Saturday, February 28, 2009

Serious Reading

I took in a copy of the Educational Leadership issue which listed the article I co-authored. It was sitting on my guided reading table when a little friend found it. He immediately picked it up and began 'reading'. My fabulous co-teacher noticed this and attempted to show him my name in the magazine. He had no interest in that. In his eyes she was trying to make him skip over important pages to get to that information and he was reading!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Thinking about Thinking

I spent my day yesterday out of the classroom. I've tried, in my first year in first grade, to minimize those days because it's harder for me to make meaningful sub plans and I worry about my kids (I do have some high needs kiddos that need as much stability as possible). However, my old principal, now the head of elementary instruction for our district and someone for whom I have immense respect, strongly suggest that I attend this workshop and a team of teachers was already going from my school. So, I jumped on board.

I looked at the website for ThinkBlocks, that product being basically all I knew about the day. Looking at the website I was highly skeptical. It looked to me, at a brief glance, to be a fairly commercial, packaged product. That doesn't appeal to me.

It only took a few minutes of listening to Derek Cabrera to change my mind. He is engaging, funny, and highly intelligent. By the time we stopped for lunch, three hours later, I was exhausted and my brain was still spinning trying to make sense of all he had said and overflowing with ideas for my classroom. I'll be posting more of my thoughts as I try these ideas with my students. For now, it's enough to say that his focus on our thinking processes about the content rather than solely on the content was refreshing, validating, and energizing.

By the way, he also gained great respect from the teachers at my school because he continually said that you don't need the ThinkBlocks to achieve the goals he was discussing. They are one possible tool, but you can do it with just about anything.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Publication Excitement

I've been officially published! A good friend and assistant principal for whom I have great respect and I co-authored an article which is online in ASCD's Educational Leadership. Writing the article was a great experience for me. Seeing it online at ASCD's website is wonderful.

We were both really excited that the article was accepted, but also slightly disappointed that it is only online. Then ASCD sent us both six copies of this issue. The title of the article and our names are in the print issue in two different places, but I don't think I needed six copies for that.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Searching for Shapes

Last week we started studying geometry. We looked at a couple of books with great pictures and found shapes in them. I asked my students if they could find those shapes (circle, rectangle, square, and triangle) in our classroom. I was so impressed with what they found that I wanted to allow them to capture it in some way.

To start we looked at some pictures I had taken on a couple of recent trips. I wasn't looking for shapes when I took the pictures, but the students found a lot. I put them up on the smartboard and the kids outlined a few of the shapes they found. Here are the Brooklyn Bridge and Union Station.

After looking at seven of my pictures and finding shapes in them, I gave the kids digital cameras to go and take pictures themselves. (One of our fabulous art teachers wrote a grant a few years ago and got eight digital cameras.) They worked in groups of two or three sharing the camera and we walked all around the school. They took pictures in the cafeteria, front office, gym, library, and hallways. I've only glanced at their pictures but I'm really impressed. Later this week I'll put their pictures up on the smartboard for them to identify shapes. I'll share some of their pictures in a future post (when I've had a chance to download them). We had such a great time doing this!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Feeling Lost

I have a student who is going through a traumatic experience right now. I probably have multiple students for whom this is true and there are, of course, many, many more students everywhere facing a variety of awful things. However, this child's issue was just shared with me and it is tearing me up inside.

(For simplicity's sake I'm going to use the feminine pronoun here because I have more girls in my class than boys.)

I know about what is going on in her life, I've been in touch with the family, the administration is involved, various outside agencies are helping out, our counselor is getting in the mix. We're on top of this.

However, I'm left wondering how best to help her. Does she need me to continue on as though things are fine and keep teaching her first grade stuff? Would it be better if I backed off of academics and spent more time just caring about her? Is it possible to do both? How do I know what to do? My fabulous co-teacher told me that we have to follow the girl's lead to know. Too true. I just hope I'm able to recognize where she wants us to go.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Retention - Keeping Children Safe or Holding Them Back?

I finally managed to get my hands on a copy of Chip Wood's Yardsticks. Kirsten blogged about it back in November and Organized Chaos loves the book. I've been meaning to read it for quite some time now and just kept forgetting.

I gave a quick glance to the sections about five year olds (my daughter) and six year olds (my students), but I decided I needed to just start reading it. I headed back to the table of contents to acquaint myself with the book. Wood has broken the book into two sections: Developmental Issues Affecting All Children in the beginning and Major Developmental Considerations Yardsticks in the second half.

One of the issues affecting all children is retention. I've been thinking a lot about retention now that I'm teaching in the primary grades. So, instead of managing to start reading the book straight through I jumped immediately to the pages on retention. The final paragraph in this section says:
The verb "retain" can mean to hold back or to hold safe. Educators and parents should carefully examine the difference when contemplating extra time in school for the individual child.
I've been chewing on that quote for a full day now. I am now continuing in the book and enjoying it greatly. It is giving me a lot to think about.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Leveling the Playing Field

Doyle, at Science teacher, has a fabulous post up today.
Some of these children will never pass the test.
All of these children can learn.

Those are not incompatible statements.
He draws on his years of experience as a doctor to discuss the various factors that impact student performance in schools and on tests. His basic message (as I see it) is that there are meaningful things every student can learn in school but we are only testing a small percentage of those things.

His post really got me thinking about the students I teach. Many of them have a whole host of factors betting against them. That doesn't mean they can't be successful, it just means they need a lot more from me than my daughter needs from her teacher (or most other middle class children need).

I'm lucky to teach in a very wealthy school district. It allows me to teach these students with a wealth of resources backing me up. That's not true in the great majority of schools teaching students living in poverty. Why is that? Why do we believe that all schools (at least within a district) should all have exactly the same resources? Why should all class sizes be the same? Why should funding for field trips be the same?

We know, very clearly, that our students' lives outside of school are not so fairly distributed. Why must their schooling be?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Focus of Attention

As half my class was clamoring for my attention today, I realized why I'm so exhausted at the end of a day teaching first grade. All of them frequently want my attention at the same time. This was rarely, if ever, true of fourth and fifth graders. The only time they all wanted my attention at the same time was if I had some sugary sweetness to give them.

First graders want to tell you everything at all times. They don't even notice that anyone else is in the room, much less talking to you at that moment. Yesterday, Tree mentioned that she had a kindergarten class at the end of the day. She said twenty kindergartners were surrounding her. In fact, the phrase she used was that it was like a hoop skirt of kindergartners. Today I truly understood what she meant.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Wiggling It Out

At the beginning of the year I tried having a 'get the wiggles out' time. I turned on some music and offered them the chance to move, wiggle, and dance. Nothing happened. I tried it a few times before giving up.

Recently we've had day after day of indoor recess. Indoor recess does not cut it with first graders. So, in desperation, I pulled out the music and tried again to get them wiggling. For some reason, it took. They go nuts. It's fabulous.

Today I was trying to have a serious chat with my co-teachers between our reading and writing workshops while they wiggled. All of a sudden I was completely unable to hear a word they were saying. I had noticed my little prince dancing. He was wearing a zip-up sweatshirt open over a t-shirt. He was grasping the open edges of the sweatshirt at chest level. His thumbs were pointing out in front of him. He was moving his hands in a circular motion, boogieing down, and making very macho faces. I could not look away.

(I'm sure this is hard to picture, so please, just take my word for it, it was hilarious.)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Leave No Child Behind?

I'm not going to rant and rave about NCLB. It's been done and everything I might want to say has been said, probably much more eloquently than I could do. The idea of leaving no child behind came to mind tonight as I drove home from a class and listened to NPR. I didn't catch the whole story, but heard President Obama speaking about health care for all children. All I could think was, how is health care not as crucial or even more crucial for children than their schooling? I don't want to suggest that the quality of schools is unimportant, it clearly is. I just don't understand how we accept that so many children are without health care.

If you're looking for something more amusing than this, check out organized chaos's quick note about the reason one of my students was absent yesterday.