Saturday, May 31, 2014

Such a sweet tradition

Today in a plain brown envelope a mom sent me a copy of Dr. Seuss' book, Oh, the Places You'll Go.  She asked if I would please write a note to her son about his kindergarten year.  When I opened the book, his preschool teachers had already signed the book and the mom's note explained, that it was her intention to send the book to each of his teachers at the end of the year secretively, and then to present him with the book at his high school graduation!  Is that not the sweetest tradition ever?!!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mckenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation

Out of a tragedy rises a legacy of hope.  McKenzie Noelle Wilson, the beautiful young daughter of Blake and Stephanie Wilson died suddenly - cutting short the promise of a future filled with love, caring and hope.  The Wilsons could have chosen to spend the rest of their days mourning the senseless loss of their faith-filled daughter, but they chose instead to start a foundation in her memory that would embody all that she was.  It is such a n honor that they have chosen the nae of their beautiful daughter to put on the center where we first began tutoring.  It is indeed humbling.

The Foundation raises money through the sale of LiveNGrace bracelets, the 5K McKenzie Run, and various projects through Kenzie Clubs all over Jacksonville.  The money is used for an orphanage in Africa and to support two MARCs (McKenzie Academic Resource Centers) in town - one of which is in the Portside Community that services Chets Creek Elementary, where I teach.

Debbie Harbour, one of the
MARCs most dedicated volunteers.
Teachers at Chets Creek volunteer their time at the MARC.  I volunteer on Mondays during the K-1 day for two hours each week with two other very faithful and dedicated  Chets Creek kindergarten teachers and a retired Speech Pathologist.  I mostly work with six of the children from my own class who come faithfully.  I have met their families - had conferences because I could easily grab a sister or aunt as an interpreter (most are second language learners).  I have met their older brothers and sisters who often pick them up at the end of the day and their baby brothers and sisters.    For one of the children in particular,  the extra tutoring meant the difference in him passing or failing kindergarten.  I was able to work on skills prescriptively, knowing exactly what each child needed. The children seem more at ease at the MARC.  They laugh easily - they kid with each other - and they share deep personal things.  That intimacy carries over into the classroom.  They know me as more than a teacher but as someone who cares deeply (and someone who will tell their Mama if they get out of hand!)

Teachers from Chets who were able to attend tonight's Awards ceremony

Tonight the Wilsons invited all the volunteers from their many programs to the Schultz Center as a thank you for giving time and talent to children.  They reconnected us with the mission and with the memories of a beautiful young girl who left well before her own mission was complete.  As I sat there, and wondered how the Wilsons get through such a ceremony that honors the one that they loved so dearly, I wanted to say to them - We should be giving you the award.  It is an honor and privilege to be at the MARC and to carry on the work that McKenzie herself was never able to finish.  I hope they know what it means to be able to have a clean, cool place to spend a few hours each week with children that you care about.  And...  I hope McKenzie is smiling.  I know she must be so proud!

Kindergartners Login

Today I sent this letter to "the powers that be." Do any other kinder teachers feel my frustration?
a typical 17 digit kindergarten log in
I am a kindergarten teacher trying to use I-Ready (a computer-based county adopted intervention in Reading and Math) with fidelity.  I am at a "red" school, which means we do not have the technology capacity of other "blue" schools.  My only option, with 3 computers and 36 students, and trying to get students on the computer with fidelity, is to try to use our computer lab weekly (one lab, 1300 students) when it's not being used for testing.  That has presented quite a challenge.

The computer login screen
I know that you are probably not the  person that developed the login for students in Duval County but for a five year old, the login to our school computers is rather challenging.  The username is a random set of nine letters and numbers.  A 5 year old, at the beginning of the year doesn't even recognize all the letters and numbers, but even at the end of the year, some kindergartners can't track nine numbers and letters from a piece of paper as they try to find each one on their keyboard.  A kindergartner can't really tell the difference between the number 1, the capital I or the lowercase l or the number 0, the lowercase o and the uppercase O, which, of course, all have to be put in precisely.  To put in the password, the student has a different set of eight letters and numbers. The challenge is even greater because the child cannot see what is being typed.  He can only see dots (to protect the password) so the room for tracking mistakes is huge!

In order to use our computer lab we have to find 4-5 parent volunteers who will come to the lab and help us log in students.  It takes 30 minutes of our 60 minute computer time to get all students logged on, even with that type of hep.  However, like I said, I know that you did not design that system.  Whoever designed it might be interested in what the parents, who have had to come help us, have had to say!

the iReady screen
Although you probably cannot help with the challenges of the login system, you could help with the sign in to I-Ready.  Right now we are trying to teach the students to log in themselves so that when they come back as first graders we will not be wasting all of our computer time with the login and might really get down to some lessons!  However, after we spend the time to teach the students how to log into the computer, we finally get to I-ready.  Now they have to use their username but instead of a lowercase s, they have to figure out how to make an uppercase S.  Do you have any idea how hard that is for 5 year olds to understand?  And then, after teaching them the password to sign in, now they are told not to use that password, although it says password, but to type in their username again, but don't forget to make it an uppercase S instead of the lowercase s that they signed in with. Confused?  I don't know if you can understand a five year old's frustration level, but if you want to feel it, drop by any time we're in the computer lab!

To help solve this problem, I'm wondering if it might be possible to have the I-ready login the same as the computer login?   The exact same - same letters, same numbers, same capitals and lowercase letters.  If we are going to spend the time to teach a five year old a username and password that, thankfully, will go with them throughout their Duval career, using the same username and password for everything would be ever so helpful.  Thanks for listening...

My frustration runneth over...

Update:  I never got a response from anyone to this letter or this problem although I heard from many kindergarten teachers - they said they were afraid to leave a comment that might be tracked back to them. Hmmmm...

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Kindergarten Narrative

Our school purchased the new Lucy Calkins' Writing Units this year, not as an approved district curriculum, but from internal school accounts, because teachers begged for the new material!  We couldn't wait to get our hands on this new work by Teachers' College because we knew it had been vetted in real school in NYC by a group of teachers and coaches who collaboratively wrote the units and then taught them and revised them before they ever made ii to the pages of a manual for other teachers to follow.  The units arrived in the middle of the year, but our kindergarten teachers dived right into one of the new units - narrative.  We have not been disappointed

We've completed the unit.  Now is time for our annual kindergarten work-over-time standard-based bulletin board.  This board usually features a kindergartner's beginning piece and then a piece about mid-year and a final piece, all with commentary.  However, since we just finished this amazing Calkins' unit, I decided to do something a little different in honor of our new learning  I decided that  I would use the baseline and post-prompt pieces in our new narrative unit to show how some of our youngest writers had grown over the 6-8 weeks of this single new unit.  I posted a first day of kindergarten piece, and then the baseline prompt and finally the post prompt for the Narrative unit  for three students.  Below is one student's work..

The Kindergarten Narrative Standard
W.K.3 Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in order in which occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened.

The Task
Using Lucy Calkins’ new Narrative Writing Unit the class spent eight weeks working through every lesson, repeating a few that we felt we might have taught poorly the first time around!  Before beginning the narrative, students were asked to write a story about something that had happened over the Winter holiday (we started this unit the day we returned from Christmas/ Winter break).  They were given one workshop period to complete the project.  That piece was scored using the Reading and Writing Project- Grade K Narrative Rubric.  At the end of the unit the students were asked to write another story and the same rubric again was scored.  Remember that we had not taught the first two new units in the series but did teach the e-unit lessons published earlier by Teachers' College. 

Sawyer's Narrative
Narrative Baseline Prompt

Translation: Unreadable
Baseline score = 2.0

Sawyer’s baseline piece does not meet any of the criteria of this element.  It is written at the pre-kindergarten level or below.
Language Conventions
Sawyer's piece looks like a string of letters and is simply unreadable.  However, if he tried to reread the piece, he has probably put some letters for the words he has tried to write.  You can even find a few sight words (the, Santa, eat). Sawyer probably did not use the word wall as these sight words are all part of his spelling vocabulary, even at this early stage.  If given the chance, Sawyer probably could have read his piece and surely could have described in great details the event he had written about, because he is gifted expressively and quite animated!
Not only does Sawyer's drawing have no detail or labels, the reader  has no idea what it is! 


Narrative Post Prompt

1.It was my brother’s birthday.  For breakfast I had Dunkin’ Donuts.

2.Next I had a water balloon fight.

3 I played outside.  I was really happy.
Post prompt score = 3.5

Sawyer’s birthday story has three numbered pages, with a beginning, middle and end.  He has a first page that tells the beginning, It was my brother’s birthday, and has an ending page that tells what happened last, I played outside. The end page also explains how he felt, I was really happy.
Sawyer does label many of the things in his illustration. It is difficult to tell what many of the things are in his drawing but that is probably because he is always in such a hurry and is not interested in illustrations!
Language Conventions
Sawyer starts all of his sentences with capitals and uses the capital I, but he uses punctuation inconsistently.  He spells many sight words correctly and is not afraid of bigger words, such as brekfist for breakfast.  He easily reads his own writing.  There has been a huge improvement in Saweyer's handwriting as he realized that other people had to be able to read his stories.  His use of spaces also makes the work more readable.
In comparing Sawyer’s two pieces, the progress is rather apparent and amazing.  His baseline piece is unreadable.  To go from that to a simple story with a beginning, middle, and end, is dramatic in such a short time. The reader has to be impressed with the sheer progress in readability. The use of spacing and improvement in his handwriting during this short period of time are also striking.  So, it is no surprise that his greatest improvements on the rubric are in Structure and Language Conventions.  Sawyer proudly shared this piece with his peers.  He could barely stay still to read it, he was so excited! Way to go Sawyer! 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Open Your Eyes

Our County announced this week that they will probably be cutting Math and Reading Coaches for this next year in some schools (probably higher achieving school - ever wonder why they are high achieving?)  What are they thinking?  I guess poor coaches ARE a waste of money, but if you have ever had a really good coach, you know that they make all the difference.  We have a coach like that at Chets Creek.
Melanie Holtsman is a learner.  She doesn't depend on the poor quality one-size-fits-all professional development offered in our county.  Instead, she develops herself.  Last summer she was able to use the pennies of professional development money that were available, search out someone she could stay with in NYC, and then fund the rest of her trip personally so she could attend Teachers' College in NYC.  She came back full of research, lessons and ideas, and connectivity.  She was able to take the best of what she learned and intertwine it with our school's needs to design lessons that would enrich our teaching and provide the deeper thinking that is needed with the Common Core.  She took the best book that she heard about from teachers who were students with her to develop one of the best book studies we have ever had.  There is no question that it was the flint that started the fire that spread through our Reading this year.  She  is approachable and can come into a room of Kindergartners or fifth graders, confer with a handful of students, and diagnose exactly what is needed.  She has a kind and reaffirming way that makes it easy to see her as a collaborator instead of a evaluator.  My co-teacher and I are involved in a mini-cycle of teaching writing with her right now, at our request.  We were struggling through some lessons in persuasive writing in Kindergarten and needed some guidance to help us uncover the problem and help see a clearer path.  What a difference we are seeing now that she has taught a few lessons for us, helped us teach a few and then helped us see the next steps.

We so often talk about lifting the level of teaching and we know that this type of one-on-one coaching beside a teacher is the most effective way and yet, when we see it at its very best, we miss the opportunity to grasp that exceptional quality, shine and polish it, and use it.  Why is it that the powers that be just keep trying to find the answer in change after sweeping change instead of finding the jewels in its midst and polishing those?  Open your eyes.  The answer is right in front of you!