Monday, February 28, 2011

Learning Story Elements for Retelling

The children spent last week orally retelling Kevin Henkes stories. This week they have been identifying the story parts. They have used a triangle to identify tAdd Imagehe beginning of a story that includes three parts (one for each point) - the characters, the setting and the problem. The middle of the retelling includes the events of the story and the ending includes the solution - how the problem was solved. To practice identifying the story parts, the students used the shapes as a graphic organizer to identify the parts of Kevin Henkes' stories. Today the children worked in pairs. Each pair selected one of the stories that we have been using and used a large sheet of white construction paper, first drawing a triangle to represent the beginning, a long rectangle to represent the middle and a circle to represent the ending of the story. Next they put sentences or phrases from the story to represent each story element. This will be the outline that they will use to write their written retellings.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy Birthday George!

I have the same birthday as our first President, George Washington. When I was very young my mother had birthday parties of red, white and blue and served cherry cobbler - patriotic all the way! I was quite upset when our nation decided to celebrate President's Day instead of George's specific birthday on the 22nd. While I have nothing against Abe, I just didn't want to share the day and certainly didn't want the date changed every year depending on when the third Monday in February fell on the calendar!

As we returned to school today after our President's Day holiday, I was talking to the children about George and Abe, trying to find out exactly what their background knowledge might be. They did know that George was the first President and that his profile appears on the quarter. They knew that Abe was born poor and had his profile on the penny. It's all about the money! They even identified our current President. They also knew that it was my birthday. They had made cards and had a surprise birthday cake with a little of my favorite Diet Coke on the side planned for the afternoon. Well into my fact finding mission, Tanner raised his innocent hand and gave me that puzzled look. "Mrs. Timmons, if you and George Washington were born on the same day and he is dead, how come you're not dead?"Out of the mouth of babes!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lobsters and Sea Stars and Crabs - Oh My!

Our standard-based bulletin board this month is from our last Science unit. The board (beginning on the left) has the standards and then an explanation of the six-day task which includes an engage, several explores and explains, a two-day extend and an evaluation. The board zooms in on a single explore and explain that investigated the survival needs of sea creatures.

The board includes three pieces of student work which are samples of the posters that each small groups made after actually seeing and holding each one of the sea creatures, watching the sea creature in action video, and reading books about their needs. The small groups made a poster of the things that each animal needed to survive and then commentary is included about the lesson with the group, making sure to identify the thinking of individual children.
The board finally includes a picture of the SmartBoard activity where the children moved pictures of pets, wild animals and sea creatures into columns identifying their need for air, water, food, space, and shelter with commentary about how the activity synthesized the several days of lessons.

The board also includes many photographs of the action during the lesson so it is obvious to the reader how engaged the students were throughout this unit of study. What a sea-sational board!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Barnyard Book Bingo

This year the Principal planned a series of treats for children that meet their Readers-to-Leaders goals each nine weeks. The first grade Readers-to-Leaders goal for the first nine weeks was to read 25 books; the second nine weeks to add another 30 books; the third nine weeks to add another 30 books and then even another 30 books for the fourth nine weeks. The final goal is to read a million wrods this year. The goal is cumulative so for this second nine weeks the children had to have read 55 books to meet their goal.

First grade teachers at our school have decided to interpret this goal in different ways. Some teachers have the children record one book every day that they read at school during the Readers' Workshop. In our class we have decided to require the children to read the books to meet the goal at home. While we have time every single day for the children to read independently, it is also important to us that they develop the habit of reading at home every night. It is a part of their nightly homework and is a habit that will be required of them for their entire career at Chets Creek.

Meeting their goal is a big job for a first grader. First of all they have to remember to change out their book every morning, selecting a "just right" book from their book bin to take home. Then they have to remember to remind mom or dad that they have to read. We consider this the child's responsibility. It's not enough to just read. Then they have to pull out their login sheet and write the date, the name of the book (once the child starts chapter books, about 15 minutes of reading a night counts as "a book" which is usually several short chapters) and the level of the book. On Fridays they have to remember to turn in their log and get a new sheet for the new week. However, we have learned that first graders CAN complete this task and if their parents offer a little support, the children have no trouble at all! Last nine week we were so disappointed when only 11 of our children met their goal. We realized that many of them did not understand our expectation and neither did their families. It was a new routine for our families. We have worked hard this nine weeks and today 18 of our 29 children met their goal and enjoyed the Principal's Barnyard Book Bingo! We expect even more children to make their goal this next nine weeks as they realize the pay-off... and even more the last nine weeks! We think we are teaching children a lifetime habit.

Today was fun with a Dining Room full of first graders excited that they had made their nine weeks' reading goal. Our Principal called the barnyard animals as the children marked their Bingo cards. Every child had the opportunity to yell "Bingo!" and to get a prize along with a special pencil. Most of all, the children just had lots and lots of fun! They can't wait until the next nine weeks when the Principal promises to KISS A PIG!
And how about the children that didn't get to participate? They were in the room.... reading, but more than that, several of them have asked to take home two and three books a night so they can catch up! Our goal is that every child in our class understands that they will become better readers if they read! Will let you know how it goes...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Oral Retellings

Before a child can write "just like Kevin Henkes" in  Writers' Workshop, he has to be able to orally retell a story. He must be able to hold an entire story in his head before we can ever expect him to transfer the craft that he hears into his own writing.  Retelling also deepens comprehension.  It helps students understand beginning, middle and end and to sequence the events of the story.

To practice retelling we spend a week on orally retelling  Kevin Henkes' stories. On the first day we show the children a written retelling of Owen with a beginning, a middle with three events, and an ending. Then the students cut out puppets of the main characters of Owen that we put on Popsicle sticks and we encourage the students to retell the story to a partner. We, of course, model how we would retell the story before the students try it on their own. After they have practiced, we have several students come to the front and use their puppets to retell the story. The children then take the puppets home so they can continue to practice the retellings with their family.
We do virtually the same thing on the next day with the story Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse. We first show the children a written retelling with a beginning, a middle that includes three events, and an ending. Then we give the children five pictures from the story that represent each of the five parts, one picture for each part. We begin by modeling our own retelling of the story with a partner. I tell a part of the story and then my co-teacher tells a part and then I tell a part... until all five parts have been told. Then the students practice with a partner. Finally we bring a partner pair to the front to "fishbowl" retelling the story for the class. Once again, the students take their pictures home and are encouraged to retell the story to their family.

And still another day we pass out a piece of construction paper to each student. Each table (groups of 5-6) decides on one of Kevin Henkes' books and chooses one of the five parts to illustrate and then to retell. After the children at the table have illustrated their part of the story, they hold up their picture and in order, retell their part of the story.

All of this oral work provides the background for understanding story elements. Until a child can retell a story orally by holding the entire story in his head, he is not able to summarize and it is summary that we will finally reach as we end this unit. The ability to summarize leads to synthesis and it is the synthesis across an author's entire body of work that will be the goal for our most advanced students. Stay tuned to watch the children's growth across this unit...

Changing Our Practice

I've never claimed to be a Math expert! In fact, I haven't had the opportunity to really teach Math for many years, concentrating instead on reading, so it was with anticipation and a little anxiety that I embraced the opportunity to teach first grade Math this year.

Our school teaches math conceptually so there has certainly been lots to learn. While Math always came easy to me as a student that doesn't always make for the best teacher. Because it came easily, I always got the right answer but couldn't always explain how I got the answer! It's a lot like reading comprehension. You understand an inference but it's difficult to explain how and why you understood it! That is a real handicap when you are trying to explain strategies to young Mathematicians! Most recently Tracy and I have been teaching a unit on Measurement. While we have done most of the lessons as they are outlined in the book, Tracy just didn't feel like the majority of our students were grasping the more difficult concepts - especially as we moved into word problems. We had discussed our approaches with our office mate Suzanne Shall who is our Standards Coach, so finally Tracy just asked her if she would teach a simple lesson that we could incorporate into our on-going review that is the Skills-based part of our Math instruction. This short part that we call EDC (Every Day Counts) is a 10-15 minute introduction to our hour long Math Workshop.

What a great opportunity to watch a Master at work. I learned so many simple things! First of all, Suzanne used the white boards! Now why hadn't we ever thought of using the white boards for this introductory work? We use them all the time in Skills Block, but for some reason, we'd never thought to use them in Math! Using the white boards made a difference because we could gather the students close and easily look to see if they were getting the skill, instead of having them working at their tables. There, it was harder to see at a glance if the majority of students were getting a skill! Besides, we don't need to kill trees EVERY day!

Suzanne also approached the Math word problem much like we are approaching retelling in Readers' and Writers Workshops'. She started with, "And who are the main characters in this problem?" Main characters? While I have had students close their eyes and visualize the action in a Math story problem, I had never thought to have them understand and underline main characters and use those labels/names as they show their work. Duh!

Another simple technique that had never occurred to me was to use color. I am teaching retelling right now in reading and writing so I write the beginning of the story in one color, the middle in another color and the ending in still another color to show the different parts of a retelling. It's not like I didn't know that using different colors helps students see differences, but I had never applied that knowledge to Math! As Suzanne showed the hops of one animal on a number line she used one color, a different color to show the hops of the second animal, and then a third color to show the difference. Such a simple technique that helped students visualize the differences.

I especially liked when Suzanne said, "Now this is a little trick that mathematician use..." I could have been sitting in Lucy Calkins' summer institute listening to her say, "Now readers this is a trick that really good readers use..." It's like they are letting you in on some really top secret strategy now that you are in the club of the "really smart"! The students just automatically lean in to hear that little inside secret and you have them hooked.

It's not that I didn't learn some Math concepts along the way (such as when I was comparing hops that I needed to start my number line at 0!) or that the level of questioning that Suzanne used included so many beginnings with "why?" but there were just so many little things that just jumped out at me. That is why I feel so fortunate to be in a school that encourages teachers to demonstrate lessons for each other. I couldn't help but think if we had a demo ready - just one for every unit - how helpful it would be to teachers at all levels of their development.
Thanks Suzanne for making me think and for changing my teaching practice. Next time you're listening in from the office, make sure to notice how I am incorporating all your little hints and tricks!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Best Among Us

Each year Chets Creek chooses an Employee of the Year. We have so many paraprofessionals, office staff and other support staff that go above and beyond that we always have an outstanding representative. This year Romy Wilkening is our Employee of the Year. She has also recently been named the Duval County Employee of the Year and will move on to the state competition!

We always spend a morning before school celebrating the Employee of the Year around a theme. This year the theme was Valentine's Day because Romy certainly exhibits love in everything that she does. We started with a slide show of her life. Romy's children have been at Chets Creek so we got to relive their lives as well. Then it was on to the grade level skits - hilarious and touching! The faculty always presents a money tree and the PTA made a special presentation because, after all, Romy is one of their own. Added to all the ways that Romy has been of service to our school - she is also a past Chets Creek PTA President!
I'm not sure how long Romy has been at Chets Creek. I first met her as a kindergarten para. She was so anxious to do all she could for our youngest learners. She worked with kindergarten teacher Maria Mallon and quickly became one of our strongest safety net providers under Maria's tutelage. She quickly became one of our best Reading Mastery teachers. You would see her in the hallway with her rolling cart and little group of safety net students every single day. She became so proficient that for many years she was the person that kept up with all the supplies and trained the new legion of paras working with safety nets each year. I have no idea how many newbies she has trained over the years, but it is a significant number.

As the years went by it was evident that Romy had a special place in her heart for our second language families. She is fluent in Spanish (Bolivia native) and has always been available to the front desk when parents needed a translator - which has been more often as the years have gone by. You could always call on her to translate for a parent conference or to translate a parent note or to call a family to figure out what was going on. She became a vital link in keeping in touch with our second language families. Often we called on her off the clock, but I don't think I can ever remember her saying no.

When we decided we needed a family night for our Spanish speaking families, she was right there, making sure that parents knew about the night and brought their entire family so that they could be involved in their child's education.

When we decided to open a tutoring center for an area of our school where some of our neediest students live, we recognized that many of them were Spanish speaking, so Romy led the support team in offering a hand in so many areas - not just tutoring, but explaining school rules, even going to court, explaining immigration laws and getting information about green cards! She has even cleaned out a room in her own home so she can lend it if the need arrives. How do you say thank you to a person like this that lives and breathes service to others?
Romy is currently serving as a para for our second language students but she is so, so much more than that. Years ago Romy gave me a wooden figurine of a little girl smiling, holding flowers. She wrote on the bottom, "You inspire me." I was so touched. I have the statue in my office at home. My grandchildren love it and drag it all over the house. I look at it often as the sun streams over it in the early morning. Now, however, when I look at it, I reflect on how the tables have turned and how much Romy inspires me. She has shown me that I can make a difference - even with families that don't speak my language - even with children who come into my class without knowing a word of English. It's Romy that inspires me... inspires me to believe. How fortunate am I that someone like Romy has touched my life in such a profound way!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's All About ME!

One of the activities that the children have been doing in order to learn to compare and contrast characters in a story is using Venn diagrams. To make it more interesting for the children, they have compared a Kevin Henkes character to themselves.Dazha notes in her comparison that she and Lilly (from Kevin Henkes' Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse) are alike because they both have purple purses, love school, want to be a teacher, get very angry and both like to draw pictures and eat cheese puffs. They are different because Lilly likes to write books but Dazha likes to color in books. Lilly writes mean letters to the teacher but Dazha writes good letters to the teacher. Lilly goes to school by herself but Dazha goes with her grandma. Lilly likes to dance but Dazha likes to watch people dance.

Dede compares herself to Kevin Henkes' Chrysanthemum. They both play, smile, dress, like to go to school and like macaroni and cheese with ketchup! They are different because Chrysanthemum is a mouse and Dede is human. Chrysanthemum is shy and Dede is outgoing. Chrysanthmum runs to school but Dede drives a car to school.

While some of these first comparisons are somewhat shallow and not the kind of connections that are really going to help the students understand the range of emotions and mood of the characters, they are a beginning step in comparing at a deeper level - and they are fun!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Test Quest

Today I spent the day with a group of eight first and second grade teachers who were committed to writing first grade assessments that: 1) close the gap between first and second grade, 2) include the appropriate new standards, 3) guide instruction by deepening oral read aloud comprehension with questioning of higher complexity, and 4) are written with our high stakes test in mind. This is not the first time we have undertaken this work. The first time was probably six to eight years ago when we selected weekly reading passages and wrote questions. Then again a couple of years later we gathered sample leveled text and wrote questions to be used with our DRA assessments because our second grade colleagues felt that the oral retelling of the DRA did not reflect the comprehension that was required in weekly written assessment as students entered second grade. Then again two years ago we looked at the last assessments in first grade and the first assessments in second grade to make sure there was a smooth transition. Once again today we tackled the idea of doing an even better job. I imagine that a few more years down the road we will again take a look at assessments! After all, in a few years I expect our state to adopt the Common Core standards and I also expect the pendulum to swing more to the middle as we de-emphasize high stakes testing for a more comprehensive view of assessment. We must always take a look at how we assess our students so that we get the best information possible and in this time of test frenzy, we actually seem to have the opportunity to perfect our understanding of how a multiple choice test might inform our instruction, as limited as that might be.

What is the most amazing about the work that was done today was the depth of knowledge, background work that had been done before the meeting, and the level of collegial conversation. The day was led by first grade lead Maria Mallon, second grade lead Carrie McLeod, and Special Education Teacher Debbie Rossignol under the direction of our Standards Coach Suzanne Shall. The amount of work these ladies had done BEFORE our day together was amazing. It took them half the day to explain all the background work of looking at the first grade standards, identifying the standards that could be on our state assessment, and then taking each standard and looking at the benchmarks, test attributes, context limits, stem/excerpts, distractor attributes and samples of FCAT released items for each standard! Even with all the background organization, it still took my small group of three teachers three hours to complete a single test! However, the conversation and the learning that took place was well worth it and makes us all better teachers in the end! This kind of time and this level of conversation embedded in our day-to-day work is what great professional development is all about! How I wish this was the norm in all our schools!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy 100th Day!

What a great day! Now we are 100 days smarter! We had so much fun with our celebration!

  • Morning work was to make a list of 100 words that the child could read, spell and write.
  • As students finished their list they earned a treat shaped like 100 (a Twinkie and two mini-donuts!)
  • We completed our 100 chart - the one we have been keeping since the first day of school.
  • We made 100 day hats that required the children to connect a train together counting by 10's to 100.
  • We counted with a music videos from 1 to 100 - over and over and over.
  • 100 chocolate Kisses were hidden around the room. Each Kiss had a number on the bottom. Kids took turns finding the numbered Kisses and then matching the numbers on our one hundreds chart. Looks like one little smarty ate one of the kisses because we were missing one when they were all found!
  • Since we had 99 chocolate Kisses and 25 students present today we did a little problem solving so we could figure out how many Kisses each child could get so that every child had the same number.
  • We cut and glued sequins to our 100 shaped opera glasses!
  • Some of the first grade teachers dressed up like they were 100 years old. They came for a visit and when I asked the children what they noticed about these 100 year old teachers, Tanner said that they looked just like me! Kids are just way too honest!
  • After we watched a video of people from 1 year old to 100, the children drew pictures of how they thought they would look when they got to be 100! The gray hair, the glasses, the canes, and lots of speech bubbles -they may get old but they will still have lots to say!
  • We investigated how many quarters, dimes and nickels it would take to make a dollar.
  • We predicted how many times we thought we could write our names in 100 seconds and then wrote to see if we were right.
  • We hopped for 100 seconds; jumped for 100 seconds; and put our heads down quietly for 100 seconds!
  • Our final activity was to predict if we thought we could lick a Tootsie Pop 100 times and get to the center of the lollipop. Just in case you wondered, nobody got to the center in 100 licks!
All in all, we learned so much about the number 100!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Board Walk

At Chets Creek we put up "standard-based" bulletin boards each month. No more "fluff" - instead its work based on a standard. Each board consists of a title, the standards, the task, four pieces of student work and commentary. These boards have become a cornerstone of our work. The boards are meant to be a window into the instruction in the classroom. They are used as artifacts of the learning for our students, parents, community and other teachers. Today as part of our professional development in Science, we took a "board walk." We looked at three bulletin boards that were done around our Science topic of what animals need for survival. This is collaboration at its best. Not only did teachers have a chance to see lesson plans in writing that included lots of video links, but they had a chance to see the boards that connected the standards, described the lesson, showed artifacts such as posters and Science journal entries and lab sheets of the student work and also had commentary on each child's work explaining how the child understood the lesson. Each of these boards also had lots of photographs documenting the process. Not only is this an interesting and fun way to learn, but it provides lively conversation!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Another Report

Just had to share Jonah's report on the "Universe." He uses the conventions that he has learned, his background knowledge and his creativity to write this delightful report.The UNIVERSE and more...

Table of Contents
All in Matter...1
Space Science...2
Solar System...3
End of the World...4
What's Earth?...5
The Sun...6


All in Matter
All 10 things in the solar system MATTER.
You are matter.
Earth is matter.
The sun is matter.
Space is matter.
Matter is matter.
All of space is matter.
Is matter the universe?
Well, yes it is.

Space Science
The planets are always moving around the sun and spinning. In order... the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Venus is much too hot.

Solar System
The three outer planets are Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The 3 inner planets are Mercury, Venus and Earth!

What's Earth?
Earth is the 3rd planet. It has one moon and its the only planet with life. The moon reflects with the sun. The moon orbits the Earth. The Earth spins and orbits the sun.

The Sun
The sun is billions of years old. Its gravity is 10000m but it not old enough to do another Big Bang. Its core is very hot! The surface of the sun is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, 5531.8 degrees Celsius!

End of the World
We'll end soon! The water will be gone. All gone. We'll die in the SUN! The sun will miss Pluto and turn into a black hole! but this may not happen... or will it?