Thursday, December 20, 2012

Silent Night

On a cold, wet night 400 miles from home I joined other families as they awkwardly approached the school patio of my granddaughter's school.  It was too dark to make out faces or expressions.  In the shadow of the school building, we gathered  for a candlelight vigil in support of the 26 lost in the Connecticut school shooting.  The young principal, about the age of my own children, opened with a few sentences and then turned it over  to a mom who said she just felt like she had to do something and had asked the Principal to hold the vigil.  Her husband's voice broke as he tried to express what was in each of our hearts.  We tried to light candles but the whipping wind snatched the glow quickly as each candle was lit, much like the lives of the 26 were snatched in the horror of gunfire last week.

Even as the candles extinguished we stood without leaving.  We wanted to leave... but just seemed glued to our spots, hoping to complete some sort of unfinished business that we couldn't even put into words.  Finally a parent suggested that we sing Silent Night. We did. The Principal suggested another moment of silence before we dispersed.  Even in the hard chill of the night it was hard to leave.  I think we had each come because we wanted to do more, but we just didn't know what to do.  We left slowly, heartbroken...

My life is surrounded by teachers - my peers, of course, but also my husband, son and daughter, my daughter-in-law, my sister, niece and nephew.  I can't even think about what it would have been like to get that call that any one of them would not be coming home.  I do not doubt that each of them would have protected the children in their care at all costs...  and my family would never have been the same.  My first grandchild attends public school.  It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about her in a building with gunfire, and I can't imagine losing her to such a senseless act of insanity.

I can't change the events of the past.  I don't really want to go to a school with metal detectors and bars on the windows, being afraid of every stranger that walks the hallway.  On the other hand, I want to do everything I can to make sure that the children are safe.  I don't know what the political debate will be or what it will bring, but I know that I must find my voice and advocate on the side of the children - always on the side of the children.  I plan to make sure that my children feel safe and protected and that they know I will be there for them, no matter what.  I plan to make sure parents know that I will protect their child and care about their child, in the same way that I know someone is protecting and caring for my own precious grandchild, so far away.  I have always believed that the children that step through my door come by Divine appointment, so I will continue to pray for God's guidance as I walk this path with my children.  I will rededicate my days to making, not only their academics stronger, but their minds stronger, so that they do not find themselves so desolate and mentally sick that they have a need to strike out - that they are strong enough to understand those that are suffering and reach out before the moment of despair.  And... in every step I take from this moment, I will always remember... the 26.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

National Tragedy

Like me, I am sure teachers across this country are heart broken at the school shooting tragedy this week.  There are just not works to express the outrage and sorrow I am feeling.  I am sure each teacher has imagined herself in that circumstance and hoped and prayed that she would have been brave and been able to protect her babies.  I can't even imagine how the families are coping with the situation and loss...

This tragedy reminds me once again why we do what we do.  A teacher wrote me a message at the end of the day on Friday - our last day before the holiday - because one of my former students had another complete emotional breakdown.  He has been struggling for much of the year and she, with a team of caring teachers, is bravely and consistently trying to do what is best for him and his family... and for the rest of her class, but it is wearing her down.  You know that child.  The one some teacher labeled as just "bad."  The one that tries your last nerve and sometimes makes you want to scream.  The one you cry over and spend sleepless nights trying to figure out a new strategy for the next day.  The one that takes all of your bag of tricks and frustrates you beyond what you think you can handle.   The one whose parents are either as exasperated as you are or as exasperating.  The one who is "odd" and who has as many problems with his peers as he does with adults.  The one who can't think past his own wants and who is often devoid of appropriate remorse.  The one that you still worry about when he leaves you...   It's the child that you worry about because you suspect he will make headlines one day - in a shooting tragedy like the one we just witnessed.

It's the reason that I believe in inclusion -that all children need an environment that is a microcosm of life - where they can practice and learn the lessons of feeling guilty and making it right, of standing up when someone is bullied, of sharing and feeling empathy, of knowing what is right and wrong and acting on those beliefs, of learning how to handle anger.  Academics may be the reason that schools are organized, but it's life skills that are the core of what we do.  If the difficult children are isolated, they may never learn the lessons that will make them contributing adults in our society.  We need to reach out to them with an urgency.  We need the resources to make sure that we can reach out to them.  We know that the family is breaking down - we see it every day - and that many of our children will not have the nurturing comforts of a loving, two parent nuclear family - that instead they will face poverty, abuse, hatred.  It is our moral - even Divine - directive as teachers to try to be the agent of change in this world filled with so much horror. We are the ones who must furnish the comfort and safety in this world if no one else can.  Is it too much to ask?  Of course, it is, but we will continue to do the impossible every day.  My heart goes out to the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary who faced  the unbelievable and against unimaginable odds, will go on to teach another day.  My heart breaks for those who lost their lives... I hope their families know that they fought the good fight and will always be our heroes.  That is probably little comfort to families who lost mothers and sisters and daughters.  May their sacrifice not be in vain.  May we rededicate ourselves to those children who, without us, will be lost.  May be continue to find our voices, and shout to the rooftops our need to be able to support these children. And every day that we walk out of school drained, close to tears, wondering how we will walk into that classroom one more day, may we remember that we ARE making a difference.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Promise to Kate

One of my favorite traditions at Chets Creek is our "Seasons of Giving" project.  Each class is encouraged to support a cause that teaches the children about giving and service during the holiday season.  Classes choose deserving projects such as supporting Beth Young (a former Chets teacher that is now serving a full time mission in Africa) or collecting blankets for the homeless or  collecting coloring books for Wolfson Children's Hospital.   There is also a toy drive to help 165 families in our Chets Creek family!  There are so many opportunities.  

Our class chose to support "Promise to Kate" which is a foundation started by teacher Elizabeth Conte and her husband to find a cure for myotonic muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that their precious daughter Kate (on the left) was born with.  We are thrilled that other classes and friends have joined us in teaching our children about supporting Kate by making items for a silent auction.  Make sure to stop by our lobby and make a bid on one of the delightful items!  Below is just a sample!
The beautiful pots below were made and donated by our talented Art Teacher, Jen Snead.  

 Many of the classes made holiday items that included ornaments made by the children or that included each child's fingerprint.  Aren't they delightful?

Several of the classes collected items for baskets such as the "Chocolate Delicious" below.

Or how about this cake plate with recipe cards?

And look at this delightful basket of monogrammed hand towels made and donated by a Grandma of two of our Chets students!

The Advent calendar below was made and donated by Vickie Holtsman, who has adopted "Promise to Kate" as her platform as "Miss River City Outstanding Teen 2012."

One of my favorite items is ornaments made by a class that can be exchanged for a donation!  I have already picked out my ornaments and plan to make a donation to honor each of my grandchildren!

This is just a sampling of the beautiful items that are available - loving made and given by children who care about Kate!  Give yourself a present this holiday season and stop by our Lobby.  Just stroll through the posters and projects - it'll make you feel good to know that our children are making a difference - and make sure to bid on one of our "Promise to Kate" items!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pow Wow 2013

One of my favorite Chets Creek traditions is Pow Wow because it reminds me of how far we've come.  We've moved from the days of a generic Native American celebration to studying tribes, their part of the country, their foods, clothes and traditions.  Pow Wow is a kindergarten performance with 5th grade woven into the day by their participation and the projects that they do, so that it is a circle activity bringing our children back to the beginning, full circle.

As first graders we are invited to watch the Pow Wow, remembering our days in the spotlight the year before.  When you're in the midst of it, you don't realize the pageantry, the beautiful colors as 200 kindergartners parade into the grounds and form tribal circles in their colorful native costumes.  I love the details, and the parents with their cameras and pride clicking away.  After the ceremony the kindergartners participate in centers for the rest of the day finishing up late in the afternoon.  One of the marvels of the day is a full sized tee pee that will seat an entire kindergarten class and the dynamic "Peaceful Waters" - our own Media Specialist, Miss KK.  KK enthralls everyone that enters the tee pee with her stories.  Of course, they are overwhelmed with just the idea of sitting inside this huge outside tent.  Then as she passes the "talking stick" and asks each child and adult tell the group what they are thankful for,  I am moved to tears every single time.  As the children leave, the Leadership Team and a few other adults lay down on the floor of the tee pee and just take a few minutes to enjoy the peace and quiet before the tee pee comes down at the end of the day.
I am always moved by this ritual.  I have worked in a dozen schools in three different states and I know that it's not like this at other places.  Not only have we designed the most fantastic learning experience for our children, we spend a few minutes reflecting and just enjoying the fruits of our labor.  I feel truly blessed to work in this very special place!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Kevin Henkes Characters and Charts

 We have read all of Kevin Henkes' "mouse"  books.  We used the books to study his characters.  First, with Wemberly, we worked with a partner to think of a single word that described worried Wemberly.  Then for Wendell and Sheila Rae and Louise we worked with partners and came up with a word to describe each character and then wrote our evidence - where in the text the character had demonstrated that quality.


 After several days of describing characters, we decided to see if we could come up with the word that Kevin Henkes used to describe each character.  The Kevin Henkes word is in red on the right.  The words that we came up with are in green.
Finally we decided which character was our favorite.  On one side of an index card we drew a picture of our favorite character and on the other side we wrote the reason that the character was our favorite.  As you can see Owen was our favorite, but Lilly came in a close second!

We also learned about Kevin Henkes' life so we could figure out how his life had affected his writing.  Students shared the most interesting thing they had learned about Henkes from their homework.
 All of this background helped us talk across the books - our favorite book, favorite character, which book we thought was Kevin Henkes' most important to first graders...  To have a book talk, we had to learn about Accountable Talk - how to wait for the silence to speak, how to make sure that everyone got a turn, how to disagree politely, how to listen and build on what others said.  We made the chart below of phrases to help us continue the conversation.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fall Celebration Ideas

We start our fall celebration each year with a Literacy Parade.  Some children use their Halloween costumes and just find a book to match and others actually design a costume around a favorite book. As they arrive so full of excitement, we ooooh and ahhhh over the selections before we parade around the downstairs.
 We spend the rest of the day celebrating with fun activities that have a wee bit of academics.

We love "cooking" this year with our "Recipe for Success" theme so our first activity was making a ghost cookie.  The idea actually came from one of our mothers, that has her own cookie blog, that sent the teachers a few ghost cookies as a treat.  We simplified the cookie and the children loved this easy ghost - a Nutter Butter cookie covered with white icing and then two small chocolate chips for eyes and a larger one for the mouth.
When we did our Math Diagnostic earlier this year, we noticed that the students were really struggling with interpreting graphs so we took this opportunity to add some work with graphs. We looked for individually wrapped themed candies.  This year we found colored skulls and bones.  After each child graphed his candies and colored in his graph, we showcased different graphs, asking questions such as. How many more green bones than black skulls?  Which candies have equal amounts.  Make an equation using the red bones and green skulls.  Love that Math practice!

Also from our Math work, we put 10 candy corns and 10 candy pumpkins in a Ziploc for each child and then asked the children to make combinations of ten.  This is a play on our Math Investigations "peas and carrots" activity.  The children used these fun manipulatives to make the combinations and then shared their work in a typical math closing activity.
It seems like one of the things that often gets cut in our curriculum is art.  So... today we did our own version of pumpkin making.  Each pumpkin had its own personality!
After lunch we cut the traditional jack-o-lantern.  I am always amazed at the number of children who say they have never cut a jack-o-lantern. Every single child had a chance to stick a hand inside the pumpkin and pull out some "gunk".  Then we reviewed geometric shapes as we made a group decision on the shapes of the eyes, nose and mouth.  We lit the jack-o-lantern with a flashlight to shine tonight as the children came back to trick-or-treat during our annual school wide Fall Festival.  We saved the seeds to count and cook another day.
This year we also cut the top off one of the smaller pumpkins, cleaned it out, and replanted a few of the seeds inside the pumpkin.  The idea is to let the seeds sprout in the window and then replant the pumpkin (shell, soil and sprout) in a larger pot before the shell rots!  Will let you know how it goes.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Little Gardening

It was out to the garden today to plant radishes. I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity with our students. Each row is marked off  for interested first grade classes and the seeds are supplied. This is a massive effort for a school with over 1200 students! 

After our visit to the the garden the children came back to the room and wrote about their garden predictions.

Thank you Dr. Zenk and the entire Science Council for making this opportunity available!

Saturday, October 13, 2012


I think one of the most difficult things for a young first grader to do is to compare and contrast when they read - books, characters, themes, whatever.  So to begin teaching that skill, after we have talked deeply about characters, we have our students begin by comparing a character to themselves.  Who do they know better in the world than themselves?!

Although the new Common Core talks about changing directions and having children do less thinking about connections to their own lives and more thinking about the evidence that is actually stated or inferred in the story, very young children still need to think about what they know about stories before they begin and as they read. They do need to access their prior knowledge so that they can take that knowledge and put it with what the text says to form new opinions and interpretations.   They still need to think about times when the same thing happened to them so that they can understand the setting, the problem, the solution - so they can understand why a character does what she does.  That's not to say that our thinking and conversation don't need to be ratcheted up a level and that we then don't need to look for the direct evidence in the book to back up any claims we make.  We can't just talk off the text anymore.  The Common Core demands a much higher and deeper comprehension than we have expected from our youngest readers.

At least this is how my own thinking is going right now... as I grapple with these new expectations.  Below are some of the Venn diagrams that our students did as they were beginning to understand this very complex skill of comparing and contrasting.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Blend Project

After doing the Words Their Way assessment, we discovered that most of our students needed additional work on blends so we wrote a two week home project to assure that our students got some extra home practice working with blends.  Families were to look for four pictures for each of 16 blends.  They could use magazines or could google clip art.  To my surprise, all but one student completed the project (we did complete three of the projects at the MARC - our off-campus tutoring center - with second language students) and they were quite well done.  Some of the parents did complain about the work but when we gave the blends assessment, every single student scored 80% correct or above!  Rarely do we do a home project that is such an academic success.  We would certainly do this again!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Last year our Reading Council ordered Words Their Way as a book study for the Council members. We read and discussed the book and then decided to commit to trying the program in our classrooms as a pilot to see if it is anything that we would like to use school wide. After giving the pre-assessment I found that I have three different groups in my classroom. Each group is working on a different sort. One group on initial consonants - one group on short and long vowels and a final, larger group on blends.  Will this improve decoding and spelling?  It will be interesting to see.  So far, so good.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bulletin Board - Sweet - Bulletin Board

We started the school year with a unit on pattern books.  We chose this first unit to get our young first graders back into the habit of writing every day.  We find that our children can write easily and fluently when they are thinking of patterns. It is also the type of books that children typically are reading when they come into first grade.  Below are some of the artifacts and translations for the books above that we featured on our standard-based bulletin board.

About Pattern Books
For the past four weeks our students have been reading and writing pattern books.  Pattern book is not a genre or literary term but a way to talk about the books that our youngest authors write.  A pattern book has a predictable structure with repetitive language.  Understanding pattern books helps a reader predict text.

This unit was four weeks long. The expectation is that all students complete at least one simple pattern book.  Many children finished several pattern books with different patterns and many details. The children have been exposed to many different patterns.  They have also recognized patterns in their own reading and have placed the pattern books they find while reading in the teacher’s chair so that they can be read to the class.  However, they found many more pattern books than we could ever read!

The conventions we expect this time of year (spacing between words, starting with a capital letter, ending with punctuation, sounding out words to write the letters, using the word wall) are practiced daily in the homework and during daily Skills Block.  When children write their stories in Writers’ Workshop they are practicing and applying the skills that they have learned earlier in the day.

The pattern books on the board and hanging under each child’s name represent some of the many patterns that the children have tried using.  They have used their mentor authors from the pattern books they have read to create many interesting pattern books in many different genres.  Enjoy and delight in these adorable examples of the books our children have written!

At Chets Creek

It is Math Workshop at Chets Creek, at Chets Creek.
It is Science time at Chets Creek, at Chets Creek.
It is lunch time at Chets Creek, at Chets Creek.
It is Physical Education at Chets Creek, at Chets Creek.
It is Skills Block at Chets Creek, at Chets Creek.
It is Readers’ at Chets Creek, at Chets Creek.
It is Writers’  at Chets Creek, at Chets Creek.
                                                 It is recess.  Yay recess!

Orientation and Context
This student establishes her topic with a cover page and a title, At Chets Creek, which is also her repeating line.

She uses the pattern phrase, It is ___ at Chets, Creek, at Chets Creek.  The idea for the repeating line comes from a favorite class mentor text, Down on the Farm She stays on topic throughout her book.

This student changes up the pattern with a delightful little twist at the end,  It is recess. Yay recess!

Wonderful illustrations provide detail to the text.  She even labels many of the items in her pictures.

On the back cover of her book, this student gives the reader a vocabulary lesson, modeled after the vocabulary activities we do in class.  Hi. I am H... and I am going to teach you the word Physical Education.  That word is for PE.  You exercise.  What does the word mean?

 This student's work is easy to read.  She uses spaces between words and spells sight words correctly.  She spells unknown words phonetically, such as fichuckulijuckashin for Physical Education!  After an editing conference she changed the beginning letter of each page to a capital and added periods at the end of each sentence.

This student is such a delight to have in a Writers’ Workshop.  She is eager to try new patterns each day and loves writing.  She loves to read her work to an adult and would love to have a conference every single day!  She easily revises and edits her work when given suggestions.
I Said
I said, “Let’s go to Disney World.” Mom said, “Okay.”
I said, “Let’s go to Adventure Landing.” Mom said, “Okay.”
I said, “Let’s go to school.” Mom said, “Okay.”
I said, “Can I go to the store?” Mom said, “Okay.”
I said, “Let’s go to the manatees.” Mom said, “Okay.”
I said, “Let’s go to beach.” Mom said, “Okay.”
I said, “Let’s go to the aquarium.” Mom said, “Okay.”
I said, “Can I go play on your computer?” Mom said, “No!”

Orientation and Context
This student orients the reader with a cover page and a title for her pattern book, I Said.

She uses the back and forth pattern of I said… and then Mom said… She stays with her pattern throughout her book.

There is a delightful little twist at the end of the book.  Instead of always saying, “Okay” to whatever the author asks, on the last page, Mom says,  No!”

This student is quite the artist.  Her detailed illustrations are a wonderful compliment to her text.
After a conference she easily added “talking marks” (quotation marks) for the words that were actually said by the author and Mom.

This student’s work is easy for an adult to read.  She spells all of the sight words that have been introduced correctly. One of her next lessons will be to spell the word said correctly before she develops a pattern of spelling it incorrectly.  She segments words that are unknown to her and spells them phonetically such as ckunpoodoer for computer.  She adds periods appropriately and is ready to work on question marks.

Although this student is new to the Writers’ Workshop, she has eagerly taken in the lessons and used them in her writing.  She is quiet and rarely asks for a conference but readily uses suggestions when they are offered by an adult.
On Monday, I went to the circus because funny things happen.
On Tuesday, I went to the zoo because there are lots of animals.
On Wednesday, I went to the beach because I can swim forward in
       the water.
And on Thursday, I just stayed home and took a rest because I felt
       very tired.
On Friday, I went to the farm because I wanted to see all the farm
On Saturday, I went to Epcot and bought a book named, “Duffy, the
       Disney Bear.” It was lovely.
On Sunday, I went to the Magic Kingdom and in the night I watched
       a show at the castle.
I like vacations because they are fun!

Orientation and Context

This student introduces Vacations! as the title of her pattern book.


We have read many “days of the week” pattern books including the very familiar The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and Cookie’s Week.  This student adapted this sequential pattern, On Monday… On Tuesday… for her pattern book about vacations.


After a conference she decided on a closing sentence that changed the pattern that was a simple summary sentence.


Details after each place add dimension to this student's text.  Her illustrations support the text and her labels and commentary in the pictures help orient the reader to what is happening and where each page takes place.


This student's work is easy for anyone to read.  She has beautiful penmanship.  She is an excellent speller whether it is a sight word or an unknown word.  She spells words well above her grade level.  She uses punctuation and capitals correctly.

 This student is a joy to have as a writer in class.  She loves to try every new pattern that is introduced and then loves to read her book to an adult or share with the students at Closing.  She is always totally engaged in the writing process and thinks seriously about her work.  We often use her work to illustrate new patterns because she is such a fluent writer.
All About Ninjago
This is Sensei Wu.  He is the Leader.  Good.
            This is Zane.  He can hold his breath long.  Good.
This is Cole.  He is a dancer.  Good.
This is Kai.  He is a blacksmith.  He owns a star that is called Four
             Weapons.  Good.
Watch out for the Fangpyre.  They can turn you into snakes. BAD!
Watch out for Venomari.  They spray venom. BAD!
This is Pythor.  He sprays the person’s bones.  BAD!
This is Lord Garmadon.  He has four arms.  BAD!
This is Jay.  He has a girlfriend.  Her name is Nya. Good.
Watch out for Hypnobride.  They hypnotize. BAD!
This is Green Ninja.  He has all four powers.  Good.
We won!  I am bitter at the snakes.  Good.
                                                   About this Book
                        This book is about ninjas that beat snakes.
                                        Can you read these words?
                                                he                    this
                                                Jay                  Kai
                                                Cole                Zane
                                                Dancer           leader
All About the Author This book was made in Florida, September 10th through 11th, 2012.  This author’s hobbies were Ninjas and Star Wars and Harry Potter Epic.  Cool Book!


Orientation and Context
This student orients the reader with his cover title, All About Ninjago.  He even added that his writing was non-fiction on the cover, but after a conference, decided that the book was really fiction!  Thank goodness!
This student uses a pattern that was first introduced by Luke, his classmate, who first wrote about Ninjago and started a movement of Ninjago pattern books in our class.  He stays with his This is… He is…. Good or Bad pattern throughout most of the book.
He chooses to end his pattern book with a single word, Ninjago!
This student peppers each page with art work that is labeled, illustrating his points about each character.
At the end of the book, he includes a summary of the book, like the ones you see on the back of published books giving the reader a short synopsis.  Then he includes a feature that he has seen in many of his own leveled books, Can you read these words? with a list of some of the words in his text.  Finally on the back, he includes his About the Author  page.

To an adult not familiar with the Masters of Spinjitzu, this student’s work is challenging to read but he has no trouble at all, reading his own work.  In fact, his eyes sparkle as he reads.  He begins to talk fast, because he is so excited about this piece.  He is an excellent speller and spells all taught sight words with no trouble.  The unfamiliar spellings of words and the characters are spelled phonetically.  After a conference, he was able to start each page with a capital and add a capital after each period.  He also added periods which are not yet habitual for him. He incorporates the vocabulary word bitter into his work!
This student is a joyful and fluent writer.  He loves writing and even asks to work on his writing during times when he could choose other free time activities.  He easily finds topics to write about and, like this pattern book, works seriously for several days to bring a project to completion.