Wednesday, January 27, 2010

iPhone Apps for Parents

Our family was on a long car trip recently and my son handed my three-year-old granddaughter his iPhone so she could play some games that he had downloaded for her. She took the phone without hesitation and played intently for the next 40-50 minutes. I couldn't help but think how this generation of children will be so comfortable with the same technology that I have watched come into existence and evolve within my lifetime. When I began teaching in 1970 there were NO computers in schools or even personal computers. The purple ink mimeograph machines with the intoxicating smell were used for making copies and the Princess phone - the kind you have to plug into a phone jack - was the hottest telephone and our idea of a "social network"!

However, this is a new generation! Computers and "phones on the go" with applications for everything are a part of everyday life. This generation of children that we are now teaching are born into this tekky world. In an effort to help teachers and parents find apps for their iPhones that are especially appropriate for our young children, I recommend this blog by Megan, a Kindergarten teacher over at Scholastic. I think her suggestions should be passed on to parents who sit with their children waiting in a doctor's office or for a special treat on a long car trip or who sit with younger children or siblings as they wait at the dance studio or ball park. The iPhone is the perfect take-along boredom buster. It's easy. It's portable. It's educational! Of course, using an iPhone to entertain a bored youngster means parents have to give up their own iPhone... so maybe they can bring an iPod Touch for their child, while they hold on to their iPhone. Of course... a parent can still bring a few books along or use conversation for boredom relief! They never go out of style!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Six Word Stories: Book of the Month January 2010

January's Book-of-the-Month, as is the tradition, was an alphabet book around our theme - M is for Melody: A Musical Alphabet. The strategy that we learned was called "six word stories" - a story told in six words - no more, no less. The idea was to learn to write/ think concisely and to summarize. To teach the strategy the principal gave groups of teachers a picture and asked them to come up with six words to describe the picture.
Teachers were divided into grade levels and then subdivided into smaller groups. Some of the six-word results were serious and some were hilarious and irreverent, as is our school style!

The idea for the Book-of-the-Month strategies is that they can be learned and practiced by teachers as part of our professional development and then used in the classroom. This month the learning was obvious as kindergarten teachers Rachel Happ and Julie Johnson took the strategy back to their classroom and then represented the results on their standard-based bulletin board.
After explaining the strategy to their "K" class, the teachers gave pictures to pairs of kindergartners and asked them to write six words for their story. They revisited the strategy a week later and gave each table a picture. Each of the six tables got a different picture. The table group worked together with one child recording the group's answer on a sentence strip. Some of the results are below:

We saw a man sleigh riding.

An old house that is busted.

The dog played with the man.

A lovely beach and a bird

It is always interesting to see how grade levels from Kindergarten through fifth grade will take a strategy and use it in their classroom with their children. Kindergarten says this strategy is a keeper!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Learning From Each Other

Last week 15 of our teachers attended our Vertical Day of Professional Development around the topic of Skills Block. We watched Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard's Kindergarten lesson, Randi Timmons' 2nd Grade Skills Block and Jenny Nash's 4th Graders. Each of the 15 teachers watched the demonstration lessons from the lens of their own grade and classroom.

One of the many skills that we watched was Randi Timmons' second graders practice their spelling words by doing jumping jacks for each letter as they said each letter aloud. You can actually watch Randi's entire 2nd grade lesson. One of the teachers watching the lesson last week was kindergarten teacher, Haley Alvarado. As Haley watched the activity, she was drawn to the idea of pairing physical activity with memory. While her kindergartners don't have spelling words each week, she has been working on their memory of some of the high-frequency words that appear often in early text. She liked the physical activity but knew that her kindergatners couldn't really do jumping jacks without falling all over themselves! So... she thought about a skill her youngsters do need which is to recognize that the letters of the alphabet come in three different sizes - tall letters that touch the top line, medium letters that only touch the middle line, and letters with tails. She decided to pair the memory of the high frequency words with physical activity that would also help the children pay attention to the height of the letters. Watch the lesson.

The exciting part is that one teacher was able to demonstrate an activity and another teacher was able to take the idea of the activity and then redesign it to fit her own needs. Isn't that what we do as teachers in the best of situations? We take an activity that has componets of best practice and remake the activity to fit the needs of our students. That is one of the most exciting things about these days of professional development when teachers have an opportunity to peek into classes at different levels and think about how they can take the ideas and adapt them to their own students. Now how great is that?!

Monday, January 11, 2010

2-Alarm Fire!

Over the weekend an apartment complex that is located across the street from the school experienced a devastating fire that displaced about 20 families. No lives were lost- thank goodness! - but the families basically lost everything. About half dozen of the children of those families attend school at Chets Creek. Before the morning after the fire, news had gone out about our children that were effected. Julie Middleton from our office had called each family to see what their needs were and the Principal had gone out to purchase a new backpack with supplies and a school tee-shirt for each of the children to have as they walked into the doors of the school this morning.  As I walked into my office the surrounding area was already covered with bags of clothes and toys and even baby furniture. Teachers and assistants began to sort the clothes into sizes so that parents and their children could begin to make choices. The families came in one by one... still in shock.

Chets Creek has always been that type of family. They are there when you need them. They have a heart as big as the school and the people inside really are a family who care about each other.

Another recent example was the Principal's husband who was in an accident over the holiday. Within an hour of notice to the faculty, a Google Doc was set up and meals were arranged until school started back. Notes, cards, e-mails, and meal gift cards poured in. As devastating as tragedy can be, it restores your soul when you have a reaction that comforts and soothes. "School" and "education" is about so much more than scores on a state test. This is what "learning"... about life... is really all about. I feel so fortunate to live with a family that cares so much! These are the lessons that I hope my children will take with them...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Vertical PD - Skills Block

Today we provided vertical demonstration lessons for those teachers that were interested. Before the holidays, teachers were invited to sign up for a day of professional development if they were interested in looking at the Skills Block in several different grade levels. About fifteen teachers took advantage of the opportunity. We gathered together to first watch Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard's Kindergarten Skills Block.  Watch it here.Then it was off to Randi Timmons' Second Grade class
and finally we spent time with Jenny Nash's Fourth Graders.
Each Skills Block included grade appropriate activities for phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, capitalization and punctuation, syntax, and spelling. Each demo lesson was debriefed with facilitator and Standards Coach Suzanne Shall, listing "warm" comments - things we noticed and really liked and "cool" comments - questions we still had. Some of the conversation time was spent looking at the standards for each grade level and how the time changes for skills throughout the grades. While Kindergarten and First Grade have about 30 minutes daily to work in Skills Block in their two and a half hour Literacy Block, second through fifth grade are lucky to carve out ten minutes daily for a Skills Block and find that they must instead embed many of the skills in their Readers' and Writers' mini-lessons.

What the lessons had in common were that they were fast-paced, engaging, and fun. They were totally devoid of typical pencil and paper busy work. Instead the activities included songs and poems, games, and interactive activities. Each class had impeccable rituals and routines that made the transitions, the use of individual white boards, bags of words, or group work fast and easy - without the loss of instructional time. These are master teachers who provided so many ideas for those of us that watched. What an incredible gift!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Writing in the New Year

As we came back to school in 2010, the children began writing about their holiday memories. Today as I walked through one of the kindergarten classrooms Lexie was sharing her original piece in a closing meeting of the Writers' Workshop. (She's quite an artist, don't you think?)
Presents overflowed the tree and he brought us candy in our stockings and he brought us Pez and a giant marshmallow.

The mini-lessons for this first week back have been about revising work by adding an interesting and engaging beginning to your small moment, as seen in the charts to the left. The children have been adding examples of some of their great beginnings to the charts.

So today, after Lexie finished reading her original piece, she pulled out a second piece, the piece she had written today, which included her revision - the addition of a new, delightful beginning (below) to her story.
Once upon a Christmas night, I heard a bang! and bells. I sprang from my bed at the stairs. My family was waiting for me. When I went down Santa I saw.

Can't wait to see what her ending looks like!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Igniting a Passion for Reading

I have just finished one of Stenhouse's newest listings, Igniting a Passion for Reading by Steven L Layne. I knew I would like the book as soon as I read the delightful forward by the two sisters, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. In their very "two sisters' style" they introduced the reader to the delightful, funny and passionate Steven Layne.

This books says, so much more eloquently, what many of us have been saying at school for some time now - that we have to get away from "it's all about the test" because we are beating the love of reading out of our children in the name of too much emphasis on a single state test. Test prep has got to take a back seat to children loving to read. If our children do well on our state test and yet never pick up a book just for the love of wanting to read, then what have we accomplished?

What Steven Layne does is give us real "tried and true" ways to put the passion back into reading. As I read Richard Allington last week, he talked about giving our reluctant readers books they could read and books they would love to read to make the difference. Layne talks about our readers that can read, but don't (that he calls "alliterate" readers), but the message is the same. Give them books that they will love (even if you have to trick them!) and they will reach the reading volume that will, as a by-product, increase their reading ability.

Layne gives practical suggestions with tips for success. Some of my favorites...
  • Know your readers (included are interest inventories for all ages) and actually specifically target a few students that aren't reading. Choose a book especially for them and tell them you were "thinking about them." This suggestion sent me to the book stores over the break to pick up some new train books for Parker!
  • Set goals and use yourself as the model. Put your goal front and center and talk about it often. Have the kids write their goals and ask them about their goals... often!
  • Read kids' books (he gives lots of great resources!) This makes me think that at Chets Creek we should encourage all our staff to read all of the Battle of the Books that we are encouraging our intermediate students to read and that we should figure out a way to have the staff members recommend the books to staff. We have a sign outside every teacher's door that says, "Mrs. Timmons is reading..." where teachers list the books that they are reading. maybe we should include a space where they list the Battle of the Books or other favorite KID books that they are reading...
  • Give book chats to your class on a regular basis (and he tells exactly how to do it!)
  • Read aloud. How often do intermediate teachers have to hear this before they actually do it?! The research is absolutely clear on the benefits of readalouds!
  • Get a book stand and put a appropriate book for your students on it with a cool sign that says "Mrs. Timmons' Hot Read." You don't have to say a word. The students will soon ask about the book while you watch all of the extra copies fly off the library book shelf!
  • Teach student specifically how to preview a book (and he "shows and tells"!) so that students know how to "shop" for a book that they would like.
  • Discuss students' independent reading (he calls this "Buzz About Books"). This is done in groups of about 4 for about 15 minutes. The teacher joins a different group each time and joins the conversation as a reader. Layne even gives a focus/ topic for each Buzz time! He even has a system for a "status of the class" that takes just a few minutes to check on what everyone is reading.
  • Invite an author to visit! My favorite Media specialist, KK Cherney, already is on to this! We have an author visit every year and the kids absolutely love the visits! Steven Layne is going to be my suggestion to her as our next author!
There are so many other suggestions in this book that include all of the details that will make them successful. The suggestions are quick and easy and for a teacher that really wants her children to leave her class with a love for reading, this book is a gold mine!