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.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Science Data

Today's Science lesson had to do with the data that Scientist take and how they do multiple trials to make sure they are right.  Each partner group was given ten 3-oz. Solo cups.  They were given a data sheet and told to count the cups four times and record the number of cups that they counted.  When we first decided to do this, I have to admit that I missed the point.  I figured they would count the ten cups correctly each time.  After all, these are first graders and they have pretty good number sense for numbers 1-10.  However, I was wrong!

Much to my surprise only 14 of our 35 students counted ten cups on each of the four trials!  As the data sheets were posted, there was a great discussion on why there were discrepancies and why it is so important for Scientist to do experiments many times.  Great lesson!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I am always looking for something fun and engaging to do during Skills Block.  Right now my students are working with blends because that's the area that most of them had difficulty with on our Words Their Way assessment.  We have played Blends Bingo, have identified words with blends in poems and stories, have filled a chart with blend words from our independent reading, have spelled words with blends on white boards, drawn pictures when given blends,  matched pictures with blends...  The activities seem to go on and on.  Today we combined a little Math fun with our blend practice.  We prepared game cards at three different levels - one set for students who still need cvc practice, one set for students who need initial blends with short vowels and a third set of words with ending blends or multi-syllable words with blends!  Students played with their reading partner.  They decided who would go first and then rolled a die.  Next the partner who rolled the die read the list of words under the rolled number.  The partner had to say "check" or "do over" depending on if the word was read correctly or incorrectly.  This ended up being really great practice!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Kids Do the Funniest Things!

First grade is the year when students start reading chapter books.  As the first few start with chapter books, every eye in the room begins to eye the bins with those golden books!  You always have at least one child who pretends they can read the harder book, even when they are reading significantly below that level.  They will often sneak a chapter book into the backpack and proclaim to all their friends on the bus that they can read the book.  Today, however, a child did something I haven't seen done before.  He took all of his independent reading books and put them one inside the other and with a sly smile proudly proclaimed that he has his own chapter book!  Not bad!  A truly creative mind!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Head Lice

In all my years of teaching, I have never had head lice, but I realize how fortunate I am.  Many of my fellow teachers have had to deal with it at home!  It's expensive.  It's labor intensive!  It's a pain!  In a family that has the money and patience and the endurance, head lice usually comes and goes without too much more than some very LOUD moans and groans.  But to many of our families living in poverty, it is a dreaded curse.  And it can be a constant worry.   I am sure it is embarrassing.  I know it is uncomfortable, because I have seen the scratch marks on the back of of a child's head that has been fighting the itching,  but its more than that.  A child that is sometimes already struggling is eliminated from school.  While I agree with the policy, it really breaks my heart.

This week, my heart was broken in two.  A little first grade girl that I love and adore had her head buzzed in response to head lice.  According to the mom the child asked to have it cut so short because she didn't want her mom pulling her hair to get the nits out.  The child's story is different, but it doesn't really matter.  She appeared at school, "looking like a boy," the bus kids said.  But that's not the story I want to tell.

The story I want to tell is what happened in our little community...  The news spread quickly as adults who knew this child were horrified that a parent would shave a little girl's head because of head lice!  I was in a meeting that morning and before I got back to class, Julie and KK had transpired to make her four of the cutest little flower and glitter headbands you have ever seen.  They brought her down to the Office, let her try them on, and paraded her through the Office as the Principal and office staff ohh-ed and ahh-ed about how beautiful she looked.  She was shy at first but basked in the attention.  The next morning Melanie sent a handful of headbands that she had gathered from her daughter's closet.  We allowed our little munchkin to choose from one of the colorful new hair accessories that morning, and you should have seen the sparkle in her eyes!  She really walked with a new confidence all day!  And her work - more focused, better handwriting, more engaged!  Christy brought down a large bag of the cutest new tee-shirts and shorts.  Melanie brought new jeans. When we showed her the large bag to take home, her eyes got so big, they nearly popped out of her head!  Tracy measured her foot so she could get her a new pair of shoes.  I don't think I have ever seen her in a new pair of shoes.

Marissa, a former Creeker
Then to top everything off,  KK appeared with a former student at our classroom door.  She was a former Creeker that is now a college student.  She told the children about herself - she is very beautiful.  Then she took off her hat to show her bald head (cancer has taken her hair).  She talked about looking different now - the sometimes unkind remarks.  She talked about how each of the children in our class is different and how those differences make us a strong classroom family because we value those differences.  She took my little munchkin off for some very valuable one-on-one quality time...

Who does this?  Where else would this happen?  I wanted to tell this story because it illustrates the heart of our community. I didn't go around shouting this story when tears filled my eyes when I first saw my little munchkin.  In fact, just a small handful of adults who have a relationship with this child noticed the change, but those people didn't just talk, they jumped into action. I think I work with some of the MOST giving and loving people... who really walk the talk.  I know there are educators doing this sort of work - mission work - all over the country, but I feel blessed to work in a place where this is a daily occurrence.  To each of you out there who cares enough to invest yourself in the life of a child, and especially to my Creeker comrades who always rise to the occassion, my heartfelt thank you.  Thank you... for making a difference...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Science Journal

Today in Science we talked about the instruments and tools that Scientists use.  Mrs. Ruark had prepared a PowerPoint of Scientists' instruments with her pet pugs!  The children love seeing pictures of her animals!  They know them by name, so they really enjoyed the PowerPoint.  After discussing each slide and how a Scientist might use each instrument, the children were given a label of the essential question to put at the top of the page of their Science journal.  Then students were given the directions to divide the paper into fourths with lines and to draw a Scientific instrument in each block.  Below are some of the children's renderings.

 goggles - protect your eyes                    scissors-cut
ruler - measure                               computer
(test tube)                                 beaker - mix
(5 senses) touch,feels, taste, ear-hear, nose-smelling, eye-see                  sticky notes 

ruler                  thermometer
microscope           (5 senses) hearing, feeling, touch, smell, tasting

scissors-cut                test tubes-you test
goggles-protect                    hand lenses

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ants on a Log

Since our theme this year is "Recipe for Success,"  it seemed the perfect time to think about using recipes to introduce procedural writing.  Several years ago, we read Tony Stead's Is That A Fact? and decided to incorporate one of his suggested units for teaching "how to" or procedural writing.  We used cooking projects and then writing about the experience  to teach children to identify ingredients and then the step-by-step procedure for writing a recipe.  That was such a fun unit.  After that year, we continued to do a few cooking projects each year but relied more on Lucy Calkins' Units of Study and folded procedural writing into non-fiction report writing.  We began with having students write a "how to" about something they knew how to do well, such as Karate or making a paper airplane or jumping rope.  Then we moved to including a "how to"  in an "All About" report such as including a "how to hit a ball" in a report "All About Baseball."

This year, however, with our cooking theme, we decided to add that cooking element once again in a more frequent way.  We'll still do our more traditional "how to" unit interwoven in our larger non-fiction writing, but by "cooking" every other Wednesday we'll have a bank of cooking experiences and recipes as the foundation for those beginning "how tos" when we begin our large unit of non-fiction writing in January.

Our first cooking experience was "First Grade Trail Mix."  Today it was "Ants on a Log."  The projects are simple for these first recipes as you can see in the writing below.  We are expecting our students to be able to give the recipe a title, list the ingredients, give the few simple steps and write an opinion to close.  We provide paper specific to this kind of writing.  As the year progresses, the recipes will become a little more complex and the writing will include more detail and description.  But, for today, we enjoyed our healthy snack and our writing lesson!

Ants on a Log
peanut butter
First you get the celery.  Then you put the peanut butter on the celery.
Next you put raisin on your celery.
Then you eat it.  It was yummy.  I will eat it again.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Ultimate Kevin Henkes Author Study

I am so pleased to offer my first units on Teachers Pay Teachers

For most of my career, I have believed that we should give "for free" the work that we do.  I have felt a moral obligation to share the cooperative, collaborative lessons, videos and artifacts that we have created together as grade level teachers and as a school.  I still feel like that.  When time is given during the school day for teachers to collaborate, imagine and develop ideas and artifacts, I really do feel like we have no other choice than to share when we learn together with anyone that is interested.  For most years, our school was able to give teachers common planning time to meet and discuss and visit with each other.  We were able to carve out time to collaborate every week and then also had time for full days of study.  There is no question that the time given to us on such a regular basis, shaped my thinking and all that I did for years.

However, as budgets have tightened and as RtI has sucked up every free minute, that time to collaborate has dried up.  Teacher planning time is at an all time low.  Common planning time became non-existent last year for the first time - and our school held on to it long after others had to give it up.  The few minutes that co-teachers could discuss the day and make changes to afternoon plans after the morning while they grabbed something to eat were eliminated when teachers had to supervise lunch and recess duty at our school.  Professional development now has to be scheduled during after school meetings that run until 5:00 - something our school never had to do before... but is within the contract.  Up until last year, the school could hire substitutes to carve out time for professional development - for teachers to collaborate and write authentic lessons and experiences,  but last year the number of days that a teacher could take for professional development became limited. Understand - I have a Principal that has stretched every dollar and who held sacred our collaborative planning for as long as she could.   So... the bottom line is that we no longer enjoy collaborative, cooperative time to imagine and dream.  What few minutes we can grab are spent on management and safety - our most basic needs.

That doesn't mean that teachers don't still collaborate, but now it's over the phone while fixing dinner or on Saturday mornings when they grab a cup of coffee together or it's through e-mail or even Facebook!  But... it's off the clock.  So as I have developed more materials in the vacuum of my own home, I have become less committed to offering the materials for free...  The time to create is taken out of my own time which is very different than the artifacts we once created on the school's time together.  I won't add information about teacher salaries remaining the same over the years... that's another post!

With that said,  I am very excited about this Kevin Henkes Author Study that I have rewritten with the Common Core in mind and a Kevin Henkes Vocabulary to go along with it.  This is absolutely some of my best work.  These resources are linked to many other resources that we  have collaborated to produce and are still housed FOR FREE on our grade level wiki.  I hope that you will visit the store and let me know what you think!

P.S. - Don't you love the artwork?  It was done by second grader, Lexie Holtsman (daughter of Chets Creek teacher Melanie Holtsman).  Wouldn't surprise me if she becomes a famous artist some day!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It's a new Science year!

Our county has a new curriculum in Science.  While we still haven't had our first day of professional development to overview the materials (and with the lack of planning time, I wonder when that time might finally come!) I am fortunate to teach with our grade level's Science lead, so... even though the grade level hasn't had the training, our Science lead has. Now, to be fair, the standards have not changed - only the curriculum. 

There has been a push in Science for several years - since the state began to test Science in fifth grade.  It is obvious that our children can't learn all the Science that they need to know in 5th grade unless some of the foundation is built in K-4th.   However, we know that most primary teachers do not consider themselves Science experts.  Most would consider themselves reading experts and maybe a few, Math experts, but very few have an extensive Science background.  They took the standard Science Methods course that was required, but unless they just have a natural interest in some area of Science, their knowledge is generally rather shallow.  Once again I am lucky to teach with a second career teacher who has an extensive Science background.  I realize everyday how much more she knows than I do when she expands on the Science "word of the day" that is introduced every day on our school-wide television "wake up" program.  Off the top of her head she can  expand on the word  and its use in a Scientific context.  Often I learn as much as the children.

Today we had our first investigation around a Five Senses unit.  Items were put in a sock and then the sock was knotted so that the students had to feel the object, describe it and then try to identify it.  This is the kind of activity that our children love.  The new curriculum comes with workbooks which I normally am not a fan, but in this case where the investigations are new to teachers, the workbooks form a support of how to work through the investigation.  I would think that after using the workbooks this year, that we will be able to transfer to Science journals next year.

This Science curriculum also comes with readers that are at, above and below the expected first grade reading levels.  I'm not sure exactly how they are meant to to used but the idea of having the readers opens lots of possibilities!  This is really going to be a great year in Science!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

We Begin Skills Centers, 2012

Once a week on Wednesdays, the children participate in Skill Centers.  We take the phonics skills we are working on and each of our six tables gets a basket of interactive activities.  The six centers for the next six weeks include writing cvc words from pictures on white boards (this student also likes to draw the picture, which is not required!),

short vowel slides,
writing "real" words given short vowels in a cvc pattern (this is an FCRR activity) - which vowel a-e-i-o-u- make the word g_t ?
matching pictures to initial blends and digraphs, a Concentration game using the first nine weeks sight words and writing initial blends for picture words.  Each week the students work with one of the activities for about 20 minutes.  The next Wednesday they get to work with a different activity until they have worked with all six. This is really a fun time for the students!  And it gives teachers a chance to work with individual students in areas where they might struggle.  Not bad!