Thursday, May 28, 2015

Number Talks

A year ago before leaving for summer break,  I received a new Math book, Number Talks,  from our Assistant Principal, Suzanne Shall.  She said she knew I would like it and even spent some time to show me the part I should read over the summer.  I did.  I am not a Math person but this book was pretty easy to read... although I did glaze over some of it, I think, because I just didn't have enough background knowledge to anchor some of the ideas.  Very few K-1 teachers choose early childhood because they want to be Math teachers.  Most of us dream of teaching children to read and we just teach the basic math fundamentals.  But today the expectation for Math is different.

Our first grade Math lead, Cheryl Dillard, taught several teacher meetings over the year from the book and I would reread the chapters again, each time internalizing more of the information and trying pieces in my classroom.  I knew it was making a difference because I could hear the difference in the conversation and vocabulary that the children were having.  But I knew that what I really needed was a Math book study where I could read each of the chapters again, ask questions, and have discussion and instruction to help me implement the strategies into my practice.  I really needed to understand the big picture and then to put the pieces inside that master plan.  I asked for the book study early in the year for K-1 teachers that were interested, but the books are expensive, and at our school, the perk of doing a voluntary book study on your own time is that the Principal tries to find the money to buy each participant the book.  I don't know about where you teach, but where I teach, money is really, really tight and she simply couldn't find the money to buy the books, even though we all agreed that this was instruction that was really needed in our primary school.

I knew time was running out and I knew I still needed the professional development (it's really all about me!) so I asked if teachers would buy their own book, could we do the book study?  But... the Principal was really adamant that teachers should not have to buy the materials to teach if they were willing to give their own time to do extra professional development.  Finally, with only six weeks left in the school year, the Principal somehow found the money and eight teachers came together for a book study, taught by our Assistant Principal (we do not have a Math Coach).  Is this ideal timing?  Heck, NO!  But we had no trouble getting these teachers to commit, meaning that they would be meeting all the way until the last week of school.  No teacher REALLY wants to be reading, thinking and meeting the last week of school and no Assistant Principal (who is also the testing coordinator) really has the time to plan professional development to inspire a group of K-1 teachers.  It's just too much with everything else going on as the school year closes.  BUT... meet we did and the time was engaging and filled with electricity and excitement.  We were able to think about what we HAD done this  year and how we would do it differently next year with all that we were learning.  We had a chance to discuss how it all fit so perfectly into the county's new adoption of EngageNY.  For me, it put the pieces together.  I will never teach Math the same way and probably for the first time in my career, I know exactly what I should be doing with my youngest students that are struggling. I actually have techniques and strategies that will make a difference.

We are sending the best prepared first grade Math students that we have ever sent to second grade, but I can't wait to see where we are able to take next year's group.  I just can't thank Susan Phillips (she swore she had to sell one of her kidneys to pay for the books!) and Suzanne Shall enough for making this professional development a reality.  I can only imagine how many children will benefit...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Koaly Finn

We are not the first class to have a mascot that gets sent home with each child so the child can write about his adventures with the mascot, but the origination of our mascot is a little unique.  As a farewell gift at the Winter break, our Australian student (who had been with us for a year and half) left an adorable stuffed koala bear for the class to enjoy.  The class named him Koaly Finn, after the student, Finn.
We developed a journal that traveled to each child's home. The idea was that Koaly Finn would spend a night with each child and the child would write about their adventures together.  Finn chose his longtime partner, Jehan, as the first student to take home Koaly Finn.  As each child returned from their overnight adventure, they shared with the class and then chose the next person to get the beloved koala.  Children loved when it was their turn and for the most part, students kept Koaly Finn for a night and then returned the journal and shared.  He did get lost for about two weeks when he went home with Jaxon in the middle of a move to a new house, but Jaxon finally discovered the stuffed koala and brought him back to go on yet another adventure!  Koaly Finn has now traveled to each student's home so we will soon pack him and the journal up to be returned to Finn in Australia so that he may keep this keepsake of his American adventure.

Finn will be excited to know that Koaly Finn went to Extended Day and enjoyed the swings, slide and monkey bars.  He went to Christmas parties and saw quite a few Christmas trees.  He even climbed to the top of Mrs. Ruark's Christmas tree while she was at dinner because he wanted to be the angel high on the top. He went hiking and wanted to jump over the railing into the waterfall but was caught at the very last minute.  Koaly Finn met lots of other stuffed animals including a few "elves on the shelf" and had an adventure with a pet cat! He went through a car wash and got scared.  He went to Boy Scouts, read books and ate marshmallows. He went bowling and won!  He attended soccer games and football games, watched basketball games, played dress up, rode a bike, went to the doctor, jumped on a trampoline, and went to swim practice.  He played Monopoly, helped with homework, and watched TV.  He tried to climb a tree (or so he
said),  and had his temperature taken (it was 75 degrees!), and even went to church.  He went to Publix and got a cookie, went to Outback to celebrate a birthday, and went to Rita's for ice cream.  He ended his adventures most appropriately on the Memorial Day weekend, a specifically American celebration, at my house with a bubble bath.  With almost every single child, he slept with the child, gave lots of hugs and just reminded us all of how much we loved and miss Finn!  As Finn would say, "See ya soon matey!"

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Health Workers Fair

One of the Science standards for first grade is for students to recognize health care workers. To meet that goal first grade teachers organized a Health Workers Fair. 

We  welcomed doctors of one of our students.  The mom is a general practitioner and the dad is a specialist with the liver.  They brought lots of models of the organs and equipment that doctors use to show the children.  As the children left their informative session they gave each of the students a syringe (without a needle, of course!), a mask and a pair of gloves.  Looks like we will have lots of doctors in our midst - they liked pretending to give shots the best!

Next we were visited by former Jacksonville Jaguar player David Garrard. He played quarterback for twelve years in the National Football League.  He and his wife explained the important part that diet and fitness play in keeping us healthy.  They talked about a healthy diet and showed the children some games and exercises that they might enjoy this summer.

Next the children loved seeing Dr. Zenk, known to them as the "Garden Lady."  Dr. Zenk is responsible for the Chets Creek garden that is enjoyed by every student in the school. I think the students were a little surprised to find our that Dr. Zenk's real job is as a general practitioner.  Not only did she remind the students about a healthy diet, but she showed some of the tools that the students might see in the doctor's office.
Finally students heard from Dr. Roberts, a trauma surgeon, and a Life Flight nurse who stressed always wearing a seat belt and wearing a helmet when they ride a bike or skateboard, so they never have to see them!  What a remarkable way to meet our Science standards!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Narrative Post-Prompt

With soft music playing in the background, our students took 45 minutes today to complete their last prompt piece of the year, this time a small moment narrative. Most of these students we have had for two years. Some came in drawing detailed pictures with the ability to orally tell us about the pictures. At most, they could write a few words, like love, mom, dad and their name. A few came only able to scribble.

Lucky for us (and for them!), Lucy Calkins and Teacher's College, introduced their new writing units as we began kindergarten with this group. We eagerly embraced the new units the day they were in our building. We are so fortunate to have a Reading Coach, Melanie Holtsman, in our building that has been steeped in Lucy's work for years and is an often participant in the summer professional development offered by Teachers College, so we had help along the way as we implemented. We had discussions and saw demo lessons.  This is not the adopted writing curriculum for our county, so we are so fortunate to have a Principal with vision that can see the value and find the money to offer this curriculum to our students.  We were able to teach three of the units before kindergarten came to a close last year and then have been actively engaged with the four first grade units all of this year.

We can see the difference it is making in our youngest writers and today the students will produce this final on-demand piece. As I walked around, I could see that students were going back, rereading and editing.  They had their personal word wall outs to check words, and you could see them stretching words that were unfamiliar.  They were going back to check punctuation, and you could see them erasing and adding capitals. But even more than the conventions, I could see that they were adding dialogue (part of the second grade standard for narrative).  They were adding details to their drawings, speech bubbles and labels.  The best thing is that almost without exception, they worked solidly, without a sound, totally engaged for the entire 45 minutes!  Writing stamina is simply a way of life! As we took the booklets up, I wanted to stop right there and read every one!  We can't wait to see what they have written!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Work-Over-Time 2015

This year our final bulletin board features a first grade student's writing.  We have had Adrian for two years and have watched him grow as a student, as a reader and writer, as a mathematician and also as a Scientist.  He is the total package! When I think of him in those first early days of kindergarten and then think of the strong young man he is today, I am just bursting with pride.  We titled this board from a Wizard of Oz quote, "You are capable of more than you think"  and added a beautiful background mural from a scene in the movie with work contributed by all of our first graders.

Adrian's first piece on this bulletin board is from the first day of Kindergarten when he was able to draw a picture with "amoeba" people (circles with arms and legs), tell us a story orally, and write his name.

Adrian entered kindergarten with a strong background, already recognizing letters and sounds and a few sight words.  He had been nurtured in the early years by a strong nuclear family where reading and writing were reinforced.  He was an eager learner.  It wasn't long before Adrian's writing took off. 

The board  has several more pieces including later kindergarten and early first grade writing.  The final piece is a realistic fiction piece, completed a few weeks ago, that is part of a series that he is writing about Dan, the sports guy.  Below is the piece and translation.
 One day there was a boy named Dan and he likes to play soccer.  He has a soccer game.  Dan said to his mother, "What happens if I don't make a goal?"  Mom said, "It will be fine. OK?"
Then it was time for the soccer game.  It started.  Dan had the ball first and he ran as fast as he could.  Then... he made it go so high it was almost higher than a humongous giant.  Then... it made it in the goal.
"That was amazing," said Dan.  "One to zero!" shouted one of his team mates.  Then BOOM!! "Aaaaaa!" said Dan.  He twisted his ankle so he had to stay out.  It was half time.  Dan was still hurt.
Then the other team scored. "One to one," shouted a player.  Then Dan believed he could do it with the twisted ankle, so he went out on the field.  He had a plan...  He kicked it
with his other foot and the last second he made a goal!!!!!!  Then everybody was amazed by him.  He was the extraordinary guy on his team so every game he plays, he believes that he wins!!!

Quite a transformation from an "amoeba" family to a complete story with dialogue, a beginning, middle and end, strong vocabulary, pictures with speech bubbles, and even craft! Adrian is so good at so many things, but I wouldn't be surprised if one day I am asking him for his autograph on his first published book!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What if?

As I am standing by the window of  my classroom so that I can get a signal for my iphone. so that I can download a blog I have just written on my phone (my phone is the most sophisticated technology in my room, although I'm not really suppose to use it because it's not county owned), my mind wonders to the "what ifs?"

I do have six outdated computers in my classroom that often work well enough for the students to get on the computer program that the county endorses.  I also have a laptop that works at a basic level but really cannot be used for much instructional because so much is blocked.  I do not have wireless in my classroom but can connect to the land... but because the county is always chasing a lack of bandwidth, you can never depend on anything on the Internet working - you might have a little better than a 50/50 chance that you can use what you've planned.  I can plan the most engaging lesson, full of pictures and videos only to have the entire lesson derailed once I get to school because I spend so much time trying to get the technology to work that I completely lose the class. What the children learn is just how frustrating technology can be instead of the engaging content planned.  Like many teachers, I often don't include much technology in my lessons any more...even though I'd like to. I don't mind spending the extra time planning and I still constantly look for the resources, but sometimes it's not worth the frustration.  So... even though it's not permitted, I use to my iphone - to look up a picture of a wallaby when a second language student asks what it looks like or to make sure I have a word in Skills Block spelled correctly, or to show a short clip on my phone that I enlarge with a doc camera... even though we are using technology that is in a time before our children were born, I still feel compelled to pull lessons into the century that they are living.

But what if?  What if children had laptops, as many of them do at home now, and they could learn to use them to research the things they wonder about... instantly?  What if they could learn to use them for educational purposes, instead of just for games?

What if I had an anecdotal system that connected everyone that sees each of my children so that all the information was in a single place?  My classroom is like a revolving door - with students leaving my room for Occupational Therapy, Speech, Language intervention, counseling, Social Skills group, Special Education services and now RtI intervention.  Four different interventionists come to my door every day, just for RtI, to pull each student at a different time for a 30 minute intervention.  How do I know what they are doing when they are pulled out?  I don't really.  Yesterday one of the interventionist came to tell me that two different interventionist were pulling the same child for the same intervention!  With 36 children in and out, I hadn't even noticed!  It had been happening for two weeks.  I was mortified!   There is no way there is time in the day or even in the week to catch up with each of these support folks to find out how it's going with each student or more importantly, to find out how I can reinforce what they are doing when they are pulled out of my classroom.  But what if all those folks were tied into a single system and when I pulled up Joe's name to do guided reading, I could see what he did earlier that day in his RtI intervention group and I could add a few extra words that reinforce the skills he had just done?  The possibilities are limitless for how we could support each other instead of each chopping up the poor child's day and wondering why he isn't getting it with all that support.

The technology is here.  My co-teacher and Special Education teacher and I all pay for an app, called Confer.  I have talked about this app before because it connects all three of us.  We are able to type in notes and then sync our phones to share our notes instantly.  Yes, that's my iphone again, the one I'm not suppose to be using.  And yes, we each have to pay $25+ to have the app, but what a difference it has made.  What if I also had the sounds that the Speech Therapist is working on when I sit down to do an individual writing conference so that as I am stretching a word I could make sure the child to saying the sound correctly or the specific pencil grip that the OT wants a student to use as I sit down for a writing conference or the skills that the RtI interventionist is teaching later today to reinforce during my few minutes of conferring during independent reading with the student?

What if we had visionaries in our schools that made these dreams such a reality that every single person could see the benefits?  What is we cared so much about our children that they became a priority and it wasn't money that was blocking our road.  What if...?