Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Grand Reopening

There are times when I am just so proud of the colleagues that I work with.  Today was one of those days.  A year ago we had a vision for a tutoring center in one of our underserved neighborhoods.  We had been talking about it for years and then one day, we just said, "Let's quit talking and do something."  That's all it took for Liz Duncan and KK Cherney to start.  Over the last year they have partnered with Beach United Methodist Church, The McKenzie Wilson Foundation, the middle and high schools in the area and the managing organization of the 1000 mobile home community.
Teachers from Chets Creek volunteer at the Center Monday through Wednesday from 4:00-6:00.  Thursday and Friday are reserved for middle and high school students.  McKenzie Wilson Foundation has bought a SmartBoard and Nooks and offers a place of service for their volunteers.  Second Harvest has gotten involved so the teachers come on Saturdays to deliver food.  The church offered a full Bible School to the students this summer and offer Saturday Sunday School.  There was a huge baby shower last Spring for all the new moms in the community, Christmas parties with give aways and crafts, construction projects that have included such things as pressure washing, stapling plastic over holes, weeding and landscaping.  We are trying to make this a place where teachers who need to meet the ESOL requirement for the state can do the work at the Center.  With our heavy Hispanic population, it is the perfect place to see and serve.

I guess the point is that I work with some incredible teachers.  They saw a need and were willing to do the work to make it happen.  I guess what I've learned is that dreams really can come true!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

First of the Year Kindergarten Bulletin Boards

Nursery Rhymes are a popular bulletin board for the first standard-based bulletin board in Kindergarten.  The board to the left includes a delightful illustration of the beginning, middle and end of the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty which helps a student begin to see that even very short stories have beginnings, middles, and ends.  It is amazing the detail that some kindergartners can already put into their pictures! This board also includes a worksheet where students have to draw some of the vocabulary words in the rhyme such as wall, King, men, horse.  It also includes a rhyming activity where students have to draw a rhyming word for some of the words that the students have been working with such as drawing a picture of a word that rhymes with wall (ball). 
This board on the right also focuses on the nursery rhymes that are part of our early learning but in this case the entire focus of the board is phonological awareness - the rhyming activites that are being taught through the rhymes.  For instance, the rhyme Hickory Dickory Dock includes the rhymes hickory-dickory, dock-clock, and one-run.  The board shows several rhyming activities such as listing words that are in the -ock family, being given a picture and selecting or cutting out another picture that rhymes with the pictured word.  Rhyming is such a fundamental skill because it is so hard for students to move forward if they cannot hear rhyming at the end of words!
Mrs. Roberts also features work with Nursery Rhymes on her bulletin board.  Her board includes several activites, also with rhyming words but the activity that is unique is her work is with the SmartBoard to teach rhming with the nursery rhymes.  Bet the children are mesmerized!

This board is all about "name" activites including combining the work we do in nursery rhymes to teach phonological awareness by using  a child's name.  We know that there is no more important word to a child than his own name so the board shows how you can substitute the class.  Jane and Henry went up a hill...It also shows a list of the words that the class discovered that also start with the same sound as a student's name and that student's homework when children were asked to bring in items from home that started like their name.  The final activity includes a list of the children's names in the class where the children have counted/ clapped the syllables that they can hear in each name. 
The standard-based bulletin board below focuses on the drawings and words that are the final activity of "Star Names". After the children have done many acitivites that emphasize the beginning sound of the name of a single star student for the day, each child is asked to draw a picture of the star student. The teacher models the child's name as the class follows and then draws a picture of the student. The students begin with simple pictures and then more elaborate pictures that begin to fill up the white space and then finally stories about the student. As the drawings become more sophisticated, so do the words, beginning with the child's name and then moving to labels, sentences and then stories. This bulletin board displays the many levels of entering kindergartners, from a simple, almost unidentifiable picture with mock letters and scribbles to a sophisticated drawing with a phonetic sentence.

Mrs. Mallon and Mrs. Dillard's bulletin board focuses on the beginning stories that our youngest authors write in Writers' Workshop, showing four different levels of writing from simple drawings to  detailed drawings with simple phonetic sentences. What makes this board interesting is the way that the teachers introduce writing to their class by telling the students to first imagine a story with a beginning, middle, and end over three pages before they begin writing and then to tell their stories through drawings and words. It is amazing what these youngest writers have to say and what they can already write!
Each of the bulletin boards above provides a window into the important instruction that goes on inside kindergarten classrooms so early in the school year.  Can't wait to see how these boards unfold in the months to come.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pencil Grip

How important is pencil grip?  "Back in the day" we always changed a child's pencil grip to the standard tripod.  We had a child pretend a pencil was a car.  We told them to put the chubby mom (thumb) in the front seat with the tall skinny daddy (pointer finger) - to hold the pencil -  and then to put the three children in the back (other three fingers).  When we saw children not using the correct grip, we physically changed their fingers and insisted on the proper pencil position when writing.

Then we went through a period in education when we only seemed to care if a child could write, regardless of the way that he held the pencil or marker.  During this same period handwriting practice also seemed to be de-emphasized and we rarely actually worked on daily handwriting practice in the early grades. Instead the emphasis was on the writing process and the thought that went into the writing instead of the handwriting itself.  My own son came through school during this period.  Last week a photographer took this picture below of him signing an autograph at a baseball game and you can see that his pencil grip was never "fixed."  However, he has beautiful handwriting as fine motor skills come easy for him!
So now I wonder... how important is pencil grip really?  The pendulum seems to be swinging again to an emphasis on correct grip and handwriting practice.  I have used several different pencil grips in the past, usually recommended by occupational therapists who are trying their best to help my students who really struggle with writing.  I guess I will still continue to show students the proper grip, especially when they struggle with writing, and I will also show their parents the correct grip and reinforce as changes are made, because I know that pencil grip is extrememly hard to change after a child reaches age 6.  Certainly we now teach handwriting in Kindergarten and then reinforce it again in first grade with more enthusiasm and rigor than we did even five years ago.  Maybe this generation will have neater handwriting... or maybe we should just teach them proper keyboard placement! 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

When It's Just Too HOT!

This is Florida!  And it's hot people!  In this time of budget cuts, the county has upped acceptable temperatures in our building.  There is also some type of  motion sensor in our rooms that turns off the air when there is no movement, so... when you leave for lunch or recess or a Resource, the air turns off.  When you return, the room's heated up in your absence and never quite cools back down.  The air is also off until the last minute in the morning so if you come early to plan, you are reinforced for giving of your time freely by sweating!  The same is true in the afternoons, the air is turned off around 4:00 even though we have Extended Day in the building until 6 and Monday mornings - when the air has been off all weekend - oh my!  The point is the building has been unbelievable hot this August.  By 9:30 in the morning my hair in the back from my ears down is actually wet and in ringlets!  I can feel the beads of sweat drip down my back.

To be fair, they did finally decide that there was some trouble with one of the chillers in our building, but even after it was patched back together, it was still hot.  Yesterday a teacher told me that she had decided to forgo lunch because she was just too hot to eat.  She also said that she didn't blame her kids for not wanting to write at the end of the day because all she really wanted to do was go to sleep.  Opening the door to her room was like opening a sauna.  The PTA ladies won't even do their work in my room because they complain about the heat.  Another of our teachers wrote on Facebook that she went right home and took a shower because she had been sweating all day and her clothes were sticking to her.  Professional dress is a joke when you're wet and smelly!  This is Florida folks!  We are looking at days easily in the high 90's.  When I got in my car one day to go home last week, the temp read 101 outside!  It's HOT!

Now think about that as you think about all of the assessment that is going on in the building.  In the heat that just makes us all tired and cranky, we, Kindergarten teachers, are evaluating the Voluntary Pre-K program in our state.  Is this really fair to our Pre-K colleagues?  We are also beginning the state's FAIR testing and our own county's writing assessments and benchmark testing in upper grades.  With heat and tempers rising, do we really have the best testing environments?  Are these really the results that we want to drive our instructional decisions? When we cut educational budgets, what are we REALLY sacrificing?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Lunch and Bus Duty

As part of the budget cuts in education, teachers at my school have had to take on "duties."  The duties include such things as lunch duty and bus duty.  In years past or at least in the past 20 years, the county has been able to purchase these services through the help of paraprofessionals. Don't get me wrong.  I have been a teacher for a long time and back in the day, it was not unusual for teachers to have duties.  We usually took a week here or there and had morning breakfast duty or a week of bus duty.  In all of my 30 plus years, however, I don't ever remember being required to do lunchroom duty.  However, for ten years at Alimacani Elementary School I skipped my duty free lunch and ate with my class of preschool children with special needs.  It was just easier.  I was often toilet training children and it was easier to be there than to go back to the lunchroom and find a child had had an accident, and I liked talking with the children during this freer time of the day.  Not only could I work on their language skills in this more natural environment, but I just enjoyed talking to the kids during lunch!  During that same time, I did morning bus duty for these same kids.  It was just easier to meet their buses and watch the children myself before school formally started than to ask a para to watch them when they were not familiar with the behavior programs that we had in place.  The same was true in the afternoon.  I put each child in the parent's car and then escorted the rest of the children to their bus in the afternoon.  

Ever since I have been at Chets Creek, I have not been required to do bus or lunch duty except for the first few weeks to help out with kindergartners.  However,I gave up my lunchtime for a year because I had a student that just couldn't get through the lunch period without severe behavioral issues.  The point is, I have done lunch and bus duty in the past, but always because I felt my expertise was needed for those specific times of the day to meet the needs of students.

Now, however, teachers are doing lunch and bus duty, simply because there is no one else to do it.  To make sure that all the duty is "fair" we often have more teachers than are really need in the Dining Room at one time and more than are needed at the bus, but we have to be "fair."  I was thinking today about the amount of money that taxpayers are paying me to stand at the bus for 45 minutes at the end of the day.  I'm embarrassed to say what it is costing them!   I don't really offer much.  Safety is not the issue here. There are five adults out there and a patrol for every bus - a job that could probably be handled by two adults easily. It's not hard work.  I enjoy getting hugs from former students and asking how the day has been.  Today there was actually a nice breeze and I kept thinking about how I was using my six years of college and thirty plus years of experience in reading as I waved good-by to kids. 
The same could be said for the lunchroom.  I'm sure administrators won't fight for a change because I'm sure there are probably less issues with so many teachers overseeing, but what is lost when teachers are spending their time handing out napkins and forks instead of sharing lunch with their colleagues?  Although our school has a small faculty Dining Room, few teachers actually eat there.  Instead, before this year, they usually ate with a partner and 90% of what I saw is that they were planning and collaboratively talking about issues and kids.  There's not really a  lot of personal conversation, although they certainly can do that, but instead, at our school it was mostly about the work.  Because co-teachers are split this year, one in the lunchroom while the other eats and then one at recess while the other eats, they miss this valuable time of comparing notes and planning together.  This really takes its toll in the primary school where teachers really co-teach the entire day.  It's not like one teacher teaches the entire 36 while the other plans for half the day and then viceversa.  In the primary school, where I can speak with authority, most teachers are both on their feet teaching the entire day together.  That takes extra planning, but this year, instead of being together running through ways to fine tune instruction, they are opening pop top fruit and putting straws in juice bags. I wonder how businesses would feel about this really poor use of time... It may be "fair," but is it efficient?  Funny that we would have teachers spend their day in this way in a time when we say we believe in rigor...  Food for thought...