Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Best of 2011

Much to my surprise the Most Popular Posts on my blog for 2011 all centered around bulletin boards!  I like this, because we spend a lot of time at my school on bulletin boards.  We gave up the "fluff and stuff" boards years ago to move to boards that are a "window into the instruction in the classroom."  They are teaching boards.  They are learning boards.  They have common elements, such as posting the standards, student work with commentary, and a description of the lesson or the lessons leading up to the artifacts.  The best bulletin boards are those that are taken from a naturally occurring lesson.  A special lesson should never be taught just to get a bulletin board, but the bulletin board should be a natural lesson plucked out of the sequence to highlight the learning.  It doesn't have to be a final lesson or project with a completely finished piece of work.  It can be a lesson anywhere in the progression and the work can be at the beginning, anywhere in the middle, or at the end.  I think the reason that I so often write about bulletin boards is because they chronicle the student work.  Take a look back at these posts from 2011.

A Board Walk, February 2, 2011
Bulletin Boards: Are They Worth It?  August 8, 2011
First of the Year Bulletin Boards September 21, 2011
Pattern Book Bulletin Boards December 6, 2011

And so we end 2011 with a look back -reflection - and welcome the new year!  We've been waiting for you 2012.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Writing Letters to Santa

One of the things that Kindergarten teachers like to do this last week before the holiday break is to invite students to write letters to Santa.  Below are a couple of examples.
Dear Santa,
How are you doing?  Are you making any trains this year?  I like trains.  Asher
Dear Santa,
How are you doing?  I want to buy a present for the children at the hospital but I do not have enough money and I do not think that my mom will because she already bought a lot of stuff for me, my sister,

and my brother.  What should I do?  And before I go I just want to ask how are your elves doing.  Merry Christmas.  Love, Morgan

You just have to love the way kindergartners think!

Traditions I Love

Every school has traditions, especially around the holidays.  At our school we have a huge holiday tree that decorates the entry way and has a picture of every single child in the school.  It wouldn't be Christmas at Chets without walking in each morning and seeing that big holiday tree.  Another tradition is our 12 Days of Cookies.  The 12 last days before the break, teachers, who want to participate, bring cookies and candy and put them on a buffet in the Office and then anyone that wants can stop by for a little sweet cheer.  I always stop by, even though I don't often partake.  I do love that the office often has the smell of the holidays.  M-m-m-m-m.

Another tradition that I love is the ornament exchange.  I don't participate in this group of 20, but I love that 20 women on our staff decided eight years ago that they love homemade ornaments, so each year they each make 20 ornaments and then meet one night near Christmas at someone's home and exchange the ornaments.  I love that the tradition was grass roots.  Someone always brings the samples to school.  It just wouldn't be Christmas if I didn't get to see the beautiful handmade ornaments that this group makes. 

I think traditions should continue because they make sense to the people involved.  They are special.  They evoke emotion. They should die when they are no longer meaningful.  It's easy to overdo this time of year to the point that you enjoy nothing because you are trying too hard to make everything perfect.  It won't ever be perfect.  Giving ourselves permission to make the special very special and to discard that that is simply obligatory or without heart, just makes good sense to me.  May your school traditions make this the merriest, most joyful holiday ever!

Thursday, December 15, 2011


In Florida, because of a lawsuit many years ago, all teachers are required to take courses in teaching second language students once they have their first student.  I have been teaching for over 40 years and I have never been flagged for ESOL which means I've never been told I had to take the hours.  That's because I am a Special Education teacher and it used to be highly unlikely that a second language student would be identified with special needs in the early grades.  However, two years ago three little Hispanic children from the same family all showed up in my classroom on the same day (two were twins and the other had been retained).  They had already been identified as students of a second language and students with developmental delays, so...  I was flagged that year - the same year that I officially retired and entered DROP (our state's retirement program).  I was NOT happy.  I just couldn't believe that after all those years, that now, at the end of my career, I would have to take  college courses on strategies to teach second language students to continue teaching.

Most of my friends have had to take the courses and most described the time of sitting three hours a night as similar to that of any other poorly designed professional development.  The strategies they described were so similar to the ones that we are already using for our students with language deficits and other academic challenges.  They learned about diversity, but I come from the years when home visits were a regular part of a school year. How was sitting in those courses now going to help?  Then, as often happens (Divine intervention?),  I had the idea of doing an independent study and actually doing action research to meet the requirement. I was already spending time at the MARC (our tutoring center in our large Hispanic area).  Why couldn't I use those hours for ESOL certification instead of sitting in a classroom and simply reading about the problems. The time with the kids at the MARC actually requires me to apply the strategies and it forces me into the community where our tutoring center is housed.  It took several phone calls through the Ivory Tower to find the "right" person, Karen Patterson - someone to share my dream and my enthusiasm. 

As time passed, that simple idea began to germinate.  If it would be better for ME to meet the ESOL requirement through service, then why wouldn't it be better for the many other teachers at my school who were already involved in this volunteering effort?  It wasn't long before I shared that idea with KK Cherney, our dynamo Media Specialist.  She immediately realized the potential of this small idea.  She had already been thinking about spreading the idea of our volunteer tutoring center all over the county and this was one of the answers on how to help staff those centers.  Teachers from all over the county who needed ESOL hours could choose to spend their time applying the strategies instead of just sitting in a sterile classroom and reading about them.  It would put teachers directly into the community working with children and their families.

That "big picture" hasn't happened yet.  The dream has not been fulfilled but the dream has spread.  Karen and Sharon Patterson are helping us realize the dream.   Today, our first little wave of putting teachers into the community through ESOL hours, came to fruition.  A handful of teachers met with Karen and Sharon, our ESOL supervisors, and shared their written reflections and artifacts - pictures, blog posts, student progress.  Teachers not only participated in weekly tutoring.  They were in the community for Second Harvest food giveaways and hosted children while their moms worked through classes in English.  They participated as 50 families were helped through our Angel Tree project this week.  They helped host a huge Christmas party that included crafts and stories and even the big red man himself. 

Has this experience changed any these teachers?  There is no question that each of these teachers have logged hours in this community.  They have formed strong relationships with children and families.  They have been inside homes.  Some have shared meals.  They have had conversations, often through interpreters, with parents who would never have come to school for a conference.  They have been touched by the dreams that they have shared with the children.  This grassroot effort has the potential to mushroom into something beyond what we can now imagine.  Stay with us for the ride.  The best is yet to come...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Writing Reports in Kindergarten

In Kindergarten children begin to write reports by writing about themselves.  After all, what subject do they know more about than themselves?!  This unit comes during our annual Pow Wow celebration so it is natural that many of our kinder classes choose the tribe that they are studying to write their next report.  Thus was the case in Debbie Harbour and Tenean Wright's kindergarten class.  Their bulletin board this month reflects the reports that some of the children wrote about the Nez Perce tribe.
The bulletin board includes the reports of four of the children with the teacher's commentary and many pictures from the Pow Wow event.  Below is one student's report and the teacher's commentary.
 They use buffalo skin.  Their teepees face east.  They eat fish.  Indian kids play with dogs and in the winter they stay in longhouses.  Nez Perce can shoot 10 arrows in the air before the first ones fall down.
They ride Appaloosas.  They sleep in tepees.  Indians have stew to heat up the fish.

Commentary:  Patrick wrote easily about the Nez Perce tribe we have been studying in class.  He recalled eight different facts and used pictures to help support his text.  It is obvious that Patrick has made the letter sound connection and can sound out many of the words that he does not know how to spell.  He also has mastered the spelling and use of many sight words (they, in, up, the...)