Friday, January 30, 2009


It's a first grade tradition! Sleepover begins with a family homework project where each family creates a teddy bear from a pattern. The bears come in and take center stage at the beginning of Sleepover week. On Tuesday of that week parents come in at night for a Parent Night. Dinner is served and then parents visit their child's room and make a pillowcase to bring to the big event at the end of the week.

All through the week the teachers read books about sleepover, sing songs about bears and sleepovers, add sleepover to their morning message, read Sleepover poems for fluency, make bear glyphs in math, write narratives about sleepovers they have had, write "how to" make teddy bear instructions, and write "All About Sleepover" reports.

The big event on Friday begins with a parade through the darkened halls. The first graders, dressed in their pajamas and carrying a flashlight and their homemade teddy bear follow the Principal and Music Teacher (all dressed in pajamas!) as they all sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." Then it's on to a pancake breakfast in the Dining Room (this year furnished by Denny's). As the children eat, pictures flash on the big screen of each child with his bear. After eating, the Principal calls all the teachers on stage and they perform (without rehearsing, of course) a little Hokey Pokey and Electric Slide. Then it's off to the centers for the morning, provided by the Resource Team
  • In music the children learn a little "Bear Polka" where they actually get to R-O-A-R like a bear and then partner up for some "Square Dancing."
  • The Art Room is full of book covers for the children to design, as professional illustrators.
  • Outside the children separate into teams and each side "defends the bears," which are beanie bears on cones. The children on one side throw balls while the other side defends the bears. If you get tagged with a ball you are sent to the marshmallow field to get a marshmallow (white golf ball) to feed the bears before you can return. Even on this cool morning, the children work up a sweat.
  • The centers are rounded out with a little "Sleepover Bingo" which features facts about books with bears as the main characters and facts about real bears that the children have learned this week. Bingo cards for this special edition of Sleepover Bingo can be found at the first grade wiki .
Each child brings a bag lunch and the class eats in their room while the Resource teachers are provided pizza as a thank you for the extra work of the day. The afternoon includes "KK's Sleepover Party" where the children go to the Media Center with their pillows (made at the Family Night) and their teddy bears. They get juice and popcorn while they watch a shadow puppet play of Ira Sleeps Over and a Winnie the Pooh movie. And then, they simply dance the day away. It's such a special memory for the first graders. Enjoy some of the memories below.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where were YOU?

Where were you as the 44th President of the United States took the Oath of Office? I was sharing the moment with my first grade class. As this historic day began the children's daily Morning Message consisted of sentences about the President for the children to correct. At 11:30 the teachers turned on the television so that the children could watch the minutes leading up to the Inauguration. The teachers pointed out all of the important officials - the former Presidents and Vice President, the stylish First Lady and, of course, Sasha and Malia. The children found Barack Obama's name on the screen and held up their hands when they first spotted him. Of course, even with all the conversation at school and at home, one child wanted to know where John McCain was!

Rick Warren got up for the prayer but... it was time for our class to go to lunch. The teachers tried to remain respectful and bowed their heads, but as the minutes passed and the five minute window between classes in the lunch line began to close, they quietly lined the children up for lunch. School must go on even as history is being made. Three televisions were on in the Dining Room but very few of the students paid attention. At that time of day the Dining Room is full of kindergartners and first graders who went about their normal business of eating lunch and socializing with friends without realizing that they were living through such an historic day for our country.

Our custodian stayed close to the television hanging on every word and the para professionals manning the Dining Room and teachers as they came and went, would glance at the television to check what was happening. As the Vice President took the oath, one of the paraprofessionals quieted the children and then led in a round of applause as he finished. As the President stepped up to take the oath, the Dining Room was quieted again, but as Barack Obama began to speak the children went back to their business of eating and chatting while most of the adults hung close to the television to catch each word of this historic speech.

I sat back down to eat, knowing that I would be able to catch the high points on the news for the rest of the day. As I sat there, the historical implications of the events unfolding in front of my eyes were profound and I wondered if these little ones would one day stand as parents with a questioning first grader of their own who would ask, "Where were you when the first African American President was sworn into office?" Will they remember that they sat in Mrs. Daniels and Mrs. Timmons' first grade classroom or that the Dining Room was quieted as the oaths were taken? Maybe they will remember. Maybe they won't... but I shall never forget.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Friday Share

We recently met as a grade level to talk about how our year is going - what we are proud of so far (and there certainly is a lot to be proud of!), what we hope to accomplish for the rest of the year, and changes we might like to make. Jim Collins tells us that we cannot move from good to great unless we are brutally honest about where we are today. With that in mind, I really tried to listen to what teachers want the rest of our year to look like. One of the things that teachers felt like they needed was more time to share. We have 15 teachers on our grade level and it is difficult for everyone to have a voice and to get their questions answered in our once-a-week meeting time. It is always a difficult balance to meet the needs of such a diverse group of teachers.

In order to provide more time to share, we are going to try eight Friday morning sharing times in addition to our weekly Teacher Meetings. Teachers volunteer to host and they get to name the topic. Other teachers on the grade level have the option to come or not, but each teacher is asked to bring something to share. This past Friday, Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard offered to host our first "share and serve" (breakfast). The topic was "Sleepover." Each teacher was asked to bring at least one thing to share about "Sleepover" which is our full day first grade tradition in January.

Another struggle for us has been to address things before they happen so that teachers have a little more time to prepare. As usual most teachers brought something to share, but not all, and the ideas were creative, fun, and really got teachers thinking about the event. Questions were asked and answered. Some teachers were relaxed and social while others were on a tight schedule and really worked to keep the conversation on topic and on time. It is always interesting to see the variety of personalities that make a grade level successful!

Make sure to check out the first grade wiki under "Sleepover" for all of the parent communication, hints about the day of Sleepover, the Parent Night pillowcase-making, and curriculum suggestions that go with this traditional event. As our teachers find new activities, they will be encouraged to post and share them on this collaborative wiki. The picture above is what Maria Mallon brought to share. She keeps all of her unit packed in a suitcase, ready to sleep over!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Test-taking Strategies

For years I fought the idea of first graders taking high-stakes type comprehension assessments. I hated the idea of us becoming so focused with high stakes testing that we let it dictate our curriculum. I argued every year that if our first grade children loved reading, if they had good strategies for decoding words and discerning vocabulary, and if they could retell a story with details that they were doing everything in comprehension that they needed to do to prepare them for any type of high stakes test they would be taking in third grade. However, every year I would hear teachers and parents talk about the "gap" between first and second grade and how, even though first grade teachers would promote children through the levels by using a running record and an oral retelling to check comprehension, those same children could not pass comprehension tests on those same levels in second grade. I have begun to feel like you do when the tide is coming in and you are bowled over by a huge wave and that huge wave is all those teachers and parents advocating for more testing in first grade! I feel like I am being pulled out into the ocean!

As I reviewed the second grade expectation and poured over the data, I soon realized that it wasn't that the children didn't understand the stories. The problem was that they didn't understand the format in which they were being asked. In order to show what they knew, they needed some work in test-taking strategies. They needed to know how to bubble in the entire circle so there was no mistaking which answer they marked. They needed to know that they should read all the answers before marking one, because the BEST answer might be the last choice. They needed to know how the test writer might try to "trick" them by giving them answers that were "almost" right and so on.

Exactly which test taking strategies did children need to know in first grade and how were we going to teach them? As we discussed all of this over time in first grade and in second grade and with the grade levels combined, we began to shape a policy that made sense for both grade levels. Finally, with the help of second and third grade teachers, we developed a list of strategies for first graders, an order in which they would be taught and some suggestions on how best to teach the strategies each week before they were tested on Friday. 

Because of the extensive work done by first grade teachers, the second grade teachers now know exactly what skills children should come to them with and where to begin their own teaching.