Saturday, June 28, 2014

Math is More Than Basic Skills

This article came across my twitter feed today and I've read it several times now. The basic gist is that first graders do better in math when they are taught in more traditional ways, textbooks and worksheets and teacher-directed lessons, rather than group work or math games. 
The question that was never addressed to my satisfaction is how that was determined. In the long article, here was the only part that had anything to do with how students' math achievement was judged:
For their study, the researchers analyzed survey responses from 3,635 teachers and data from a subsample of 13,833 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99, a nationally representative data set maintained by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
I assume the survey responses were used to determine the types of instruction teachers were using. As to the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - this was never explained more than it is here. If you are curious to know more, there is information here. I've followed some links there and I'm still not really clear on how these assessments were done. (I'm too lazy to follow through any more.)
Frequently assessments of achievement are made based on standardized tests. When that is the measure, I don't find it at all surprising that traditional methods of instruction are more successful. They are more similar to the assessment. 
Every year we give our kiddos a twenty question standardized test in math in my school district. This year I had several students do poorly who are very knowledgeable and capable in math. Language was a factor for some kids. They try to reason through a wordy problem and get lost as to what they need to do. Changing the wording can change their answer completely. I don't mean dumbing things down in any way - I simply mean that language is tricky and I haven't found a way to ensure that second-language learners have time to truly take in all the ways we say things in English. Other kids got distracted or were uninterested in the test. I get that. I wasn't too interested myself.
I am not trying to suggest that traditional methods of math instruction are not useful. There are skills children need to have at their fingertips. However, defining math only by those skills is doing it, and our students, a great disservice. They need to be able to use those skills in meaningful ways, often with other people. They have to learn that somewhere too.
Cross-posted from

Friday, June 27, 2014

Wednesday was the last day with kiddos. They showed up at the regular time, but went home just two hours later. I crammed a lot into that short time both as a teacher and as a parent. We started our day with our morning meeting and then crammed our backpacks full of things to take home, including our end of the year scrapbook and posters from our walls. We headed across the hall to my younger daughter's classroom to do a final project with them. We created images of ourselves as first graders. One art teacher gave us some beautiful scraps we offered to the kids and they worked hard! You can see they used speech and thought bubbles as well as a range of pictures to capture themselves and their year in first grade. DSC01122 ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????   As they worked on these I snuck out to see my older daughter get promoted from fifth grade to sixth grade. I hurried back to help with clean up and get ready for the school-wide dance party (an idea from one of my brilliant teammates).
Finally, at the end of the day, we all rush out to line the street entering our school and wave as cars and buses take the kids away for the summer. We've been doing this for at least a decade and it's an amazing way to end each year. DSC01139
Cross-posted from

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I Think I Can, I Think I Can, I Think I Can

Just as an FYI because I assume you are all long since finished with this school year, tomorrow is our last day of school.
Some months back I wrote about my intentions to change schools. As I reread it, I sounded so calm about the idea. Now, as I face the actual event, I am terrified.
I have always wanted to be a teacher. Aside from some brief dreams of being Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys and working as a private eye (yes, that's the term I used) teaching is the only job I ever considered. After graduation I postponed teaching in order to play the harp on a cruise ship. Between contracts and after I moved on, I substituted. It wasn't in my original plan, but it was exceptionally beneficial. Eventually I took over a fifth grade classroom for the final quarter of the year, and through that, found a teaching job.
That job was in fourth grade at such an amazing school. I had always thought I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher but my time in fifth grade convinced me that those bigger kids were awesome. They could tie their own shoes, have amazing conversations, work independently, and didn't wet their pants. Wow. The fourth grade job was perfect for me.
For five years I taught fourth graders. Then I looped up with a class to fifth grade. Loved it so much that I went back to fourth grade and did it again. After that I spent two years teaching our new fifth grade gifted class (now called AAP - advanced academics program).
After ten years of teaching I felt I was in a bit of a rut and made the move to first grade. Definitely shook things up! I spent half a year (at least) feeling like I used to be a good teacher. Similar to how my husband felt when he had to learn to drive a stick shift for our honeymoon in Spain.
I've been in first grade now for six years. The longest I've stayed teaching one grade for consecutive years (I did teach fourth grade for a total of six years, just broken up by a year in fifth grade). I've been lucky to be able to shake things up in my current school for the past sixteen years. I recognize that change is critical for me in order to continue growing professionally.
It's time for a change. I was lucky enough to have options, and options that were fabulous. After some serious debating (because apparently I'm not so good at making decisions!), I will now be teaching kindergarten next year.
I am terrified.
I am full of what ifs that are horrific. This is completely out of character for me. But I've been at my current school for sixteen years. Sixteen years. It is home. Both of my daughters attend school there, my oldest for six years now. Most of my closest friends are there. Certainly the majority of people who have helped me grow as a teacher.
There will be much crying tomorrow.
Cross-posted from

End of Year Scrapbook (part 1)

At the end of the year, one of our big projects is to create an end of the year scrapbook. I've done this in a variety of ways and still haven't found a way that really makes me happy. That said, the end result makes me happy every year.
This year I put pictures into individual Pixie files. The kids could open one, save it with their name at the end of the file, and then get to work writing about the picture. Over a few days, my sixteen kiddos captioned 88 pictures!
Sometimes I looked at their work, felt it was a strong, thoughtful effort, and moved on. Other times I conferenced with kids about it. Maybe I thought it was too brief, maybe it had errors that they were able to fix (lack of upper case letters, lack of punctuation, misspelled high frequency words), or maybe it didn't make sense.
I've posted all of their work on our class blog and they'll all get physical copies (two pictures per side so 22 pages per kiddo in black and white). But I decided I want to share them here too. So, here are the first eight!
End of Year Scrapbook 1

One of the things I love about this project is seeing how they view our year. I get a sense of what they valued and what stood out to them. There are lots of captions about writing (something I would have said got short shrift this year). That makes me happy.
End of Year Scrapbook 2
End of Year Scrapbook 3

This is my most literal little friend. I am not surprised to find that he wrote exactly what he is doing in this picture. I do love that he likes to work with his friends!
End of Year Scrapbook 4
End of Year Scrapbook 5

See? These are just the first eight pictures they did. It was random but half of them are about writing. The first one, at the top, I'm not even convinced was a time we were writing!
End of Year Scrapbook 6
End of Year Scrapbook 7

It also makes my day to see how many times these darlings wrote about their thinking. I am so thrilled to see they are aware of the thinking they are doing.
End of Year Scrapbook 8
I also love all the joy in these captions. It is so reassuring to get the sense that they have enjoyed our year together.
Cross-posted from

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Skills My Kiddos Have

We've got twelve full days left this year (our last school day is only two hours long, for some unknown reason). I'm tired (it doesn't help that we're trying to get our house packed up and prepped to go on the market soon) and struggling to be patient and recognize all that is going well. I'm really good at noticing all the things my kiddos still can't (or suddenly can't even though they could a week ago!) do. It's not good.
So, here are some things my kiddos are doing really well (as a reminder to myself):
- using resources to spell words correctly: our word wall, picture dictionaries, other books, writing hanging up around our room - this is happening across the board. Kids' writing is so much clearer now than it was, even just in the winter, partly because they've got this skill down.
- great stamina for independent reading - at the beginning of the year, we could barely read for five minutes without getting distracted. Now we can, as a whole class, read for fifteen or twenty minutes quietly and with total focus. We do this right after morning meeting and it's such a great start to our day.
- listening to each other and sharing thoughts - they will start their ideas with, "I agree with ______ because" or "I disagree with _______" because. Every time they do it I am thrilled because it means they listened and thought about what others said. 
- they ask great questions - I'm not sure this is a new thing, first graders tend to ask great questions. I just love to hear them.
 - I'm not seeing a lot of tattling. Kiddos solve the little problems themselves. We've worked hard this year to be sure everyone can advocate for themselves rather than immediately turn to someone else for help. We've also worked on assuming positive intentions, not jumping to the conclusion that another person was trying to hurt you by what they did or said. Most of the time, kids are hurt, physically or emotionally, by accident. When they are willing and able to self-advocate and speak for themselves, they often not only solve the immediate problem but also learn from each other.
When I can step back and notice how amazing my kiddos are, I feel so lucky to do what I do everyday. I set a high bar (I'm not convinced it's always intentional) and the bar keeps going up as kids meet it. So I lose sight of how far they've come and how amazing they truly are. They are brilliant and I learn so much from them.
Cross-posted from

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

More Focus on Testing

A recent Washington Post article by T. Rees Shapiro details some of the changes our new superintendent is planning to implement, in regards to our school calendar.
Since the 1970s, our elementary schools have dismissed earlier on Mondays. Our kids go home two and a half hours early on Mondays and teachers continue to work, often having many meetings. This was done, if I understand correctly, in order to insure that elementary teachers received the same amount of planning time as middle and high school teachers. 
Our superintendent would like to change this schedule. I'm not against that. It's a pain, as a parent, to have to figure out what to do with my daughters on Monday afternoons. I'm sure I'm not alone in that challenge. (However, most working parents likely already have their kids in child care after school and that covers Monday afternoons as well. Stay at home parents are also set. I would guess it's a small percentage who only need help on Monday afternoons.)
Anyway, the article talks about the reasons and options. I'm not highly invested in this, aside from hoping that if the change happens it is done well. I was struck by the comments. (And I only read the first few!)
The focus is on getting as many school days in before our state testing as possible. Because, according to the comments, that's when the learning stops. I hear this all the time. Our societal view on this is clear. We learn all year, then we take tests, then we are done. 
I've griped before about the messages we send kids about testing and learning. We do it in schools, we do it in the media, we do it in homes. It's everywhere. And I hate it. Hate it, hate it, hate it. 
Children love to learn. We, as a society, kill that love as kids get older. When we tell them that they are learning in order to pass a test, we are killing their love of learning. We need to abolish a significant number of tests (if not all of them) and we need to stop making them the most important thing kids do in school. And we need to do it now.
Cross-posted from