Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reason #391 Why I Love My School

These pictures were taken in our library before school one morning. Our librarian (Library Goddess, as I like to call her) opens our library for the 30 minutes before school begins each day. Even when meetings happen in the library she lets the kids in. She holds high expectations for them and sends anyone away who can't be polite and respectful. On a daily basis she helps kids learn routines, social skills, and other basic skills in addition to finding fabulous books.

Students can use the netbooks, do puzzles, play games, play with puppets, and check out books. Most mornings the room is packed. Some kids are there every day.

There is no expectation that our librarian (and the also awesome library aide) spend their time this way. It is a choice they made. I find it hard to imagine being willing to give up that time before school - I need it to get ready for the day. But these ladies recognized a need and stepped up. Something we see happening in schools everyday. We should celebrate it more often.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pick me, Pick me!

In an attempt to cut down on the wildly waving hands as students are desperate to share an answer, a thought, or a question, we often put our fingers on our noses instead. Sometimes I shake it up and have them put a finger on an ear, on their head, on their chin, etc. As a bonus, that also builds vocabulary.

Most of the kids put their index finger on the end of their nose. Effective, simple. But, as you can see with the girl below, sometimes the kids put their entire hand on their nose. I'm not sure why. Some kids pinch their nose and others smush it hard in their hopes of being chosen.

My favorite, however, is the little guy at the bottom. He doesn't always do this, but he frequently does. He's very serious and I'm certain he has no idea of the message he could be sending.

(I'm taking pictures all the time so the kids are accustomed to me pointing a camera at them. As a result, I don't think my snapping these seemed at all odd to them. Thankfully.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Rare Book Review

I don't tend to do a lot of book reviews here because I don't keep up with books as well as I should and there are so many blogs that do a much better job than I ever could.

However, my youngest daughter checked a book out of the library this summer that was so fabulous I had to purchase it myself. White is for Blueberry by George Shannon is perfect for so many things. The idea in the book is to look at items from another perspective. So, white is for blueberries that are not ready to be picked. When I read it to my class today they were quite hesitant at first. "White is for blueberry?" They began to buy into it after a few examples and then got to "Purple is for snow..." Then they were skeptical again. But it didn't last. They loved the book.

We'll be reading it again and again. After we finished it today we had a brief discussion of other ideas to include - such as pink is for rabbit (the inside of the ears). It could be fun to write a class book modeled after this.

It also fits well with our wondering about everything. We've started our Wonder Notebooks and began collecting questions we wonder about. Looking at things from such a different perspective, as this book does, will push us to wonder in some new ways.

I shared the book today with several other teachers and everyone adored it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bad Teacher (But Still Trying)

In the midst of teaching everyday it is nigh on impossible for me to step back. When I am able to get a little perspective it doesn't really matter. I seem unable to control my reactions to the kids. I find myself responding to them in ways that are punitive. I'm taking away free choice time (not recess, at least). I'm easily frustrated.

I know how I want to respond. I know what would be helpful. But so far it seems to be beyond me to actually do it.

Reading Joe Bower's most recent post about a school-wide behavior system caught me. I've only recently discovered his blog and it's become a must read for me.

Reading his interaction with a student was a reminder of how I want to interact with kids. My two current goals (there are so many more in my head but I'm trying to keep this doable):
  • Take the time to listen more. I have not had the patience to do this lately and it is critical. Just doing this will make a huge difference, I think.
  • Give students the benefit of the doubt. Assume the positive rather than the negative. Children are not too often truly malicious. They are not often attempting to drive me crazy. I need to remember that.
Oddly enough, it would be astoundingly helpful if I could keep these things in mind at home with my daughters as well.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More About First Grade Writing

Clearly I'm thinking a lot about writing at the moment. This video was taken the first week we were doing independent writing. I was so impressed with how focused everyone was on their writing I grabbed my flip video camera to record it. Not every day is this focused, but mostly they enjoy writing. It often surprises me to see how students who are just beginning to be able to physically write things see themselves as writers. It shows what an awesome job our kindergarten teachers are doing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

First Grade Writing

One of the first things I had to learn when I started teaching first grade two years ago was how to read their writing. I've gotten reasonably good at it, but I still have a way to go. Friends who have taught in the primary grades for years are much better at deciphering early writing than I am.

These are examples from eight of my students (ones whose names were easy to remove or were missing altogether) from the first two days of our independent writing. We started that during the second week of school. Personally, I was thrilled with the work these students were doing that early in first grade.

How much of this can you read?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Feeling Good about Tables

In our second year of having a wide range of table options, it seems to be working splendidly. As the students were writing the other day I noticed the decisions they had made about where to work.

Every small, intimate table (seating four or fewer) was occupied by students. Of the large tables, only the one on the floor had more than two students sitting there.

Setting up my classroom this way was a big switch after ten years with more traditional furniture. It's nice to see the students respond well to it.

I'd love to get rid of the big tables (at least the one with chairs) all together, but it is handy for guided reading groups.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

When students are not doing the work we've asked them to do, maybe the problem is us. I'm coming at this issue as a first grade teacher and I know that affects my thinking. First graders are interested and excited about everything - or at least they can be if you sell it to them. So, when we see that they are not doing the activity, discussion, or work we are asking them to, we need to reevaluate our expectations.

I just unsubscribed from a blog that I often enjoy because of the frequent negativity. I understand the need to vent and I know I do it too. I don't understand the idea that young children should do what we require simply because we tell them to. I question what is required of me often. Sometimes I will do it after I learn why and sometimes I won't. Sometimes I have to when I don't want to (like report cards) but I don't usually do it well.

We expect students to do because we said so. We wouldn't want to be treated that way. When faced with students who are disengaged, we should look closely at what we are asking.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Makes Me Smile

These kids are in the kindergarten class across the hall. They walk in line with a 'hand on the hip and a hand on the lip'. Every time I see them it makes me smile. We should all smile more often.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Rabbit Hole

Earlier today I tweeted this:

It was absurd. The test we gave was the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test. That's the positive aspect. The test is completely nonverbal. It consists of pictures (patterns, spatial relations, etc.) with five pictures to choose from for the answer. I don't think it stressed my students to take it. They did not seem concerned by the time limit. In fact, the twelve children who took the test with me all finished before the 30 minutes were up.

The test has been given to second graders in my district for some time now and it has been decided to move it to first grade. We use it as one factor in identifying children for advanced academic services (gifted and talented).

I did spend a few minutes one day showing students some model questions on the smartboard to teach them how to bubble their answers. I then gave them two model questions to do so that I could be sure they understood how to bubble and to only bubble one answer per question. On the whole that seems to have helped. No one bubbled more than one answer per question and, aside from accidentally skipping questions or pages (I was watching carefully as I walked around the room) they didn't seem to have any trouble with the structure of taking this test.

For all that, the best I can say is that it could have been worse. That's sad. We spent a good amount of our morning taking a standardized test. At the age of six. Sigh.

Update: Apparently I am incorrect. According to a couple of fabulous colleagues, in the past we gave this test in kindergarten. Who knew the current situation was an improvement? Thanks for keeping me in line splatypus and organized chaos!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Friday Night Ranting

In an obvious sign that I don't think clearly on a Friday night, I just left a comment on Jay Mathews' most recent blog post. He writes about education professors' priorities as noted in a poll. His main point seems to be disappointment that education professors don't see a need for much more focus on classroom management.
This is difficult to understand. Anyone in close contact with new teachers knows that creating discipline and order are vital to their success, and they often wish they knew how to do that.
I don't doubt that new teachers do wish they knew how to manage a classroom better. I know I did. What I doubt is whether or not that can really be taught. We can talk all we want about education schools, but this sort of thing needs to be learned on the job. Without actual kids in a classroom, management is just theory and fairly meaningless. Pre-service teachers need to spend a lot more time in classrooms observing and working with master teachers. This is awfully tough to achieve.

Also, "creating discipline and order" sounds too much like a military school to me. I would hope that teachers are empowering students and encouraging them to ask questions, try new things, and explore. This won't happen in a strictly managed classroom. Children are people and deserve to be treated and respected as such.

One final note, just to get it off my chest, some of the comments really irked me. The idea that disruptive students should be removed and the message sent that such behavior would not be tolerated seems simplistic and naive. It also seems hurtful. Many children have behavior issues due to factors beyond their control. We should be helping these children, not isolating them and thus compounding the problem. They should not have to pay for the life into which they were born. We should offer so much more than that.

Cue Embarassed Blush

Today was a long day. It's been raining all week. Our main hallway is being painted. It was picture day. We had a fire drill. Can you picture it?

At the end of the day I wandered down to the office while my class was in art. After chatting briefly with a few folks there I remembered the purpose of my errand. I pulled this out of my pocket:

and said, "I need batteries."

This, for the record, is a Crayola glow wand. It is used to "write with light" according to Crayola's website. I am planning to have the students practice their word wall words with it. However, that was not readily obvious to others in the office. I am not sure when I will hear the end of this.
At the beginning of first grade many of our students don't really know the difference between letters and words. We work on this in a variety of ways at various times throughout our day. Yesterday we tackled it head on. I pulled out our thinkblocks and we talked about word/not word and then letter/not letter.

I was pretty impressed with their thoughts. They said that words need to make sense (I chose not to get into the idea of nonsense words). They shared some words as examples of not letters.

Finally, at the end I asked them about the relationship between words and letters. In no time the students shared three relationships, "letters are part of words," "letters make the sounds in words," and "when you stretch out words you can hear the letters."

While I was thrilled to see the understanding of words and letters, at least from some, I was really impressed with their thinking about the identities of words and letters and the relationship. As well as their ability to explain their thinking.

On the 18th day of first grade this was fabulous. We've got quite a year ahead.