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!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Close Reading in Kindergarten

Today we were treated to a demonstration lesson by Duval County's K-2 Reading Director, Katie Moeller.  How fortunate we are to have a Director of Reading that is willing to come into a classroom and actually demonstrate with children (and kindergartners at that!) as she teaches teachers.  Today's essential question was around a subject that our kindergarten teachers have been working with since the beginning of school, "What does close reading look like in kindergarten?" 

Today's lesson came from an exemplar K-2 lesson from the website Achieve the Core around a poem, "The Wind" by James Reeves.  The poem was written out for the kindergartners without the title (which gives away the main idea of the poem).  This "unit" of lessons would be presented over many days as the students look at small portions of the text each day.  However, today we were shown several different ways to use the text and then left with a lesson plan full of additional ideas. 

There were so many examples of just good teaching such as calling on students randomly, using "turn and talk" with a partner, asking for text evidence, using thumbs up for a quick assessment, teaching vocabulary, etc., not to mention the depth of the questioning that moves us toward the Core. 

Chets Creek kinder teachers have committed to teaching this lesson and some of its extensions so that they can come together again and discuss successes and challenges.  This is the idea of lesson study.  What a great way to spend a morning - learning with some of my favorite colleagues!