Thursday, April 28, 2011

Arts Extravaganza 2011

What an incredible week! This is the week that we celebrate the arts at Chets Creek. This is an annual tradition. I am always amazed at all that is done at our school! The school is alive with the student's work. There is a beautiful sunflower garden as you enter the school that was produced by 3rd graders using recycled water bottles! Then there is art work on every single wall as you walk through the halls of projects that have been completed all year. It's like going to an art gallery!

On Tuesday we heard the Fletcher Middle School Band which featured three former Creekers. They were so-o-o-o good! The kids especially loved the drum line! Then on Wednesday we were entertained by a play put on by the gifted classes at Chets Creek. That program continues to grow and this year featured music beginning in the 50's through the modern era!On Thursday we heard the incredible Sandalwood Chorus. The final number which was a Michael Jackson number was my class' favorite!

The Book Fair has also been open all week and even had evening hours so children could shop with their families. The Book Fairy, as usual, gave books to children all over the school that could not afford to buy books! Jen Snead, our head Art teacher, has been selling the children's framed art work each night. If you've ever had a piece of your child's art framed, you realize what a bargain this is! Then there are the baskets that each homeroom has put together which will be part of a silent auction ending Friday night. The baskets are absolutely unbelievable. All of the money is used to help fund the art programs. And then the highlight of the week is the family night on Friday which includes fun and free art events for all the family to participate! All of the week's activities are headed by our arts' teachers but get help from teachers and families all over the school. It's so hard to believe that with all the arts program offers to the children of our school that Duval County is getting ready to decrease our money for arts by 25%. In our school it may mean that the teachers double up on students and take two classes together. How thin can you spread a teacher and still expect quality instruction? These are difficult decisions in very stressful times! For now we thank all of our teachers of the arts who give so unselfishly of their time and talents!

Monday, April 25, 2011


Sometimes children just do things that are so funny that I just have to laugh out loud. Here are two of my favorites!

This is a problem that appeared in math during our unit on patterns. The student filled in the pattern but struggled with what the 18th letter would be in the pattern. When asked about the strategy she used, she wrote, "because I smart!" While I think we do an excellent job of building a child's self confidence, I can't ever remember teaching that as a math strategy!Then last week, this was turned in on a reading comprehension test. The question asks the student to identify the type of story that they just read. I guess the student didn't like any of the answers because he added a fourth - d! He even drew a circle and bubbled it in and wrote his answer - non-fiction. He actually was right! We gave him credit for originality! Although the story was a report, it was non-fiction! Those are his initials - DB with the smiley face inside. LOL!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Such a time as this...

I have always believed that you must live your passion - that if you find love in what you do, you will never work a day in your life. I have believed that if you don't work in that place that you are suppose to be that you die a little each day. I KNOW where I am suppose to be - Teaching and school have always been that place for me.

But recently, I have been feeling a little beat down. Last week I spent $68 on soil and seeds and planters and celery and lima beans for activities to teach my student a unit on planting. No money in a school budget for that type of hands-on teaching, but certainly the expectation is that it's the type of teaching that makes a difference. And then yesterday it was $16 worth of stamps to mail all the letters that my little ones have been so passionately writing. They believe their little voices can change the world... and so do I. I want them to mail their letters to their parents, to the Principal and the Dining room staff and to the Mayor and the Editor of the Newspaper. I hope every child gets a response so they know someone is listening , someone cares. There is power in words. I had asked parents to donate stamps but in this tight economy 2 stamps came in - not near enough for their mountain of thoughts. Today it was another $28 in Easter eggs and egg stuffings because so many of the families were simply unable to send in a dozen stuffed eggs for tomorrow's Easter egg hunt and holiday activities. Normally those little extras don't bother me one bit - just part of the job...

This week, however, I have felt a little like I can't quite catch my breath - smothered by politicians who are looking at the 101 ways to decrease a teacher's worth. It's not ALL about money but money seems to be the way that policy makers are currently judging our worth. I don't really remember when we last had a raise. National Boards, which was such a great promise for professionalism, has now whittled away to almost nothing. We have been told we will take a single digit percentage hit next year to pay for more of our own benefits. Then there are the furlough days - at a time when we need more planning and professional development we are looking at cutting the very thing that makes us the most successful and helps us grow as learners. How does that make sense? Now there's talk about "associate" teachers - taking a certified teacher and just paying them less if they are in a co-teaching situation. Just think about how that might play out... I can't think of any real gains in cooperative learning that are inherent in unequal yokes.

But the thing that pinches my heart and almost brings me to tears is that I have a daughter, a beloved daughter, who is a second year teacher... and I wonder if she were trying to make the decision today to pursue education - what advice would I give her? Even though I have had the most meaningful times of my life in search of learning and giving in the classroom, I think I would tell her to search her heart and soul and think about her other options. It's hard for me to even write those words for the truth of those words are so raw that they physically hurt. They sting my tongue and are sour in my back of my throat. I have never felt so powerless. I can write no more. I am overwhelmed with sadness... What are we doing to this profession?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Last Spring a dream came true for many of us that have been at Chets Creek for a long time. "The ARC" is located in the midst of a 1000 trailer park community in our attendance zone. Because there are so many families in such a small concentrated area it was a natural place for us to target. Working with the leadership of the community, our School Leadership Team worked to bring two hours of tutoring every day to the children in our school who live in that community. With leadership from our Media Specialist, KK Cherney and our Interventionist, Liz Duncan (both have been "Chets Creek Teachers of the Year" and are Nationally Board Certified), we have two small rooms in an office building that our teachers have transformed into an oasis. The leadership at the community donated five computers and our county donated another five. Teachers volunteer their time! I am fortunate to be able to go on Tuesdays for two hours. On that day I am joined by three other first grade teachers, Rebecca Roberts, Toni Chant and Maria Mallon and we serve about 15 first graders from the community. Many of them are second language students so we are lucky to have Toni who is fluent in Spanish to greet the parents and talk with them about whatever school problems that they might have. Since we have common first grade homework it is easy for us to work on the homework when children bring it in. We work on spelling words and sight words and have the children practice reading the comprehension passage that they will be tested on at the end of the week.

All of the children can spend some time on either a reading or math computer program. Often the children do not want to leave and a parent will sit down with a child and watch or help him on the computer past the hour tutoring. I have five students from my class who attend regularly. They are not all at-risk students. I am able to individualize what I do with them depending on their needs. I give them extra behavior points the next day for coming. Now other children in the classroom who do not live in the area are asking where the ARC is and how they can get to come!
This really is a labor of love for the teachers at our school. Our first grade colleagues who have young children, family responsibilities or classes, who are not able to volunteer, donate books and activities and more than that - encourage the children from their class to come spend time with us. They are supportive and appreciative of those of us who go to represent our grade level. This is simply a win-win all the way around!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spirit Week

Although our first graders above don't take our state test, they do get into the action by supporting their intermediate friends. At Chets Creek the week before our high stakes assessment (FCAT) is Spirit Week. On Monday we came dressed in support of our theme - farmers!  Tuesday is was mismatched clothes. On Wednesday it was wacky hair and socks. On Thursday we pulled tee-shirts from the back of our closets from any year and then finally on Friday, the big finale. The students and teachers came dressed as rock stars! The primary students lined the halls to watch the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders parade to an outside assembly featuring skits by their teachers and some of the Jaguar cheerleaders (one of them a former Creeker!) The idea is to rock out and relax before settling down for the BIG test.

I don't know if our first graders really get all that is happening, but if they have older brothers and sisters, they certainly know about "the test." Each primary class adopts an intermediate class for FCAT week. They prepare signs to pump up the intermediate students and provide morning snacks. All in all I hope our first graders get the idea that "the test" is absolutely fun! We'll see...

Monday, April 4, 2011

All they could say was "WOW"!

It's time again for new standard based bulletin boards at Chets Creek and the first grade boards highlight many of the Kevin Henkes activities that have claimed the hearts and minds of our children this nine weeks. I'll highlight several of the boards in the posts to come because each is different in its focus.
The bulletin board above shows many of the activities that students enjoyed as they built to the final product for this author study, a response to the Kevin Henkes' stories. The top border includes pictures that the children drew of their favorite Kevin Henkes character. (Owen won by a landslide!) The side and bottom borders are pictures the students drew of Lilly's movie star glasses! The first activity on this board highlights the graphic organizer that the children learned to use to identify each of the story elements in Kevin Henkes' books. They worked with a partner to identify characters, setting, problem, events and solution. These are the same story elements, of course, that can be found in any fiction, narrative text so the next step was to have students use the same graphic organizer to identify the story elements in a "just right" book from their individual reading bin. Students completed this activity in their Reading Response Notebooks during Readers' Workshop. The overarching goal of these two activities was to have students know what to expect from a fictional story and to have an outline to write their own story.

A new activity this year was to take what was learned about the elements of a narrative story and combine that with an adventure using a favorite Kevin Henkes character. Students loved writing these short small moment pieces that were written much like Kevin Henkes' board books from his Box of Treats. Each of Henkes' board books feature a single character in a small moment around a holiday. Jesse's book about Wendell at Busch Gardens uses Jesse's knowledge about the character Wendell and his own background knowledge about Busch Gardens as the setting and puts the character in the problem of finding the roller coaster. Students delighted in designing these new problems for their favorite Kevin Henkes characters. First graders love Kevin Henkes' stories because they can identify with the characters and themes. It is no surprise that they love dividing into small groups to learn their individual lines as they read scripts for Readers' Theatre. They really worked at using expression when they spoke and also practiced their lines so they knew all the words and knew right when they come in for their lines. This activity worked on fluency. The children spent two weeks of Readers' Workshop working on three different scripts. They were able to present each "play" to the class. This activity is a popular extension activity for this unit.
One of the things that first graders learn to do to deepen their comprehension is to compare and contrast. They make connections across characters and across books of a single author. To have the children begin thinking about comparing and contrasting we had them compare and contrast themselves with a Kevin Henkes character. They love his little mice characters because they are so much like the people that they know and by comparison, there is no character that they know better than themselves!
Then of course, the final element featured on this board is the response which is a retelling. This sample also includes the rubric that is given to students to help them decide when their writing is good enough and they have met the elements of a response. Although I have only included Nevin's response opening, this is the complete response.

You should read the book Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes because it's about mean girls who become good friends.

When Chrysanthemum was a baby she loved her name so so much. she would say it in he bathroom mirror, "chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemum" and she was jaunty about her first day of school but there was a problem. People were picking on her name. Ha Ha. You have a long name." Then the children met the Music teacher, Mrs. Twinkle. the children began to make fun of Chrysanthemum again. The music teacher said,"If I have a baby, I'll name it Chrysanthemum." Chrysanthemum's whiskers stood straight out. Her tail stood straight out. "Really?" said Chrysanthemum. Now all the girls wanted to be a flower.

I think you would like the book Chrysanthemum because it is a really good book.

All in all, these are just a few of the experiences that children enjoyed as they dove deeply into Kevin Henkes' books to embrace comprehension of narrative test. The title is taken from Mr. Slingers' statement in Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, "All they could say was 'WOW!'"

Addendum 4/29/2011: Chets Creek give an award each time bulletin boards go up for the best boards.  This is the commentary from our SBBB winner!
Congratulations Tracy Ruark and dayle timmons! Your Kevin Henkes author study bulletin board has earned the "Primary Purple Cow Bulletin Board of the Month"! The board includes a look into both reading and writing lessons and student products from parts of the unit. They highlighted graphic organizers based on story elements which they had students apply not only in pairs to a Kevin Henkes' book but also to the student's independent reading books, as well. Additionally they spotlight a student's Response to Literature with rubric, a comparing and contrasting characters activity that deepens comprehension, a creative story, and a Readers' Theatre lesson with Henkes' book, Owen. The border is adorned with student artwork including a drawing of each student's favorite character and colored glasses artifacts. The personalization is second to none with student pictures and puppets of the characters, too. Truly this is a unique board that you won't want to miss especially because you get a glimpse into an author study, Great work!