Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We Can't Contain Ourselves

I have no experience with first grade before this year. So, I have nothing with which to compare things. However, I am constantly amazed at how excited these students are about writing. When we say it is time for writing workshop there is cheering. They can't stay in their seats during writing workshop because they want to show us what they are doing. I credit Katie Wood Ray's book, Already Ready for this energy. These kids see themselves as writers. Amazing!

We've been doing a study of Mo Willem's books. Today the astoundingly phenomenal special education teacher I work with (she was a first grade classroom teacher before) started an interactive writing with the kids of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Truck. If you've read Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus you might remember that, at the end, the Pigeon sees a truck and starts thinking... My kids have been chomping at the bit to write about it for a few days. Now, about half the class is writing about the Pigeon in some form or another. I love writing workshop!

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Principal Rocks

My principal made my day last week. I have to say that I do know how lucky I am to work for her. When the principal who hired me left (for a fantastic promotion) I was devastated. When they promoted our assistant principal I was relieved. Over time I’ve become even more impressed with her. Today she became a rock star to me.
I have a little friend this year who is really struggling. We'll call this child RB (rubber band for all the stretching and tension this little one faces and struggles with). Teachers spend a lot of time with RB in the classroom, in the hallway, in other classrooms, wherever we can help. RB spends some time screaming about hating things. At other times RB is totally engaged. Still other times RB is off alone in a corner of the room. None of us have been able to figure out how best to meet the needs we are seeing (and believe me, we’ve got a lot of folks involved in this).
Last weekI was alone with my students when RB had some serious problems. I finally broke down and called the office for help. Both my principal and assistant principal came to my room. They were amazing. They wandered the room talking with all of my kids and eventually spoke with the child in question. The principal had a long conversation that was both kind and caring and authoritative and firm. She began by asking what was going on in the classroom and just talking about the math centers we were doing. She told RB that screaming at school was not acceptable and that dad would be called to come and remove RB if it happened. In the end she got RB to join the group for our share at the end of math workshop, at least to the extent that RB ever joins the group which is sitting somewhat behind others in the circle. At least RB was with us and not screaming.
My principal then waited in the hallway outside of my classroom for the next fifteen minutes while we had share and got ready for lunch. She waited in case she was needed and she walked with us to the cafeteria. I stopped in her office after depositing my students at lunch to discuss what she had noticed and what she was thinking. One thing we talked about was how much RB dislikes PE right now. Yesterday RB spoke with my amazing co-teacher about PE rather than going to the gym. RB was able to explain what made PE so awful and why going was such a torment. My principal said, “If it’s that terrible for RB, let’s stop forcing it. Have RB come here to the office with something to do while the rest of the class goes to PE. Make sure it’s clear that it isn’t a punishment.” What a wonderful solution for the moment. There are so many issues for RB; PE doesn’t need to be one of them.
Just before it was time for us to go to PE the principal came by my room again to check and see if she was needed. She wanted to be sure things were in hand for RB. I was thrilled to see her. We didn’t need her, but her presence was so reassuring.
RB was excited by the idea of going to the office once it was clearly understood. We gathered up the writing work and book and went to the office after taking the rest of the class to the gym. RB stayed there for half an hour having a lovely time. My principal came out and chatted with my little one near the end and shared how proud she was that RB was able to make such a great choice.
I left that afternoon thinking that my principal had handled this situation beautifully. She made RB feel comfortable while setting clear boundaries. She made me and my co-teachers feel supported as professionals and feel that RB’s issues are being addressed. For all of the frustrations in the day, this made it possible for me to end the day feeling great.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Talk Like a Pirate Day - First Grade Style

My class celebrated International Talk Like a Pirate Day last week. It was something of a last minute decision on my part and therefore not as well planned as it should have been. It was still great fun. We shared a few pirate jokes on our way to art first thing in the morning. Then we came back to our room to read this book:

We did some pirate math. We've been working on a basic understanding of place value; the idea of the tens place and the ones place. So we used pirate chests and gold pieces rather than more standard manipulatives for tens and ones. (It's not ideal because the chest does not clearly equal ten gold pieces the way the other manipulatives can, but it worked for the day.)

We pretended to be pirates searching for treasure on our way to the cafeteria for lunch. We were trying to be sneaky so we had to be really quiet. This worked well for most of the kids, but one of my precious friends was so excited he spent the whole walk saying, "We're sneaking pirates!" quite loudly. He was never convinced that talking was antithetical to our goal.

In the afternoon we read more pirate books:

Saturday, September 20, 2008

First Grade Funnies

First graders are amazing. Our phenomenal speech teacher pulled a small group of them this week and played bingo with them. Apparently they would burst into giggles at any little thing (or at nothing as it appeared to her). At one point they looked at an apple tree and erupted into uncontrollable laughter. She asked them about their giggles and they said, "Apples! On a tree!" It seems they couldn't fathom the idea of apples on a trees. They learn things we never expect.

During writing workshop I sat down with a little boy so that he could share his book with me. It was really quite a good book about seeing a comet and chasing it. At the end he makes a wish on it and then flies. Until the flying part it had seemed like a story that might have happened to him. So I asked him when it happened. He looked at me in utter disbelief and said, "It's a fahliction book."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My 5 for Policy Makers

I've put this meme off for weeks now because I wanted to really take the time to think about what I would want policy makers to understand about education. However, that time may not materialize until next summer so I decided to simply take the plunge. Organized chaos set me this task, but I was also fascinated by splatypus, kiri8, and Michaele's takes on it.

As for my thoughts:

1.In a well taught classroom class size does matter. I'm aware of the studies that have shown mixed results. However, if we expect teachers to truly meet individual needs of students, conference with each of them in reading and writing, differentiate for the varied needs, and communicate regularly with parents then they can't have thirty students in a class.

2. Money matters. This is true when we consider state level, school districts, individual schools, and students' families. That money needs to be spent well, there is no question, but money makes a difference.

3. Test scores only tell us a small bit about students, teachers, and schools. No test, no matter how well designed, is going to really paint a picture of a school or of a student. There's no simple, on the cheap, way to measure the learning of individuals. There is a reason why special education testing is very time consuming. That's how we really learn about a child.

4. Kids' educational opportunities are hugely impacted by their early years. There is a lot of brain research that has shown how critical the first three years of a child's life are to their future. We should be doing something to help families and children during those critical years.

5. Public schools are doing an amazing job. They deserve more respect and accolades than they have seen in recent years. Visit one. Visit often. Get to know the amazing teachers and support staff. Ask them questions. Recognize the challenges they face and the efforts they put forth. It's worth your time.

Toilet Paper?

I've made a lot of fascinating new friends since I made the switch to first grade. One of them is especially fascinating to me. He has ups and downs each day. Today, during one down, he took off out of the room. The wonderful instructional assistant followed him. I'm not sure what happened out in the hallway, but eventually the instructional assistant, the student, and a special ed teacher came in. The student brought over a stack of papers and handed them to me. The special ed teacher gave me a look and said, "These are what you needed." I got it. I took the papers, looked at the student, and said, "Thank you."

This was right in the middle of a lesson so it was a few minutes before I was able to look at the papers. When I did, I was surprised to find I was holding a stack of about fifteen pages, each with a picture of a toilet on it.

I was left wondering where this stack of papers came from. Was it just some scratch paper someone found and used for this task? Did another teacher actually need these pages?

If you're interested in knowing what I learned about the pictures of toilets, splatypus over at Kindergarten Chaos has the details.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

My Mentors

I just watched a seasoned first grade teacher walking her class to lunch (yes, it is only 10:45, that's when we have lunch). She had one little friend who was not staying in line and kept touching the walls. She said to him, very kindly, "I'm going to walk with you, friend, because I see that you're having trouble keeping your hands off the walls."

I have this same problem with several students regularly. I make them hold my hand (it's a terrible punishment in the eyes of one, at least). However, I've never put it so gently to them. Listening to her was such a small thing and yet gave me so much to think about. It's amazing what I learn from the other teachers around me.