Monday, January 27, 2014

Kinder Math Standard-based Bulletin Board

Our kindergarten standard-based Math bulletin board went up this week.  It is based on a Math Investigations lesson called, Six Tiles in All, in which the children had to take six one inch paper tiles and make a  design to share with the class on one inch grid paper so that each tile was touching another tile in some way.

This is the standard.
K.CC.B.4 – Count to tell the number of objects
4. Understand the relationship between numbers and quantities; connect counting to cardinality.
b.  Understand that the last number name said tells the number of objects counted.  The number of objects is the same regardless of their arrangements or the order in which they are counted.

This was the task.
Six Tiles in All asks students to use six one inch tiles to make different arrangements.  Each arrangement has to follow a special rule – each tile has to touch another tile in some way.  The teacher showed several arrangements and also had the students identify non-examples.  Then several students demonstrated their idea of how the six tiles could be arranged.  The students were then challenged to find different arrangements of their own six tiles and to choose one way to record and then share with the class, using paper tiles and one inch grid paper. 
On the following day these same paper tile arrangements were used as quick images.  Children were encouraged to explain how they remembered the image to reproduce it.
This task begins to meet the standard by having the students practice different arrangements of a single number, 6.  To meet this element of the standard the students needs to demonstrate their understanding of this same concept with other numbers.  They would also need to count the items in each arrangement, understanding that the last number said is the number of objects.
This is the background information.
Six tiles are used for this investigation because six is the number that most kindergartners can count with accuracy.  Because it takes two hands to represent six, students naturally work with two numbers to make combinations of six.  In addition, six is one of the largest amounts that can be mentally visualized and manipulated and instantly recalled.  This is also a number kinders are intimately familiar with because most of them will turn six during the year!
This investigation gets to Piaget’s work with conservation which is a foundational skill in number sense.   Conservation of number is the understanding that the quantity of a given number of objects remains the same regardless of how it is spatially arranged.   Six is six is six. The child that sees six tiles horizontally as six but then has to recount those same tiles when they take another arrangement would be unable to conserve numbers.  But a child that identifies the horizontal as six, and then the same six tiles rearranged to make a rectangle as six, would be able to conserve numbers.  The child that has conservation does not need to recount the same tiles as they take different shapes because he knows that the number stays the same.
This investigation also gets at subitizing which is the ability to immediately recognize an arrangement as a single unit.  The ability to see the particular arrangements of indentions on a die and know it is 5 without counting would be an example of subitizing.  This investigation, like dot cards, ten-frames and rekenreks, provide students with the opportunity to practice subitizing.  Quick images help a child practice subitizing and visualizing what the number looks like with different patterns of that same number.  
The board contains the work of six different students.  Below is the work and commentary of one.
Eren was especially proud of his arrangement which he said looked like a chess board.  He liked that the “ends” were touching and that it was a design that no one at his table had imagined.
Nia thought it looked like a zigzag and Alex recognized the checked pattern when he said it looked like a checker board.  Tommy said it looked like racing and when Sawyer said he couldn’t see racing, Tommy explained that it looked like the racing start line, the checkered flag!  Love the fact that these very young children are beginning to challenge each other in their number talks!

ESOL Rant Update

Since my last rant about having to take 5 courses of ESOL while I am in DROP (last five years before retirement), I have corresponded with everyone in the county at every level to try to find a way to meet this requirement and actually learn something. Couldn't find anyone willing to give me an independent study. My only options seemed to involve long drives for boring put-you-to-sleep lectures or busywork computer courses - neither of which appealed to me. Finally I found out I could test out! Know how I found out? Facebook!- something not mentioned in any of my correspondences with the district!  So today I took a half day of instructional time away from my kindergartners, trucked out to UNF, spent 45 minutes trying to find a parking space (really UNF, if you're going to charge me $3 to park, at least send me somewhere that I can find a parking space!), and spent a couple of hours passing a test to add the ESOL endorsement to my certificate.  Did I mention the $200 it cost me to take the test?  Or the $75 to add it to my certificate? Did I mention that by taking the test I didn't learn a single thing that will make me a better teacher to my precious ELL students- something I desperately want!

So... I am $275 poorer and not one bit smarter, but I have jumped through the hoops to assure I can teach another year.  Do I sound mad and disappointed?  I am.  I'm mad at my county for presenting lackluster professional development in an area that is so important.  I'm mad that my county refused to accept real hands-on application level work to meet this requirement. For the first two classes I was able to volunteer with ELL children and their families at the MARC , a community center in the midst of a large mobile home sight that houses many of the ELL families at our school, but someone decided that that was not good enough to meet the requirement. So,  instead of volunteering every week - 180 hours - to tutor my ELL students in their community and putting a face on education for their families, I felt compelled to opt out with a test!  That time could have made a real difference in the academic progress of my children and the engagement of their families, and who am I kidding? - it could have made a difference in my life!  If the county is willing to accept bare minimum professional development for teachers - professional development devoid of passion and engagement - are they willing to accept the same bare minimum for its students?  Yes, I'm disappointed...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Falling in Love with Close Reading

I love reading a  good book that offers me something that I can use immediately in the classroom.  Better than that is a book study where I can read and think with colleagues who have similar passions. By discussing what I read, just like our children, I guess, I form new ideas and build on my thinking.   Before the holiday, Reading Coach Melanie Holtsman asked who would like to study the new book, Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts.  Melanie had been introduced to the book and the authors during her study at Teachers' College this past summer.  Close reading is one of the new buzz words that came with the common core and we have been actively pursuing good information on the subject, so I, along with 30 other colleagues, quickly signed up.  We've done lots of book studies over the years at Chets Creek and done them in all sorts of different ways with different leaders and configurations, so I was interested in how Melanie would choose to roll out this Book Study.

As usual,  Melanie did not disappoint - using her natural insight and creativity, she decided to incorporate some of the lessons and strategies she had learned this summer into the book study.  She also has kept in touch with the authors of the book through Twitter, so each week, Melanie LEADS the study with a short introduction, some time for the participants to talk about what they read, and an activity that helps teachers feel the engagement of a learner.  When I can, I attend both the morning and afternoon sessions, although they are on the same topic - I guess I'm really a professional development junkie!  However, the mix of the participants is difference and it never fails, that the emphasis is different because of the interests and engagement of each group.  We've only studied the first two chapters and already I am hooked on this design for a book study.  I can't wait to read each new chapter and to see how Melanie will help us look closer at our reading... and our lives.  I'm sure this isn't easy for Melanie.  It's not like this design was just laid out there and she's following some script.  She really has to think deeply and creatively about how she can present the content to a group of adult learners who have such expertise and high expectations.  She takes risks, the kind of risks that she is asking teachers to take.  She teaches us the way that she expects us to teach our children.

I have attended so much professional development during my years as a teacher and much of it has honestly been VERY BAD.  It is so refreshing to look forward to reading a chapter and to get up on the morning of the book study and hurry to make sure I'm not late so I won't miss a single minute.  That is the same feeling I want in my students each morning that they come to class!  The best part is that I leave the book study with a new insight and a smile on my face - invigorated and excited! 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Working on the Work

Today was one of my favorite days.  It was a WOW day (a Working On the Work day), now referred to as PLC (Professional Learning Community)Days by the county.  Our children spend the day with our Resource teachers and we spend the day studying together.  We started off our WOW with a demo lesson by our Literacy lead, Maria Mallon.  All 14 of us loaded into Maria's room to watch her masterfully teach one of the new lessons from Lucy Calkins' new Units of Study for Teaching Writing.  We opened with narrative writing after the holiday and Maria demonstrated the 5th lesson, the last lesson in the first bend of the narrative genre.  I love watching a colleague work!  Maria masterfully taught the children how to use their pencil for reading and for writing.  She taught them to use the eraser end for "rereading your work and the point for writing new words" as the children co-wrote the beginning, middle and end of a story together about our trip to watch the Polar Express at the church next door.  Besides using a magic pencil  I also loved how she demonstrated using "writing in the air" as an active involvement.  Maria gave each student his or her own writing pencil and then had them use it to "pretend" write or "write in the air" a she wrote on the paper on the board.   Both of those tips - using a magic pencil and writing in the air - are things that we can teach in our classroom tomorrow.

Melanie Holtsman, our Literacy Coach, is the producer of our literacy professional development and she and Maria designed this learning opportunity together.  Melanie studied at Teachers' College last summer so she has been able to artfully incorporate pieces of that "Lucy" training into our professional development this year.  She shares some of her learning from the summer and from a recent day with Lucy with us, and the greater community at our school PD blog, Live from the Creek.  Check it out.  It's almost like being at Teachers' College!

Melanie always tries to have us experience something as a learner so that we feel comfortable incorporating it into our lessons.  Today she had us "write a story in the air" -  tell a true story from our childhood to a partner - thinking about the beginning, middle and end..  She suggested this as  way to have our students get ready to write.  In other words, instead of simply telling our students to "turn and talk" about what they are going to write, to actually have them tell their partner the story with a beginning, middle, and end to jumpstart their story writing.  Can't you just see how that would work?

After lunch together - we always order in to save time! - our Science lead Tracy Ruark took over for the last hour.  Tracy shared the content of boxes that were loaned to Chets by the Safari Club for us to use in Science.  We looked at pelts and skulls and I even learned about "scat" - felt like I'd visited Duck Dynasty!  The boxes also included books and lesson plans.  I know how much fun the teachers had with these items, so I can just imagine how the children will engage with them!  We ended by talking about Tracy's latest Science lab with Sound.

I LOVE the teachers I work with.  They are engaged.  They are never at a loss for questions and share an endless supply of creative ideas.  There is no questions that I will be a better teacher tomorrow because I shared time with them today!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Are Teacher Evaluation Growth Scores Fair?

Lucy Calkins recently said in a workshop here in Jacksonville,  In times of your life when you were called a failure - what that does to your dedication, your sense of power!  It is debilitating.  Oh Lucy, how I understand that quote - how sad that I understand that quote...

 I feel like someone just kicked me in the gut.  Rarely have I ever felt like that as a teacher - once when dealing with an extremely difficult circumstance with a parent - once when dealing with a heart wrenching circumstance with a child.  In both cases the situations were so unfair and unjust that I just couldn't reconcile my own sense of fair play and justice.  Now is another such time.

I have always believed good teacher evaluation, that moved us toward pay for performance, could be a good thing for our profession.  I believed that teachers that worked hard and really went the extra mile deserved pay commensurate with  their skills and effort.  I was certainly never afraid of accountability or being evaluated.  As long as I continued to be a learner who was willing to give 100%, I felt like all the details would work themselves out.  I liked the idea of a career ladder for teachers who didn't want to leave the classroom. I knew some type of evaluation beyond the Principal's yearly visit would be part of the formula, and while I always worried about fairness, I put my faith in the system.  Now I know, first hand, what it feels like to work hard and go the extra mile and then let a committee's interpretation of test data tell you that you have not done all that you can for the students you teach, even though you KNOW that is NOT the case.  It feels like someone thrust a dagger in your heart.  

In my situation, it is really not the test itself that was at fault, but poor communication that resulted in 10 teachers of first graders at my school being denied credit for the success of their students.  Basically, a computer-based test was used that  didn't allow for the teachers to document the growth of their higher students.  Students topped out at the beginning of the year so there was nowhere to go at the end of the year but to repeat the same high scores - which equaled no progress! Did you get that?  There are a million details that come into play - one paragraph in a 150 page manual written in 2009 that alludes to testing at a higher grade level, training where "testing up" was supposedly explained but somehow missed by an entire grade level of teachers, a Coordinator who supposedly relayed the information to principals that never made it to teachers,  teachers who knew the problem and asked for direction and were told that testing up could NOT be done, teachers who followed the chain of command thinking they were doing the right thing, a district that decided to make an allowance for the same problem the year before but not this year - I could go on and on, but it really doesn't matter.  The plain and simple fact is that teachers who worked hard to do the very best they could for their students - students who DID make the progress - are being denied the growth scores that would label them "highly effective."

These are some of the BEST teachers that I know.  Five of them are Nationally Board Certified.  Half of them have been "Teachers of the Year." They are all overachievers who, I am sure, have some of the highest Principal evaluations in our building, because they would be satisfied with nothing less.  Most of them have leadership oozing from their pores.  These are exemplary, seasoned teachers who have built entire careers on being "highly effective."  They are leaders who have provided demonstration lessons all over the county - actually, through videotape, all over the country! About half of them looped their kids from Kindergarten to First.  In Kindergarten they were "highly effective," but as first grade teachers, with most of the same students, they are, all of a sudden, only "effective."   I wonder how the parents of the students who were rated as not showing growth - some of the highest students in the grade level - would feel if they knew?  It is because these teachers continued to teach and introduced so many first grade skills in kindergarten that they had such high scores at the beginning of first grade. So basically they are being penalized for teaching at such high levels as kindergarten teachers!  While this does not effect teachers' pay, at this time, it might in the future.  However, I doubt even one of these teachers will care as much about the pay as they care about not being considered highly effective, which implies that they did not do all that they could do for the students in their care- that some of their best students are considered as not make any growth - that they are failures...  This is about their names - their reputations - their professionalism.

I am one of those teachers.  After almost  40 years - with an entire career of being "highly effective" - this year I am only "effective."  Don't get me wrong.  I haven't spent my life teaching so that I could get some fancy label.  I absolutely love what I do.  It's a calling for me - a mission field.  I can't imagine doing anything else and at this late date, I certainly will not be making changes in my professional commitment.  But... it is demoralizing.  Honestly, it feels like someone just kicked me in the gut. It's not only me.  I have watched some of the finest teachers I know let this get to them... and I understand. It also effects our Principal and Assistant Principal, the Guidance Counselor, the Reading Coach, The Media Specialist - all of those who have to depend on our growth scores, along with the rest of the K-5 school, to prove their own effectiveness.

I know that nobody said life is fair, but until we can figure out a fairer system for evaluating teachers, I will stand with those who oppose this type of measurement.  And right now, we all have a moral responsibility to shed light on a failing teacher evaluation system.  Can we ever put our faith in a system that allows this to happen?