Friday, February 27, 2009

Beginning Kevin Henkes Author Study 2009

First grade teachers have begun their Kevin Henkes Author Study. This is an author study about one of our favorite writers and some of our favorite books. The purpose of the reading lessons are to teach the students to discuss books and to discuss across books. The writing goal is to produce a response to literature piece for the end-of-the-year portfolio. Students first learn to write a connection with a beginning and ending and finally learn to write a complete retelling with a lead and closing using a rubric to meet the response to literature standard.

Below is one of the early responses that includes a test-to-text connection coparing characters with an engaging beginning and a closing. As the unit continues, I will post work from several of the bulletin boards that just went up and final products.

(Lead - Connection - Closing)
One of my favorite stories is Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes. It also reminds me of Owen. I have a T-T (text-to-text) connection about when Wemberly and Owen had a special blanket or stuffed animal when they were scared or worried. Owen was worried when his parents wanted to take his blanket and get a new big boy toy, but he loved his blanket. He was going kindergarten, so his mom made a handkerchief for Owen. Now Wemberly, she worried about the tree falling on her house, if there was a snake in the radiators. She worries about if she's the only one who had a spot on her face. Those books Owen and Wemberly are my favorite books out of Kevin Henkes books!

Monday, February 23, 2009

"All About" Reports

Suzanne Shall, our Instructional Coach, recently got a comment on her blog - something to the effect that she should stop posting student work that obviously was done by parents! It was a reminder of how low expectations can tie the hands of our children. Given a daily Readers' and Writers' Workshop beginning the first day of kindergarten, quality instruction and the freedom to choose your topics and write your thoughts, there is no limit to what our first graders can do. Below is just such a piece recently completed during our unit on reports. This engaging report has it all - an introduction and closing, great chapters that stay to the topic, nonfiction conventions (such as a Table of Contents, labels, and even "Fun Facts" as captions to many of the illustrations!) The capitalization and punctuation is almost flawless with excellent word choice and so many words spelled correctly. This is an example of what first graders can do! Enjoy!

Friday, February 20, 2009

From Apple Queen to Apple-Bottom Jeans

I'm celebrating one of those landmark birthdays this weekend - you know, the kind you hope no one will notice and will go quietly by. Of course, at Chets Creek nothing goes quietly by. My life is quite the open book and they never do anything in a small way at the Creek, so.... I was greeted to a Surprise! Birthday Party first thing Friday morning. With the entire faculty dressed in red and green with crowns upon their heads to go with the theme "From Apple Queen to Apple Bottom Jeans" (it's a long story!), I entered the red paper covered walkway of the Media Center (passing a mouth watering array of apple themed breakfast foods)! Melanie Holtsman, friend extraordinaire, had put together a video of my life including my childhood, pictures of me as the Westminster, SC "Apple Queen," pictures from my double wedding with my sister, pictures of me with my husband of 38 years, pics of me as a new mom and from my teaching years, me with the granddaughter, interspersed with videos of the faculty pretending to be yours truly displaying some of my most (in)famous character traits (such as talking people into doing things that they never intended to do, my inability to work anything in technology including a DVD player - oops, they told me it was a CD player! and my obsession recently with adding things to our wiki, wiki, wiki!) The video ended with our Leadership Team dressed in gangster garb dancing (sort of!) to Apple Bottom Jeans - a song they have been trying to teach me for a year because they think my sixties beach music is a little outdated! I laughed until I cried. Each grade level even brought Diet Cokes as a gift since I pay $.75 several times a day to the Coke machine because I think a pack of cans is just too heavy to bring into the building (sad, I know!) with my arms full of other stuff.

Just as soon as I thought my heart could absolutely take no more, my husband - who has never kept a secret in his entire life - pulled off a surprise party on Saturday night with my favorite people in the world. I am so NOT the surprise type or much of a party girl, for that matter, but I have been so touched all weekend by the people in my life. I have realized that, outside of my family, all of my deep, emotional ties are with people I have worked with - many go back 20 years. How fortunate I am to have worked all these years in schools that have allowed me to really LOVE going to school every day. There is no doubt that the children and families I have taught along the way have touched the very depths of my soul, but it is the relationships that I have had with my colleagues that bring me to my knees in thanksgiving. I have taught alongside people that I learn from every day - that make me laugh, that keep me humble, and that are willing to share in my pain as easily as they share in my joy. Can anyone wish for a richer life than this?

Thanks to the cast of incredible, colorful characters who have reminded me all weekend of just how lucky I am! My cup truly runneth over. I don't know what the next 60 years will bring, but the first 60 have been everything that dreams are made of... and more.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Visitors from across the Country in 2009

Today I watched our Instructional Coach, Suzanne Shall, in the midst of 20 principals from Texas, explaining our work as she walked in and out of classrooms, stopping by bulletin boards to explain how each board was a glimpse into the classroom, explaining our Diagnostic work and safety nets and how they effect our progress - I watched with sheer admiration. Suzanne hosts visitors at least one day every week. They come from all over the country and from inside our own county. Why do they come? In any given year we host about 400 visitors who come because they have heard of our work. They take pictures. They go through the artifacts in the classroom. They ask questions. They ask for handouts of... everything! It's not like the county provides money so that Suzanne can offer this service to these other educators. It's not like she has any less on her plate because she spends 20% of her time hosting. But many years ago, when Chets Creek was first established, we decided that part of our mission would be to connect with a worldwide audience so that we could learn and be prepared for the expectations of living in a global society, but we also committed to give back all that we learned. Of course, at that time, I doubt that we could ever have imagined that we would have so many "opportunities" to share!

In the beginning, all of the hosting fell on the shoulders of our principal, but as the years have passed, most of it now falls on Suzanne's shoulders. Of course, she has a passion for sharing and this work will only be carried on if someone has passion for it and a commitment. It will die of apathy with a leader.  Suzanne fields the calls from across the country, makes the arrangements, works with teachers hosting visitors in their classroom, facilitates all of the debriefs and generally is our "good will ambassador". As a result she is in classrooms watching teachers as she prepares them for visitors and then sitting through lessons that she's often coached with the visitors. She can speak as easily about the predictive results of our internal Math Diagnostic as she can about the kindergarten DIBELS. She knows our program inside and out. She knows where the Writers' Notebooks are in each classroom, how each teacher's ritual and routines work, where the Diagnostic Notebooks are kept, the type of anecdotal notes each teacher keeps, where to find the portfolios and what is in them this time of year. I am continually amazed as she speaks so eloquently across the curriculum and across the grade levels - whether it's telling the Chets Creek story, talking about out history or explaining our focus on technology this year.

We are so fortunate to have a school principal that supports her work, even though it is out of the box - an administration that believes that as educators we have a moral responsibility, an ethical obligation to work together to make a difference. And.. that's just one of the reasons that I love working at Chets Creek!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Student Work in Procedural Writing 2009

Four times a year, each grade level comes together around a set of student work to develop a parent friendly example of what work should look like this time of year. In this case, each first grade teacher brings a piece of procedural writing to the table. They have just completed a unit on procedural writing, so each first grader has completed at least one piece of standard work for his end-of-year portfolio. The idea is not to bring the best piece or the worst piece, but a piece that the teacher feels meets the standard and is typical of the pieces being written in her classroom. Each teacher presents her piece and explains to the group why she feels the piece meets standard. Next the teachers decide as a group on the one piece that best meets the standard and represents the work they expect to see this time of year. In this case, first grade teachers selected John's work, How to Ride a Bike.

As a group the teachers write the commentary. In this case, first grade teacher Haley Alvarado acted as the facilitator for the group while Debbie Harbour acted as the scribe. The teachers created the Standard Snapshot below.

Standard Snapshots were developed to help parents understand what standard work looks like and to help them discern how their own child is doing in Writing. Parents will receive a copy of the Standard Snapshot above showing them what standard work for procedural writing looks like this time of year in first grade. Attached to the standard work is a piece of their own child's procedural writing. The parent can then compare how their own child is doing compared to a standard piece. Since very little writing actually goes home for the parents to see during the year (all student work is kept in a folder in the classroom), this gives the parent a view (or a "snapshot") into what is going on in the classroom. On Friday Standard Snapshots will go home for each grade in the school. This work also helps us benchmark our own work over time. As we review the Standard Snapshots over the years, we can actually see the progress in our own teaching and expectations!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Skills Block in February 2009

We had about 35 teachers and administrators from Hawaii, Oregon, Georgia and Pennsylvania visiting Chets Creek today. I had the honor of escorting a group to Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard's first grade classroom to watch their Skills Block. They begin just like they do every morning, with the Class Promise, led by one of their students.

Then it is on to a choral reading of a letter combinations chart which is also led by a student.

Next comes the morning message which is a review of the skills that the children have been learning including vocabulary, punctuation/ capitals, misspellings, and contractions. Maria holds up each child's name as they silently get in line to make a correction to the morning message. As the correction is made, each child turns and tells the class the rule that he is using to make the change. This ritual and routine is well embedded. The children are on a timer and after 10 minutes, Maria finishes showing the children the corrections. While the children find many of the mistakes, Maria identifies 4 more that they have not found. She then turns that into a number sentence of 100-4=___. Each day the children try to beat their score from the day before!
Next the children review antonyms and synonyms before they play a game. The game involves calling several children forward. A word is clipped on the back of each child. The class sees the word but the child doesn't. The class then gives the child clues such as antonyms and synonyms until the child guesses the word! What a fun review of vocabulary!

The final game is a review of ur, er, ir using Jeopardy. The Jeopardy game is set up beside a chart of words that the children have been studying using the specified letter combinations. A child's name is called and he gets to decide on the category, such as "er for 20". Cheryl then reads a clue to help the children decide on one of the words. Each child writes the word on his white board and holds it up. Cheryl then pulls the yellow cover off the chart to show the class the word. If it is spelled correctly, the child gets the points. Each child keeps a tally of his own score. The children really seem to love this game and can't wait to tell the teacher their scores!
In just 30 minutes, Skills Block is over, the children are cleaning up quietly as Cheryl begins reading a read-aloud as a transition to the Writers' Workshop. What a joy to watch this duo share their Skills block! I hope the visitors enjoyed it as much as I did!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Procedural Writing

Most of our first grade classrooms have recently completed a study of procedural writing, often called "how to" writing. Some teachers incorporate this genre into their nonfiction writing with reports and others treat it as a separate genre. The following is a good example of the writing we expect this time of year.

"Make a cupcake! For kids!"
Hey! Let your kids help with cupcakes! If you're worried, let them read this and you can help them! This will make them be able to know how to make cupcakes and to stay away from hot ovens! They will love it, making cupcakes with parents! Mixing icing! So fun!First you take flour, sugar, eggs, milk, a candle, a lighter and frosting and a bowl. And don't forget the spoon. Also the cupcake holder. (Notice the labeling in the picture!)

Next you take the ingredients and you take the bowl and spoon and mix it all together!

Next you take the mixture and pour it in the cupcake holder and put them into the oven.

And then you let a parent set the timer. Then you let it bake.

And then you let a parent take the cupcakes out of the oven and put them on the table.

Next with steady hands you squeeze and spread the icing however you want! You could also make designs!

Then you take the candle and put it where you want and let an adult light it!

And last you eat it!

There are lots of things to brag about in this first graders' directions for making cupcakes. You can tell, because of the change in paper, that the child added the introduction that orients the reader. The writer includes the ingredients and supplies that are needed and even remembers to label the ingredients in the first picture. She then writes clear steps for making the cupcakes and accompanies each next step with a clear picture. Transition words such as First, Next, And then, Then, And last are part of each step and she concludes the instructions with a closing statement, "And last, you eat it!" This is a delightful example of what you can expect to see in first grade portfolios this time of year!

Monday, February 2, 2009

1st Grade Writes About Sleepover

On Friday first graders had a shared event, their sleepover. This week many of them are writing about the fun day. While most of the stories are bed-to-bed, the students are showing amazing fluency and are even using the vocabulary we have been teaching (note "glorious" below). In this example the first grader also makes good use of dialog to move the story along. This is a memory that our first graders hold for a very long time!

My First Grade Sleepover
One nice morning I was so excited because that day was the day of the first grade sleepover, and then I got out of bed and I ran to my dad and yelled, "Get my pajamas!" He said, "Okay," back to me.
Then a few minutes later my Grandma got there. And I was so excited because she said she would come with me to school and she would take me to school and take me back home. I said, "Yeah!"
Then I said, "We need... my slippers, my flashlight, my p.j.'s, my lunch box, backpack, and my Grandma." "Okay, okay," they said. "Good," I said. My dad put my p.j.'s on. Then me and Grandma left the house to go to school. We said, "Bye" to my brother and my dad.
First we went and got slippers on, flashlights, and our teddy bears for our morning parade. Then we went in the cafeteria for Denny's for breakfast and danced with our teachers. Then we went to P.E. Then we went to play Bingo and I won Bingo. Then we are lunch in the classroom. Then

we went to art to make book covers. Then last we went into the library for a P.J's Party with Mrs. KK. Then I went home early with my Grandma and that was the end of that glorious day of the SLEEPOVER!!!!!