her class of students so they can actually experience the strategy themselves. What a perfect time of the year for us to predict the words that we thought we might encounter in this book about elections. After brainstorming a list of words, we categorized the words by putting like words together and then choosing a title for each category, in the same way that we will ask our students to do.
After teachers took part in the strategy work with their grade level team, they were enthralled and entertained with Susan's rendition of Grace for President. Susan was a kindergarten teacher so she does a truly delightful read aloud! Now this is a book that even Obama and McCain would enjoy!

Thursday, October 2, 2008


So... what were you doing at 10 pm last night? Well, I was gathered with a small group of risk takers in Melanie Holtsman's den, learning to use a new tool called Elluminate! Melanie invited several teachers to join her for a live Internet chat with a college class of pre-service teachers in Canada and practicing teachers from around North America. The college course introduces novice educators to blogging by asking them to choose an educational blog to follow, comment often and take a sincere interest. First grade teacher Maria Mallon and fourth grade teacher Meli Launey joined other teachers from across the Americas, telling the college students about their particular blogs at Chets Creek. The 10 pm time was due to instructor Dean Shareski's college class meeting in a time zone three hours earlier. Sure, we could have each joined the Elluminate discussion from our own homes (and maybe because of this experience, next time we will), but it is always easier to try something so new in the presence of friends! At least they can help you appear not quite so stupid in the presence of technology greatness!

I guess that's one of the things that I love so much about Chets Creek, and one of the reasons that it would be so hard to ever leave - there is always something new to learn, people who are willing to take risks with you and put themselves on the cutting edge. They keep my zone of proximal development at the very edge of my ability (sort of like the edge of a cliff!) and ALWAYS offer the scaffolding that I need to fly with the eagles! Elluminate... here I come!