Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The results!

The goal of any Author Study is to teach student to discuss and respond across an author's books. This is an example of the type of responses that our children are writing in kindergarten. I think it's pretty impressive!
In the story The
Very Lonely Firefly
by Eric Carle
one night a
firefly went out
to find some fireflies.
It saw lights but
none were a firefly
and finally
it found some fireflies.
The very lonely firefly
reminded me of when
I was outside
all by myself. I felt
lonely too. This book
also reminded me of
Do You Want to
Be my Friend?

by Eric Carle
because they both
went looking
for a friend and found
friends. I like
this book because
I can write a response
to literature.
You should
read it because it lights
up at the end of it.
Eric Carle writes
books that I love
so much.
He writes my favorite

Monday, March 29, 2010

Princess Pigtoria and the Pea

Henry Cole and Pamela Duncan Edwards have visited Chets Creek several times - and for good reason. Henry is an illustrator and Pamela is an author and they write children's books. Not only do they write wonderfully playful books, but they are absolutely entertaining to children and adults alike. They spend an exhausting day entertaining each grade level of children. Children never for get their days with real authors and illustrators!

They began their day with our Book-of-the-Month which was introduced to the faculty by our Principal, Susan Phillips, and just happened to be one of Cole and Edward's newest books, an alliteration Princess Pigtoria and the Pea which is based on the traditional fairytale The Princess and the Pea. If you visit the Book-of-the-Month wiki you will find an 8-minute video of Pamela reading the book while Henry draws, along with Susan's write-up of the book for the faculty and the vocabulary strategies that she introduced. Each book-of-the month is accompanied by the introduction of a strategy that the teachers can use in their classrooms. Susan introduces the strategy and then has the teachers "experience" the strategy for themselves. This morning each grade level took one of the strategies and turned it into a performance to teach to the other grade levels. We saw other alliterations, proverbs, slang, acronyms, anagrams, palindromes (words spelled the same forward and backwards such as mom, radar) hink pinks (angry father=mad dad), tongue twisters, riddles, and new to me - Tom Swifties, eponyms, portmanteaus, and toponyms!! I hope Henry and Pamela enjoyed our playfulness and fun! We certainly enjoyed having them as we introduced this newest book-of-the-month but also as they entertained our children. You are teaching our children to love books and to love to read! Thanks Pamela and Henry. You are the BEST!
A future Creeker
with another beloved Edwards and Cole book

Writing Science Lessons

Today Kindergarten teachers met together for a day of professional development. We are coming to an end of the third nine weeks (can you believe it?) and the teachers are getting together to write new Science lessons for the fourth nine weeks. They were also reviewing and revising lessons that they had already taught The county has adopted the state's Big Ideas for Science and essential questions - a philosophy of teaching concepts in the 5 E format - engage, explore, explain, expand/extend and evaluate. Of course, there are very few lessons and the adopted kindergarten Science text doesn't cover the same standards! Makes you wonder just what other teachers will be teaching? I'm afraid that in some schools the big ideas will simply be skipped! But, of course, that has never been an option at Chets Creek. We take Science very seriously and believe that the foundation for the 5th Grade Science state test is built on the shoulders of what is done in the lower grades.

Debbie Harbour, our Science Lead teacher, began the day by reviewing the 5 E model so that we would have it fresh in our minds as we began to write. Then the team divided into pairs and chose lessons of interest - some to write new and some to review and revise. As the day came to a close, teachers explained to the rest of Kindergarten what they were working on and what they expected to have complete.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Finding Mrs. Warnecke

Kindergarten teacher, Maria Mallon, has started working on her Masters Degree. She allowed me to read an assigned paper connecting her own remembrances of learning to read with the research on reading at that time. Maria remembered her teacher having three reading groups - Mary, Jesus and St. Joseph (Catholic School, of course - in my first grade it was the red birds, blue birds and black birds - or buzzards as we sometimes called them!) and how the reading group she was in had shaped her vision of herself as a reader. Her writing connected me with a story from my own past of vividly remembering the day in first grade that I did not know the word "see" and called the word "look". My teacher was furious, furious, furious (as I remember it!) and pulled me up out of my chair by my ear. I was so afraid that she was going to make me wear the baby cap (which was a baby blue crocheted cap with a satin bow she made the "bad" boys wear to lunch) that I was practically trembling. Of course, I had a second grade teacher that changed my life and is the reason I went into teaching - thank goodness! Maria and I decided that if any student was ever going to track us down or write about us, we wanted it to be about something amazing that we had done to change their lives! As teachers, don't we always simply want to make a difference?

This week I finished the inspiring story of Cindi Rigsbee, a former North Carolina Teacher of the Year (and fellow TLNer!), and her first grade teacher, Mrs. Warnecke, who had a positive impact on Cindi's life. Cindi began first grade with an emotionally abusive teacher who had teacher "pets." However, two months into the year half the class was moved to a basement room without windows with a beginning teacher. That beginning teacher, Mrs. Warnecke changed Cindi's life as she made her magical classroom come alive. Cindi was introduced to writing and poetry which became lifelong passions. Cindi eventually became a teacher and tried to track down Mrs. Warnecke because as the years went by she realized more and more how much Mrs. Warnecke had changed the direction of her life. She finally realized that it wasn't Mrs. Warnecke she was trying to track down but it was the Mrs. Warnecke within herself that she was trying to become.

In the Fall of 2008 Cindi and Mrs, Warnecke were reunited on a tearful segment of Good Morning, America. This book chronicles Cindi's life beginning with that life changing year with Mrs. Warnecke to Cindi's decision to become a teacher and her disastrous first few years teaching, to the outstanding teacher she has become. The book is also sprinkled with other teacher's stories of teachers that made a difference in their lives. This is a must read for every teacher!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Writing Persuasive Lessons

The state has mandated in Florida that we teach persuasive writing as a new genre in writing in kindergarten and first grade. However, as usual, the resources to go along with the mandate are limited. Our own county offers a handful of very weak lessons so our Kindergarten group, as usual, turned to Lucy Calkins at Teachers College and used her A Quick Guide to Teaching Persuasive Writing as our learning text. It's a tiny little book full of ideas.
On our school's Pacing Guide we teach persuasive writing for three week when we return from Spring Break. Last year a group of Kindergarten teachers wrote 15 lessons for first grade on persuasive writing. After the lesson were taught a group of K-1-2 teachers met and decided, after looking at the Sunshine State Standards, what would be the focus of each grade for persuasive writing and what books we needed to order to support the work. We also wrote a rubric for the writing in each grade since we wanted to have the end in mind before writing the lessons. So... as the Kindergarten writing group (Haley Alvarado, Debbie Harbour, Julia Lewis and Maria Mallon) assembled this year, much of the framework had been laid. The focus of today's group was to write the 15 lessons (3 weeks) to be used in persuasive writing for kindergartners.
The Sunshine State Standard is simply to select a person, pet or thing and write what you like and why. This is very similar to the children selecting a favorite Eric Carle book and telling about their favorite part of why a particular book is their favorite. This is a skill we have practiced as part of the Eric Carle Author Study we are just completing so it was the perfect place to start this persuasive unit.

Our goal in Kindergarten is simply to introduce the children to writing a letter and addressing an envelope. The end-of-unit content is to choose an opinion about something and then to support the opinion with details. Along the way there are some drafting, pre-writing type activities and some editing skills to be taught.

The teachers collaborated all day. At the end of the day they put the lessons on a Google doc so the group today can see all of the lessons together and edit them before the teaching begins. After Spring Break the 14 Kindergarten teachers will be able to pull up the edited lesson in their Google docs and will be able to make additional edits and revisions as they teach the lessons. Finally after all 14 Kindergarten teachers have had the opportunity to teach and work on the lessons and the lessons have been edited, they will be housed on the Kindergarten wiki for teachers in future years to use and revise. Not only is it fun to envision a unit and write the lessons, but you learn so much by working with your peers. Maybe it's a good thing that the resources and lessons offered are so weak. It gives us a chance to turn that into a strong professional development opportunity... and it's FUN!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Standard Snapshots 2010

"Standard Snapshot" is a purely Chets Creek term. It was invented by our founder, Terri Stahlman, as a way to help parents understand the standards. The idea was to periodically send home a standard piece of student work with commentary so that parents could see what standard work actually looked like. At first, standard pieces went home weekly! The process has morphed over the years. Now Standard Snapshots go home 3-4 times a year. As time has passed other changes have also been made. Now a piece of each student's work is attached to the standard piece so that a parent can compare his child's work to the standard piece. There also has been a conscious effort to use language that parents easily understand and to send home a "standard" piece, instead of the best piece on the grade level. We want the parent to compare against the standard, not against the best piece that was done on the grade level!!

Today the Curriculum Leadership Council met and discussed openly the celebrations and challenges with Standard Snapshots. After all Jim Collins says in Good to Great that you have to be brutally honest in order to begin to make changes. Below is some of the conversation.
  • Some teachers are not always collaborative when we meet  to choose a snapshot and to write the commentary. They just want to get it done. They would prefer that a single person take on selecting the piece and writing the Snapshot - not much collaboration there!
  • It's hard for large groups with 14 teachers on a grade level to make sure that all voices are heard if they collaborate through this process.
  • Teachers don't always value the process or the end product.
  • It's difficult to find a common piece if all teachers aren't following the Pacing Guide because they are not at the same place at the same time.
  • Do parents value the snapshots? How do we know? How do we know that they even see the snapshots?
  • Kids, especially older kids, don't value the product. ("Can we just recycle this?" - Ouch!)
  • Teachers don't have a way of seeing all the snapshots that are sent home in other grade levels and other subjects. They only see their grade level/ subject area snapshot.
I think we agreed that the snapshots are valuable to parents but also the process of looking at student work is valuable. So... how can we solve the challenges? Here are some of the creative solutions that the groups came up with.
  • Send the snapshots home with the report card so that we have a more captive audience and so teachers know exactly when to expect the snapshot to be due. Choose the topic at the beginning of the year when the Pacing Guide is laid out so there is no confusion about what will be expected when.

  • Find a way to interact with the parents on the Snapshot, even if it is just a required signature. An excellent example was provided by first grade - They sent a Science Snapshot that actually contained a little bag of rocks that change colors with the sun (that had been used in class-no extra expense) and an explanation of the experiment. The excited first graders couldn't wait to get out the snapshot and try the experiment with their parents at home. Now that's interaction of the perfect kind!

  • Another teacher suggested having the students buy-in by putting the standard snapshot on the document camera the day it goes home and having each child reflect on his own paper according to the standards. The child is then more able to discuss his paper with his parents.

  • We need to revise our template to make sure the questions are parent friendly and consistent - such as a bulleted lists instead of paragraph text which seems easier to read- We also need to take a look at white space to make sure that we haven't put too many words on the page! We don't want to overwhelm the parent before they even read the snapshot.

  • We need to find a bulletin board to display all of the standard snapshots in a year so that teachers can view them but also so students and parents can see them - and it wouldn't hurt to have them up for visitors!
All in all, it was such a productive meeting. Suzanne Shall, our Standards Coach planned for a day of discussion and reflection and as a result, we will refine our practice!

Where's the money?

Chets Creek is an "A" school with about 20% minority and about 20% free and reduced lunch. Sounds like a perfect little suburban yuppie school, doesn't it? And I guess it is... until you drill down to the student level. Who are those 20% of children who live in poverty, many of whom are also minority? Many of them are the same students who show up on our at-risk list of about 300 kids. Sure we have about 1200 kids so to have 300 at-risk isn't so bad, until you drill down to see who they are. In so many cases they are those same children living in poverty and in our case most come from the same little community. Each one of those children has a face - and a story.

Chets Creek is the type of school that has real heart - teachers who are willing to do whatever it takes. They often tutor before and after school or during their planning and lunch times. The go the extra mile but that still isn't enough. We know that we need to get inside this community and offer tutoring. More than that we need to form relationships that give hope to our at-risk children. They need to know that there is someone who cares. Their parents need to know that there is someone they can trust. These families don't usually come to us. We will have to go to them.

So let's offer tutoring and a way to check out books right there in their community center. The community center would be willing to offer a space, computers, clean up and other minimal services. We would just have to man the space. We have plenty of teachers who would be willing to offer their time - most of them would do it because they think it is the right thing to do - but we do need at least one paid person that we could depend on to be there and to oversee the program. Such a little bit of money for such a big pay off!

Let's do it! Oh, wait... You would think that with 300 kids effected, enough to be a small school, that the funding would be available easily... but it's not. Chets Creek, because it has less than 20% free and reduced lunch doesn't qualify for school-community type funds. That is saved for communities with 100% free and reduced lunch - although the total number of kids effected might be similar. I guess just being poor isn't enough - it depends in which part of town you live... Extended Day monies can't be used for this type of project because it's off the school grounds. It just shouldn't be this hard to do the right thing... Frustrating... Anybody know of any money sources for a good project?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Changing up Centers in 2010!

It seems like we are always looking for a way to improve what we are doing. For the first half of the year we rotated centers daily during our Skills Block so that during a week each table would do each of the five centers that revolved around the skills we were teaching during Skills Block. The children at the tables are grouped heterogeneously, mostly by behavior, so the idea was that every child would have the opportunity to work on every skill during the week. The problem with this plan was that skills were sometimes too difficult for some children and too easy for others. As you looked around the room, you could always count several children off-task.

As we have been reading Richard Allington's What Works in Response to Intervention, we have been rethinking ways to provide individual and small group work for both our strugglers and our advanced readers. Centers seemed like the perfect place to differentiate, so... we divided the students into 5 groups homogeneously, identifying a single skill for each group to work on for the week through our data. This means that the groups may be fluid depending on the targeted skills each week. Two of the groups work independently and three of the groups are led by an adult (the general education teacher, the Special Education teacher and the para - this is an inclusion class). This part of the day has become my favorite part, because I really feel like we finally are meeting all of our students where they are.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pancakes, Pancakes!

After reading Eric Carle's delightful Pancakes, Pancakes, the children were full of connections. Not only did they share stories about eating pancakes with their families and their favorite type of pancakes, we learned that a few of our friends had never tasted pancakes! The children loved that this new Eric Carle book reminded them of The Little Read Hen (one of their Star Books) and how she made bread, much like the pancakes in their new book. They remembered that they had visited threshers earlier in The Gingerbread Boy (another Star Book!) These types of connections, text-to-self and text-to-text, are responses to reading that good readers make. They will be the basis of some of the responses to literature that the children will write.
Enjoy the sequence of events below:

First we add 3 cups of the pancake mix.
Then we add 2 cups of water.
Next we stir and stir and stir.

then we pour the pancake mix on the griddle.
When you see little bubbles, it is time to flip the pancake.
We need to make lots of pancakes so everyone will have some to eat.

Finally we get to the best part! We add some syrup and eat the pancakes! Yummy!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Grouchy Ladybug

We have continued our Author Study of Eric Carle by working through retellings of many of his books. Before a child can write a retelling, he has to be able to orally retell the story! Characters, setting, sequence, repetition all become important. Today Mrs. Alvarado's class retold Eric Carle's The Grouchy Ladybug through pictures as their mini-lesson for Readers' Workshop. They loved their parts!

During the independent work period of Readers' Workshop each child was given an Eric Carle book to retell. Some of the children can actually read most of the words by this time of year but others just enjoy looking at the pictures as they orally retell the story. At the Closing of Readers' Workshop several children were invited to read parts of their book under the document camera and the teacher commented on children that were using a pointing finger or how a child figured out a word by looking at the picture or any of the other strategies that the children have been learning.

As the children transition into Writers' Workshop the same story is reinforced once again. The children fill in a planning sheet of the animals for each time frame and then write the name of the animal below the picture. They will use this planning sheet tomorrow as they begin to write the full retelling of the story to help them remember the sequence and characters in the story.

I really love this author study in kindergarten this time of year. The children love the animals and the art work and Eric Carle's simple repetitive story lines. Every day I go into my classroom with a skip in my step, excited for what the day will bring. It's the perfect antidote to high stakes testing!!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Eric Carle - From the Beginning

As we have started our Author Study on Eric Carle, below are some of the charts that hang in our kindergarten classrooms. Can't wait to see the student work!

Ways to respond to an Eric Carle book....
Noticings, Connections and Questions - Oh my! An All About Eric Carle poster... A class retelling of Do You Want to be My Friend? in pictures to help the children remember the sequence as they begin to write their retellings...
A class retelling of The Very Hungry Caterpillar in pictures to help the children remember the sequence as they begin to write their retellings...
A child's partial retelling of The Very Hungry Caterpillar in pictures and words...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Vocabulary - Mop Top

Several years ago, after we read the work of Beck and McKeown, a group of Kindergarten teachers at Chets Creek decided to write our own vocabulary study. We looked at books that we were using for oral retelling after coming back from studying with Lucy Calkins at Teachers' College in NYC. We selected the best of those books and then choose 6 words for each book - 4 words that were actually used in the book and 2 words that were implied. We then wrote vocabulary activities for each of the books. We have used and edited the vocabulary for about 4 years now. Not only do the teachers love the work, but the children clearly are using the vocabulary in their oral speaking and in their writing! The bulletin board above by Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard, shows how their kindergarten class has incorporated the vocabulary unit into their curriculum. This board shows activities around one of our "Star Books," Mop Top.
"Vocabulary Jeopardy," as illustrated above, is a game played in the classroom as children learn new words with each new book. The teacher asks the question and the children have to name the word. It's a fun way to practice definitions.
The book above is an example of a child that has incorporated the vocabulary that the class has been learning into her writing. She has written a pattern book called, "What makes you thrilled?" This book clearly shows that she understands the word!

The activity above is an example of one completed by each individual child. This concept map is words and pictures for the word thrilled. The activity above shows four of the words from the story, Mop Top, illustrated by a kindergartner - stumbled, floppy, soaring, thrilled. This activity has been used as an activity so students could show their understanding of the words but also could be used as an assessment.