Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Training, 2010

I have to admit that my attitude walking into training this week at 8:00 on my "vacation" was not the best. We were at a high school - really small room with no windows, loud air conditioner and desk chairs that were attached, certainly not made for larger women. I noticed several teachers opted to find another chair and just use the desk top as a desk because they couldn't fit comfortably. Not even water in the room, but... much to my surprise, I was totally engaged with the information in the workshop and I almost forgot all the small inconveniences. The three day training is meant to gather educators from counties in our area and teach how to interpret the F.A.I.R., Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading, Florida's answer to reading assessment that will inform instruction and take the place of DIBELS.

I felt really good about several things. For one thing the state has changed the "Fab 5" to the "Sensational 6" by adding oral language to phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension and vocabulary. At Chets we realized early on that we had to continue with our work in oral language and even pioneered work in kindergarten that we took from Lucy Calkins' work with Elizabeth Sulby, which we call "Star Books. " The program has our youngest learners doing oral retellings as a way to help decide when they are ready for conventional reading. We had felt this was really a missing part in the "Fab 5", so I guess this confirms that initial belief. It certainly is a strong step toward infusing oral language into the day.

I also felt very good that we seem to be ahead of the curve in vocabulary. As the state is just now looking at vocabulary resources, we spent a year with our Books-of-the-month program looking at vocabulary strategies four years ago after our Principal and a group of teachers traveled to a Kylene Beers' summer workshop. We had our faculty reading Beck and McKeown's Bringing Words to Life and even ordered a vocabulary program, Text Talk, based on the their research to use in first grade that same year. That was so successful that we now also have Text Talk in second grade and when we couldn't afford to buy it for Kindergarten, a group of Kindergarten teachers spent a summer writing their own program using that same research which we call "Star Vocabulary". We've had that program in effect for three years and it has made a huge difference. All of that has given our teachers such a strong background in vocabulary. I did especially like one vocabulary activity that I heard today of a Principal or coach choosing words from the Book-of-the-month and doing activities with the words twice a week on the daily internal news program - that's an idea that would be really exciting for the new year!

Another area that I feel good about is the idea of using a Spelling Test to analyze phonics skills. We have been doing this in first grade for quite some time as part of our three times a year assessment and it is also being done now in second grade. Obviously, this is not a new idea, but it's the first time I've seen state training advocating that sort of assessment.

All in all, I have a good feeling. leaving this training. One of the things I really like about the F.A.I.R. is that the state is really trying to link resources to instructional need, which is the same thing we are trying to do with our wikis. My only complaint is that the trainers had to go through over 300 slides (and Melanie, the state has never heard of Presentation Zen! - just old style PowerPoint!) and even with many video clips, there was entirely too much "sit 'n' git." If we want our teachers to use engaging activities with their students then we need to engage them in professional development that models what we want them to do!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Classroom Make-over 1: Summer Thoughts

In a meeting with Evelyn Ng, a Kindergarten teacher who was a finalist for the Duval County Teacher of the Year, she mentioned that she thought teachers, especially beginning teachers, would be interested in what you think about as you begin to design a room in the beginning of the year. I haven't been a homeroom teacher in a long time so I haven't had to think through those steps, but this year I will be returning to those roots so I am having to think through room arrangement and design in way that I haven't for a long time, so... I thought I'd have you travel with me as my teammate, Tracy, and I get our room ready.

My first thoughts are about the room itself which has lemon yellow walls and a mellow blue accent wall at the front. Our theme this year is a farm so we want to take all that into consideration with color choices. My teaching partner is away for the summer so she told me I could go ahead and make some of the non-instructional decisions. Since Tracy and I taught together a couple of years ago and in the same room that will be ours this year, we have some background for room arrangement. With the blue and yellow walls, I thought we'd enjoy a light denim blue and red gingham color theme for things we have to buy so...

These are the things I am thinking about right now:

Backpack storage
Since we are going to be using the individual cubbies in our room to add to the many book shelves that we need, we will need somewhere for the children to put their backpacks. Solution: 5 large tubs, one for each of the tables, to put on the floor in our storage closet so they will be out of sight. Cost: about $8 each for 5.

Home-School Communication Folders
In first grade we use a folder to send notes, papers, calendar, etc. home each day. These are given to students the first day of school and come back to school every day. We couldn't live without this daily communication. Solution: The school orders enough folders for all of Kindergarten and first grade to have one for each child and some extras for students that will come during the year. The folder is vinyl with a sheet protector cover over the front and back covers and inside pockets on each side. We will just need to add a label with each child's name. Cost: FREE -provided by school; school pays about $.95 each.

Table supplies
We will need for each of our 5 tables of kids to have their own supplies such as pencils, erasers, crayons, scissors, glue. Solution: Although Tracy already had some small plastic bins left over from her class last year, they were well loved so I bought new ones when I saw them at Target. Cost: $2.50 each times 6

Book baskets
We will need baskets for the hundreds of books that we have in our classroom. Although we should have a wooden bin that will house C-I books provided by the school, we will need baskets for A-B books and also for our higher readers who will go beyond the first grade expectation level of I to J-M. Then we will need baskets for the large genre library. Solution: This can be a HUGE expense so I am lucky that Tracy is bringing a wonderful assortment with her of white Rubbermaid baskets. Cost: None! If I had to buy these they run about $5 each (from somewhere like Really Good Stuff). Tracy has baskets already!! Yea haw!

Genre books
White the school furnishes books for our leveled library and for our guided reading library, in grades K-1, the teacher is responsible for providing her own genre books. Through the years the school has added specific books to the genre library such as books-of-the-month and the Media Specialist always makes sure that we get extra books during the twice a year Book Fair and certainly the school has added Math, Science and non-fiction books when they see the grade level lacking, but basically teachers are on their own to make sure they have an adequate collection. No small task! For a beginning teachers, the Standards Coach and Media Specialist help round up books or the teacher uses books from the Media Center to supplement. Solution: I am very fortunate that Tracy will be bringing a substantial genre library that she used in second grade last year with her that belongs to her personally. I do have several stacks of books to add of my own but basically this will be coming from Tracy! How fortunate is that! Cost: If I had to furnish this all myself, it would be a substantial cost.

Labels for genre book baskets
Name plates make good labels for baskets in the genre library. Solution: I have found some on-line name plates that have a cow on one end and a barn on the other to go with our farm theme. Unless Tracy has found something better, we can use these. Will need to write the genre names and laminate. Cost: FREE! online Farm Nameplates by Lanie .

Labels for leveled book baskets
The leveled books in the bin and in the baskets each need an alphabet letter as a label. Solution: I purchased a set of blocked letters with blue and red gingham borders to go with the theme. Just need to laminate and apply to bins/baskets. Cost: $7.00

Bulletin boards
We have two large bulletin boards in the front of the class, so we need to make a decision on what to put on the boards. Solution: Can't really decide WHAT to put on the boards until Tracy and I get together, but I can go ahead and decide HOW to cover them. This is a good place to use our theme (which is the farm) so I have bought fabric (more expensive than paper but won't fade and can leave the same background up all year) in red check, sort of a blue denim, and red with white dots. I've also bought an assortment of theme related borders such as red denim and red check that might go with the blue denim and a plain white and white fencing that might go with the red. Also purchased an assortment of alphabet letters to use as titles in red with yellow stitching, bandanna red, yellow and denim. Cost: borders are about $4 a pack and material, if you're lucky is about $6-7 a yard - got a couple of yards of each, just in case, and pre-cut alphabet letters are about $7 each. I probably bought more than we need but I haven't had the need to do this in a while and it was fun!

We also have a big bulletin board outside our room. Tracy texted that she had found some cute material, so maybe that will be for our outside board! We also have two small bulletin boards in our office (yes, we have an office!!). I bought green check material with yellow polka dotted border to go in there - sort of a John Deere tractor sort of color theme.

Paper storage
We will want the children to be able to choose their own paper when we begin Writers' Workshop so we need some kind of storage system to house several choices. Solution: I am very fortunate that Tracy is bringing two multi-colored storage bins that we can use. Cost: These run about $80 each from a mail order place such as Really Good Stuff, but can also be found in business supply stores and occasionally on sale.

Pencil supplies
One of my pet peeves is children getting up during the day to sharpen a pencil. I have always been a Special Education teacher, so I am on to my students who are pretty famous for using an unsharpened pencil as an excuse many times during the day to get up and create havoc and avoid the work they are suppose to be doing, so I need a way to eliminate this in the very beginning of the year. Of course, each table will have their own supplies, including sharpened pencils (which is a job for our safety patrols at the end of each day), but just in case that's not enough... Solution: I have bought two pencil containers and made labels that say "Sharpened Pencils" and "Pencils to be Sharpened." If a child has a problem with an unsharpened pencil, he can ask his Table Captain to take his broken pencil to the unsharpened container and get a new sharpened pencil for their table. Cost: 2 pencil containers from Target - $3 each.

Pencil sharpener
A year or so ago our Principal gave each classroom a nice electric pencil sharpener! How nice is that! Solution: So I am hoping that there is one in our classroom already or that Tracy is bringing one with her! Cost: Supplied by school, I hope!!

Individual writing folders
Each child will need a writing folder to keep their on-going work. During the first week of school we will send home a project for parents to complete with their child on a sheet of white card stock and ask them to fill it with things the child loves - photos, pictures from magazines, words. This will be inserted into a sheet protected folder and will be used as an individual writing folder and a menu list of possible writing topics. Solution: The folders are provided by the school, just like the Home-School folders but in a different color. These will easily last for the year. We just need to add a sticker with each child's name. Cost: FREE - provided by school at about $.95 each.

Purely decorative
We have 4 outside windows that have blinds but I really want curtains - not something we HAVE to have, but something that adds a decorative, homey touch so I bought red gingham and made the curtains. I'm not really a seamstress - just do the basics - but the price was right! Solution: I bought 4 tension rods and will hang the curtains as soon as I can get into the room. Cost: Bought 6 yards of fabric for about $4 a yard and 4 tension rods at about $2 each.

Okay, so that's what I've done on my own before Tracy and I have time to work together and iron out all the rituals and routines. Stay tune for the next addition of Classroom Makeover!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer training?

I just sat through two days of professional development. The trainer was actually really good - very knowledgeable with classroom experience, good pacing. The problem was that the content, Reading Mastery, is something I've probably had a half dozen times in my career as a Special Education teacher. "Someone" decided that this year in order to get supplies to teach that teachers in my county would have to go through training in order to get their materials-regardless of how many times they had already had the training. Who makes these decisions? This is the same training whether you have never taught Reading Mastery or whether you have been teaching it for 20 years! Most of the teachers in my group these last two days were seasoned and had taught the program. They were there for the same reason I was. They wanted to have materials to teach their children on the day school started. They didn't want to wait until school was in session for a month, set up a training and miss days of instruction, and then wait for the materials to come until... maybe Christmas! Sure, there's a new Reading Mastery edition so the pictures are in color now and they've added a few new pieces, I'm sure to align with state requirements, but two days of summer vacation - just to have materials to teach on the first day. The truth is I have gotten a little rusty on the Reading Mastery signals and connection procedures over the years but that's because I haven't actually taught my own small groups of Reading Mastery in the past ten years. I have one of the most masterful paraprofessionals in our building teaching my groups, so I sat through the training knowing that I will never use one second of the program! But my para needs materials so we can start interventions on day one. The children are already behind. We don't have a moment to lose!

The parts of the program were ordered in bulk, so regardless of your needs, one size fits all and everybody gets the same thing. Efficient, I guess, if you are the person ordering and I suppose you get a better price if you order all the same pieces for everyone but how many pieces will sit on shelves and gather dust because teachers know they will not use specific pieces. I, like almost every teacher sitting in the room today, made a decision as the trainer described each piece we would be getting if we would use the piece or never plan to open it. If I had had the chance to customize my order for my needs, there are certainly pieces I would have omitted. I never plan to use them. However, there is a vocabulary piece where we are getting the Teacher's Guide but not the books that make it possible to teach the program. Many of the books may be ones that you might be able to find - if you take all that additional time to find them - but for me, it would have been a perfect supplemental program for a group of second language Special Education students. It's based on the same research of Beck and McKeown that Text Talk is based on which we use to supplement the Core with our general education students. I guess it's the waste - and the trees - that bother me so much - and the waste of taxpayer money and, of course, the waste of my own time... on my "vacation." As much as I love professional development and learning something new, this was my idea of how NOT to do PD!