Saturday, October 31, 2009

The New Online Gradebook - Trick...or Treat?

This week our first report cards of the the year goes home. What's different about this report card is that it is based on a digital grade book. Now I could fill this post with all the absurd frustrations of actually taking a large district and converting it from paper-pencil bubble sheets to digital grades or I could spew my editorial comments about how those at the top need to talk to each other so teachers wouldn't spend useless hours away from actually teaching to learn such a flawed system while the countless errors are worked out, but that really serves no useful purpose. Maybe that's just the steps that have to be climbed in this pioneering new technology age (Okay - just one more jab - it seems like if those in charge did their homework, much of the frustration could be avoided. It's not like this is the very first time in the history of education that a digital grade book is being used!)

Instead I would rather write about how a digital grade book philosophically might change the way that kindergarten teachers grade. In the past, at least in our school, Kindergarten teachers have generally given grades based on where the child ends the nine weeks. The grade reflected where the child finished the nine weeks, based on the expectation (standard) at that point in time. So let's take reading, for instance. We knew that we wanted all students to be reading at a "B" level (Fountas-Pinnell) by the end of the kindergarten year which we converted into meaning that the child was "Satisfactory" (S) by the end of the year if they could read at the B level. An Unsatisfactory (U) would be below the B level and a child would be excelling (E) if s/he performs above the B level. Our teachers worked on a "guideline" to help them have a consensus grading system for each nine weeks, so that "Satisfactory" in Communications looked the same in each of our eight kindergarten classes. We set a Reading expectation for the end of each nine weeks with a goal of reading that B at the end of the year. Communications also included what writing should look like at the end of the nine weeks and what Skills should look like. It was that combination of grades that made up the final nine weeks Communication grade. In other words, we were looking at where the student was at the end of the nine weeks, not an average of where they were over the course of the nine weeks.

However, now with a digital grade book that will open to parents, we are wrestling with the fact that the parent will want to look at grades as the nine weeks progresses and that if we put in a weekly grade for parents to see, the digital grade book would average those grades. So now, not only are kindergarten teachers wrestling with the mechanics of doing a digital grade book, they are also wrestling with all the nuances of weighing certain grades so that the final grade actually reflects what they really want to say to parents. The question becomes should Kindergarten teachers really record where a child is at the end of the nine weeks or should they simply average a set of numbers based on weekly numerical grades? This would be quite a paradigm shift for Kindergarten teachers.

In Kindergarten, of course, teachers can still override a grade that is averaged because in Kindergarten teachers are given a lot of leeway. In the past, the fact that Kindergarten is really different had been recognized in the grading system and pupil progression plan. In a "system" such as a digital grade book, that expects to meet the needs of K-12, however, that understanding sometimes seems to get lost.

It still remains to be seen if this new on-line grading and reporting system will be a treat or just a trick? Will parents who have not come to conferences and who have not been involved in their kindergartner's education become more involved because the grades are available on-line? Many kindergartners really need the nine weeks to adjust to being in school (some for the first time) and the rituals and routines of the classroom. Will parents with children who just need time become overanxious if the teacher gives grades the first week of school and their child is not performing at the parents' expectation - fears that might be better addressed in a conference? The mission will be how to take what we know about our youngest children and make sure that this step forward is developmentally appropriate in a system that is designed for the full range of K-12. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Shared Reading - Pumpkin Style

Shared Reading is a way to present text for an entire group of students to enjoy at the same time. By definition the teacher has a common text, such as a chart or big book, that the entire class can see at the same time. Kindergarten teachers often use shared reading to teach seasonal songs and poems. In this case, Haley Alvarado presents the fall favorite, "Five Little Pumpkins." The students first learned the poem as the teacher pointed to each word. They found sight words and learned the sequence words, first, second, third, fourth, fifth. Next they practiced fluency by learning to say the green words using expression. Finally today they practiced individual parts with their pumpkin props by having the class read the verse and letting individual children take a turn to read a single line.
"... and the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight!"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Writing About a Shared Event

We had our traditional Literacy Character Parade last week. Each child wore a costume and brought a book to represent one of their favorite book characters. This shared event was lots of fun for the students, so to infuse that same enthusiasm into the Writers' Workshop, we made individual writing paper for each student using one of their pictures from the parade. How excited the children were to see their picture on their writing paper! Because they were able to skip the drawing, they spent the entire time writing. Below is one example of a kindergarten student's writing about her photograph at this special event during a single writing work session. You can see the results of this student's last few conferences with the teacher as she is now using a capital I when referring to herself, is using spaces between words and is beginning to use "stop dots" or periods at the end of her thoughts.
I went to the
parade and I saw my
mom was there.
I love you Mom and Dad.
I was a mermaid.
I had a mermaid
book. I keep the
book in my mom's car.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Writing about the Field Trip

One of the reasons that we take field trips in Kindergarten is so that our children will have shared experiences to write about. So... children across the grade level have been writing about their day at the Diamond D Ranch. Below are some examples of the writing in a single class. The children were given half sheets of paper and encouraged to write about a single event on each half sheet. After working for a few days, each child stapled his single pages into a booklet titled "My First Field Trip."

I went on the bus. It was good.

My favorite part was when I fed the cows.

...and I went on the bounce house.

I was brave.

...and I rode on the horses.

After the children completed their books, they were taught how to give compliments and suggestions. The teacher divided the children into partner groups so they could practice rereading their work and also practice giving and getting compliments and suggestions. They were taking the first steps of learning the rituals and routines around peer editing.

From another kinder class (Ms. Lewis) comes this sample of writing about the common shared experience of our field trip to the Diamond D Ranch.We went on a
field trip to Diamond D
and my favorite
part was feeding
the animals. There were
goats and it tickled
my hand. The farmer
game me the food.

I fed the
animals by putting
my hand in the
gate. I did
it lots of times.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Believe in YOU!

Have you ever watched another teacher do a lesson and been so impressed and thought you could never plan a lesson that well? I had that experience this morning.

Each year our school celebrates Fall by having each K-5 homeroom choose a favorite book. Then each class uses pumpkins to bring that book to life. The book presentations are set up in the lobby the last week of the month for all the students to enjoy. For 15 years I have watched homeroom teachers go through this ritual in a variety of ways. Sometimes they simply give the project over to the homeroom mom and just ohhh and ahh when she brings in the perfect pumpkin presentation. Sometimes the teacher lets the children choose a book and then she or homeroom volunteer moms design the pumpkin. They might let the children help paint the pumpkin but the finished product is something unbelievable and almost wholly completed by the adults. However, today I was in Haley Alvarado's kindergarten class and her idea for this project blew me away and was unlike any I have ever seen!

The children had voted to bring the book The Three Billy Goats Gruff to life with their pumpkins which is truly one of their favorites. Each table group had chosen one of the characters to own. Haley invited in four moms - one for each table group. I'm not sure what the moms were expecting, but they were given the instructions to let the children help them decide what color to paint their pumpkin and then to brainstorm with their group how to make the ears, horns, nose, eyes or whatever they decided that the children wanted. I have always been a Special Education teacher and so the idea of giving that much control to the children made me shake in my shoes! I guess I am somewhat of a control freak and I was always the homeroom teacher who liked very calm, organized plans - most often where I knew exactly what the outcomes would be-especially with behavior. However, as Haley explained what the class would be doing the children were so-o-o-o excited. The moms took suggestions and discussed options until each team agreed on how to decorate their character. Some even took a vote when they couldn't come to consensus. What an incredible experience! The children were engaged and could hardly wait their turn to share their incredible suggestions. When the kids came back to the carpet, they couldn't stop talking about their great ideas! The children owned this project!

I applaud a teacher who really trusts children and who believes that they can far exceed any ordinary expectation we may set for them. Haley is that kind of teacher. She believes that children can make decisions and solve their own problems... and it shows.

Stellaluna: Book of the Month October 2009

Today was Boss' Day, so, as is our tradition at the Creek, the faculty celebrated with a breakfast and gift to our Principal. That is how we opened the October Book-of-the-month this morning.

Our Principal, Susan Phillips, chose an oldie, but goodie, to read to the faculty as we settled down with our delicious breakfast snacks. To activate our schema she asked us to recall our first day at Chets Creek. Teachers told funny and poignant stories of their first days. She then dedicated this book-of-the-month to our new students to Chets Creek this year.

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon is a beautiful book for this time of year about a little bat who is separated from her mother before she is old enough to fly. While Stellaluna adapts to her new bird family, she is pretty excited to be reunited with her bat family. When she realizes that she really is a bat, she also finds out that she doesn't have to eat any more bugs, that hanging by her feet is really okay, and that she really can see at night. The bigger lesson, of course, is that different is not always bad. It's just different.

Each classroom got a copy of this traditional book. Paired with this delightful text was a revisit to a strategy that we learned early in our America's Choice training - accountable talk. It's a strategy used in many classrooms on a daily basis but probably new to some of the teachers who have joined us in the last few years at the Creek. It will be interesting to see if seasoned teachers revisit this standard and use this book experience to find ways to deepen their discussion of books. It is an opportunity for kinder teachers to revisit how they introduce book discussions to our youngest learners. As the Principal talked about the book she drew us back to those stories of first days that the faculty had shared at the beginning of her presentation, took us through those same "new" experiences that Stellaluna felt and then asked us to think about the new students in our classrooms. Enjoy the Principal's presentation.

At the end of the day our Principal spent some time talking to a kindergartner about her book-of-the-month choice. They decided to try hanging upside down just like Stellaluna - just to see how it feels! Wonder what they decided?!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Supporting Second Language Learners

One of the most outstanding standard-based bulletin boards this month is the board presented by Nina Thomas and Laura Sambito's kindergartners. This board supports the second language students in their classroom, describing the strategies that they are intentionally designing to support students who speak a second language.

Mini-lesson. During the mini-lesson of Readers' Workshop the teachers use visual cues to support their second language students as they introduce comprehension. The poster on the left is a typical kindergarten poster that shows students the story elements of some of our "Star Books." In this case the teachers have intentionally used visual aids instead of words to support, not only their second language students, but all of their young non-readers.

Work Session: Independent Reading - As children leave the mini-lesson to practice their new skills during independent reading, the teachers understand that although reading is difficult for any five year old, it is even more difficult for the student learning English as a second language. One of the things that these teachers have done is to pair children who speak the same language together so that they can use both their native language and their new language to support their learning. The teachers have noticed that the second language learners are able to discuss the stories in much more detail when they are able to speak with someone in their native language. They have seen the students' confidence soar. The teachers have also created story webs as a visual representation of what they want the students to do. In this case, they have even written the directions in the student's native language to help parents understand the expectation when the sheet goes home later in the week.

Work Session: Literacy Centers - Students practice the retelling skills they are learning in Literacy Centers. In this classroom the teachers make sure to have puppets, flannel board characters, costumes and sequencing pictures for each of the stories that they are studying to support the second language students as they learn to comprehend and sequence new stories. While this is good practice for all young learners, these props are intentionally added to make sure that second language students have optimal opportunity to participate in oral storytelling.
About 18% of the population at Chets Creek includes students whose parents speak a second language at home. Although we have many, many languages spoken the highest percentage of families speak Spanish. Second language learners are the largest growing population at our school. One of our School Improvement goals addresses our need to make sure that these families and students are supported throughout their time at the Creek. It is obvious that these kinder teachers are thoughtfully considering accommodations to make these students successful in their class. To help parents, they have even provided the commentary for this board in two languages!

Mother Goose is on the Loose!

It's time again for teachers to put up new standard-based bulletin boards. The Mall-ard Kindergarten Team  have used their imagination and humor to showcase the work they do around Nursery Rhymes. The Nursery Rhyme unit was written at Chets Creek with the goal of providing more phonological awareness activities early in a child's school career using familiar words. Supporting resources can be found at the Chets Creek Kindergarten wiki.

Rhyming - Children practice rhyming many words early during this unit. They rhyme the words in the poems. They think of other words that rhyme with words in the poem. They can be seen playing Rhyming Bingo and Rhyming Lotto, matching puzzle picture couplets that rhyme, sorting pictures into rhyming groups and singing songs with rhyming words. As demonstrated on the left, children can be assessed by giving them a word and having them draw pictures of words that rhyme with the given picture.

Clapping Syllables - The Mall-ards show other work of students on this bulletin board around phonological awareness such as an assessment of the children showing that they can identify the number of syllables in a word. The children have done this activity using a variety of words many times orally. They have clapped their names and their classmates' names. They have clapped and sorted pictures as a group into the number of syllables for each word.

Beginning Phoneme Identity- In this activity children practice writing their name by putting it into a rhyme and then thinking of another word or picture that begins with the same sound as their name. There is nothing as powerful as using a child's own name!

Vocabulary - Because the words from the rhyme are used for many of the phonological activities, it is important that the student knows what each word means. We want words to have meaning from the very beginning and not be just a group of sounds that have no meaning. This activity of drawing some of the words in the rhyme especially supports our second language learners who may not be as familiar with these traditional American rhymes. As the teacher makes sure students know the words, she is also teaching the child one-to-one correspondence as she encourages each child to put one finger under one word as she says the poem to figure out what the word is that is to be drawn. The teacher reinforces looking at the first sound to help figure out the word - all reading strategies that are being taught simultaneously in Readers' Workshop.
Beginning, Middle, End and Sequencing - At the same time that students are learning about the beginning, middle and end of stories in more complex "Star Books" during Readers' Workshop, the students are practicing this same skill in a simpler way during Skills Block. Many of the Nursery Rhymes are actually short stories and by sequencing the events of the story and drawing the beginning, middle and end of these very short stories, the children are practicing the same skill that we will be asking of them in Readers' Workshop. We are asking them to identify the beginning of the story with its characters and setting. We are asking them to retell the middle of the story, identify the problem and then to remember the events in order. Finally we ask our children to retell the end of the story by explaining the solution to the problem. Because the Nursery rhyme is short and simple, it is easy for the teacher to use the rhyme to reinforce these retelling strategies and also the reading strategies that she is teaching such as using your finger to point to each word, using the first letter of a word to help you guess the word, and looking at the pictures. It is while reading nursery rhymes, which are in the child's independent reading bag and are going home each night as a book-in-the-bag, that most children begin to believe that they are really readers!

The Mall-ard Team is also known for its humor so no board would be complete without something that just makes you laugh out loud. This month that little something extra is pictures or Mrs. Mallon and Mrs. Dillard dressed up like little black sheep. No adult or child can look at those adorable pictures without knowing that this is a team where children laugh every day and simply enjoy the thrill of learning.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Let's Go Reading Two by Two

One of the rituals and routines that we expect our kindergartners to be able to do is to read with a partner. During the work period of the Readers' Workshop we often extend individual reading by reading with a partner for another 10 minutes. We are always amazed at how the children are able to teach each other!

The teacher introduces this new routine in the mini-lesson by choosing one of her students to partner read with her. She "fish bowls" the lesson. In other words, she and the student partner read together while the other children watch. Then she invites the children to help her made a list of what they observed in this good example of partner reading. Next she often demonstrates some non-examples to make sure that the students are clear about what should and shouldn't be happening.

We teach our youngest learners to sit with their legs folded knee-to-knee, shoulder-to-shoulder with a book in between. We teach them to each bring a book to the floor and then talk about how to choose which book to read first. Next the teacher talks about taking turns so that one child reads or retells a page and then the other child takes a turn. After the teacher introduces the partner reading routine, she calls partners to go pick their books and then assigns them a space on the floor. The teacher is very intentional about choosing partners. She often makes sure to divide behavior problems and to choose students that will help each other along the way. The partners are usually reading at about the same level.
As the children practice reading together, the teacher goes from partner to partner helping them refine the routine. "Remember you both should have a turn reading. Do you have the book in between? Are you knee-to-knee and shoulder-to-shoulder?" After about ten minutes the children return to the group, discuss the experience and add any other ideas to the chart. This is a routine that will be part of their reading program as long as they are at Chets Creek. It often is a favorite reading time for the children!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Jumpstart: Read for the Record sponsored a worldwide event today to celebrate reading. The idea was to break the record for the number of people listening to the same read aloud on the same day, October 8, 2009. I don't know if they broke the record but our kindergarten teachers knew we wanted to participate when we found out the book would be one of our favorites, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. We will be studying Eric Carle's amazing collection of books in our Kindergarten Author Study later in the Spring so we just couldn't pass up the opportunity to get a free book to add to our collection and to give our little readers a sneak peek at our favorite author. Today we read the story and then read it again with props, worked a Hungry Caterpillar puzzle and then made our very own books to take home and read to our families. Enjoy some of the highlights .
The Very Hungry Caterpillar was actually released 40 years ago so it is a book that has been loved by children for many years. Today our kindergartners joined the club!