Thursday, December 5, 2013

ESOL Endorsement

"I took the BEST ESOL course!"  said no Florida teacher ever! For years, I heard teachers complain about the ESOL courses they were required to take (after a 1990 legal decision). Boring, worthless, waste of time - were the words most often used to describe the courses. I can't think of a single time in all these years that I have heard a Florida teacher say they learned something or even enjoyed one of the courses.   Don't get me wrong.  We need strategies for understanding, engaging our ELL students.  It wasn't the need for the professional development that was the problem but the design of lackluster professional development course that was the culprit.  As a Special Education teacher, I was never tagged to take the five required courses and from reports from my colleagues, I was always glad. 

I actually am one of those people that usually love professional development.  I love learning something new and I am what they call an "early adopter."  However, what I HATE, more than anything, is to totally waste my time.  There is a lot I need to know and children I need to figure out.  I only have 180 days with this group, so I don't have a minute to mess around.  As I have gotten older I have been able to choose PD more carefully and find ways to make the requirements fit my needs.  Often I could talk an instructor into letting me redesign an assignment to do a case study of a student in my class instead of some type of generic project - and usually they appreciated someone that wanted to work at the application level. It was probably always harder on me, but I've never minded if there was something to learn.  I chose great conferences to attend or wiggled my way into trips to study with some of the best educators in the country.  In fact, that's how I came to Chets Creek.  In 2000, I wanted the professional development that they had available, so I struck a deal.  I became a part-time Literacy Coach (never really wanted to leave the classroom) and in return, I jumped into their amazing professional development - and never looked back.  County professional development was a little trickier because it seems that they most often wanted to reteach me the same things that I already knew at a beginner level instead of differentiating.  However, I could often find a way to opt out, if I knew ahead of time.  And then for the past 14 years, I have been at Chets Creek, where they understand professional development.  I could write volumes about that - and I have!  Here, the PD is job embedded, on the clock, on-going, differentiated.  It's relevant.  It continues to push me to be better.

So... when I was tagged three years ago for ESOL, in my DROP (last five years before retirement), I was not excited (That's an understatement!)  It's not that I don't want to know more about my ELL kiddos, but I didn't look forward to going through mindless courses that required me to check boxes and jump through hoops instead of participating in real learning that would make a difference.  So, with the help of some key people at Chets, we asked to be able to design our own learning, which included actual site work at the MARC.  The MARC is a resource center, now funded by the Mckenzie Wilson Foundation.  It is a multi-organizational support for families in a 1000 mobile home community that is in Chets' attendance area. Most of our ELL students live in this area. It is quite a story all by itself.  I couldn't be prouder of my colleagues who continue to change the world, one child at a time, at the MARC. 

What we designed was individualized and "up close and personal."  The County's ESOL Department, at the time, recognized the benefits of that kind of hands-on work and allowed us to combine professional reading with face-to-face time with children and families.  During that professional development, I spent several Saturdays helping families get food from Second Harvest.  I understood for the first time that I actually had children in my class that were not getting a meal at night... sobering.  I helped parents choose gently used clothes for their children during a Christmas clothes giveaway.  I tutored each week - making the difference between failing and passing for several of my students. I visited homes and my eyes were opened to the survival circumstances that my children were living with every day. When the days got shorter and I walked out of the MARC at night, I understood, for the first time,  the fear that families faced for their child's safety.  I had so many parent conferences at the MARC that I have lost count, but I could always find an interpreter in an aunt or older sister - something not as readily available at school.  These are parents that I could NEVER get to come to school anyway.  Parents began to see me in a different way.  They saw me in their neighborhood.  They reached out.  They became less afraid and began to realize that we could work together to help their child.  How many times did a parent come in early to sit and watch as I tutored?  They wanted to know how to teach their child.  Have these three years of PD made a difference?  You have no idea!

However, now I still have two more courses to take.  New administration.  New ideas.  Work at the MARC will no longer be accepted in lieu of the ESOL course. It seems that my only option is an on-line course offered free through the district (unless I want to pay for a college course - which I would be willing to do if it were meaningful).  I've inquired about an independent study. No.  I'm open to suggestions.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Holiday Book Exchange

What an absolutely FUN morning.  Teachers in their tacky sweaters each came with a holiday book and took a number.  Beginning with the number 1, each teacher chose a book from the table, but teachers could also steal a book from a colleague instead of choosing a new book.  Let the FUN begin!  Thanks to the Reading Council and Chair Melanie Holtsman for designing such a fun event and to Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard for making sure their room was holiday-ready!  Work hard - play hard!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How to eat a candy cane

As we return from the Thanksgiving break, it is time to turn our thoughts toward the winter holidays.  The children had a treat this morning as we started writing a new "how to" piece.  We brought out Jelly Belly-flavored candy canes and talked about the different ways that we get the shrink-wrapped paper off the candy cane - Do you tear or cut? Do you take all the paper off at one time or do you unwrap a little at a time so your hands don't get sticky?  Then we talked about the different ways that people eat a candy candy - Do you lick or bite?  Do you start with the stick or the curve?  Do you lick it to a point?  After talking about it, we decided to eat a candy cane and then write about the best way to eat a candy cane.  Below is just one example of a child's procedural writing.

First you go get a candy cane.  Then you take the paper off.  Then you lick it.

Second you keep licking it until it is all gone. Yummy!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pow WOW 2013

The day was all that I anticipated.  We dressed our little natives as they came in this morning.  Each of the kindergarten classes represented a different tribe from a different region of the country and the dress they wore was as authentic as possible to that tribe.  As the tribes gathered in circles between the soccer goals, you could smell the fire as the brilliant colors from the costumes flashed in the sun.
The Iroquois

The Inuit

The Nez Perce

The Sioux

The Seminole

The Lenape

We each danced a tribal dance and then sang two songs that we had learned with our music teachers.  One actually has verses in a native tongue.

One of the PE teachers, dressed at Chief Chets Creek, danced between the tribes.  Our Principal and Assistant Principal host the event and Chief Jumping Frog (Susan Phillips) tells the children of a day long ago when the very land the children stand on was trampled by Timucan children.  The performance ended with the children lined up in front their flags (held by their fifth grade patrols) so that parents could snap pictures to their heart's content.

But that was just the beginning of the day.  Our tribe started with tribal games outside.  The children divided into teams and went on a scavenger hunt to find berries and beans and bark and even black bear fur around the grounds! Parents helped each group count the things they had found from their list.

We ate bag lunches from home together, inviting parents to join in the fun.

Then it was food tasting.  We tasted some of the foods that the natives might have had, like fresh and dried fruit, dried meat, and foods made from corn like corn chips, corn muffins and popcorn.  As the children ate, they heard the beautiful story of the Rainbow Raven, another legend to add to the many that the children have loved these last few weeks.

The music teachers had an engaging center and taught us a new song.  The children had  a chance to experience beating drums!  What child does not love to beat the drums!

The art teachers prepared individual pieces of clay for the children to mold into medallions and then stamp with a Native symbol.  These will be fired.  Many of these will be dated and hung on Christmas trees as a reminder of this great experience.

Another art teacher prepared a center of native dyes.  The children painted with blueberries, cranberries, beets and spices.  They were so interested in how the Natives made colors when they couldn't go to the store and just buy them.

The day ended with our tribe gathered in the great tepee with Peaceful Waters.  We heard calming legends and then she passed the talking stick, asking each child what he or she was thankful for.  The children were thoughtful and gave heartfelt answers, but it's when she passed the stick to the parents, that tears welled up in their eyes.  They realized that they have just experienced something so very special. 

When I think of all that has happened in this unit and all the people in our school that go over and above to make it happen,  I am so very thankful... so VERY thankful...

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Night Before Pow Wow

It is the night before Pow Wow and I can't sleep.  Wonder if there are little Native Americans under their covers, just like me,  wide-eyed thinking about all we have done this week and about the big event tomorrow?  We had a wonderful family night on Tuesday where families in each tribe made Native dwellings.  We made longhouses for our Mighty Iroquois tribe, but others made tepees and wigwams and igloos and chickees.   Our families then had an opportunity to go through the hallways and hear presentations about the tribes from fifth graders who completed projects for their fifth grade Social Studies.  Our longhouses sit in the hallway under the gingerbread cut-outs that the families decorated in Native dress.  The knotted ropes hang in our classroom as a reminder of the stories that families told to their children last week as homework to emphasize the oral tradition of storytelling, so much a part of the Native tradition.  We have loved the books and videos we have seen about legends and tales - the Creation story of the Sky Woman, the tale of how rabbit got its tail and how rabbit outsmarted bear in a race.  We learned why the Iroquois make their dolls with no faces.  We learned about the whale who landed on the mountain and how that story was turned into a totem pole - another way some tribes told stories.  So many great stories... 

Are we ready for tomorrow?  The children beaded the shakers this morning (out last costume project), we had our last practice with the entire Kindergarten (over 200 little Natives!), the costumes pieces so lovingly prepared by parents and teachers are in Ziploc bags at each child's seat labeled with each child's Native American name, the special decorated brown paper bags were sent home today for bag lunches tomorrow, we know our songs and dances, and this afternoon as I left school, the mighty teepee was ready to go up around the flag pole. 

The tepee came from the imagination of Media Specialist KK Cherney and the creativity of longtime Creek volunteer JB Boyd and Karen Willet and the help of countless others.  When it is erected it will seat an entire class of 36 with their parents and is one of the most endearing parts of our day.  Our live performance of six individual tribes is presented first thing in the morning but the day is filled with exciting centers to give the children experiences to help them understand the Native culture.  For our class, the visit to the tepee and the talking stick of Peaceful Waters (known as Miss KK) will be the perfect end to our day!

I feel so fortunate to work at a school where the entire faculty comes together to make possible such an impressive event for our children.  The Resource teachers will teach Native songs tomorrow, will host a tasting center, will  let the children paint with natural dyes, will tell stories and will have the children make Native medallions from clay.  The kinder teachers will provide their lunch - such a small payment for such a large contribution.  The Principal and Assistant Principal will be dressed as Native Chiefs and will host our live presentation. I mean - Wow!  No wonder I can't sleep!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Family Night- Native American Style

This week we are putting the last touches on our Pow Wow to be performed on Friday, but tonight was our kindergarten family event.  PTA hosted dinner and then families were invited to go to their kindergarten classroom and make a dwelling for their tribe.  Our families who will represent the Might Iroquois Nation made longhouses.  The Sioux made teepees, the Inuit made igloos, the Seminoles made chickees...  At the same time our fifth graders presented their Native American projects.  Each group had a table and presentation about the tribe their class had chosen.  These are the same fifth graders that once were presenting Pow Wow in Kindergarten.  The children could  travel through the hallways with their families and listen to the various presentations and get a passport stamped.  After their passport was stamped they presented it to the Principal for a treat!  It is a fun night that represents our Circle of Life Native American projects.
Parents work with their child to make a Native American dwelling.

Longhouses of the Iroquios

5th grade student projects about the Mighty Iroquois Nation

5th grade student projects about the Hopi tribe

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Technology at its Finest!

The county has purchased a computer support program for Math, called I-Ready.  Hooray! So we have been charged with getting all of our little ones on the computer and through the pre-test.  Sounds simple, right?  Not!  First the children, some who have never used a mouse before, are expected to log on to the county's system.  The county doesn't make that easy for a 5-year old.  Their username is a l-o-n-g sequence of numbers and letters.  Then their password is another l-o-n-g sequence of letters and numbers including both upper and lowercase letters.  Now it may be simple for you and me to follow a sequence of numbers and letters on a card, but for a 5-year-old that is virtually impossible!  They can't tell the l's from the 1's (did you get that? the lowercase letter l and the number 1!)  They can't tell if it's the number 0 or the letter O, not to mention not knowing how to use the shift key to make uppercase letters.  To say it's  a nightmare is an understatement.  There is a county policy barring teachers from using their own information to log all the kids in, so how in the world can this mandate be accomplished?

The good news is that once a child learns that long sequence of letters and numbers, it stays the same for the rest of their school career - thank goodness!  Having taught Kindergarten and first grade all these many years, I know it takes until about the middle of first grade, going to the lab often, before most children can actually log in independently.  Seems like the county could come up with a little simpler system for their youngest learners, doesn't it?

But Chets Creek is built for solving problems! To solve our problem with the pre-test, we invited our fifth grade partners to join us in the computer lab.  We also invited the Technologist/Media Specialist to join us.  Good thing!  We needed every single computer for our 35 students and our Technologist had made sure all were working.  However, several of the headphones were down and had to be replaced on the spot.  Had she not been with us (and she had to rearrange classes to make it happen!) those children would have lost that time and not completed the pre-test. When we first went in, the entire system was down and had she not been there to call the county and get a fix, we would have wasted an hour of our time and our fifth grade class.  That is our more normal, frustrating experience!  But today, all was right with the world, and after some initial frustration and lack of patience, all the fifth graders were able to log their kinder on and the kinders were able to work through the problems.

I am anxious to begin using this new resource in our classroom. I am trying to figure out a way to not have to log each student on, which would have me jumping up and down 35 times during each day to log in for a child. Any suggestions?  If I don't log them in myself, they will spend their entire time logging in (and maybe never hit the magic combination) and will get no time working on Math!  Also, we only have 3 computers and will find it challenging to get every kid on every day, but nonetheless, being an optimist, can't wait!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Reading with a Partner

One of the rituals and routines that we establish early in the kindergarten year is working with partners.  In reading we ask that students sit knee-to-knee and shoulder-to-shoulder with the book in between.  The partners have to work out a way to decide who gets to choose the book first and who gets to read first.  Sometimes they choral read together and sometimes they take turns, each reading a page or one child reads an entire book and then the other.  The decision is theirs.  We are so proud of how well our children have learned to read with their partners!

Thursday, November 7, 2013


I have written many times about how much I love working with my grade level.  We are a large group of different ages and abilities, but when we come together to work toward a common goal, we  do remarkable work.  I have always loved that about Chets Creek - that chance to imagine a project and then have others who want to make the journey with you.

Another way that I love to collaborate is when we have visitors in our building.  It's a chance to share our work, but it so much more than that.  When you share, when you are asked questions, it forces you to think through what you really believe. It forces you to put a voice to why you do what you do.  I hate teachers who check boxes and do what they're told without conviction or understanding.  I love to be around people that question and no matter how good they are, always want to reach higher and do it better. 

That's what I love about visitors, because they are usually there to ask questions and to learn and reach for that higher goal.  Thus, was my experience today.  I had three kindergarten teachers visiting from another school.  While they came to see my class, to just spent the time with me, they would have really missed the Chets Creek experience if they had not talked with my colleagues.  I work with incredible teachers who each have unbelievable skills and abilities.  The trouble is that you can't teach and be the tour guide at the same time.  It takes someone who understands the moral obligation we have to each other to be willing to carve out the time to make room for visitors in a busy schedule. 

Today, Suzanne Shall was that person.  She's technically the Assistant Principal and today the Principal was out- like she really has time for my little projects!  I had made arrangement for the visitors to review the RtI process while we had our Awards Ceremony (which I felt would be a waste in meeting their goals).  But at the last minute our RtI Coordinator was sick.  It happens.  Without a moment's hesitation, Suzanne stepped right in.  She gave the overview, toured the rooms and answered questions.  She could walk in any of our classrooms and pull out writing portfolios or explain what is in each child's individual reading bin.  She could explain  the Math Investigations program or where we pull our Science lessons, so by the time the visitors got to me, they were well grounded in our philosophy and already some of their most pressing questions answered.

 They visited other kindergarten classes and saw some of the best we have to offer.  They asked a zillion questions and we answered everything that they asked.  I hope that we opened a line of communication that will be far reaching because in this group of teachers I found kindred souls.  That's what collaboration is about - being willing to open your classroom and be vulnerable and being willing to get out there and see what else is going on.  The seeds that we planted today between these two school will reap huge crops over the years. 

Thank you Suzanne for being the catalyst to make it all happen.  Thank you colleagues for never saying no and for always making me so proud.  And thank you to teachers who strive to be the best they can be.  I LOVE my job!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Skills Centers in 2013

Once a week during Skills Block, we bring out Skills Centers for the children to practice.  These are hands-on activities that encourage the children to practice the skills we have been working on.  While the groups are working it gives us time to work with a single child or a small group that might need just a little extra to master a skill.

At this time of year we are working on skills that require the student to put the onset and short a rime together and then to match the sounds to represent each picture.

 There are many centers that require the students to match initial alphabet letters to pictures.

 The center below is one of the examples of work with ending sounds. In this center, students are expected to match scoops and cones that have the same ending sounds.

We are in our last two weeks of our phonemic awareness study of Nursery Rhymes.  As part of listening and playing with the sounds in the rhymes we also talk about print conventions such as where the nursery rhyme starts and how it moves from left to right and top to bottom.  We also use the rhymes to practice pointing under each word so these centers ask the student to use the rhyme that they know well and to match the words in order.  This is a challenging center for many of the children this time of year so they often work with a partner.

 There are several different centers that ask the students to put the letters of the alphabet in order or that ask them to find missing letters in the order.

 Dot-to-dot alphabet sequencing is a favorite activity that requires the student to remember the sequence of the letters.

Names are the center of many activities these first few weeks of school so this activity asks students to copy the names of their friends with and without a written model.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Flying with the Eagles

I work with a group of talented, dedicated - dare I say passionate - educators in a school we sometimes call Disneyland!  Some of these teachers I have worked with for over ten years.  A few are new to our group and several float in and out on any given year as we mostly loop from kindergarten to first and then back again to kindergarten.

Through a personality survey we found out this year that we are mostly "eagles."  A few "peacocks" among us, no owls and a dove or two,  so you can imagine that we are opinionated and move fast.  That sometimes gets us into trouble, because we move so quickly to get things done that we don't always take the time to hear everyone's voice and occasionally we forget to make sure the newbies understand and have a voice.   We also have to give our opinion, whether anyone listens or not, which means we have had problems with talking over each other, but I have to admit that I REALLY like flying with these eagles.  They are hard working. They get things done - might trample on a few feelings every now and then - but for the most part these are eagles with heart.  They would do anything for the children in their care and for each other.  They enjoy each other and often spend their off time together.  We are a large group of 14, different ages and different places in our lives, but we had a TDE this week and one of my colleagues said, "You know I think we've matured as a team."  Today, we did stop to listen to those who are quieter.  We did take the time to explain to the newbies.  We did try hard to wait for the silence before speaking.

We were working on Pow Wow - a kindergarten tradition that takes lots of planning and time and collaboration. It was such a pleasant day and I felt so prepared and ready when we finished that the stress just evaporated.  I have always loved what I do, but I haven't always loved the people I worked with or the administration at other schools where I've taught.  I haven't always felt valued.  I haven't always felt like I was part of a team and that we could accomplish anything together.  Maybe that's why I appreciate it so much now.  I just feel... blessed!

Making Words

We have been using an old "tried and true" intervention designed by Patricia Cunningham and Dorothy Hall for quite some time. However, it is new to Duval County and is a fun part of our daily Skills Block.  Students get to be letters and then to stand side by side to make the word.  The student on the carpet help the students, and especially like to "help" if some of the students end up in the wrong place!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Close Reading Conversation continues...

Last week we had the county's Director of K-2 Reading come and do a demonstration lesson for our kindergarten teachers.  We don't usually get to watch lessons from outside of our school, so this was a treat.  Besides, how many Directors of Reading do you know that would come into a kinder class and demo a lesson?

This week our reading coach, Melanie Holtsman, took the big leap and taught a different type close reading lesson in the same kindergarten class.  Melanie was not a kindergarten teacher but she is a risk taker and willing to put herself out there for the greater good.  As you can see from her video, she is a natural and the age of the students really doesn't matter.  She's simply a master teacher. She crafted her lesson around her learning from the Summer Institute at Teachers' College so she used the idea of visual text - in other words, looking at pictures!  Now doesn't that make sense?  What I notice when I watch the video is this new verbiage she uses,  like, "I seem to think... "  "I'm starting to think..." "My thinking is growing and changing..."  She also asks for evidence, evidence, evidence. That's what I see as different so that she moves the students into deeper thinking about the pictures - uh, excuse me - visual text!

Make sure to go to Melanie's blog and let her know what you think about the lesson.  Before the lesson, Melanie told me she'd probably pass out, but looks like she managed pretty well!  Thank you Melanie!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Read for the Record

On October 3 we joined classrooms across the country to Read for the Record.  The program identifies a book each year and then asks teachers all across the country to read the book on the very same day.
This year's book, Otis, was special for many reasons.  First of all, it has been a Chets Creek Book of the Month - one of the very special books that our Principal chooses and reads with us.  However, this year's kindergartners have not heard the book because they are new to our school this year, so it was a very special treat to be reading a book that teachers already love.

The other reason that this book is special is because Duval County dedicated the reading of this book this year to Lisa Wells.  Lisa passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly.  She was a beautiful blond who was walking sunshine.  I met her as a District Reading Specialist and she was always the person I called when I had a question or something just didn't seem right.  She knew more about literacy and early childhood education than anyone I have worked with in the county.  Lisa had that rare blend of humor and caring.  She could laugh about the absurdities and she cared about children in a genuine, heartfelt way.  I knew I would always get perspective from Lisa.  For many years Lisa would come to Chets Creek during Read for the Record day because she knew we would be doing something fun.  When The Very Hungry Caterpillar was the book of choice, she loaned me her very used caterpillar so I could make patterns for all of our kindergarten teachers. She had recently returned to the classroom to teach first grade.  I remember when she e-mailed me about her decision, all I could think about was how fortunate that group of students would be and what a grave loss it would be to the district.  As I watched the children listen to this endearing story this week, I couldn't help but think Lisa's presence filled our room, as it must have for so many classrooms on that day.  I could see her dancing and laughing and telling us the funniest stories.  She was a blessing in my life.  Her love of literacy was her legacy to me and to so many others.  We miss you, Lisa...

Launching the Writers' Workshop in Kindergarten

We had hoped that our county would adopt Lucy Calkins new grade specific Writing Units. However, when they didn't we decided to buy them through school funds and they have arrived!  It has been so exciting to be our Kindergarten Writers' Workshop with Calkins' first Launching book.  We are so proud of our kindergartners as they are "fancying up" this first unit in writing - Teaching Books.  The children have been writing books about things they know a lot about and let me tell you, they know a lot of stuff!  We have worked up to 15 minutes of quiet independent writing each day.  We know how to close our eyes and think about a topic, how to select the right paper for what we want to write, how to plan by touching each page and thinking about what we want to say,  how to start with a picture and add details, how to add words by stretching them out and writing the sounds that we hear, how to use the word wall (on the ceiling!) how to add labels to our pictures,  how to ask questions and get suggestions from a partner, how to staple our pages together, how to use a date stamp and how to put our first and last name on our books.  We have become a busy community of writers!  Thank you, Lucy Calkins!