Sunday, November 22, 2009

Writing About Pow Wow

As we have been moving through our unit on Native Americans, the children have been working on reports about their Native tribes. Most kinder classes began with reports about themselves at the beginning of the nine weeks because there is nothing kindergartners know more about than themselves! During Readers' Workshop the children have been reading and investigating nonfiction text and learning about nonfiction text features such as titles, chapter headings, labels, Table of Contents, etc. The expectation is that children will begin to use these text features as they write their reports.

As the children were beginning to write about their tribes, they had many experiences to build their background knowledge. Each class studied the types of houses the Natives lived in and then built replicas of those houses with their families during Family Night. They learned about what their tribes wore and then helped to dress a cardboard cutout in tribal gear. They also made many of the pieces that they wore during the Pow Wow. The Nootkas learned, for instance, that the spears that they made were used to spear whales. The Seminoles learned that the ribbons they made were used for ceremonial dances. The children learned what the Natives ate and then tasted some of the foods during the Pow Wow activities. Throughout the activities, the stories that they read and the research that they did, each child learned so much that they could write about!

Teachers depend on our Kindergarten Native American wiki for the research about their tribes.  The information is continually updated by each teacher each year that teaches the tribe.  It saves teachers an enormous amount of time!

Below is just one example of a kindergartner's writing from Miss Sasso's Hopi tribe. Nate has a title for his book, Nate's The Hopi Book.

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Miss Sasso gave each child a form to help them organize a Table of Contents. Nate's Table of Contents includes:
1. What did the Hopi eat? 1
2. What did the Hopi wear? 2
3. Where did the Hopi (live)? 3
4. How did the Hopi travel? 4
5. Snake Dances 5

Nate begins each chapter with a question. Notice also how he uses labels and in this chapter, a list.
What did the Hopi eat?
red beans
yellow orn
What did the Hopi wear?
Girls wear mantas and boys wear kilts.

Where did the Hopi live?
Indians lived in Arizona and adobe. To get up to the top they needed a ladder and windows.

How did the Hopi travel?
The Hopis walk in feet.

Snake Dances
The Hopis need snakes for the Snake Dances.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pow Wow: The Main Event

This morning was a beautiful sunny day. As the drums began to beat and over 200 kindergartners began to pour into the Pow Wow arena dressed in authentic native attire, my mind drifted back to my first Pow Wow. My first Pow Wow was in 1990 at Alimacani Elementary School. It was the first year the new school opened. At the time my daughter Courtney and I were both part of that Pow Wow. She was a kindergartner just beginning her school journey and I had returned to teaching after a leave of absence as a stay-at-home mom. Back then we did a very generic Pow Wow with our brown dyed pillowcases and a grocery bag headdress of feathers. We colored large macaroni and strung then into necklaces. We painted war paint on every child's face. As a tribute to my daughter, who began her first year of teaching this year, I wear the clay Pow Wow medallion that she made that first year, as I have every year since then, and I also keep her picture on my desk during this season. It is a reminder to me of why we spend so much time making memories for our children at Chets Creek. Pow Wow is one of Courtney's favorite elementary school memories.

Ten years later a new school was built in our area and Chets Creek opened its doors with many Alimacani students and teachers. Susan Phillips was one of the Creeks first kindergarten teachers and she brought the Pow Wow tradition with her from Alimacani. She, of course, is now the Principal at Chets Creek and still uses her original native name, Chief Jumping Frog, named for the frogs that dominated her kinder classroom. During the years that she has led Chets Creek there has been quite a transformation in our Pow Wow ceremony. We have spent quite some time researching Native American tribes in hopes of presenting our children with an authentic picture of life back then.  We have tried to recreate the clothing that the tribes might have worn then. Each of our eight kindergarten classes represents a different tribe from a different part of the country. We have chosen to learn about native dances, authentic songs and to celebrate native music. The unit now is one in which we celebrate diversity.

This morning the sun shone through the trees as eight tribes entered the Pow Wow arena. The tribes danced and sang as their families snapped away, catching each precious moment on film.

It really does take a village for us to pull off  Pow Wow! As the tribes left the main event - the Pow Wow - they spent the rest of the day working their way through Centers manned by the Resource Team (PE, Music, Art...) that provide a culmination to this important appreciation of cultural differences. Take a tour of the centers. Children spent time in an authentic tepee with Peaceful Waters Media Specialist KK Cherney, each taking a turn with the talking stick to tell their friends what they are thankful for this Thanksgiving season. They visited a longhouse with Speech Therapist Moe Dygan listening to a real outdoors man talk about his hunting experiences and letting the children touch many of the artifacts before tasting a venison wrap. Then it was time for tapping out authentic tribal beats on drums with the Music teachers and going on a Native American scavenger hunt with the PE teachers. Watch out for the bears and buffalo! Using natural dyes to paint with one of the Art teachers and working with clay with another helped the children understand the crafts and art of native people. The children even participated in a Native American Bingo game to help synthesize their experiences with the different tribes. This is a well organized learning event for our youngest learners. I'll bet the children - and the teachers - sleep well tonight!

Update: Visiting with us at Pow Wow was a photographer, Kristina Broome, from our Duval County Communications Department. She has written a beautiful article for our county about the event that includes a Flickr photostream. The article and pictures form a wonderful overview of the event. Enjoy!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Shared Reading in Kindergarten

I wrote about our new idea for vertical professional development last week. We gathered for a day around the single topic of "shared reading." During the day we saw shared reading in Kindergarten, First Grade and Fourth Grade. Below is the video of the Kindergarten demo lesson. Enjoy!

K - Shared Reading - Mallon Dillard 10-09 from Melanie Holtsman on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pow Wow: The Unit Unfolds

As each classroom investigates their Native American tribe, each child works on parts of his/her Native American clothes to wear for the Pow Wow celebration. In Haley Alvarado's classroom the boys paint poles to turn into spears that the natives may have used to spear whales and larger fish. As the boys worked they talked about all the the fish that the Nootkas ate because they lived near the ocean on the Pacific side, much like we do today.

Each child also worked on his/her own small leather bag which would have been made from animal skin and decorated with shells and beads. The mighty Nootkas gathered medicines from the forest to keep in the little medicine bags.

The girls especially enjoyed making necklaces. They loved the beads with the fall colors, so like Nootka girls might have strung.

The girls also worked on weaving baskets. A couple complained because it was just "so hard!" As they worked they talked about the Nootkas also gathering turtle shells to use as larger bowls and shells to use for spoons. Some of the children wondered how hard it must have been to fix food when the First Americans couldn't even go to Publix! It must be so hard for our little ones to imagine what those early days must have been like. Gosh, it's hard for me to imagine!

The girls made shell head bands earlier in the week, but today the boys added shells to their loin cloths. Then they modeled the leather pieces and even danced around. enjoying the moment!

These same activities are going on in each Kindergarten classroom although the clothing for each tribe is different. One of the best parts of Pow Wow is what the children learn as they work on their costumes. We count on parents to make much of the costume but it's the part that the children make themselves that is the most fun and where they learn the most about people of long ago. What a fun, fun, FUN Friday the 13th!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Long Night Moon: Book of the Month November, 2009

This month's Book-of-the-month connects the entire Chets Creek family by choosing content that weaves its way through each child's Chets Creek career. The Kindergarten tradition is to have students participate in an authentic study of tribal nations around the Thanksgiving holiday culminating in a Pow Wow celebration. First graders are invited to attend the actual Pow Wow, along with families, to commemorate and write about their memories of the Pow Wow experience. Fifth graders revisit the same tribes as part of their Social Studies requirement during November. Students individually and in small groups make glogs and as a class develop an authentic scaled representation of the tribal grounds for the tribe they are studying. They present these class dioramas to the individual Kindergarten class that is studying their same tribe and then present them again for family and friends at a Kindergarten-Fifth Grade Family Night.

To honor this Kindergarten to fifth grade connection Principal Susan Phillips chose as this month's selection, Long Night Moon by Cynthia Rylant. Watch her reading the story as Chief Jumping Frog. It's a beautifully illustrated poem in the Native American tradition. This is a book by a favorite author that will be read to legions of children who pass through our doors. They will first hear the story in Kindergarten, and before they leave on their final leg of their elementary journey, they will hear it again with a new depth of its meaning and beauty in 5th grade. 

The Natives Come Marching In - Family Project

One of my favorite family projects during Pow Wow is the cardboard cutouts that go home with each kindergartner. Each family is to research the specific tribe that the class is studying and then as a family, they are to decorate their Native American. The native projects were due today. The kids were so excited as they came into the room sharing their projects with each other. In most classes each child had a chance to tell about their project. You could see the research and discussion that had gone on in each home as the children described why the natives used bark for cloth or shells for decorations, depending on the individual tribe. They also told about how they made their First American at home and which parts they did and which parts their parents did. From the simplest to the most ornate the children were so proud of their work. The examples shown are from the mighty Nootka tribe of the Pacific Northwest.
For representations of the peaceful Lenape tribe, check in with the natives from the Mall-ard's tribe.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Difficult Side of Building Relationships

One of the things that Chets Creek is known for is its collaboration. It's not that we just started with a group of teachers who amazingly liked each other and who shared common goals! From the very first day the doors opened, the leadership intentionally worked on school culture and built a collaborative environment one brick at a time. It's also not like the hard work was done early and so now we just coast - always hiring all the right people and putting each one on the right grade level so we all live happily every after! Some have the perception that we all just get along and work together seamlessly! Oh that life were so easy!

Although we are very intentional about the interview process and are very particular about the people that we hire (after all we want them to be as happy with us as we want to be with them), we do look for diversity in style, talent and experience. We would never grow if we all came with the same set of skills. I think what we have figured out over time is that teams that work well together don't just happen and aren't always just magically compatible. It takes WORK and the key ingredient is finding people who are honestly willing to do the work and who understand that building relationships is the foundation!  It's really not about the age or experience or degree or any of the things you might think are the most important.

In fact it is the story of this year's Kindergarten Team. This is a highly talented group of 13 women! They each came with their own talents and strengths but it was not love at first sight for this group. Some of this team had worked together before - cliquish? Not exactly... They perceived themselves as a well oiled machine who easily shared responsibility. They were used to jumping in, getting right to work, and getting it done. They had built a mutual trust and respect for each other. They had accomplished amazing things together. Add to that some new players - a mix of interesting personalities, budding leaders, both perfectionists and those with laid back styles. Most came from other grade levels and experiences. Most had had great experiences in the past and felt they had lots to offer to this group, but really floundered to find their place in this unusual mix of teammates. As rumors swirled about a split team, drama and discontent, this group could have turned on itself and imploded, but instead they honestly addressed their concerns and frustrations. They decided to build rather than destroy. Last night those that were available got together over good food - laughed, played games, and just enjoyed being together. Some came early before other engagements. Some had to leave early because of other commitments, but the feeling of comraderie was there.

I'd like to say that now they all love each other unconditionally and will live happily every after. The truth is that they are doing the work that makes teams successful. They are finished with the "storming" process (common to many new teams) and have moved on to building bridges. They are investing in relationships and are recognizing and respecting each other's talents and abilities. I'm very proud of this team. I am sure there will be other bumps in the road, but I am also confident that this team will weather the storms.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Vertical Professional Development

One of our challenges in professional development at the Creek has always been to move our seasoned teachers forward while at the same time offer foundational work to our newcomers. Accomplishing this type of differentiation at an individual school with limited professional development time has been challenging and sometimes frustrating. We don't want our seasoned teachers to start on lesson one at the beginning of every year, repeating the same content year after year, but at the same time we don't want to leave our beginning teachers behind. We have also always wanted teachers to take more personal responsibility for their own professional development. We want the time that they spend learning to be be useful and applicable. I am sure you have been to hundreds of training sessions that were "required" where you left and felt like you had wasted your time. We have been committed to trying hard NOT to have teachers say that, but how do you meet the many and complex needs of such a large faculty?

This year we decided to try something new and different. We are offering whole days of instruction around a single topic. The topic is chosen based on what teachers identified as their number one need earlier in the year. The day is open to anyone that feels like s/he wants to learn more about that particular subject. The day includes the topic with information from K-5 so that teachers leave with both deep and wide knowledge of the subject. There is some reading/ research about the topic, multiple demos and debriefs with an emphasis on vertical conversation.

Our first day this year was a Science day. Our first Reading/Writing day was on the topic of "Shared Reading." The group included about 10 teachers representing most of the grade levels who had chosen this topic as one they wanted to further investigate. Susanne Shall, our Instructional Coach facilitated the training. She gave each teacher a reflection sheet (on the right) to take notes during each of the live demos. The sections on the reflection sheet included What Shared Reading is... What Shared Reading is not... Artifacts, Resources, Implementation ideas for my classroom.

Kindergarten, of course, was the natural starting place, and Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard did not disappoint. They began by reading a new "sounds chart" together - one that they will do every day for quite a while. Next they demonstrated how they use the sound chart to practice new skills and to review previously taught skills in their Morning Message. This too was another example of how they use shared reading. Then they let us peek into a rereading of a favorite Joy Cowley big book. They have been doing an author emphasis of the many delightful Joy Cowley big books since school started. This was their third day of working with this book, and to reread it for the demo, each of the teachers and two of the students took parts while most of the reading was done chorally by the entire class. After this shared reading, the children were asked to match some of the phrases in the book with sentence strip phrases. Finally as yet another example of shared reading, the teachers brought out a chart with the words to a new color word song for the students to practice singing together. All of these examples were part of their Skills Block. When you leave Maria and Cheryl, the one thing that you absolutely know for sure with so much learning going on, is that they are having fun and so are their students!
Then it was off to first grade with Carrie McLeod. The interesting thing about Carrie's presentation was that the children used a familiar text that was enlarged on the document camera so that all of the children could see the words. While this is a common way for intermediate teachers to find an enlarged text to use for shared reading, it was an a-ha for me. I have become so accustomed to pulling out laminated charts from previous years and using my set of big books, that I had forgotten how easy it is to take any text and enlarge it on the document camera. Duh? I am kicking myself for not thinking of this strategy to use with the many rebus nursery rhymes that are on the web while we were doing nursery rhymes. It is this sort of professional development that can introduce you to new strategies, remind you of some that you have used in the past or help you find new and easy applications of strategies that you already know. We debriefed both lessons, finding the things that were alike in the lessons and the things that were different. All of the teachers who taught the lessons joined us for the debrief.  Watch the lesson.

The Principal provided lunch for this group (isn't that a treat?!!) so we could work through our lunch time, getting to know each other better, trading ideas and gaining new respect for those that teach other grades. We jigsawed a text on shared reading to get the researched best practices and then it was off to fourth grade.

Jenny Nash is one of those teachers that is just a natural so it is always a pleasure to watch her teach... anything! She began by having the children read a poem by a familiar author, Roald Dahl. It was a funny poem with a part for the teacher and a part for the class. It required the children to really understand the poem to use their voices correctly. Jenny often uses poetry in her intermediate classroom because it is shorter than a story, picture book or chapter and poems often have interesting punctuation and phrasing, perfect for oral reading. Jenny then took two familiar texts to enlarge by flashing them on the document camera, one that had punctuation clues to help the reader know how to read it and another with and and or without punctuation that still required the reader to understand the passage to read it correctly. Watch the lesson. These were both great examples of how to use shared reading in the Readers' Workshop to enhance comprehension at a more advanced level.

One of the great things about a day like this is that it is relaxing and yet you feel like you've really learned something when you leave. You feel like you really understand the concept presented and the activities and conversation help you to figure out how to incorporate the topic into your everyday teaching. What a delightful way to ENJOY professional development! Can't wait until the next day.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mem Fox and Google Map

While this year's blog is all about what's happening in Kindegarten, I just had to share this lesson from first grade from our Mem Fox Author Study. One of our goals this year is to integrate the technology that we are learning seamlessly into our instruction. In other words we want to move from just creating something using technology because it's new, cute, and fun into thinking about how to reach a learning objective using technology because it's a better way to engage our children or because we can teach them to use the technology at the same time we teach an academic goal.

That is exactly what happened in Rachel Bridges and Heather Correia's first grade lesson. Our first graders have studied Mem Fox for many years. One of the challenges of her books is the fact that many of the places and foods are from her homeland, Australia. While it helps to read many of her books as an author study and to exposed our children to the Australian culture along the way, it also presents some challenges to the comprehension when so many of the places, foods, native plants and animals are so foreign to our American children. That is certainly true of her book, Possum Magic , where Possum Magic tours the country, visiting many of the larger Australian cities and eats many foods native to the Aussies. Our children often get confused by all the unusual names for the cities and foods as they try to retell this story.

As a way to help children remember the sequence of this story and to help with the names of the cities and foods, Rachel and Heather brought up a Google Map of Australia and let the children travel around the country identifying the main cities and the specific Australian food that were featured in each city. As this unit moves along the children will have the opportunity to taste many of those foods. After Rachel had the children help her trace Possum Magic's journey, one city and one food at a time with her, she gave them their own map to complete. Watch the lesson.

This is such a perfect example of what we are trying to accomplish this year in technology - weaving the technology seamlessly into a lesson to enhance the students' understanding of what they read! 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Place for Wonder

My first interest in A Place of Wonder was its author, Georgia Heard. I mean, GEORGIA HEARD! Who wouldn't want to read what such a gifted writer and poet had to say?! This book that spans Kindergarten and First Grade, is a non-fiction cross between Debbie Miller's Reading With Meaning , Lucy Calkins' Units of Study for Primary Writing, Kathy Collins' Growing Readers, and Stephanie Parsons' First Grade Writers. Georgia Heard (whose own child was in Jennifer's classroom) and Jennifer McDonough (a looping Kindergarten to First Grade teacher) begin to establish a sense of wonder in Jennifer's Kindergarten classroom as the book opens. Each chapter in the first half of the book gives the teacher a step-by-step process for adding a piece of wonder in those early kindergarten years.

The second chapter of the book delves into teaching children to write non-fiction by building on that sense of wonder. The teachers ask the children to name their three wonders and then teach them to keep their wonderings in wonder boxes. Next they teach children to write books about heart wonders (as opposed to research wonders) such as, Where does magic come from? Why do we have families? Why do I love my dog?

The final section of the book teaches children the nuts and bolts of Nonfiction Research Wonder Writing. Some of the chapters include Trying on Topics, Writing Leads/ Beginnings, Wow Words, Using a Question-answer structure, Diagrams, etc. Although there is not a lot of new information in this book if you have read the four books in the opening paragraph, it's the way that the authors capture wonder and curiosity and teach the children to use it in their writing that is a breath of fresh air. This is an amazing addition to the primary teachers' bag of tricks as they teach non-fiction writing.