Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Making Time for Play

I had a conversation one Friday afternoon with another first grade teacher. I said that I reserved the last 20-30 minutes of our day for 'free choice', basically play time. She said that was what she had planned to do, but was rethinking it because the students had been behaving poorly.

I think often of the fine lines we walk as teachers. They are everywhere. This is one I have been struggling with a lot lately (as a parent as well). When children are having trouble listening, sitting still, following directions, yadda, yadda, yadda, what is the best response for us to have? Should we take away privileges in order to get them to get it together? Or should we make that time for play because it is important?

Sometimes a play break might help students refocus. They might be exhausted (quite likely by Friday afternoon) and truly unable to control themselves the way we want.

I have stopped taking recess away from students for any reason. I stopped it years ago.

How do we know what is best for kids?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Top 100 Books

I can't help myself. I had to jump on this bandwagon for my own knowledge. Here are Fuse #8's top 100 books, based on nominations and voting. The ones I've read are in bold. It seems I've read just over half. I did err on the side of caution so if I can't be sure I've read it I didn't mark it. There are quite a few here I've been meaning to read. I'll have to start my summer list.
  1. The Egypt Game — Snyder (1967)
  2. The Indian in the Cupboard — Banks (1980)
  3. Children of Green Knowe — Boston (1954)
  4. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane — DiCamillo (2006)
  5. The Witches — Dahl (1983)
  6. Pippi Longstocking — Lindgren (1950)
  7. Swallows and Amazons — Ransome (1930)
  8. Caddie Woodlawn — Brink (1935)
  9. Ella Enchanted — Levine (1997)
  10. Sideways Stories from Wayside School — Sachar (1978)
  11. Sarah, Plain and Tall — MacLachlan (1985)
  12. Ramona and Her Father — Cleary (1977)
  13. The High King — Alexander (1968)
  14. The View from Saturday — Konigsburg (1996)
  15. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — Rowling (1999)
  16. On the Banks of Plum Creek — Wilder (1937)
  17. The Little White Horse — Goudge (1946)
  18. The Thief — Turner (1997)
  19. The Book of Three — Alexander (1964)
  20. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon — Lin (2009)
  21. The Graveyard Book — Gaiman (2008)
  22. All-of-a-Kind-Family — Taylor (1951)
  23. Johnny Tremain — Forbes (1943)
  24. The City of Ember — DuPrau (2003)
  25. Out of the Dust — Hesse (1997)
  26. Love That Dog — Creech (2001)
  27. The Borrowers — Norton (1953)
  28. My Side of the Mountain — George (1959)
  29. My Father’s Dragon — Gannett (1948)
  30. The Bad Beginning — Snicket (1999)
  31. Betsy-Tacy — Lovelae (1940)
  32. The Mysterious Benedict Society — Stewart ( 2007)
  33. Walk Two Moons — Creech (1994)
  34. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher — Coville (1991)
  35. Henry Huggins — Cleary (1950)
  36. Ballet Shoes — Stratfeild (1936)
  37. A Long Way from Chicago — Peck (1998)
  38. Gone-Away Lake — Enright (1957)
  39. The Secret of the Old Clock — Keene (1959)
  40. Stargirl — Spinelli (2000)
  41. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle — Avi (1990)
  42. Inkheart — Funke (2003)
  43. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase — Aiken (1962)
  44. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 — Cleary (1981)
  45. Number the Stars — Lowry (1989)
  46. The Great Gilly Hopkins — Paterson (1978)
  47. The BFG — Dahl (1982)
  48. Wind in the Willows — Grahame (1908)
  49. The Invention of Hugo Cabret — Selznick (2007)
  50. The Saturdays — Enright (1941)
  51. Island of the Blue Dolphins — O’Dell (1960)
  52. Frindle — Clements (1996)
  53. The Penderwicks — Birdsall (2005)
  54. Bud, Not Buddy — Curtis (1999)
  55. Where the Red Fern Grows — Rawls (1961)
  56. The Golden Compass — Pullman (1995)
  57. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing — Blume (1972)
  58. Ramona the Pest — Cleary (1968)
  59. Little House on the Prairie — Wilder (1935)
  60. The Witch of Blackbird Pond — Speare (1958)
  61. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz — Baum (1900)
  62. When You Reach Me — Stead (2009)
  63. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — Rowling (2003)
  64. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry — Taylor (1976)
  65. Are You there, God? It’s Me, Margaret — Blume (1970)
  66. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — Rowling (2000)
  67. The Watsons Go to Birmingham — Curtis (1995)
  68. James and the Giant Peach — Dahl (1961)
  69. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH — O’Brian (1971)
  70. Half Magic — Eager (1954)
  71. Winnie-the-Pooh — Milne (1926)
  72. The Dark Is Rising — Cooper (1973)
  73. A Little Princess — Burnett (1905)
  74. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / Through the Looking-Glass — Carroll (1865/72)
  75. Hatchet — Paulsen (1989)
  76. Little Women — Alcott (1868/9)
  77. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Rowling (2007)
  78. Little House in the Big Woods — Wilder (1932)
  79. The Tale of Despereaux — DiCamillo (2003)
  80. The Lightening Thief — Riordan (2005)
  81. Tuck Everlasting — Babbitt (1975)
  82. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — Dahl (1964)
  83. Matilda — Dahl (1988)
  84. Maniac Magee — Spinelli (1990)
  85. Harriet the Spy — Fitzhugh (1964)
  86. Because of Winn-Dixie — DiCamillo (2000)
  87. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — Rowling (1999)
  88. Bridge to Terabithia — Paterson (1977)
  89. The Hobbit — Tolkien (1938)
  90. The Westing Game — Raskin (1978)
  91. The Phantom Tollbooth — Juster (1961)
  92. Anne of Green Gables — Montgomery (1908)
  93. The Secret Garden — Burnett (1911)
  94. The Giver — Lowry (1993)
  95. Holes — Sachar (1998)
  96. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler — Koningsburg (1967)
  97. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — Lewis (1950)
  98. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philsopher’s Stone — Rowling (1997)
  99. A Wrinkle in Time — L’Engle (1962)
  100. Charlotte’s Web — White (1952)

Thanks teacherninja and MotherReader for getting this rolling.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The End

I've been quite cranky lately (just ask my husband). I blamed it on a bad night's sleep Saturday night, I blamed it on feeling overloaded with some last minute things, I blamed it on crazy children, and who knows what else.

Today, I finally figured out the real cause. Today is the last day of our last intersession.

Due to serious budget cuts everywhere, our school is losing our modified calendar status. Next year we'll go back to being like everyone else. This saddens me (and obviously makes me cranky) for numerous reasons.
  1. Many of our kids will lose a lot over a long summer. Especially our beginning readers in kindergarten and first grade. Many will not speak English for the entire summer, much less have opportunities to practice their reading.
  2. Intersessions offer our students myriad opportunities to learn about different things. This is a perfect chance for us to help expand their background knowledge. They learn about different sports, foods, hobbies, etc. all through skills they need. Losing that is going to hurt them in reading, writing, and being able to make bigger connections in their learning.
  3. These times build significant community in our school. We have over 800 students and there is no way to get to know them all. However, we get to know other kids during intersession and that is good for everyone. We can share our thoughts with other teachers, offering a fresh eye on their students. We can greet those students throughout the year and continue to build relationships.
  4. As our old principal used to say, "We are running sprints instead of running a marathon." If a teacher needs a break s/he doesn't have to teach intersession. If families want (and are able) to keep kids home or to travel during that time they can. It gives us fresh starts throughout the year rather than running ourselves ragged by March (or December some years).
  5. Personally it gives me a chance to clean some things up. Intersession is less intense than the rest of the year and kids can work on projects or activities while I spend a bit of time cleaning out some of my teacher closet or a filing cabinet drawer or just sorting through the piles that grow on my desk in no time.
It doesn't seem that our test scores have reflected any positive impact from our modified calendar. I find that both hard to believe and not surprising. It's hard to believe because the benefits to kids seem so clear to me. It's not surprising because we have a 40% mobility rate and we've nearly doubled our population since we began on this calendar. It's hard to get meaningful test scores when the kids are different all the time.

As I write this our intersession coordinator is beginning the final dismissal process. The students are wrapping up their last big art project created out of repeating, growing, and number patterns. And I'm ready to cry.

(Some of us did make an effort back in the fall to gather DRA, Developmental Reading Assessment, scores for first and second graders. In previous years we have not done this assessment in the fall, we have simply used the spring assessment from just a few weeks before. We gathered the data this year in order to compare it to next fall when the students will have had a much longer summer. It will be interesting to see if this gives us a smidgen of hard data to show our district.)

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Proactive Policies

I stopped last night for a quick trim of my bangs. The salon I use has a policy that they will trim their customers' bangs for free. Their reasoning is that they would rather spend two minutes trimming bangs than fifteen minutes fixing them after someone tries to trim them on their own.

My husband and I have been thrilled with our family's health insurance. All through both pregnancies all my appointments were free. With our oldest daughter this was a lot of appointments as they were concerned about the pregnancy and it even included an amniocentesis. All of it cost us nothing. Our daughters' regular appointments have also always been free. Again, the reasoning is that they don't want people to miss appointments because they can't afford them. The 'well baby' appointments are too important.

This all got me thinking about education (of course). We are not proactive in our public school system. I'm not sure this should all fall to the schools. I believe our society should be more proactive when it comes to children.

I look at my own daughters (who by no means have perfect parents) and think how lucky they are to have all they do. The exposure to books and language from day one, the time to visit museums, nature centers, science centers, and such, child care providers who are loving and knowledgeable about stimulating their minds and exercising their bodies, grandparents, aunts and uncles who lavish love and attention on them, etc., etc., etc. I feel the same way about my own childhood.

When I compare this to my students I feel sad. Not that they don't have parents who love them and do many things for them. They do. However, their parents often don't have the financial resources to offer their children some of this. They may work two or three jobs and not have the time to do these things. They may not have a car and therefore have limited options for getting around. Due to circumstances beyond their control these children don't have the opportunities for learning that my daughters do.

Why aren't we more proactive? Why do we wait until children are in elementary school before we begin supporting their learning and intellectual development? In the long run wouldn't it be cheaper (and better) if we started sooner?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Afraid of Change?

A recent post from Dean Dad has me mulling over some of my past. I noticed signs today at a central office in my district about interviews for instructional coach positions. Some years ago I applied for one of these positions and went through the second round of interviews. At that point I decided that I wasn't ready to leave the classroom and the environment wasn't quite right for me. A few years later a position opened up in the social studies central office. Again, I went through the process up to (almost) the bitter end before pulling myself out. I was pregnant with our first child and didn't think I could handle two major life changes at the same time.

Now I'm left wondering if I'm afraid to move on to something new. I have taught three different grade levels, worked with classes full of English Speakers of Other Languages students, special education students, and gifted students, and done a variety of extra activities for my school and county.I've earned a master's degree, achieved National Board Certification, added an endorsement in gifted education and nearly finished an endorsement in supervision and administration. I would have said I push myself and take risks professionally. Now I'm not so sure.

I don't know if this matters. It is something I feel I need to be thinking about. My parents have long told me that I will regret more those things I don't do over those things I do. I don't want to miss opportunities out of fear, especially if I don't recognize it as such.

Update: Apparently I shouldn't write blog posts as I'm doing other things. This clearly came across as me wondering if I should attempt a new path right now and I didn't intend that at all. I was simply ruminating over options from my past. Right now I am perfectly content where I am. I just want to be sure that I don't let fear rule my decisions in the future.