Friday, March 27, 2009

The Joy of Children

We have some folks in our building today doing Junior Achievement activities with our first and second graders. They are very brave.

In the morning they asked my students, "What makes a family?" The first child to respond said, "When our mothers don't have babies, they ask strangers to be in their families." He continued on about how that changes after the mothers have babies, but I missed some of it due to attempts to control my laughter and write down what I had heard.

This afternoon the volunteers were having the students look at map symbols and identify them as wants or needs. As one prepared to show an ice cream cone he said, "I'm sure this is something you will all want." My little prince, before seeing the picture, yelled, "Attention!"

I was impressed with his knowledge of self there.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Encouraging the Next Ada Lovelace

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. In her honor bloggers all over the world are writing about women in technology. You can see a long list of posts written for this special occasion.

As I thought about all the women for whom I have immense respect in the edublogosphere, I kept returning to Maria Knee. She is far from alone in what she does, but she deserves recognition because she is introducing a whole new world to her kindergartners. Through technology her kindergarten students in New Hampshire have access to so many people, places, and ideas that they could easily be unaware of. She is opening doors for students.

In addition, she is a mentor to teachers around the world. We learn from her about ways to use technology with our students (especially our young, primary grade ones), teaching in general, and ourselves as learners.

She's supporting us all, teachers and students alike, as we grow as learners, especially through the use of technology.

(If you are intrigued by the idea of posts for this purpose, check out my personal favorite for the day, celebrating Ms. PacMan. The video there is completely worth watching.)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Schools to Learn From

A colleague of mine recently mentioned that she really learned to teach when she arrived at our school. She spent the first few years of her career at another school, just down the road from ours. It has a very different population. It's in a middle class neighborhood and hosts one of our district's gifted and talented centers (meaning that children from a number of schools are bused there to be in special, accelerated classes).

When she came to our school she realized that she had to raise the bar for her teaching. I'm not saying that her teaching was bad before, it wasn't. I am saying that I believe the majority of students in schools like her previous one will learn, and learn fairly well, even with mediocre teachers. That's not to say that they don't deserve fabulous teachers, they do. All kids do. Simply that they don't rely on them the way our students do.

The students in our Title I school are missing many of the advantages those other students have. Many of our kids are hungry. About 2/3 of our students receive free or reduced price breakfasts and lunches. Many of our kids don't have books at home. They may have parents who struggle with reading, especially with reading in English. Many of our kids have led exceptionally mobile lives. They have not had the opportunity to remain in one place for multiple school years. That lack of stability has hurt their learning.

There are many other issues facing our children. As a result of all of this, how we teach matters immensely. We can't assign a project asking students to build a model of the Susan Constant (one of the boats that brought settlers to Jamestown) and expect that they have learned all they need to know about Jamestown. We can't just hand them a book about insects and assume that they know how to make sense of a nonfiction book. We can't just give them a worksheet of multiplication problems and send them off to work. We can't make assumptions and expect that they will learn regardless.

We do lots of fun learning, but it is all carefully planned. We are focused on the skills our children need, what they already are able to do, and how we can move them forward. We are constantly taking anecdotal notes to help us plan the next lesson or next unit. We are constantly talking to one another about individual children and how we can meet their needs. We are constantly learning ourselves; reading professionally, taking classes, reading blogs, and listening to podcasts. The level of instruction at our school is higher than at many middle class schools. Because it has to be.

If you want to see powerful, meaningful instruction taking place, look for schools teaching struggling learners. The students may not be scoring on standardized tests as well as their middle class peers, but I'd bet they're making more progress on a daily basis thanks to their hard work and their teachers' dedication.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Seeing Inside

We went on a field trip last week (more on that later, I hope) to see a puppet show of Peter and the Wolf. In preparation for the trip we listened to the music and narration. Then we read a picture book of the story. The students clearly understood more from the book.

As I read it to them I noticed one little girl sitting with rapt attention. She has many pets and her mom works with animals. When the wolf ate the duck she looked horrified. She spent the rest of the book with a very concerned look on her face. I've never seen such an expression from her.

At the end of the book it is revealed that the duck is still quacking, inside the wolf's stomach, because the wolf swallowed the duck whole. I've always thought that was awful. How does that help the duck? It's not as though the duck is going to get back out. The look on this girl's face suggested that she felt the same way.

Just about fifteen minutes later this same child was sitting across a table from my little prince. He was conferencing about his writing with our fabulous literacy coach. I'm not sure about the topic of his piece, but he was trying to come up with a word and he said, "You know, it was the glue on the tree."

This little girl looked at him and said, "Tree sap?" He was shocked that she knew what he meant and she went back to work on her writing with such a proud, happy look on her face.

Just watching her face made for such an interesting afternoon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day First Grade Style

When my students arrived this morning they discovered that our classroom had been visited by a leprechaun. There were a few little messes and a new message scrawled across our morning message. I couldn't believe how quickly they cleaned things up or how excited they were. After some discussion of the excitement in our room (and a lot of indignation on my part that anyone could do such a thing to our room) we headed up to the computer lab for the first time in a long time.

The kids created patterns with shamrocks and leprechauns. They were quite concerned about what might happen to our room while we were in the computer lab. Fortunately no one managed to get in during that time.

However, while we were at lunch our visitor came back. He left a message on our smartboard about his gold. There were footprints on our classroom door, the window, the wall near the smartboard, and each table leading up to a green carnation.

As soon as we walked in and discovered all of this, one little friend grabbed some green construction paper and scissors and quickly cut out some shamrocks. During writing time the students worked in small groups to write instructions on how to catch a leprechaun. They had some fabulous ideas.

I have to admit that days like this are a ton more fun in a primary grade than they are in the upper grades!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Multiple Paths

One of the free choice activities my students have the opportunity to do several days a week is creating a marble run.

This tends to be one of the favorites and is always full (meaning four children). On a recent day one of the girls called me over to show me what they had built. I headed over and quickly noticed that if they started the marble at the beginning of the path there were plenty of side paths it would never hit. I immediately thought that they had not put a lot of thought into their plan. I almost said something to them about this, but managed to keep my mouth shut while they showed me.

The girl put the marble at the beginning and I watched it head down the main path through the tower to the ground. At the end she said to me, "Now look where else it can go." Another student dropped the marble at another starting point and ran it through that path. Then yet another student started it in yet another place.

They were so proud of how they had created multiple paths for the marble. I was grateful for the reminder that we all take different paths and I need to honor them.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Who's the Boss?

We went on a field trip yesterday (my first one with first grade) and it was wonderful. I have more to share but at the moment I just need to tell about one small incident.

We went to see a puppet show. As it began I was chatting quietly with another teacher. My little prince looked at me and shushed me. The shushing was absurd coming from him, since he can never keep his mouth closed. But it was cute.

Then he looked at me, took two fingers to point at his eyes and then pointed at me. HE'S going to keep an eye on ME? I love it!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Our Primary Purpose

We have a very local election today (a district seat on our county board of supervisors) so folks have been in and out of the building all day voting. I've actually been really impressed with the number of people.

I was less impressed, however, with what I just overheard. After dropping off my students in music I saw a man and woman, probably in their thirties, walking towards our parent center to vote. He said to her, "Other than November, obviously, this is used primarily for school rather than for elections."

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Long Overdue

I recently read Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough about Geoffrey Canada's work in Harlem. I wrote about it at In Practice, my first post there in a very long time.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Some Random Thoughts

I spend today participating in the process of interviewing applicants for the education program at a local university. We are a PDS (professional development school) working with them. A couple of things struck me.

The professor I was partnered with taught in second and third grades for three years before joining the academic world. She mentioned today that she is thinking about taking a year sabbatical in order to go back to the classroom and do some action research. One thing holding her back so far (other than her own children) is her fear. I was so impressed to hear her say that she was terrified of going back into the classroom. However, I also had to wonder how she prepares new teachers for something that is so scary to her. I think she is wise to be scared and I think she is a wonderful professor. I guess it seems strange to me that professors preparing new teachers have no classroom experience or very little that may have been years ago.

The other thing that struck me may show my own bias. As I introduced my self to each new potential student, I explained that I am a first grade teacher and the site facilitator for my school. After saying it a few times I was struck by the fact that I almost feel ashamed saying I teach first grade. Somehow it seems less respectable than when I taught fourth and fifth grade. Do we, as a society, have less respect for primary teachers? And possibly even less for preschool teachers? Or am I misreading my response and I have an issue?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Happy Birthday - First Grade Style

This card was created by one of my darlings for her mother's birthday. I'm sure her mother loved it!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Awesome Librarian

We have a new librarian, Tree. She has only been in the position since the beginning of January but you would think she's been at it for years. On a recent Monday morning my class headed to the library just as it was beginning to snow. The first thing she did was teach the kids a song about snow and send them to the windows to watch the snow and sing to it. Only after singing a few times did she gather them for the planned lesson.