Thursday, May 28, 2009

That four letter word - FCAT!

The rest of the elementary FCAT scores came in this morning, our high stakes assessment. Writing came in a couple of weeks ago and 3rd grade came last week so 4th and 5th, the last to come, were in today. The 4th and 5th grade teachers anxiously walked straight into the conference room as they arrived this morning. You could see the stress on their faces as they sat down to highlight the students in their classes. They were serious and focused. You heard celebrations - Oh my gosh, Joe got a 4! - Can you believe Sammy got a 3? Woo hoo! Look how many 5's we had! You also heard the sighs and the questions - I knew he wasn't focused when we took the test - What happened to Jerry? Could she have missed a page or bubbled in incorrectly? Just as soon as they completed their highlighting, you could see them turn to their teaching partner and begin to celebrate, question, discuss and reflect.

Although teachers stress, we have been and continue to be a very high performing schools.  We have little dips and we have spikes and peaks but if you look at the trend, we stay in the top 50 schools in Florida an at the top of the pack in our county.  Still teachers worry about every single student.

As I watch this scene every year, I hate the visible pressure that teachers feel... but on the other hand, it is a time of deep reflection. I heard a teacher who had 100% of her children reach 3 or better this year say, "After 24 years of teaching I think I finally found the answer in using small groups to make the difference." For teachers that didn't do as well as they expected, I saw their devastated faces but also heard that many of them came back down to discuss their results with the principal, trying to figure out how to change their results for the next year. Isn't that the promise of assessment? Can we really change student achievement through instruction if we are not brutally honest with where we are and what the problems are? We need to know what works and what doesn't work.

Don't get me wrong. There are so many things I would change about testing - especially the weight that is put on a single test, the fact that the measures are not the same across states, and who can be exempted from taking the test at all - but there is also much about the accountability that helps us improve our practice. And isn't that the point?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Homework - What Do They Really Think?

I posted about how much I hate homework a couple of weeks ago and stirred up lots of conversation at my school, so I decided to actually write a survey to go home with K-1 parents to see what they thought about homework. Do they appreciate the structure and training that homework provides or would they rather wait a few years and have the kids spend time playing in these early years? I wanted the survey to be open ended so parents would feel free to share some of their thoughts and creative ideas for improvement.

Chets Creek Parent Survey
About Homework in Grade _____

We have been having some discussions about homework and are interested in how parents feel about homework at Chets Creek. Please fill in this form and return it to your teacher or to Julie at the front desk. Thank you for your time as we refine our homework practice.

About how much time did your child spend on homework each week? ___________

Did your child do a little homework each night, complete it in a couple of nights or complete it all on a single night? ______________________________________________________________

What was your child’s favorite homework activity? Why? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What was your child’s least favorite homework activity? Why? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What are your favorite homework activities? Why? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What are your least favorite activities? Why? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

If you could change one thing about the homework at Chets Creek, what would it be? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Other comments about homework may be written on the back.

I have posted the results and my analysis of the Kindergarten survey on the Kindergarten wiki and the results and my analysis of the first grade survey on the first grade wiki.

Using the data, this was my analysis of the parents' response to the first grade level homework.

What did I learn from the 2009 Kindergarten Homework Survey?
To me, first grade is about beginning to teach children independence in homework. In kindergarten it was about sharing with the parent what and how their child is doing in class but as we get to first grade, we are moving to having the child do more of the work independently.
What I do see in this survey is that we have some teacher mavericks in first grade who have added and changed the grade level homework significantly! Grade level homework is a non-negotiable, although adding additional homework is generally accepted. For instance, several parents talked about the teacher moving from letting the children complete the homework however they wanted during the week to assigning specific homework every night. That takes away much of the choice that children and families need and that has been so successful for us in the past. I would caution teachers from doing this.

Another parent talks about being required to read two extra books every night in addition to the homework. I am sure that this is an at-risk child who needs the extra reading, but the parent should be offered the choice of having the extra books sent home “in addition to” or “instead of” some of the grade level homework. Nothing is gained if the parent is fighting the help!

It concerns me that any child or parent would think their nightly book-in-a-bag is “baby-ish” or boring or that a child wouldn’t have a choice in what he reads each night so... that brings two questions to mind – Is the teacher changing out the books often enough so that the reading continues to be challenging and engaging? What are the rituals and routines in the classroom that a child doesn’t have a choice in the book he brings home to read at night?
Parents are mostly satisfied with the first grade homework and wouldn’t change a thing! Hoorah! Some work a little each night and others complete thehomework all in a single night using whichever method works best for their family. Parents seem to appreciate that flexibility. However, these are some things to think about:
  • The homework is written to take about 30 minutes a night or 2 hours a week. Maybe a note on the homework after the first month should state that if it is taking longer than 3 hours in a single week to complete, the parents need to contact the teacher! Any family that is working 5-7 hours a week on homework certainly needs some intervention!
  • Math homework is popular! Woo hoo! Most of the parents who identified math as a least favorite activity for them or their child said Math just wasn’t their favorite subject or their child struggled in math.

  • There seem to be some parents who want more homework and some who want less homework and even the parent that wants us to differentiate for each and every child! However, in all of those comments I wonder if we cannot build in more choices so that parents that want more work or more challenging or creative homework can choose those activities, and parents who believe that homework really interferes with their quality family time can choose simpler, quicker options that work for them. As long as the learning is similar, the time shouldn’t matter.

  • A few surveys mention children liking technology or wanting more computer options, so maybe technology can be one of the choices that we try to add. It also meets the criteria of fun and motivating!. We realize, of course, that all of our families do not have technology in their home, but many parents have expertise and would love sharing with their child. For instance, sending in the game points for a computer Math game that is highlighted might substitute for the math homework for the week if both require subtraction skills or writing the directions for how to play a computer phonics game might be a choice instead of a similar writing assignment.

  • In the area of choice I also wonder if those parents and children who hate activities with glue because they are so messy, could simply be given the option in the directions of writing the words instead of gluing. Both assume the same learning.

  • I like the idea of Extended Day completing homework for working parents, which I actually thought was being done in first grade. Maybe completing homework in Extended Day could be one “choice” (children reading book-in-a-bag to a partner) and maybe a math activity/sheet. The regular homework could be sent home for those families that want to do extra but the Extended Day option could also be used and could complete the homework requirement for the week.

  • How about Monday to Monday homework? That gives parents, that want the option, the ability to do it over the weekend, which a number of parents requested. It could still be written with “4 days of homework with the weekends off” in mind, but just give that extra option for families that want to take advantage.

  • I wonder if we have made the best use of Science in homework. Maybe Science experiments or hands-on Science activities could be added as a choice.

  • After the mid-term when comprehension passages are added, maybe the child could choose to read the comprehension passage OR the book-in-a-bag, but would not HAVE to do both. Maybe it is too much to do both and maybe the comprehension passages really are boring for those children that “get it” the first time. Maybe we could put a criteria such as, “If the child reads the passage within ___ minutes or with less than ___ mistakes”, then they can choose another option. Or I really like the idea of giving the child the option of having the parent read to them occasionally instead of doing book-in-the-bag. I love the idea that a parent would read a chapter book, for instance – think of the model for the child to listen to fluent reading and the vocabulary possibilities – or the parent sharing a favorite book from their own childhood. I think these would be easy options to add.

All in all, I learned a lot from this survey. It tells me that we are going in the right direction and that parents generally think first grade homework meets their needs and expectations. They also offered some interesting ideas for us to discuss and consider!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Chets celebrates 175 live lessons to the Schultz Center!

Today we completed our 175th lesson live to our professional development site at the Schultz Center! The concept originated as a collaboration between Dave Conte at the Schultz Center and KK Cherney at Chets Creek. It uses video conferencing technology with equipment that is owned by the Schultz Center. We first began over five years ago sending live lessons to the three Literacy 101 classes (k-1, 2-3, 4-5) at the Schultz Center. The Schultz Center gave us a topic every other week and then we found teachers at Chets that were teaching a similar lesson and asked them to teach a lesson live around the topic and debrief afterwards with the teachers in the Literacy classes at the Schultz Center. The goal was to produce a "real" lesson that the teacher would actually be doing instead of offering a "dog and pony show." Those first teachers were such risk takers! They had no idea what to expect (almost anything that can happen has happened live! - including kids losing teeth, throwing up, a fire drill!) Many of the teachers visibly shook as they began those first lessons. Even then, they almost always said they were willing to do it because they knew what it would have meant to them to be able to visit a real classroom early in their own careers. Opening your door and showing the world what you do can be frightening in a culture that had done so little of that! Transparency has not always been the name of the game in education. Over the years we added the first live lessons to the Academy of Mathematics and the Academy of Science. We did the first lessons for the Literacy Leaders (the Academy of Reading). We spent a year broadcasting lessons back and forth between Chets Creek and Carter G. Woodson, an inner city school in our county. We even broadcast a lesson live to Hollywood, CA for a presentation at the National America's Choice Conference - even dealt with the four hour time difference!

We have been fortunate to have leadership at Chets Creek in Principal Susan Phillips that has allowed us to do "whatever it takes" to accomplish the live streams. She has released technicians and coaches from their normal responsibilities to support lessons. She has paid for subs when they were needed out of her own budget. She has encouraged reluctant teachers. She has praised every single teacher that was willing to take the risk with kudos in her weekly Memo and often with a coveted award at the end of the school year. KK Cherney, our Media Specialists, has also been a huge part of our success. She has been our "larger than life" cheerleader and has NEVER said no. She, along with JB Boyd, have operated our equipment and dealt with every type of problem there is! They have been unfailing in their knowledge and support. Our coaches, too, have stopped whatever else they may have had on their plates, to work with teachers when they wanted to discuss a lesson or wanted someone to come watch the day before or wanted someone to co-teach the lesson with them. They have offered whatever level of support the teacher needed for the debrief from sitting with the teacher and answering the tough questions to simply standing in the shadows as their major cheerleader. So many times someone could have said, "It's not worth it." "It's too hard." "We can't do this." "I don't have time." "Why should we do this? What are we getting out of this anyway?" but those words have never been uttered.

Our founding Principal Terri Stahlman taught us that we have a moral and ethical obligation to share what we learn with our colleagues. Susan Phillips continued that mantra and it continues to be a cornerstone of our work today. Besides well over 2000 visitors who have visited us by actually walking our halls in the past five years, we have hosted thousands of others virtually through video conferences. I think we have been fortunate to have the opportunity to do these lessons. We too have benefited from both our successes and our mistakes. Each has been a new learning opportunity. We have benefited from making our work transparent.

I applaud the many, many Chets Creek teachers who have trusted us enough to say yes when we have asked and I personally thank Dave Conte for always believing that we could do it. Terry Kasza, Schultz's technician extraordinaire, has also supported us through every lesson. Ann Peterson, another important player from the Schultz Center, has led the K-1 Literacy 101 debriefs from the beginning. She has also never failed to protect our reputation and smoothed out any "not so perfect" lessons by finding the best in the lesson to discuss. She has often e-mailed our teachers to let them know how much they are appreciated. I think she has always understood how difficult it is for teachers to put themselves on the line, but her kind words and notes have made a world of difference.

I am so very proud of this body of work and the difference that it has made, not only in our county but in our own professional development. I can't wait to see what the next five years will hold! So... bring it on!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Mommy Track - Working Moms

One of the great delights in my life is having my daughter-in-law teaching with me at Chets Creek. Like so many of our young teacher moms at the Creek, she has just taken maternity leave with her second child. She returned to teaching TODAY! Today - in the pouring down rain she walked into school with her three year old on one arm and her three month old in a carrier on her other arm. Hanging off every spare space on her body was "stuff" - extra diapers, wet ones, a packed diaper bag, the three year olds' lunch, a large black pack with an electric pump, her own handbag and who knows what else. She looked drenched and exhausted just getting everything in and then out of the car and then driving in the traffic across town with two little ones in the pouring down rain!

She met her sitter at school under the grayest sky and drenching rain. She put both her car seats in the sitter's car - all of that before her day even started! Her husband, my son, like so many dads, is unavailable. Wes plays AAA baseball with the Atlanta Braves so he left for Spring training in February. Randi has basically been a single mom since then. Working full time and all the responsibilities of being a mom fall squarely on her shoulders.

As the day ended - after meeting with her new second grade team all day - my grandchildren were delivered back to school by the sitter. With the rain storming and the wind whipping Randi put both kids in the car with all their "stuff." She had asked me to bring the extra car seat base for the infant carrier, but of course, I had forgotten, so while she waited in the car with the kids, I drove home to get the base. We hadn't really gotten all the car seats down for the new baby, but I pulled the first base I saw from a high shelf and drove back to school. As I watched the rain run down Randi's face and drip drop off the ends of her hair, she put the base in her car and then the infant carrier - didn't fit - wrong base! So back home again to find the right base but there wasn't another one, so I brought back an infant carrier from the garage - surely it would fit the new base. No such luck! So while the baby cried and I tried to sing away the stress with the three year old - Rain, Rain, go away Come again another day - Randi went inside the school to get the base from the sitter - once again in the rain. I watched as she moved infant carriers and bases and made room for the new ones, holding onto the baby and soothing the three year old all at once. I noticed how the rain was fogging up the windows or was it from all our hot air inside? As Randi FINALLY got the right carrier in the right base, she realized she would have to stop to get gas before she could get on the road. What next? All this and she still had to go across town in the traffic - did I say it was raining?

I guess I'm writing this because I so admire the young women at my school, especially my daughter-in-law, who teach the children of this generation while trying to make sure that they offer quality to their own families. It is a difficult struggle - a constant juggling act - to work full time and to try to be supermom - or at least not to be cranky mom. I'm sure Randi was EXHAUSTED when she finally got home today with her hungry and very tried children, but she, like all the rest, will come back tomorrow. She will stand at the door after dropping her own children with the sitter and give each child in her class a smile and hug and be truly glad to see them. I think she realizes that the children she teaches, as well as the children she gave birth to, are her legacy. I stand with great respect and in sheer admiration.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

About Homework...

In reading this post recently from the New York Times, I could really align with the writer. I am not a believer in lots of homework for early learners. I have read the mountain of research that shows "homework confers no benefit — enhancing neither retention nor study habits — until middle school." While I do believe that the right kind of homework can be a good way to share with parents what their child is learning, I would much rather children had time to play - especially time for creative play. In a society that values qualities for their workforce like versatility, creativity, vision — and playfulness — I worry when we try to structure a young child's life at home toward additional academics. I can't tell you how many times I have had a conference with a parent of an at-risk child and the parent tells terrifying stories about spending hours and hours on homework at night (homework that was designed to take 30 minutes or less!) with a tearful child and stressed out parent. Homework time becomes a power struggle and a battle ground and nobody wins!

If we have to have homework for our youngest learners, I prefer homework that is project-based, if the parent is going to participate, with lots of choices for how the project can be completed. I want homework that becomes quality time for the parent and child. I am not interested in the kind of project where the parent takes over to present a designer finished project. I am tired of hearing parents say, "I got an A on that project!" As teachers, I wish we valued "a child definitely had his hands on this project" more! Earlier in the year, I remember a class assignment where some of the classes decided to try an open-ended project after an author study. The children had to present a book of their choice, but they could choose the type of grouping (individually, small groups) and the way that they presented (for example - a poster, Readers' Theatre, a puppet show). I remember being amazed at the creativity and the way that the groups functioned together. The end products were not professional, but the learning that came out of the project was amazing! That's more of what I would like to happen at home - where the goal is the learning, sharing and quality time together.

My favorite reading homework is simply about listening to your child read and reading to your child - and reading something that is delicious! My kind of homework would be cuddling together in bed and reading a book about a favorite subject or a story that you loved when you were a child -discussing it and playing the parts, practicing voices and generally having fun with the assignment - not half listening to a book while you cook or drive to practice in the car - an assignment that has no interest to you or your child. My kind of homework would be playing a game - perhaps a board or even a video game together - and then discussing the best strategy that you used - or watching a television program or cartoon together and discussing what connections you made to your own life or perhaps to a book you have read - or stopping by to watch someone decorate a cake while you're grocery shopping and then going home and writing Grandma a letter all about it - or helping to cook dinner and then writing the recipe down to send to the family or collecting for a family cookbook.

I HATE homework that requires the parent to reteach or to try to figure out what the child should know because the child seems not to have a clue! Even with this philosophy, I have trouble in my own school really influencing the homework trends. It seems that when we move in a direction of choice and "less is more," then the very next year less choice is given and more is added! Even with grade level homework which tries to minimize work at home, teachers feel a need to add some more of their own.

I know teachers are often pressured by parents, especially of academically gifted children, to give more homework, so the change would have to be for both teachers and parents. You don't HAVE to give homework in EVERY subject to be a good teacher! For instance, I would like to do away with spelling tests and spelling homework because the research says that memorizing a list of spelling words will not generalize and that the child will not spell those words correctly in their writing, but when we've tried to do away with spelling, teachers often say that it's one of the things that parents feel comfortable with and know how to do with their child.

I certainly don't have all the answers about homework but I'd love to hear what you think. Maybe we'll do a survey and see what our parents think...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Send them shopping?

Today a group of kindergarten and first grade teachers met to work on our wikis (it's hard to believe that just a year ago, I thought a wiki was some new game!) We looked at both the kinder and first grade wikis and discussed our intent - to gather together resources that would move our work forward. We decided on some guiding principals:
  • We would decide on an organizing structure for each page so that items could be found quickly and efficiently.
  • We would look at the quality of each item. The purpose of the wikis is not to find everything that has ever written about the subject, but to gather the fewer things that can move our work forward - resources of quality.
  • We would describe each item so that a teacher could peruse the list quickly to find what she needs. We would think about our new teachers to make sure that the description adequately described each resource.
  • We would be visual as much as possible, including pictures, videos, charts, etc. to make the resources come alive.
At that point we divided into pairs and looked at the same items on both the kindergarten and first grade wiki so that the two would have some organizational similarities. For instance, the team that looked at author studies, looked at the Eric Carle page in kindergarten and both the Mem Fox and Kevin Henkes pages in first grade. We listed all of the pages on the board. Each team chose their own task and then checked it off when it was finished. This is an intense, detail-oriented, time-consuming task that can quickly numb the brain!

The team broke for lunch with most of the participants choosing to go off campus for lunch - a guilty pleasure for a teacher who normally eats very quickly with small children! After the group had been gone for an hour, I got a phone call! They were stranded at Panera's due to car trouble and needed a ride back to school. We hopped in a van to go pick them up and what do I find when I arrive? SHOPPING! This group uses every second productively so while they had to wait, some of the group decided to shop! While they bought a few things, they did assure me that they had worked on our project on one of their iphones during lunch to make sure they made the best use of their time! One of our newest hires was a little distraught that one of her first pictures on the web would be of her shopping instead of working, but she told me to assure Mrs. Phillips that she would work to make up the time! Too funny!

Actually it was a good break for work that is so intense and takes such focus and concentration. When we got back to school, the group buckled down and worked that with fervor. I think the entire group was pleased with our results. Even with the work today, the wikis are still just a work in progress. They will not ever be finished, but will continue to be a place where we can house our newest finds to make our work the most efficient and productive. Probably the best product of the day is teachers who have been given the time to really explore each resource and to think through the best ways to organize for the best usability. I am sure this group will continue to work throughout the summer and next year on adding and editing which, after all, is what this idea of a wiki is all about - a collaboration so that the final product is better than any of us could have done alone. Check out our kindergarten and first grade wikis. Let us know what you think!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New Kindergarten Team

One of the things that we do well at Chets Creek, is making decisions early so that we have a good jump on the new year. Last week the new Kindergarten Team for the 2009-10 school year was announced and today they met together to plan for the new year. It's a great mix of current kindergarten teachers mixed with looping teachers who are returning to kinder for a new loop and even a second grade teacher joining the kinder kids. The new Team began the day with a "Getting to Know You" activity, led by Standards Coach Suzanne Shall. With a lot of laughter, they learned some very interesting facts about each other!

Then it was down to work as they discussed the Kindergarten non-negotiables which are listed below:

CCE Kindergarten Non-Negotiables
Outlined by the Chets’ Creek SIP and America’s Choice Reform

Time for Subjects:-One hour Readers’ Workshop (year will begin with 20-30 minutes and work up to one hour by the end of the year)
-One hour Writers’ Workshop (year will begin with 20-30 minutes and work up to one hour by the end of the year)
-30 minute Skills Block (year will begin with longer Skills Block and will streamline to 30 minutes by the end of the year)
-One hour Math Workshop (year will begin with 20-30 minutes and work up to one hour by the end of the year)
-15-20 minute Everyday Math Counts Calendar Math
-Science 15 minutes daily, long Wednesdays 45 minutes (100 minutes a week)

Communication with Parents-Weekly newsletters are required
-Folders sent home daily
-Written notes in folders or emailed, kept in file
-Blogs are highly recommended but optional.

Homework-Homework will include daily book-in-a-bag
-On average, including book in the bag, no more than 30 minutes nightly.
-Homework in place on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, sent home on Mondays. -No homework on weekends.
-Uniform grade level homework is encouraged.

Million Word Standard
-Each student is responsible for reading a million words a year.
-Million word standard is attached.

-Book of the Month attractively displayed and accessible to students.
-A bin for books-of-the month accessible to students
-Data Notebooks (F.A.I.R. Profiles, DRA’s, Math Profiles, Interventions for at-risk students)
-Portfolios for each student of final work in Writing
-Writing work-in-progress folders available daily for each student
-Cumulative writing folders for each child of all the work done, which may be cleaned out at the end of each nine weeks, with samples of work kept
-Classroom writing rubrics in all 5 genres of writing written with the class, by the end of the year
-Teacher-made Charts demonstrating mini-lessons in Reading and Writing – a visitor should be able to walk into your room and know what was taught that day by the charts in the front of the room
-Portfolios in Mathematics
-Math artifacts (Teacher made charts, 100’s chart, number lines with negative and positive numbers, manipulatives)
-Every Day Counts Calendar must be visible and maintained

Standards-Based Bulletin Boards-The standard-based bulletin board is intended to be a window into your class instruction.
-SBBB will be displayed by the deadline date with at least the following components: Standards, Task, 4 pieces of student work, teacher commentary. They may also include student commentary, circumstances of performance, rubrics, etc…
-No SBBB due in August (“Something Good about You” instead posted for Orientation), December, March, or May.
-One board in each subject area (Writing, Reading, Math, Science, Work-over-time).

Standard Snapshots
-Will be designated on the yearly calendar and done collaboratively.
-Each student’s piece of work will be attached to the snapshot to be sent home on the specified date.
-There will be a snapshot for each subject, Writing, Science, and Math.

Diagnostics-Kindergarten will administer the FKLRS at the beginning of the year
-Kindergarten will administer FAIR three times a year during the state administration periods. Teachers will give the assessment to their own students and will be responsible for recording their own information in the computer
-Math Diagnostics will be copied in-house and teachers will be responsible for recording and turning in results on the computer
-A common report will be sent home at least at the mid-term with report cards.

Curriculum-District Learning Schedules in Mathematics will be followed and can be found on Riverdeep.
-District Learning Schedules in Science will be followed and can be found on Riverdeep.
-Reading, Writing, and Skills Block Pacing Guide will be designed by Chets Creek. The Scope and Sequence of skills in our district adopted Houghton-Mifflin core reading series will be followed.
-Eric Carle Author Study will be integrated into the Reading and Writing Pacing Guide.
-The grade level will maintain a wiki of additional resources at

Grade Book
-No grades will be taken on homework.
-There needs to be a reasonable number of grades to average for an overall grade. (at least one every two weeks)
-Even though kindergarten grade are not as rigid as other grading, the grade level will discuss consistency on what is being graded

Melanie Holtsman, our Instructional Technologist, followed and walked us through making our own websites on the new OnCourse attendance and grade book program that we are piloting. Then if was off to lunch for a little more bonding time! What a gift to be able to leave the building for an adult-type lunch!
After lunch the Team selected veteran Maria Mallon as their Team Leader - a teacher with wisdom and organizational skills whose up-beat personality will lead this team with a skip in her step. The Team visited Riverdeep, the county on-line curriculum, to look at the Science learning schedule and standards. They walked through beginning of the year resources on the wiki and talked about things they want to add to the kindergarten wiki on Friday when some of the Team members will be meeting to work on the Kindergarten and first grade wikis. Finally, they ended with a little quiz (see below- how did you do?) A grade was not taken, of course, but the questions were used for discussion to make sure that all of the teachers retained information needed for beginning the new year.

Phonemic Awareness
1. Phonemic awareness is ___________.
0 a. the ability to match letters and sounds
0 b. the ability to hear and manipulate individual sounds in words
0 c. the ability to hear rimes and onsets
0 d. all of the above

2. Where can you find activities for phonemic awareness for the beginning of the year?
0 a. Chets Creek’s Nursery Rhyme unit
0 b. Houghton Mifflin Teacher’s Guide
0 c. FCRR’s K-1 Student Activity Centers
0 d. all of the above

Phonics3. At Chets Creek we introduce letters and sounds using ___________.
0 a. letter of the week
0 b. the names of the children in the class
0 c. letters in alphabetical order
0 d. none of the above

4. Star Names refers to a program adapted from _____________.
0 a. Elizabeth Sulzby
0 b. America’s Choice
0 c. Lucy Calkins
0 d. all of the above

5. Where on the wiki can you find information to help you start the year with phonics?
0 a. the county’s Learning Schedule on Riverdeep
0 b. the Houghton Mifflin Teacher’s guide
0 c. Skills – Star names
0 d. all of the above

Comprehension6. What are Star Books?
0 a. a list of books to read at the beginning of the year
0 b. a list of books that have good narrative story elements
0 c. a list of books that are good for retelling
0 d. all of the above

7. Where did the idea for Star Books come from?
0 a. teachers at Chets Creek
0 b. America’s Choice
0 c. Lucy Calkins
0 d. all of the above

8. What was Elizabeth Sulzby’s contribution to the idea of Star books?
0 a. she provided the research
0 b. she provided the titles of books
0 c. she collaborated with Lucy Calkins and America’s Choice
0 d. all of the above

9. If a child tops out of the Sulzby levels, what do you do next?
0 a. send home a word list
0 b. give a DRA2
0 c. work on fluency
0 d. all of the above

10. How do you know if a child is ready for a DRA 2?
0 a. child makes the letter sound connection in writing
0 b. child reaches level 7-8 on Sulzby
0 c. child sounds like they are reading, even though they are only retelling
0 d. all of the above

11. What can be found on the wiki to support reading?
0 a. the list of Star Books
0 b. the Sulzby levels
0 c. vocabulary to support Star books
0 d. all of the above

Vocabulary12. The vocabulary program we use in Kindergarten at Chets Creek was written by _______.
0 a, Lucy Calkins
0 b. Text Talk
0 c. America’s Choice
0 d. none of the above

13. The vocabulary program we use at Chets Creek in Kindergarten comes from _________.
0 a. Star Names
0 b. Star Books
0 c. Text Talk
0 d. none of the above

14. Activities for the vocabulary program we use at Chets Creek are based on __________.
0 a. The Art of Teaching Vocabulary by Lucy Calkins
0 b. Vocabulary in Kindergarten by Patricia Cunningham
0 c. Bringing Words to Life by Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown
0 d. none of the above

15. Vocabulary activities can be found on the wiki under ______________.
0 a. Skills – Star Names
0 b. Reading – Star Books
0 c. Vocabulary
0 d. all of the above

Fluency16. At the beginning of the year fluency in kindergarten is based on ______________.
0 a, the number of words a child can read in one minute
0 b. the number of letters of the alphabet the child can say in one minute
0 c. the number of words a child says in one minute
0 d. all of the above

Math Investigations17. Where do you find the directions to the Every Day Counts Calendar pre, mid and post tests?
0 a. I make up the questions to match the pictures.
0 b. They are in my Every Day Counts Calendar book.
0 c. I find the directions in my box each nine weeks when the student tests are copied.
0 d. There are no directions because there is no test.

18. Why would I use the rekenrek?
0 a. to count how many days we have been in school
0 b. to add and subtract numbers
0 c. to use as another tool/ strategy like the number line
0 d. all of the above

19. How often should I play the math games?
0 a. once a month
0 b. twice a week
0 c. every day
0 d. never - Who wants to go to all that work to play a game?

Science20. Where would you find the science standards for the upcoming year?
0 a. on the pacing guide
0 b. on the Kindergarten Wiki
0 c. on Riverdeep
0 d. all of the above

21. What model of instruction do we use in Science at Chets Creek?
0 a. Scott Foresman
0 b. inquiry based instruction
0 c. the 5 E model
0 d. all of the above

Assessments22. What assessments will Kindergarten teachers be giving in the fall?
0 a. F.A.I.R. and FKLRS
0 b. Sulzby and DRA2
0 c. Chets Creek Kindergarten Math Diagnostic
0 d. all of the above

23. What assessment will take the place of the DIBELS?
0 a. DRA2
0 b. Chets Creek Kindergarten Reading Assessment
0 c. F.A.I.R
0 d. all of the above

Standard-based Bulletin Boards24. How many standard-based bulletin boards are required of each teacher?
0 a. 9
0 b. 8
0 c. 7
0 d. 6

Kindergarten Wiki
25. What can you find on the kindergarten wiki to help you beginning the year?
0 a. resources for teaching phonemic awareness through nursery rhymes
0 b. a list of the Star books to begin read- alouds with vocabulary activities
0 c. activities to teach phonics through the names of students in your class
0 d. all of the above

I think Chets Creek teachers value their day of preparation. They can leave for the summer with a strong sense of how they can prepare for the new year. Some, of course, will do little preparation until the very end of the summer and others will be working every day, but, either way, the information is there when they are ready. Some of our teachers, who have never taught anywhere else, don't realize that this is not common practice in most schools. Having been in a dozen school in several state, I probably appreciate it more than most and am grateful to have the type of leadership that values this type of team building. It is a gift beyond words and one of the reasons I LOVE teaching at the Creek!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Finding Doubles

First grade teachers asked second grade teachers to come into a Teacher Meeting a couple of weeks ago and let them know what things they really need to work on for the last nine weeks of first grade. One of the things that second grade teachers identified was that children coming into second grade needed to have fluency with doubles (e.g., 2+2=4, 3+3=6). They wanted to make sure that the children know the doubles and know them quickly. That led our Standards Coach, Suzanne Shall, to teaching us four new Math games at the next Teacher Meeting to meet the expectations of the second grade teachers.

"Finding Doubles" is a game taken from Catherine Towmey Fosnot's Games for Early Number Sense. According to the rules two can play. The game has a "board" that can be a piece of paper with even numbers. A deck of number cards is turned down. A player takes the top card and doubles the number. On the game board, the player covers the double with a chip. Then the other player draws and they continue until all the even numbers are covered. Once a number is covered, it can't be covered again. The winner is the one with the most numbers covered. Watch students play the game.

How can you make this game more difficult? Another task that second grade teachers wanted children to work on was doubles, plus or minus one. In other words they wanted children to know that 6+6= 12 and then minus 1 is 11 and plus 1 is 13. The way to make "Finding Doubles" more difficult is to use the same number cards but change the game board adding numbers from 3 to 21. Then as each player turns over a card, he can choose to cover the double, add or take away one so that he can cover numbers that aren't already covered on the game board.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

K-1 Collaboration

Today a group of kindergarten and first grade looping teachers met together to work on continuity between kindergarten and first grade. Each of these teachers, four currently in kindergarten and four currently in first grade, loop back and forth between kindergarten and first so they have intimate knowledge of both grade levels. They started the morning talking about our Reading assessment where we monitor all of the big five reading areas.

Next they looked at the Pacing Guides for kindergarten and first grade. This is our guideline for teachers, a look across the curriculum for each week of the school year. They discussed the Guide that we have had in effect for many years and that we rework every year. We look at what works and what doesn't in each year, how to tie our Pacing Guide into the county's newly adopted Houghton Mifflin Reading Program and the county learning schedule in reading and writing. The teachers spent several hours editing a Pacing Guide that works for our kids at Chets Creek!

After lunch two second grade teachers joined the group as we discussed persuasive writing K-2. As I have written before, the state has added persuasive writing to our writing schedule but without a lot of direction. This group of teachers talked about the standards and goals for each grade and reviewed all of the county materials and the resources we have found through our work. They came up with a global idea of what a final product would look like for each grade level and then divided to write a rubric for each grade. They selected children's books for each grade and then outlined lessons that will be written over the summer and added to our wikis.

It was such a productive day - a day of collaboration. I think it makes each of us feel good when we have heard the voices of our colleagues and addressed issues. I feel so fortunate to work with a leadership group that values time for teachers to work together and to spend time with teachers who enjoy the work and believe that when they work together they come up with a better product that works for kids!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Old House: Book of the Month May 2009

It was our last book-of-the-month for this year - a new book, The Old House, written by one of our favorite authors, Pamela Duncan Edwards, and favorite illustrator, Henry Cole. Pamela and Henry have visited Chets Creek a couple of times and have forged a long lasting relationship with the school. In fact, our media specialist, KK Cherney, and our Principal, Susan Phillips, will be joining them next week for a presentation at the International Reading Association in Minnesota where they will be presenting a symposium together on using books-of-the-month in elementary schools. You can actually follow Susan and KK's journey at IRA as they blog live!

As usual, Susan started the professional development book-of-the-month by reading the children's book out loud.  She read the delightful story as the faculty followed along. Artists Kristy Sappington and Karen Willet had drawn the old house as a backdrop behind Susan and then unrolled the second backdrop of the happy house as Susan concluded the story! Next Susan asked the teachers to close their eyes and think about a house or a special place that made a difference in their own life. She was asking the teachers to respond to the story and pictures in the book. After the visualization, teachers were asked to draw their special place and then to write about it! It's amazing how teachers fall right into the roles of their students with the "I can't draw" or "I don't know what to write!" It's a great exercise for teachers to put themselves in their students' place! Of course, after a few moans teachers busily got to work using crayons and markers to sketch and draw as they responded with poems and stories and quick writes. Some of their pictures and words will be available on our book-of-the-month wiki. The purpose was to archive the adult work to let our children know that writing and responding to books is a lifetime skill - not just something that children do at school. Books and pictures evoke all kinds of feelings and memories, and they always will. What a delightful way to celebrate reading!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Mother-Daughter Dynamos!

Debby and Barbara Ellis with Principal Phillips
Last night our county celebrated its Teacher of the Year with a lovely dinner and ceremony. At Chets Creek we celebrated our Teacher of the Year Debby Cothern and her mother, Barbara Ellis, our Employee of the Year! It's the first time we've ever celebrated a mother daughter team and what FUN! The tables were decorated with beautiful flowers and pictures of Barbara and Debby's life. The children had painted pictures as placemats. Each of the grade level teams did a skit and both the PTA and Faculty presented them with gifts. Next we watched a slide show of Barbara, beginning with her baby years, her marriage and the birth of her son and twins, Debby and Donna. We watched Debby move from a toddler through the birth of her own beautiful children - all this while we enjoyed breakfast. All of their family was there - their personal family and their Chets Creek family!

Debby has been a longtime kindergarten and first grade looping teacher. It's hard to think of Debby without her teammate, her best friend and sister-in-law, Michelle Ellis. Debby and Michelle are legendary at Chets Creek. They are a team that has hosted thousands of visitors over the years. They did some of our first live lessons and videoed lessons. They have single-handedly raised the level of what we expect on standard-based bulletin boards. Today they are on our Leadership Team and lead the Kindergarten Team. They are smart, talented, distinguished young women. They are a credit to their families and to our Chets Creek Family.

Barbara came to Chets Creek as a paraprofessional and has worked in Debby and Michelle's room! She has also had her grandchildren in the rooms where she has worked, but she in no way stands in the shadow of her very distinguished daughters. She is a competent and talented in her own right and is the much loved "Grandma Barbara."

How much our lives are enriched by having the Ellis family in our midst!