Thursday, September 26, 2013

Scientific Writing in K

Over the past week our class has been investigating the tools scientists use. We have discussed how and why scientists use goggles to protect their eyes, balance scales to compare weight, hand lenses to magnify objects, as well as various other tools.

Yesterday the students were each given a thermometer and were asked to observe it by using their five senses.  We then investigated the effects of hot and cold (using a cup of ice and the sun) on thermometers and how to read the thermometer. Today we had a group discussion on how we can use thermometers. We talked about how our moms and dads place a thermometer in our mouths when we are sick. We talked about how outdoor thermometers can help us figure out how to dress in the morning for school. We also talked about how mom and dad sometimes poke a thermometer in the turkey at Thanksgiving to tell if the meat is fully cooked so we don't get sick. At the end of our discussion the children were tasked with answering the essential question, How can we use a thermometer? in their Science Notebooks. At this early stage of kindergarten the children are writing in pictures but they are starting to show beginning stages of labeling words. The student pictures below show amazing detail of how well they grasped the concept of how thermometers can be used, as well as, the general understanding of how hot and cold as they refer to temperature.

This student shows Farenhiet and Celcius and includes the numbers associated with thermometer. He decided to show how we use a thermometer when we are sick so the smiley face and sad face represent if you are feeling well or feeling sick. His second page shows that the thermometer gets hot when someone is feeling ill and he shows this in the color red indicating hot. Above he is feeling better and no longer needs a thermometer. An amazing understanding of how thermometers work!


This student chose to represent her understanding of thermometers by drawing a picture of herself sick in bed but she also has begun to label her pictures as well. Here she spells thermometer "simo" and bed "bad". She also chooses the color red to represent hot for the rise in temperature when you are not feeling well. If you look closely you can see the thermometer sticking out of her mouth. So cute!

Finally, our last student decided to use the outside weather to show her understanding of how we utilize thermometers. On the left hand side of her drawing she shows that is it night time with stars in the sky and the little girl in the picture in her words "was not dressed appropriately and so she is cold". The thermometer numbers are in blue indicating cold and the little girl has a sad face. She also labels "DOK" for cold.  On the right hand side of the page it is day time with the sun shining with the little girl still wearing her pretty little dress. This time, however, she is much happier as the thermometer shows red around it labeled as "toH" showing hot. The middle of the thermometer shows red more than half way up indicating its hot outside. The little girl is smiling and happy. These students have a clear understanding of how and why we use thermometers. What an amazing job!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Predictable Charts!

Predictable charts are turned into single sheets
 and put in the independent reading bin so partners
 can read the charts to each other and together
We have been writing predictable charts which include each child's name, a sight word (likes) and a color word.  Today we converted that chart into a page to put in each child's Reading bin.  We practiced reading it with our partners - knee to knee, shoulder to shoulder and text in between.
It wasn't long before one of the partners noticed that "Adam likes blue" was written in red!  Good noticing!  Guess I'll have to give them red pens and let them play teacher and fix the mistake!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Our Behavior System

In Kindergarten we discuss the "rules" of the class as the Class Promise, and idea we borrowed from Debbie Millier's Reading with Meaning. We wrote our class promise together.  We discussed the things that have to happen in a family so that everyone gets along together, so the promise is in the children's words.  They are the "Rules of the Jungle."  When a child breaks one of the promises, he is given a warning.  The next time, the child changes his white card to a yellow card.  If it happens still again, a warning is given again and then finally the child adds a red card, misses a free time activity and a note is written to the parent so that the parent can discuss the issue at home.  Each day the child's Home-School folder is marked if a yellow or red card is received.  Most children stay on white all week and if they do, they get to go to the Treasure Box at the end of the week.  Some children might need a single warning but as soon as they realize that they have broken a rule, they straighten right up.
In these early weeks, more children end up on yellow because they just forget or might not be entirely clear about an expectation.  If a child is receiving reds, then there is a problem and the teachers will ask for a conference. A lack of respect for authority or hands on someone else are not tolerated because these are life skills with huge consequences. A real lack of respect for authority leads to problems with law enforcement or employment in later life.  Children that can't keep their hands to themselves end up in fights and can be seen as bullies in later life.  These are behaviors that we really want to turn around early because they have such huge implications later.  Most kids thrive in this environment where they know the expectations and limits and they can always expect the same consistency.  This environment of trust and mutual respect means that we can really concentrate on the learning.  If a child continues to get red cards, there is usually a bigger problem, so the child is switched to a different behavior plan.

Lions and Tigers and Homework... Oh my!

One of the skills that students are expected to master early in kindergarten is the ability to isolate the first sound in their name and then think of other words that start with the same sound.  To practice this skill, we asked parents to help their child find pictures that start with the same first sound that starts their child's name for homework.  We were so impressed with the work of our families that we highlighted it on our first bulletin board which goes up right before Open House!

Jai is one of several students from the Portside Community that takes advantage of free tutoring at the MARC.  Jai, who is a second language learner, completed his homework with Mrs. Ruark using pictures he identified and searched for on the Internet.  His /j/ words that start with the same beginning sound as his name are jump, juice, juggle, jaguar, and jungle.

One of a kindergarten teacher's challenges with a project like this is students whose names start with a vowel that is neither long or short.  Parents seem to help their child find pictures of words that start with the first letter of the child's name instead of the sound.  No so with Austin's family.  They helped him find pictures that start with the same /aw/ sound that starts his name and even provided an answer key on the back!  Austin found August, autograph, Autumn and auto racing!  Very impressive!

Sanela is another of our second language learners and her homework is sent to her family in Spanish.  Even with the challenge of a second language her family helped her find pictures that start with the same beginning sound as her name.  Her mom even wrote sol under sun in Spanish.  She found both pictures and words with the /s/ sound..

This first homework is a family project with the children finding pictures of things that start with the same sound that is in their name!
World traveler Finn said Mommy helped him find pictures that start with the /f/ sound, but he cut them all out.  He found pictures of face, fun, family, football man, fork, fish, France, fries, Florida, feet, fingers, feet and flex!  He said all of these words start with the same sound that begins his name!

I have no idea how many of our children have learned the /sh/ sound because it starts Shane's name! I have overheard many children say, "I know it is sh because that's the sound that starts Shane's name!"  Shane found Chevrolet, shoes, shirt and shampoo.

Monday, September 9, 2013

How many teachers does it take to give one test?

I have already posted about my frustrations in giving so many tests to our youngest children, our kindergartners. We are still in the midst of testing (beginning week 4!)  Today we gave a whole group test with an answer sheet. Kids can't write in the booklets.  I'm told it's because the district  can't afford to reprint them for the post test.. So, to accomplish this feat of our 5 year olds taking a test with an answer sheet, with students who don't yet track and many who don't know their numbers and have never used an answer sheet, we used a color coded score sheet (the test was multiple choice).  We stationed one adult at each table of six to keep the children on the right line.  This test situation  is so developmentally inappropriate that all I can do is laugh!

Comment overheard during the test:

Child:  I'm finished.  I circled them all.  Adult:  We haven't started the test yet.

Adult: It's so hot in here.  Is it always this hot?  Answer: Always!  Adult: Then we need to do something about this!  Note to self:  Invite an Administrator into our class more often!

Child:  I think I'm going to hurl.

Child:  Mine aren't in a pattern so I changed them all to As!

Child:  Did you know I had surgery last night because I couldn't feel my arm? 

Child:  When do we go to lunch? I'm really hungry.

Child:  I don't need to look at the pictures because I like Bs.

Adult:  Oh wow! That question was on my general education certification exam!

Child:  Hey look, I have your answer sheet and you have mine!  When did you take my answer sheet?

Child: I'm going to marry Madison.  Madison, will you marry me?

Honestly, I don't make this stuff up!

MARC Opens for 2013

In the name of McKenzie Wilson the MARC is open in the Portside community for another amazing year.  Volunteers from Chets Creek and other teens and adults from the community and from local churches come to tutor at the MARC in the afternoons. The MARC offers an array of other services to the community.  Our Kindergartners are welcome to come on Monday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00!  What we try to do is simply to level the playing field for our youngsters by giving them those extra few minutes of instruction that we are not able to give them in a class 36-38. Many are second language learners.  I am really privileged to work with a couple of super dedicated Chets Creek Kindergarten teachers who have come faithfully every single week.  This is truly a labor of love.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


I have been required to do lots of things over my career that did not feel developmentally appropriate, but this year may just take the cake.  In the name of accountability and performance pay the county is asking Kindergarten teachers to give pre-tests in Math, Language Arts and Science.  Each of these is basically a one-on-one test in my co-taught class of 35 children!  Then there is the group Art test and the group Music test (not sure about that one because it's not in the building yet).  All of these are baseline pre-tests to be repeated as post-tests at the end of the year.  In addition to the county requirements, the state requires two subtests of the FAIR and the ECHOS which make up the state's FLKRS - all one-on-one testing, due within the first 30 days of Kindergarten.  When I first heard all this during pre-planning, I thought maybe the county tests were extremely short screenings that could reasonably be accomplished in the first 10 days of the school year (the county has come off the 10 days because of the backlash!) but the tests are actually long and thorough. Although I haven't yet seen the information that we will be receiving, it looks like we will have an abundance of information in which to make decisions, but all of the assessment has left our students feeling very defeated - even though we have stressed that they are not suppose to know everything on the test until the end of the year. It's left the teachers pretty beat up too!

Besides, there simply being too many tests in these early days, I am concerned about the time that the students are missing in training rituals and routines.  As we move into the fourth week of school, I am worried about the amount of instructional time that is being lost.  Instead of spending time in the classroom with my co-teacher supporting her teaching or vice versa, one of us is teaching without support while the other tests.   I worry about the time the students are missing that I usually spend just smiling, sitting close, and making sure that each child feels safe and comfortable in our new environment.  Today a parent of a student who is still being peeled off his mom every morning told me that he said the days are just too long and it's so-o-o-o hard!  Kindergarten - so hard... I worry what they must be going home and telling their parents about the test, test, test environment. I am embarrassed to try to make a rational explanation to parents. I worry that I have seen more tears and anxiety stress in our little ones and less laughing than in previous years.  I worry that the stress and frustration that I feel is being passed on to my children.  I worry that we will not finish the pre-tests in time for the county's new first nine week tests in Language Art, Math and Science!  And I'm not usually a worrier...

Is this madness?  Is this really the face we want to portray to our children and their parents as they walk through our school doors for the first time?  I understand accountability as well as anyone. I understand the theory of paying for performance.  I have always been a diagnostic prescriptive teacher so I am thrilled with the amount of information we will have on each of our young charges so that we can assess strengths and weaknesses and measure gains, but at what cost does all this come?  I have to believe that the folks making the decisions have the BEST of intentions but have not considered the cumulative effect of so much testing on such young children.  Maybe it's just lots of different people looking through their own lenses at all the small pieces and no one really looking at the big picture.  Kindergartners really are different.  Would any early childhood specialist ever recommend this type of school beginning?  This really is madness! What ARE they thinking?

Update:  During the sixth week of school we received an e-mail from the Superintendent letting us know that our Kindergarten students would only be required to take the Math and Reading baseline pre- and post-assessments, and that all 3 additional tests (Reading, Math, Science)  which have been scheduled at the end of each nine weeks would be cancelled!  Did you hear that LOUD sigh of relief?  Of course, by the sixth week of school, most of the cancelled baseline  pre-assessments have already been completed and the damage is done.  However, maybe now we can finally get on with teaching...