Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book Exchange

There are some things that even a picture can't do justice and our annual Holiday Book Exchange is one of those things.  It's simple, really.  Everybody that wants to participate comes with a children's holiday book in a bag to the Mallard's room (which is a treat itself because it is already festive and full of little holiday touches that just make me smile).  Teachers don't follow instructions very well so even though the instructions are to put your book in a bag, about a fourth of them come wrapped. When you walk in - 20 minutes before the school day starts- you get a number and breakfast furnished by Reading Council (which means I had to get up at 6:15 to heat ham biscuits and talk my husband into helping me).  There is a little time for fellowship... and then it starts.  Led by that wacky Principal Grinch, the haggling and stealing begins... and oh my, it is so much fun!

During a season when it's just too easy to get stressed, this moment of fun and laughter is a welcome respite.  And, did I mention that you also have to wear a tracky sweater?  Now, I have a closet full of tacky sweaters that were once a most important part of my teacher wardrobe, but these folks take this tacky sweater thing seriously as evidenced by delightful little Sarah in her adorable "stockings by the fire".  The outfit also comes with a frame around her head. 

It's really not work when you enjoy your job this much!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Math TDE

I realized today - once again - that I work with some amazing teachers.  My mind is so full, it just might burst!

Today was a first grade Math TDE.  We began with a demo lesson with Cheryl Dillard.  Cheryl is our Math Lead and so understated.  When you ask her about this or that, she just tells you what she's doing, like it's just another simple idea.  Then when you go watch all those "simple" ideas put into action, you are simply blown away.  There is no curriculum for the skills that Cheryl adds to Math every day - no book of Math Journal ideas, but she has the innate ability to look at her students, compare them to the standards and where they need to be, and find the exact activity to move them in that direction.
Cheryl teaching decomposing
Math Journal
I really wish I had videotaped this entire lesson because I find I need a rewind button because I am continually thinking, "How did she do that?"  It's just effortless.  There are so many new ideas that I find I have to prioritize.  I'll implement this one and that one right now and then after a couple of weeks of adding those to the routine, I think I'll add that other one.  By then, of course, Cheryl has moved on to the next.  I sit here just thinking how thankful I am that I have teachers right down the hall in both Reading and Writing and Math that help push my thinking.  We have talked about pushing the children's thinking up a continuum and that's exactly what happens as we begin to debrief this lesson.  It pushes my thinking up the continuum and there is new learning.

Math Coach (She's really the AP-we don't have a Math Coach!) Suzanne Shall was ready to push that continuum too as she reminded us of all the reasons that we are where we are.  She reminded us of the early days when we embraced Stigler and the TMMS study and realized that students from other nations were coming to take some of our highest paying jobs in the US because we didn't have enough students prepared to take them!  We recalled the days when we realized that the Math education in our country was severely lacking and how we slowly and painfully switched our thinking to embrace a more conceptual math.  Because we adopted Math Investigations so early, we now have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of that labor as we have students in high school, college and in the job force who were part of this new Math wave.

Suzanne had us work problems that our current students will work in second and third grade and it was obvious that we still need to bump up our own thinking.  What Cheryl proved to us is that our children can think at that level and they can do this work.  I remember how dubious I was in those early years that we were expecting too much and how I worried that what we were doing might not be developmentally appropriate, but now I realize that if we allow students to begin to work at that concrete level for as long as they need, that they will have the building blocks to naturally move to representational and abstract thinking.

I am not a Math guru.  I have made it my life's work to teach children to read, but as I have ended up teaching Math these last years, I have found a new challenge and interest.  I can get just as excited when the light comes on as a child embraces and understands a Math concept as I ever did as they unlocked reading.  And I have to say...  I'm really proud of the Math work going on in my classroom...  There's a pretty strong foundation being laid...

As we left our TDE, Suzanne had us do one last exit ticket, that I have reproduced below - always teaching the example of what it is she wants us to do...

First Grade Math TDE  Exit Ticket

1.        Please mark the circle to represent the topic that allowed you the most reflection.

Classroom Observation; Debrief  (Dillard)

Shifts in Math:  TIMSS, 3-Prongs of Math, Instructional Implications
Instructional Sequence of Math (Concrete-Representational-Abstract) w/Engage NY video Alignment: Standards, Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment- Grade 1 and 2 Lessons
Tweaking Student Sheets; Creating Exit Tickets

Analyzing Addition ; Subtraction Student Work- Beginning of Grade 2, Unit 1
Second Grade Work Session Video (Justo ; McLeod)

Beyond the Standards- cardinality, equality, and decomposing

2.      What is one thing that you will implement in the next two weeks?

o   Reteaching one on one to clear up misconceptions from previous day during skills block.
o   I will target 3 skills during calendar as well as work on 3 skills during the block. 3 days of journal and 2 days of number bonds.
o   Move students from concrete to representational in small group support.
o   Differentiating student sheets for higher level students.
o   Analyzing student work for their next step.
o   Skills Block- use exit tickets for small group & one-on-one instruction.
o   Run a better skills session.
o   Incorporate instructional concrete instruction
o   I want my skills block to include more of what I saw in Dillard & Mallon’s room. Add the hundreds chart, guess my number, asap!
o   Adding more of what I saw in calendar math this morning into my math centers.
o   Using math games more because they are very beneficial.

3.      What is one long-term implementation goal that you have?
o   Look more closely at the standards to guide my instruction toward second grade.
o   Becoming more comfortable with the addition strategies.
o   Pushing the rigor of the work to allow students to problem solve and explain.
o   Rewrite student sheets with larger numbers & exit tickets before I start a unit.
o   Strategies for next step (2nd grade) push to the next level!
o   Having students always talking about how they reached an answer to a problem, giving them enough time to explain their answers.
o   Have a good flow during the math block by making sure all materials are prepared and ready. Kinds knowing routines.
o   Moving toward written visual representations with my students instead of using manipulatives which will get them ready to show expressions.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Infomational Writing - the Second Bend

One the great things about life at Chets Creek is that we take professional development very seriously.  We often provide professional development on the clock but there is a non-negotiable expectation - you are expected to be engaged and to participate.  Last week first grade met for a day of professional development while our students were treated to a special all-Resource day.  The students really look forward to their special day, and for us, it means no lesson plans for subs!

The day always starts with a demonstration lesson.  Maria Mallon hosted all 14 of us in her classroom for a Lucy-inspired (Lucy Calkins) lesson.  We are just beginning the second bend of Informational Writing.  Maria is our grade level lead so her job is to stay just a few lessons ahead of the pack so she can prepare us for what is to come.  She and Reading Coach Melanie Holtsman worked together to provide the perfect day.

The thing that always impresses me about Maria is that her classroom is just so joyful.  I can just imagine being a little first grader sitting on the floor at her feet.  I would believe every single thing she said!  She is so genuine and it just pulls you right in. I just feel good in her room. It just makes me smile.  Of course, there is also a lot of learning going on.  Her rituals and routines are such perfection that you feel like you want to rewind and figure out,  "How did she do that?"  The children transition with such ease.  On this day she transitioned with a song for fluency.  The kids went soundlessly to their seats on the floor and she started...  First she told them how incredible they were and how proud she was.  Then she launched into the gist of the lesson - which was about using all the tools in the room - the charts and rubrics and mentor texts and words around the room...  Then it was off to writing.  The children look like busy little bees.  Every single child is engaged in the process of writing and the only sounds you hear are productive conversations between partners. Maria does drive by conferences, walking around purposefully stopping to chat with a few students, asking purposeful questions and just generally supervising the flow of the workshop.  Before you know it, it's time to Close and the children quietly put all their supplies away and in a blink are back on the carpet.  When they are settled Maria reads the informational rubric and challenges the children to work toward the second grade standards.  You can see the excitement in their little bodies as they already begin to rise to the occasion.  I think I want to be a first grader again in Maria's class!

Then it's to the conference room where we debrief the lesson with Melanie, commenting on the things that we really liked in the lesson, asking Maria questions about things we still wonder about.  I think each of us questions how we  would do the same lesson and we make a mental list of things we want to try or change tomorrow.  That's what "starting with a demo" is all about.

Then it's to the work of the day.  As we wait for the Calkins Reading Units to be released this summer, we know we need to ramp up our reading instruction. Melanie digs in and begins to challenge us to push the continuum of thinking in our classrooms.  She frames the work that will be expected in second and third and fourth grade that is changing with the Common Core so that we begin to define a path from where we are to where we need to go.  Melanie doesn't give us the answers.  She doesn't spoon feed us but challenges us to think.  We don't need dummy-proof curriculums. We don't need scripted Core Curriculums but we do need teachers that think.  We need teachers who can look at the data, but so much more than that - teachers who can read the room, who KNOW their students as learners and from that wealth of information can take the standards and define the teaching that needs to be done. That's what will transforms education.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Making Words in Frist Grade

Making Words is a program the district bought and dispersed to first grade teachers without any explanation.  It's a shame there wasn't some explanation or professional development around the book arriving, because the program is good. It's based on Patricia Cunningham's work.  I had used the program many years ago and liked the concept but struggled with all the little individual letters that students were suppose to have and manipulate.  They got lost.  They got mixed up.  I just never found a way to manage all the little slips of paper.... but I liked the concept...

So when I found this updated program in my box, I wasn't impressed.  However, I kept looking at it on my desk and wondering how I could fix my earlier management issues.  I really liked the way it took a set of letters and built words.  It was suggested as a Tier 2 intervention for RtI, but I just didn't need "another" small group.  However,  I am very happy to say, I think we have found a great solution that uses the best of the program for several different group of students.

I introduce the letters and words.  For most of my kids, having them write the words on a white board works just fine.  When I say, "1-2-3 Turn." they turn their white boards toward me so I can do a quick check to see who has the word and who doesn't.

 For the majority of my kids, they don't really need the extra step of manipulating the letters.  For my highest kids, I challenge them to figure out the mystery word, which uses all the letters for the day, before I get to it.  They take this challenge seriously and you can see them trying out words in their minds and boards until they figure it out!  My co-teacher pulls a group for Tier 2 RtI intervention and has the students do the same words with the class sitting at a table and actually manipulating magnetic letters, while the ESE teacher pulls her students that need the extra manipulation to another table and has them do the same words with class with a set of paper letters (you can easily manage the paper letters with a very small group of students). 
We actually have four different groups of students using the same words and letters and meet the need of a vast number of students.   Woot!  Woot!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Off the Clock

When I walked out of school today, it was already dark.  That's not so unusual, but what is it that keeps teachers at school so late?  Today I was working with a Math Coach ( actually she's the AP- we don't have a Math Coach - but she knows more than any Math Coach I've ever worked with!) and two other teachers, writing new Math Unit Assessments.  With new standards and new state assessments, and a new Math computer program, come the need for new aligned assessments.  No one is doing this work for us.  So, if we want our first graders to get the foundation they need to be ready for the rigor of more complex math, it has to start with us.  We can't wait a few years, until children have failed, to start asking why are they failing.  We need to scaffold instruction now so that never happens.  This is not work that can wait.

I am so fortunate to be in a school where there is a cohort of teachers who don't mind doing this work... and it is "work."  There is nothing easy about it.  It takes time and lots of that time is off the clock.  But the benefit... the benefit is why we are hashing out what the big ideas are in the next math unit and what the question stems should look like if they are to be aligned with the new FSA specs, and the new Math computer program language (i-Ready).  We are all learning from each other. It makes us think about different ways to reach children and different strategies for teaching.  And... the bottom line is... I will do a better job of teaching because I have spent this time working through this unit.

Now if someone was just interested in paying me for all this extra time...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Texting in the Classroom

I have written often about how pitiful the technology resources are at my school - not that administrators don't work to stretch every single resource and get as much usage as they can.  The county simply doesn't supply the needed resources.  We're on a list somewhere to be updated at some time, but in the meantime...  So often I have a lesson planned and can't get on Youtube or the Internet is down or whatever - seems like there are always more problems than solutions.  Our Media Specialist, who works tirelessly to keep everything going and helping us find solutions, is amazing, but the resources simply aren't there.  I do have four land computers that are old, but they work as student stations and a laptop for my desk. I am thankful for those.  However, I do not have wireless, so even though I have my own ipad, I can't get wireless and I'm really not allowed to use it anyway - rules about not using your own stuff, because...  there's a long list (most of it probably justifiable). 

Anyway, we have been struggling with ways to take anecdotal notes in Writing, Reading and Math and even Behavior with two teachers and a Special Education teacher all servicing the same students.  We've used lots of systems over the years - notebook (it's too inconvenient to keep one notebook for several teachers), sticky notes (they fall off over time and they still go into one notebook so you can't see the last note that was written), individual notebooks for each student at their desks (they get so ratty by the end of the year and there's really not enough room at their tables), stickers (they aren't  big enough for everything I want to write), and on and on and on.  Nothing has really been very efficient... until...  we found an app!

Although we can't get a signal on our iphones in much of our building, we are able to get a signal in our classroom because our room is on an outside wall, so one piece of technology that I can use is my iphone (although technically, I am not suppose to use personal devices).  For two years we have been using an app called Confer (we have had some recent syncing problems, but it was flawless for the first year, and I'm sure it will be again).  It was developed by a Nationally Board Certified Teacher - imagine that?!  A teacher with a solution! This app allows each of us to take notes during the day and then to sync at the end of the day and get each other's notes.  So, if I'm working with a child tomorrow, I will know that my co-teacher worked on conventions today during a writing conference or that the ESE teacher worked through a total melt down with a child yesterday in her room so I need to reinforce a specific behavior today.  We have very little time in our packed schedule to actually talk to each other about all the little conversations we have with children or all our noticings or wondering about specific children but this is a way we can keep in touch and keep a record of the progress students are making.

I never really thought to explain to the kids what I was doing while I was taking notes, so today one of the children asked me who I texted all day on my phone!  I wonder how many adults or other teachers have wondered through my class and asked the same question?!  I quickly pulled up my notes on this particular child so he could see what I was doing, but for anyone that has peeked into the classroom and seen us "texting," we really are taking notes!

Stop by.  I'd love to share what we are doing!  LOL!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Is anybody in charge out there?

Sometimes it is hard for me to understand what the decision makers are thinking when decisions are made. One recent decision really has me scratching my head.

Our county has put a lot of eggs in one basket.  The basket is a computer program called iReady.  Not only is it being used for progress monitoring in Reading and Math but also will be used this year to monitor many teachers' progress with their students.  That score along with a teacher's evaluation and professional development plan will be used to decide if a teacher is "highly effective" and  theoretically will eventually be linked to teacher pay, so... this computer program becomes pretty important.  I don't really think the program was ever designed to be used in this way, but that's probably a different blog!

As I have been working on rewriting assessments with some of my first grade peers, we have been trying to align test questions with what we anticipate will be on the state's FSA (state's high stake assessment),  our curriculum, and this iReady computer program - all things with accountability attached.  It is impossible to see an alignment.

Recently the county gave us iReady "cut" scores to make decisions.  If a child received below a certain cut score they were to be administered a DAR, an instrument that breaks down reading skills in simpler parts. This assessment allows a teacher to pinpoint exactly what the problem might be so that interventions might be targeted - a sound goal - but the cut score is too high (although nobody is asking teachers!)  In my class 22 of 35 students, 63%, were identified as needing this extra assessment which also assumes extra intervention is needed.  Fourteen of those 22 are reading at the level expected for this time of year according to the DRA (a long used and reliable measure of reading levels) and 19 are making "Satisfactory" in Reading this nine weeks on their report cards (6 have S+ and 3 have E's!)  This is common across our grade level.  According to this cut score, I would have well over half of the students in my class in need of extra intervention, Tier 2. Really? 

Is it really necessary for me to spend about three weeks of reading instructional time to give these students a test that will tell me nothing?  Is it necessary for me to spend time each week giving these students Tier 2 intervention when they don't need it, so that I don't have enough time to provide the intensive intervention where it is really needed? Maybe the decision makers will figure out the problem... eventually... after all the instructional time has been wasted?  I can only scratch my head and ask, "What are they thinking?"

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Follow the Bend in the Road

As we decided on our first standards-based bulletin board for the year, our Reading Coach, Melanie Holtsman, challenged us to take the lessons that we were teaching in Lucy Calkins' New Units of Study and to demonstrate the students' work as a result of some of the lessons.  It was an idea we had never presented before on a bulletin board so, of course, the challenge was interesting.  I'm always up for a challenge! Normally we like to take a finished genre of writing and show all the ways that a student has used what they have learned but on this board Melanie wanted us to look at student work after each lesson. We decided to accept the challenge with our bulletin board tied to our Wizard of Oz theme, Follow the Bend in the Road.

This was the "task" and standard.

This year First Grade has embraced the new Writing Units of Study written by the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College under the direction of Lucy Calkins.  We are teaching this “Small Moments” Narrative unit for the first time.

As we opened our first days of Writing Workshop we reminded students of all that they loved about writing in Kindergarten and we welcomed them into a new year’s writing as authors.  We talked about their writing “muscles” and all the books that they were going to write!  We established the rituals and routines of the Workshop.
The lessons displayed on this bulletin board only address the first “bend” in the narrative unit.  The “bend” is like the first set of mini-lessons that go together.  The students stopped at this bend and celebrated their writing, before beginning the next leg of the journey.

Write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure. 

We looked at four different lessons.  This is a sample of an Introduction, the student work and the commentary from one of those lessons.

Translation: One time I went to my cousin's. It was my first time catching a lizard's tail. It was moving. My mom was there. I put it in the grass and my sister was there.  I went (back) in the afternoon. Then her lizard got stuck in the bush. Then I held the lizard's tail. Then I went to go wash my hands.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Pendulum Swings Too Far

Last week someone called and asked if I would be interested in writing an editorial piece about testing, especially in light of the FAIR kindergarten testing in Florida being halted, Lee County pulling out of the state's testing program and a Kindergarten teacher putting her job on the line and refusing to give the FAIR test because she thought it was developmentally inappropriate.  I think the caller was looking for a more "balanced," positive spin on the testing environment saying that the public was getting lots of misinformation.

I'm not really sure what the message is that the public is getting, but I do understand, only too well, the message that teachers are getting.  I am so disappointed in the state of Florida's recent FAIR debacle.  There was a time when we gave the FAIR three times a year in Kindergarten and looked forward to the information that we were given.  The test was fairly quick and gave really pertinent information.  I could quickly, within the first month of school, pinpoint the students that were going to need extra support during the first trimester of Kindergarten.  I  could especially identify students who were going to need an extra boost of that all-important phonemic awareness.  Then at the mid-term I could monitor the success of my interventions and prescribe another round of small group instruction, if needed.  The testing monitored and drove my instruction.  I'm not sure what happened, but the test that Kindergarten teachers were asked to give this year was too long (it took 25-45 minutes per student and had to be given individually which cost teachers very valuable instructional time in those beginning days and weeks), was not ready to start in the time frame given, and depended on students' computer skills that at that early age are non-existent.  Of course, that's just one test.

Last year our county started the year saying that kindergarten teachers were going to give a Reading, Math and Science baseline and final exam and then quarterly tests to monitor progress.  I think we were even supposed to give a baseline and final exam in PE, Art, and Music.  Any Kindergarten teacher knew from the beginning that that was absolutely ridiculous because most of those had to be given individually and there aren't enough hours in the day.  Of course the initial outcry from kindergarten teachers wasn't enough to stop the initial round of testing.  What do teachers know? It took several weeks of that lunacy before the county backed off most of those requirements and decided to only require a baseline and final in Reading and Math but by then that group of children had missed almost six weeks of initial instruction.

So this year, all of those tests in Kindergarten are gone... and instead we have new computer-based Reading and Math assessments.  I think the cut scores are more guess than Science, as this program is only a few years old, without much in the way of proven results.  Professional development in using the program has been spotty and depends on an infrastructure that is non-existence, at least at my school.  Just getting all the students tested initially is a massive undertaking with 1300 students and one computer lab, a logistical nightmare.  Even the login for our youngster learners is unreasonable, taking us about 30 minutes in the computer lab to just get everyone signed on to begin the testing!  After the assessment, the program itself is suppose to be daily but we were told to try to get students on Reading twice a week and Math twice a week for about 30 minutes.  I have three computer stations in my room for 36 children.  There is no way that can happen, but nonetheless, all the apples are being put in that basket.  Recently we were given a cut score for the Reading portion of the computer program and told that all students below the cut score had to have the individual DAR, which means 22 of my 36 children need this more intensive test.  Really?  In order to get that test done (which again has to be done individually) I will be giving up individual conferring, guided reading and small group reading instruction for about three weeks, giving an additional test to half the students that don't need it.

I could go on and on about unimaginable testing decisions being made at both the state and local levels.  The truth of the matter is that even in this environment I believe wholeheartedly in accountability.  I am a diagnostic prescriptive teacher.  I use both formative and summative data every single day to make decisions about what I am going to teach tomorrow.  I get it, but what is being done in the name of accountability across this state right now is ludicrous.  I applauded the teacher who put her job on the line and drew a line in the sand and said. "Enough!"  I wonder if we will ever come to the day when teachers are at the table so that their voices may be heard on this all important issue?

Needless to say, I won't be writing that editorial, putting a "positive" spin on the public's misinformation.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The First Bend

Today we came to the first "bend" in our narrative writing unit. We have been using the new units of Study from Teachers' College.  After a few weeks of writing small moment stories, the children used a red pen to edit one of their finished pieces. And then, like a museum, the students put out their work and invited their friends to stop by and read their completed story.

After looking at each other's work, the students compared their own baseline pieces to their finished piece and discovered that they has really grown as writers. A few years ago I would never have imagined that first graders could do this type of peer review or self-assessment but today, they did! Thank you, Lucy!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What is a Scientist?

Today we had our first 1st grade Science lesson.  It was all about Scientists.  Mrs. Raurk started by reading a simple book about Scientists and then moved quickly into making a chart of what Scientists have,  what they can do, and what tools they use.

The children were so influenced by the experiences they had with Science as kindergartners.  They remembered putting on goggles and lab coats and working with thermometers and hand lenses and balance scales.  They remembered gardening.  They remembered that they were just like Scientists when they wrote in their Science journals.
As the children cut and colored their own little Scientists they talked about all the things that they had done as Scientists and about Scientists they saw on television, in books and in videos.  What a fun way to begin a year of Science investigations.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Does summer reading matter?

If you have been reading this blog you know that we were pretty committed to making sure that our kids read this summer.  Since we were looping our class from kindergarten to first grade, we knew we would have most of the children again this year so we had a vested interest in their reading over the summer.  My co-teacher, Tracy Ruark, and I mailed postcards and letters to the students and e-mailed pictures of ourselves reading all summer (that's me reading to the grands).   My co-teacher took pictures all over NC of herself reading The Wizard of Oz (which is our school theme this year), that I enjoyed as much as the kids! We sent personal responses to children that sent us personal mail and e-mail and made sure to write when students reached milestones in their reading, also noting it on the classroom blog.  Our class logged over 26,000 minutes of summer reading!

So... here are the results of our summer reading commitment.  Twenty-four  of our kindergartners returned to us for first grade.  Three of those students went to ELL summer school for support and three of the students attended Summer Camp at our school.  In addition to those six, ten others made a commitment at home to reading by logging hours into's summer program and read for over 1500 minutes - the Principal's requirement for getting a prize when they returned to school.

Of the three who attended ELL Summer School, all maintained and two improved their end-of the year reading levels.  One jumped a single level and one jumped two levels.  It has been my experience that these students often drop back a level over the summer so this is especially encouraging.

Of the three that attended Camp at our school - a camp that made a commitment to summer reading, two maintained their levels and one jumped  three reading levels!  The student that jumped the three levels also read significantly at home, logging into Scholastic!

Of the ten that committed to reading at home, every single child jumped at least one level!  Five children jumped a single level.  Two jumped two levels; two jumped three levels and one child actually jumped FOUR reading levels! The child that jumped the four levels was also the child that won our class prize for logging the most minutes into the Scholastic system.  So... of the 16 that actively participated in summer reading - all maintained or jumped levels and some jumped significantly.  I knew the summer reading would make a difference, but we have never before had these outstanding results as we returned to school.

This is the first year ever that we haven't had a single student fall back a level over the summer, so it seems that  the Principal's summer challenge, along with,, Summer School and Summer Camp and even our correspondences with the students over the summer were the deciding  factors.  What an encouraging start to the new year!

Monday, August 18, 2014

It's the little things

When I walked into my room this morning on the first day of school, I had a list a mile long of all the last minutes things I needed to do before the kids came in.  As I unlocked my door I glanced over at the bulletin board that highlights our summer reading and noticed all of the rainbow touches for our Wizard of Oz theme. We had worked so hard to put it all together so the children would be excited today and feel like they were walking into a magical place.  As I turned on the light I noticed a hand written note on a pad of hot air balloons, a handmade container with a chocolate bar and a rainbow pen.  The fact that our Principal had taken the time to write a sweet note - just warmed my heart.  Over the weekend she had visited every single class and left every single teacher a note.  We're not a faulty of 20 - We have 70-ish faculty members!  That she would take the time after we had left for the weekend to visit each classroom and write a note - well that absolutely blows me away!

On the first day of school there is always a WOW - something to excite children and just make them want to come back again tomorrow.  The WOW is always related to our theme.  So today we were treated to watching a hot air balloon!  Can you believe it? When we went outside it was lying flat on the ground and we watched as they heated up the air and the balloon.  And the next thing you know, there is our Principal floating away with Dorothy - just like the Wizard!

What an amazing day it has been!  There really is no place like Chets!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Cart Girl Rides Again!

I am sure all schools have traditions that make them special, but one of my favorite traditions at the Creek is "cart girl."  Cart  Girl is usually the Principal or Vice Principal and sometimes a Coach who takes a grocery cart of snacks to each room during Teacher Planning at the most frantic time - for us, that's Thursday afternoon/ night - right before Friday Orientation for Parents and Students.  You're tired and hot.  You're frantic to get everything finished and in walks someone just to cheer you up. 

I will never forget my first experience at the Creek with someone actually bringing me a snack and asking how it was going and what I needed when I was just about to the point of exhaustion getting my room ready.  I remember thinking - Oh my gosh!  This school really cares about ME!

I know what it is like in the Front Office this week.  Parents are enrolling.  Most have just gotten their class assignments and all those that want a class change are calling.  There are hundreds of decisions to be made.  It is a madhouse up there! No Administrator has time to stop and check on how everyone is doing, but that is exactly what happens. I really do work in a magical place! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

There's no place like Chets!

So... today we followed the yellow brick road to the Land of Chets, walking into the Emerald City by way of a hot air balloon, with the forest and Cowardly Lion on one side and Munchkinville on the other. I am continually amazed at the time and talent in our school.  KK Cherney, our Media Speicalist, with her sidekicks Karen Willet and Nikki Williams, spent weeks in the front Lobby preparing for our return (I might add that this is unpaid labor!)... and it was awesome!  There's something special about knowing that your colleagues care so much that they are willing to put so much of their heart into making the school such a special place for children and teachers.
We walked into the Dining Room with it's hot air balloons and rainbow balloon arches to find gifts of theme-related fun "stuff" - water and snacks, but also a calendar, a lanyard, a themed clipboard lovingly made by a retired employee, right out of Toto's basket.

Grade level skits always begin the day.  It's a chance for grade levels to show their creativity and fun.  My team presented a video this year - all recorded on an iphone!- all about "staying calm and clicking your heels."  It wasn't the video that was so special but the fun we had together making the video. That's what this first day is really about - getting to know each other.  Below is  my awesome 1st grade team - some of the most  talented and passionate teachers that I have ever known. Some of us have been together for years.  Some are new to our team and one is new to our school, but together we will do "oz-some" work this year!  So stay tuned...
First Grade Team
New teachers have a special place in our first day with a simple "hazing" activity where they have to create a poem, song, cheer in about 10 minutes time.  It's always fun to watch the newbies as they quickly bond with each other and always come up with something cute!  They end by repeating a pledge promising to have a sensational, fun-filled year!

Finally, there is always professional development and today it had to do with mission and leadership.  We divided into smaller groups and worked collaboratively - a message as to the kind of learning that should be going on in our classrooms.
Then we enjoyed a potluck lunch to remind us that this is a homecoming, a family reunion - a time for us to come together and remember all the reasons that we care about each other.
There is no place like Chets!

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Summer Slide

This summer I have a looping class which means that the children I taught in kindergarten will loop up with me to first grade. Although there is always some natural attrition- parents separate and divorce and move away, parents are transferred, families move back home- about two-thirds of the class end up staying for the second year. I've looped classes before and one of the things that I have seen over and over is what is now being described by Richard Allington as the "summer slide."  It's simple. Children that don't read over the summer most often fall back a reading level when they are tested at the beginning of the new school year and those that read regularly, often visiting the public library weekly, move ahead a level. As you can imagine, the students that fall back are often those that are already behind.

So this year our Leadership Team thought they'd try to do something about it. Reading Allington's research is all it really took to light a fire under this Team. . Before I knew it, our media specialist had met with the Scholastic rep and designed an online summer reading program. She met with teachers and encouraged them to get kids logging in the last week of school. Several of our children were on the computer logging in the minutes they had read that very night. Of course, as you might expect, the students that were first to log on are also the ones that are already ahead and whose families  already furnish a rich language experience in their daily lives.

The challenge has always been how to encourage the others. Fortunately this program offered handouts in Spanish which helped many of my second language learners understand the expectation.  It even provided a paper version that the students could hand in at the end of the summer for those that don't have computer access. We were fortunate to have the Principal's support so she has offered a "prize" to any student that logs in 1500 minutes during the summer. We have pushed summer school teachers at our school and the two camp leaders that meet at our school to become involved.

Now I need to take responsibility for inspiring my own students and keep them reading throughout the summer.  My goal is to have 100% of the students log in at least once during the summer or to bring me a list of minutes at the end of the summer - no small task. This week I sent a personal post card to every student who has already logged in to congratulate them on their summer reading.  I am hoping to start an exchange with those students to encourage them to not only read, but to write.

I sent a letter to those that haven't logged on yet, urging them to give the program a try and sending them their user name and password again and a log sheet just in case they haven't logged in because they don't have computer access.  Now this will be the third time I have sent this information on how to log in, but I figure if their parents keep seeing it, they might decide that it's important.  And besides most of these students (and their parents) will have to face me again in the fall! I don't know if this extra effort will really pay off but I certainly believe it will. In two weeks I will be sending encouraging emails - instead of using the postal service - and then two weeks after that I thought I'd start sending selfies of me reading at home, in the car, at the beach, to my grand kids, and every other way I can think to read.  I'd do a headstand while reading but I can't do a headstand! I  am hoping the children will begin to send me selfies back of them reading!  Can't wait to see if this eliminates the summer slide in my returning students!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Testing Rant

I have already ranted about the excess amount of testing in our county at the beginning of this school year for our youngest learners.  In our sixth week of school this year, our district finally revised its testing calendar and dropped the Science, Music, Art and PE pre and post tests that they had originally required of Kindergartners.  They also dropped the Reading, Math, and Science tests they had originally required at the end of each nine weeks and only required post tests in Reading in Math.  Hallelujah! However, they added  post tests for the computer programs we have been using... when we were able to get to the computer lab, as we worked around the computer testing program (we have one lab for 1300 students!)  To say this year was full of disorganized chaotic testing is an understatement.  The amount of hours of instruction lost to a ridiculous testing schedule is disgraceful.

Lucy Calkins made a statement about testing being the Titanic of the Common Core, and I think she is right. I'm not sure how testing got tied to the Common Core because there is nothing in our new standards that require the type of testing that is being done today.  Certainly we need to understand where our students are at any given time so that we know how and what to instruct, but it seems we've just gotten into testing, as if by simply testing students, they can improve!  We miss the point entirely.  Assessment completes the prescriptive cycle of identifying through assessment, writing a prescription, selecting the appropriate resources to instruct, instructing, and then assessing again to identify the new targets.  Testing without engaging appropriate instruction is simply wasteful. It's malpractice.

As I was leaving school this afternoon, I caught this picture outside the Test Administrator's Office.  Fifty-eight boxes were taped and labeled, ready to go to the District's Testing Office.  That's not the state required high stakes test that was given in the Spring but 58 boxes of required county tests given to our K-5 students at the end of the year.  These will be used for performance pay for teachers, eventually, although the inaccuracies are mind boggling.  I know that the intent is to move the county forward, but it just seems like the implementation has been boggled at every turn.  We were fortunate to have a Test Administrator who was able to shoulder the enormous time and responsibility of organizing the distribution and administration of such a massive testing schedule (I guess you could say her part time job was being the only Assistant Principal at our very large school!)  Her talent and perseverance were noticed and appreciated by all.

As for my school, we tried, as we always do, to carve a course through the mine field and to just keep doing what we know works.  We gave the assessments that we absolutely had to give, although it is difficult to trust the results of a new test - we were not able to depend on it for anything.  We did the best we could in a "red" school (meaning we do not have the technology infrastructure that we need to support the expectations of computerized testing) and tried to soothe the hysteria of high performing teachers  who often were on the verge of tears knowing how hard they had worked and how much they wanted to prove it. The principal continued to work on relationships and easing the stress and pain, instead of playing into the panic.  She continued to assure our faculty that if we continued to keep our eyes on our students, we would prevail... and we have.

With a population that is changing (our second language and free/reduced numbers continue to climb) our results continue to remain high (we had the highest writing scores in the county!)  Our teachers are collegial and continue to depend on each other.  We are not always in charge of our own fate, but we are in charge of our destiny. We continue to see through the fog into the eyes of the children.  Now that is leadership.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

End of the Year Luncheon

Clark's Fish Camp fit right in
with our walk on the wild side!
Each year, we close out the school year with a luncheon. We never pay for the luncheon (my husband had to pay $20 to attend his end-of-the-year school luncheon!) This year our luncheon was a gift from the Church at Chets Creek. Can't think of a better gift from the best business partner on Earth (their property is adjacent to ours)! The food at Clark's Fish Camp was delicious and of course, the décor of wild animals fit perfectly with our "Walk on the Wild Side" theme.

 Each year the presentation by the Principal is full of laughter and tears. It is always very emotional for me because I always do a lot of reflecting and that one hour reminds me of so many of the highs and lows of the year which is always a roller coaster of emotions. The Principal starts with letters she has received from parents and children and often staff members, and reads them out loud. Oh my! I wish I could post every letter so you could get a flavor for the type of people I work with! The Principal then calls many teachers and staff members up for awards - some funny, some serious, but always genuine. This year, as usual, you could feel the anticipation, the love and appreciation in the air.

The amazing kindergarten team
I am honored and humbled to work with an amazing group of women on my kindergarten grade level and this year many of them were honored. Debbie was honored for breathing new life into our long tutoring partnership with Landstar and for volunteering at the MARC. Maria and Cheryl were honored for having more visitors than anyone in the building. What an awesome duo to represent Chets Creek to the visitors that come to see what we are all about. Pam was recognized for leading with heart as she has given sacrificially to our teaching friend who has been battling cancer this year. Tracy was honored for her work at the MARC and she and Vicky were honored for living through the battle zone - or for making a difference in the lives of children - depending on how you look at it.  Each kinder colleague could have been singled out because they are, without exception, teachers who care deeply about what they do.  Most of our grade level are "eagles" and we take a lot of grief for that - too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.  We can be loud and demanding and more than one speaker at our grade level meetings has complained that they can't get a word in and that we all talk over each other.  We have been working on that, but on the other had, you never have to ask for a volunteer, because someone usually has the task completed before you ask!  They are doers - movers and shakers.  Yes, they are demanding and super critical, but it's because they expect perfection.  For me, the word that describes them best is passionate.  They expect results... and they get results.   I love this group of women.  Being with them really is like flying with the eagles!

One of the most joyful moments of the intensely emotional luncheon is the end-of-the-year video, prepared by our Reading Coach, Melanie Holtsman.  If this doesn't say it all!  Love closing up  a year... so, you can begin thinking about the new one!  Enjoy the video!

Each year at our end-of-the-year luncheon, the Principal unveils the new theme video for the following year. It's always such fun to guess what it might be. For the 14-15 school year we will be in "The Wonderful Land of Chets" because we know that "there is no place like home!"

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Opinion Writing

For our final Kindergarten Writing Unit, we finished with Opinion Writing using Lucy Calkins' new writing lessons. The depth in the lessons really stretched our thinking and our delivery.   We have been thrilled with the level of writing the children have been able to produce.  It is certainly true that when the level of instruction improves, so does the level of writing!  These are a couple of examples of the children's work.

The first one comes from Levi who was super excited that he was able to use one of our vocabulary words, private, in his writing!  His opinion is that he should be able to go to the bathroom in private - without his baby brother opening the door on him! He gives the reader a little story when he says that his brother put his hand in the toilet water. He even gives the reader a solution for fixing his problem on the final page!
 I want to be private when I go to the bathroom because my baby brother

opens the door on me!  One time my baby brother broke into the

bathroom and stuck his hand in the toilet water!

Yay! My baby brother is not broken in the bathroom.  I am away (from him).

1.Put him in his bed. 2. Walk away. 3. Go to the bathroom!  Thank you for listening.  Love, Levi

Ana decided to write her letter to a large audience - the people at the beach.  She begins with a story about going to the beach with a group of family and friends. She thinks they should quit going to the beach because they could get sun burned, even when they wear sun screen.  She gives some compelling reasons for skipping the beach and taking the chance of a sun burn such as getting sick, missing vacation and having to put ice on your back.  Her delightful pictures and speech bubbles give plenty of extra detail.  Pretty good argument Ana!

Dear people that go to the beach,
I think people shouldn't go to any beach anymore because you can get really bad sun burn  because...
Because one day I and Mommy and her friend Amber and Laura (were) all at the beach and my sister got sun burned.
Even when you got sun screen you can get sun burned because you can get sweaty. If you get really sweaty you can get sick. 

Then you'll have to go home and you will miss all of the vacation.

Then you're going to have to stay home having ice on your back.

The children wrote letters to their families, many asking for a new pet.  We so convinced the children that they could change the world that Paige was quite distraught when her letter for a new puppy did not produce the desired result!  Other children took on bigger topics such as Jehan who wrote to his neighbors trying to convince them not to pollute the pond near his house because it is making the fish sick and Finn who wrote the Chinese government about his concern that they are taking sharks' fins for medicinal purposes! Nazar and Finn had quite the discussion as Finn wrote to try to save the sharks and Nazar took the opposite argument trying to get rid of sharks based on a shark attack he had witnessed.

To celebrate, our kinder class met with a 1st grade class.  We paired each kinder partner with a first grader.  We shared our persuasive letters and they shared their narrative stories. Each partner pair practiced giving compliments and we ended with cookies and juice.  I think it was a relationship that will continue because it gave both groups an authentic audience for their work.    The most exciting part for me is that we will be looping up with this group of children to first grade.  Can you imagine what this group will be able to produce next year when we get to this unit?  Can't wait!