Monday, March 30, 2009

Passing it on...

Every now and then you have an opportunity in life to see something so special that you know it will stay with you always. I had that opportunity today.

After my daughter Courtney was born, I decided to stay home and enjoy being a full-time mom. However, as Courtney approached school age, I knew I would have to return to work (after all, we hadn't planned for me to take several years off!), but I just wasn't sure I could manage being the kind of mom I was committed to being and the kind of teacher I felt I had been before my children were born. I decided to try to get a job at the school Courtney would be entering so that I could better juggle my responsibilities. It just so happened that it was the year that Alimacani Elementary School, our new neighborhood school, opened, but... they were not hiring. As luck would have it (or as I like to think of as Divine intervention) the preschool teacher of children with disabilities had to leave shortly before the doors opened and I walked into the opportunity of a lifetime. Although I had 15 years of experience in Special Education, I wasn't sure I could recapture my love for teaching. I had really loved being a stay-at-home mom, but I need not have worried because Alimacani was led by a gifted and passionate administrator, Donna Hulsey. Donna has now retired but I credit her for putting me back in touch with all the reasons I had become a teacher in the first place. She made me believe again... and dream again. I fell in love with teaching all over again. It was in those days that Courtney went to school with me every day. She got there early and left late. She often played school with the other "teacher children" that stayed late. I remember she used to beg to stay even longer. She knew my room and the school like the back of her hand. As she got older, she'd go to the bus stop with me each day and sit beside this student or that and entertain them while the others came. She learned how to calm a child that cried as his mom left and what the favorite toy or activity was of each child. She knew how to soothe a child when they were hurt. I loved having her with me and missed her (most of the time!) as she left to go to middle school.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised after a couple of years in college when she said she thought she wanted to be a Special Education teacher, but I was. As a middle schooler and high schooler she had often been critical of the long hours that teachers put in for what she saw as so little money. When she left for college, I remember her saying, "I don't know what I'm going to be, but I do know I'm NOT going to be a TEACHER!" However, that is exactly what she decided to do. This semester she has been finishing her Masters degree from FSU by interning at Gulfside Elementary in Holiday, FL. Today I had the opportunity of a lifetime to visit her preschool classroom and watch in awe... my daughter, the teacher.

Courtney has been blessed with a seasoned supervising teacher, Mrs. Raco, whose knowledge seeps through as she talks so kindly and so knowingly about each and every child. She has guided Courtney through every step - has reinforced each effort and shaped each approximation. Mrs. Raco's assistant, Mrs. Garedelli, is also studying to be a teacher. Courtney has learned much from her calm and compassionate approach. As I watched Courtney today, I couldn't help but think of that little kindergartner who sat in my classroom after school every day with the teddy bears lined up in chairs reading them a story - only today she was reading to children who have put their tiny fingerprints on her life in way that will change her forever. I used to think that children were Divinely chosen to spend time in my class because of something I was suppose to teach them. However, slowly I realize it was not what I was suppose to teach them, but what they were suppose to teach me... and I have learned so much! Welcome to this field, my dear daughter. May your years as a teacher be blessed and may you always forever be a learner...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Impossible Patriotism Project:Book-of-the-Month February 2009

The Principal's Book-of-the-Month this year has been tied to technology. In February each class was given a copy of The Impossible Patriotism Project by Linda Keer. It is the story of Caleb who is confounded by his teachers' assignment of creating a project that represents patriotism for Parents' Night. As his friends get right to work by drawing maps of the country, making paper-mache Liberty Bells, and designing Statue of Liberty costumes, Caleb longs for help from a father he knows won't even be able to make the event. We are a school close to the Mayport Naval Base, so many of our students know first hand about sacrifices our armed forces are required to make to keep our country safe. Patriotism is very personal for them. Celebrating and thanking our men and women in the armed forces hits home for so many of our children and their families.

At the end of the Book-of-the-month presentation, the Principal asked each student to recognize the contributions of our troops by putting their thanks into writing. Classes could choose from a variety of opportunities. For instance, they could send a virtual postcard, could send individual letters of thanks, or could send a picture to be included in a school video - another opportunity to integrate technology into our teaching! View the video.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Persuasive Writing

First grade is being required to add persuasive writing this year for the first time. The county provided five lessons that we could use... Not exactly the resources needed to teach a three week unit! So... as a collaborative community our first grade teachers decided to work together to write lessons that we could really use - lessons that we could love. We started with adding persuasive writing to our first grade wiki. Our wiki has become our place to house all of our resources in a single place that are available on-line! Then we began looking for resources and teachers added them to the wiki as they found them - books, chapters, blog posts about persuasive writing, PowerPoints from the Internet - resources that we could order, grab or steal!

We soon came upon the small, quick read, A Quick Guide to Teaching Persuasive Writing by Lucy Calkin's Reading and Writing Project. Our principal ordered the inexpensive books which we all read and quickly decided that persuasive letters would be a great first grade start into this new writing genre. Before long a couple of the first grade teachers agreed to write some lessons in the four-part Lucy Calkins' format that we have adopted. I admit our first lessons were hand-written notes that were typed into a Word document and then sent through e-mail for another to edit. Soon someone suggested that writing the lessons into Google Documents would allow real collaboration (wasn't me, but what a GREAT idea was that!) The lessons could appear as they were first conceived, then edited by all of the teachers as the lessons were taught! And that is exactly what is going on.

Today we met at the halfway point in the unit to share charts, books, ideas and student work. The charts that were shared have already been added to the wiki. The books that were passed around have already been added to the top of the lessons in Google Docs. The ideas will be added as the lessons are revised and examples of some of the student letters that were shared appears below! How cool is this!
Dear. Mrs. Phillips,
I think we need a water park playground. Dry playgrounds are boring. Dry slides are making you go slow. It is too dry. It is not wet. We cannot play in water. There is no diving. There is too much sun. We cannot swim.
from Carter
P.S. - This playground is boring.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I really want a puppy. I'll walk it. I'll bathe it once I finish taking a bath. I'll clean my room for a month. I'll feed it too. I really want a puppy, because remember when I went to Ariann's house? I spent half of all my day with Second. I loved it when I got to hold Second and we got to play together too even though he bit me a few times. I still want a puppy. Having a puppy will give me more responsibility. Thank you.
Love your baby girl, Jasmine

Dear Mom and Dad,
Can you get me and Miles a puppy because we love puppies and we don't have one anymore and that makes us sad. I will help you take him or her for a walk, and I will help you when he or she is hungry. I will love him or her. I will help take care of him or her and I will help you with everything.
Love, Your daughter, Mia

Monday, March 23, 2009

Destination Success

Destination Success is a computer based program that supplements the county's adoption of the Houghton-Mifflin Core Reading Program. Today 25 Kindergarten-First-Second Grade teachers from Chets Creek spent two and one half hours each learning how to select courses for students so they can use the program. The program is on-line so parents will also be able to use it at home if they have Internet access. Woo hoo! The on-line program can be used as a challenge for our highest-performing students, as a safety for our struggling students, and as an enhancement for those students meeting grade level expectations. Seems like such an outstanding addition to our reading offerings...

The rub is that even today with only 12 or so teachers trying to use the program at once, the program cut off, stalled and was so slow that teachers began to double up so they wouldn't have so many computers going. This is the same experience that our children will have! I certainly can't give the techie explanation for why this happens but the way I understand our bandwidth is that the high schools are given first priority, middle schools next, teachers next and finally elementary students, so the Internet runs the slowest for our youngest children. Of course, I understand that priorities have to be made, but how frustrating will it be for a little kindergartner who is already challenged by two different sign-ons, to face such delays? How frustrating will it be for the teacher to be constantly called to "fix" the computer, because our youngest student thinks when it stops or is "thinking" that it's "broken"? The county has already put over a million dollars into this program, which has good potential as an addition to what we are already able to offer, but how effective can it be if we have to depend on students to use it at home? Doesn't that punish some of the very students that we so much want to reach who do not have the access at home? The problem is money, of course. Bandwidth costs money and we all know the limits right now, but... on the other hand, how can we provide for our digital natives in a way that can make a difference in their learning outcomes if we don't have the needed bandwidth to make that difference? Who are we kidding to say that our children have an on-line computer based support that can't really be used in most elementary school buildings because the program is so slow that children are disengaged? When will we wake up and realize that a million dollar investment will not be realized without more foundational support?

It is this mind set that is so frustrating to children, to teachers, to parents, to stakeholders. But... sometimes I wonder if anybody is really listening? Does anybody really care? Surely there must be a solution - but who will be able to think outside of the box enough to find it?

Update:  The program that the county spent a million dollars on was never operationally functional.  It's potential was never realized!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Professional Development 2009

Gotta love this picture! I NEVER like pictures of myself (they look too much like me!) but this one is from a column published recently of me playing Go Fish (very innovative and cutting edge, don't ya think?) with one of my favorite students!

A while back I did a question and answer interview about the professional development at Chets Creek Elementary for Teacher Magazine's Teacher Professional Development Sourcebook. I LOVE the way professional development opportunities are offered at my school. I look forward to them - no more "sit and git" at the Creek (where you just "sit" and and hope you "git" something!) At the mid-term this year we logged over 150 professional development opportunities at our school for our teachers presented by faculty in our building. Included were book studies, the Principal's book-of-the-month, video conferencing, grade level and subject level weekly Teacher Meetings, demonstration lessons, Geeks-at-the-Creek presentations, BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop), and live conference blogging. AND it's all on-going, embedded into the school day! The opportunities center around what WE each want to know as educators. We drive our own learning opportunities here which means we get a chance to model lifelong learning for the children that we teach! It just doesn't get any better than this. Make sure to check out the column.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lilly's Standard-based Bulletin Board

The TDRs put up a standard-based bulletin board this week featuring retellings of Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes. It is a culmination of a first grade unit with a goal of discussing and responding across books by a single author.
Each of the retellings begin with an engaging lead, include a retelling with the beginning, middle and end and conclude with a closing. Some of the retellings also include a connection in the opening or the closing. Below is an example of one of the retellings that is posted with the transcription following each page.

Have you ever got in trouble with your teacher? Well if you have you should read Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes.

Lilly loved school but she especially (loved) her new teacher, Mr. Slinger. One day her grandmother bought a new purse that plays music and (had) three quarters and movie star glasses. Isn't that fun?! When Lilly got to school she wanted to share, but her teacher Mr. Slinger told Lilly, "No!" But she kept showing her friends. Mr. Slinger took away Lilly's stuff!! She was sad. She thought. Then she got very mad. She made a mean note to Mr. Slinger that said, "Big fat mean Mr. Slinger." P.S. - When it was the end of the day Mr. Slinger gave back her stuff.

She said, "I don't want to be a teacher when I grow up" and her teacher said, "I like you." On the way home she found a nice note in her purse from Mr. Slinger. She was sad. Lilly felt she was going to cry. She ran home. She didn't watch her favorite movie. She put herself in time out for 1000 years. She counted a long time. After that Lilly felt better. She wrote a story about Mr. Slinger and her Mom made snacks for Mr. Slinger. When she got to school she said, "I am

really, really, really, really sorry." She gave Mr. Slinger the snacks. Everyone forgave Lilly. Then they danced to the music. Everyone ate the snack.

Did you have a blast reading Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse?

Teacher's Commentary: This student produced a detailed retelling of Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes. He asks the reader if he has ever gotten in trouble with a teacher. In doing so he creates an engaging "hook" that pulls the reader into his retelling. He also asks the reader to make a connection between his own life and the book. The retelling includes a beginning, middle and end. The writer provides a closing or "sign off" with the last sentence. The writer provides punctuation and capitalization to express his feelings and reactions of the characters. Quotation marks are used during appropriate dialogue and his spelling is easy to read. He also spells most high frequency words correctly, again fulfilling an important part of the language use and convention standard. Many of the sentences begin with transition words to indicate the direction of the story.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Introducing Lilly

One of Kevin Henkes' most endearing characters is Lilly who appears in several of his mouse books. As a special treat, Debbie Rossignol offered to come read her own special version of one of the Lilly books, Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse. Debbie is a third grade teacher at Chets Creek and has twins in first grade. She read for both of her children's classes - her own unique rendition of the book.
After Debbie finished reading the book, she invited the children to meet Lilly in the form of a live little white mouse. You won't believe what happened next! Debbie dropped the little white mouse and chaos erupted! You'll be glad to know that Debbie dropped the mouse by mistake. I'm not sure who was the most scared - the teachers or the mouse! Thank goodness, Mrs. Ruark did finally rescue the little mouse and we settled him into a rolling ball and a much quieter week with the class. However, there is no doubt that the class will remember this book - and Lilly's visit - for a long time to come!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

TLN-PLN as PLC (Professional Learning Communities)

There has been a lot of talk recently about PLNs (Personal Learning Networks). I have been reading and listening, but not really thinking about how much this really has to do with ME. Right after coming off of my year traveling as Florida's Teacher of the Year, I was invited to join a listserve, TLN (Teacher Leadership Network), and they have been my PLN for years. TLN is made up of educators across the country - many are Nationally Board certified, many are former state and national teachers or the year, many are published, many are well-known in the field. They regularly invite new educators to join the group and I have been inspired by their expertise, energy and enthusiasm. TLN has evolved from a listserve to an interactive platform that is collaborative, allowing for conversation, questions, and projects. For several years now they have kept me informed and have pushed my thinking on a regular basis. If I needed to know about almost anything, I could post a question or my thoughts about a series of subjects I am interested in and get in deep, thoughtful responses. As the years have passed, I have felt like some of these educators that I have never met, have become good friends. When the idea that the world is flat became popular, I felt like I knew exactly what they were talking about because of this connectedness.
At the same time that I was growing through TLN, I began sharing an office with Melanie Holtsman, our Instructional Technologist, and Suzanne Shall, our Instructional Coach. Talk about learners! These are teachers who have a thirst for knowledge- who refuse to be satisfied and who are risk-takers. They had become involved with Twitter. I had listened to them for quite some time as they twittered back and forth between friends at school and across the world. Melanie is a Google Certified Teacher, so her network has become even more impressive of late. They have both tried to encourage me to get involved with Twitter, but... on a recent trip when I tweeted "Time for Ed" instead of "Time for bed!" and couldn't take it back (my husband of 39 years is Jim!), I decided that maybe this just wasn't the right medium for me! However, on Friday my thinking changed. I had been working for about a week on merging lots of different e-mails of book recommendations from our County Teachers of the Year. I had also been adding pictures of the book covers. I was in a time crunch. To make a long story short, I had added a recommendation that had corrupted the file. I went to school on Friday and asked if Melanie could help. She tried a few things, but basically said she didn't think it could be recovered. As a last resort, she offered to put it out on Twitter. Within two minutes she had two responses from two different people in other parts of the country describing how to fix the problem! Not that's what I call a PLN. That simple tweet saved me hours and hours of recreating a document!

Dont get me worng - I still LOVE TLN for its thoughtful, in depth discussions of issues that make me think, but I have come to believe that you just can't beat Twitter for a quick, concise response. Maybe I'll just have to visit "Ed" again!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Funding Education

There has been so much in the news recently. Financial institutions, companies and stores that I have known all my life seem to be closing and crumbling at an alarming rate. I see families all over our school who are stressed as a member loses a job or work hours are cut back. Families in all walks of life are worried about how the "doom and gloom" of the economy might trickle down to their own lives. Forced retirements, increased medical expenses, mortgages, lack of credit are all common topics of conversation. I can't but help and wonder how all of this will effect education.

Our own county expects a $150 million deficit for next year. The fluff was the first to go, but there is not enough "excess" left to cover that kind of cut. Guidance (at a time when we may need it the most), Media, Art, Music and PE may be cut! My own husband, a PE teacher, just took and passed the Elementary Education test in preparation for a round of anticipated PE cuts. I can't even imagine schools without music and art and a media specialist to help us navigate the information highway- a school without health and sports... Essential supplies and materials could disappear altogether! We have always joked about having to bring our own toilet paper to school, but maybe it's not a joke after all!

While this crisis is world wide, it seems to hit Florida education especially hard because our state has not always funded education as a top priority. The Lottery, with its promise of education plenty, has merely supplanted funds. It was obvious recently just how short sighted our legislators are with the proposed cuts in National Board supplements (some of which the Governor recently vetoed to restore). Our legislators don't seem to understand the research that supports the strength of candidates who have been Nationally Board certified. They don't seem to get the depth that is needed to actually teach a child to read. We have endured years of underfunding in our state and now we are paying the price. Recently our Superintendent explained that Florida is ranked 50th in the nation for funds allocated and spent on education! 50th! How is it possible that we could have allowed that to happen?!

It is time for us, as educators, to lead the way and use our collective voice to demand that our legislators listen. In all of the rhetoric that we hear among the law makers, we cannot allow our voices to be minimized or silenced. We must advocate for the children in our care. It is our moral and ethical responsibility to the next generation. Whatever we do, it will be our legacy to the future. We cannot just stand here and accept what happens. We must make the public understand that education matters and that in a state where money is already at the bottom of the barrel for education, there simply is no more room for cuts. If it really matters to you, how will you make sure your voice is heard?

Big Chicken: March Book-of-the-Month March 2009

This is a time of the year when we talk about fear and risk and being brave. As teachers and students face our state's high stakes assessment next week, we often do a book-of-the-month that has to do with worrying such as The Worrywarts. This year Principal Susan Phillips introduced Big Chickens authored by Leslie Helakoski and illustrated by one of our favorite artists, Henry Cole. (Henry has been to Chets Creek a couple of times and we are expecting Leslie Helakoski next month!) Beside our Principal loves chickens and it seems that at least once a year, we have a Book-of-the-Month About chickens!

Of course, taking risks and being brave is more than a skill we practice for the high stakes test each year. It is also part of our theme, "Around the World in Technology in 180 Days." This year teachers are taking risks and overcoming any fear they feel about integrating technology into their classrooms. The challenge this month is to use technology as a response to this book of the month and then to post a blog about it! Melanie Holtsman has set up a separate blog for the posts! We have learned about so many different techy tools this year and we are all at different levels of integrating the tools into our classrooms, so this project will provide the ability to differentiate by the breadth of opportunities!

The whole purpose of the books-of-the-month this year is to give us, as teachers, an opportunity to try out technology so that we feel more comfortable with it. It will not become embedded in our daily practice unless we can use it quickly and comfortably. We are, of course, frustrated, as all schools have things that they need that are blocked by our county for our own protection but there is still so much that we can use to make our teaching more visible, more timely, more authentic. How I appreciate the "opportunity" to be pushed to think beyond my comfort zone and to embrace the digital natives that I teach. Stay tuned as this project unfolds in the weeks to come and then is opened up to the world wide web.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Retelling with a Graphic Organizer

As we teach our first graders to retell a story orally and to write a response that includes a retelling, we often use a graphic organizer to help our youngest hold the story in their heads. One of the graphic organizers we use with our Kevin Henkes Author Study is below.
The triangle represents the beginning of the story and includes the characters, setting, and problem. The three rectangles represent the middle and main events in the story and the circle represents the ending solution. This simple structure often helps students recall the entire story and sequence so that they can retell and write the story that they have heard or read.

Below is a sample of the students holding each part of the organizer so that they can talk through the pieces of the story as a class before they "turn and talk" their way through the story with a partner before they individually write their response to literature.