Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why I am allowed in the building some days, I do not know.

Today is Book Character Day and while I have issues with it in general (if it's NOT Halloween, DON'T schedule it at Halloween, etc etc) I have been giggling by butt off all morning.

Why you ask?

A colleague dressed up as Ramona Quimby.

What's so funny about Ramona Quimby you ask?

Well, this Ramona Quimby is pregnant.

Ramona Quimby, Age 16. HA!
Ramona the Bravely Rebellious. HA! HA!
Ramona, the girl who took the wrong path. HA! HA! HA!
Hey Ramona, did Henry do that to you?!

You get the picture.

I can't stop. CAN'T STOP.

Somehow I think Beverly Cleary wouldn't find me so funny, but I think I am.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some nursery rhymes need to be retired...

Does Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater bug anyone? It really bugs me and I can't bring myself to teach it to my kids.
I mean, COME ON, Mrs. Pumpkin Eater. You're telling me that you can't escape a pumpkin and go find a better life? I highly doubt that life inside a nasty pumpkin is "very well." Screw Peter and his barbaric ways, I'm sure some dwarfs would take you in, or you could call your gal pal Cinderella and go live in her castle. Just don't call the old lady, her shoe is full.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trauma

We had a presentation on the effects of trauma on a child's brain today and wow... portions of it hit home and hit my classroom.

Early in the presentation, a recording of a 911 call was played. It was a small child, watching his mommy and daddy fight, and this child was terrified. I couldn't tell who was beating up who but I don't think it mattered. What mattered is that the sound of pure fright in that child's voice made my stomach turn, and then sink. I immediately thought of my own child and that my own personal nightmare would be his voice sounding like that. She also spent extensive time talking about how infants' neurons grow rapidly with love and attention, and do just the opposite when those things are absent. Again, it brought me right to my son and how the sound of any stress from him, from day one, caused me to want to soothe him immediately. I've never been a "let him cry it out" kind of mom and I'm happy to report I have a kiddo who can soothe himself when needed but also goes to sleep at a regular bedtime with rarely a tear.

So that was the home.... and then I began chewing on thoughts of my classroom.

I began to think of the struggles many of my kids have experienced at a very young age and my heart began to ache a bit. It's not often that I look at a five year old in my classroom and try to see them in their 10 month old selves, but when I stepped back to try to do that, I became very sad. A baby who might not get picked up when she cries, not because she's not loved, but because the caregiver is watching five other babies while parent(s) are working long shifts. A baby who isn't spoken to simply because mom or dad might be so exhausted that being physically home is all that can be managed. And worse, a baby or a young child who routinely sees a mom beat up, or hears a neighbor screaming, or sees a fight outside their window. I've always been aware of the realities of the children I teach, but today I tried to put myself in their baby shoes, and it blew me away.

As these babies grow up, they lack coping mechanisms that resilient children have -- those pesky neurons again, and they have high stress levels. These children come into my classroom and seek out the negative, because that's what they know. They prefer an angry voice or an angry face because that's what they're used to. It's my job to show them that there's another world. There's a world with love, patience, and calm.

I do my best. Some days better than others, but in general, I approach my class with calm, patience and the understanding that consistency in routine and reaction in imperative. This isn't enough for everyone, but is certainly my base-line.

I also realized today that I am truly failing two of my students. Two students who I have been looking at as true behavior problems. Nothing specific like inability to pay attention, or trouble controlling their body, just annoying irritating behavior. Two students who are always in trouble, always being spoken to, always asked to change their card, basically always dumped on. Not from day one, but as the weeks went by and my usual bag of tricks failed at every turn, my patience withered and my calm even tone was replaced with bugged eyes, sarcasm, and short snippy tones.

The presenter referred to this as our "shark voice." She pleaded with us to approach every child, every day, with calm, with even tone, with a soft face. She said, "be aware of your shark voice." I looked down at the floor, slightly ashamed. I can admit it.

So tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow I will brainstorm individual behavior plans for these two, a device I usually reserve for specific behavior problems. Who knows, maybe they just need some positive love many times throughout the day. Won't I be the jerk if that's the case?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Isn't this your job?

Dear Weather.com,

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but isn't the purpose of weather.com to give accurate weather forecasts? I checked you this morning and saw that it was going to be sunny in the low sixties for our field trip. Our field trip with eight kindergarten classes. I thought, "great! beautiful weather!"

Well weather.com, you failed. You failed big.

The ACCURATE weather report was fifty one degrees, cloudy and windy. I dare say the windchill was below 50 degrees. How do I know? BECAUSE I WAS FREEZING MY BUTT OFF.

We ate our lunches on the bus and left a full hour earlier than planned.

Luckily, my kids didn't notice because they all got to pick out their own pumpkin to take home. It cost me $17 bucks but it was worth it. That's all they're likely to remember anyway.

I hope you do a better job next time.

Sincerely,
Me.

P.S. I think you should pay me $17 bucks.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

For the love of...

Is someone playing a very cruel trick on me? It's as if some horrible blob is hovering above my class and sucking the ability to follow directions right out of my students.

I'm about to lose it.

I'm not talking about following three or four step directions, I'm not talking about walking in the hallway correctly, I'm talking about, "do you hear the words coming out of my mouth?"

Example #1:
Me: "Friend, please stop at look at me."
Friend stops and looks at me.
Me: "You are using way too much glue. There is glue everywhere. You don't need anymore. Please put it down."
Friend nods and then squeezes a huge blob of glue on his letter sort.

Example #2:
Me: "Okay friends, the first thing you are going to do is put your name on your paper. Can someone tell me what the first thing you're going to do is?"
Kid: "Cut."
Me: Deep breath... "No, not yet. What's FIRST."
Kid: "Write your name."
Me: "Yes! Now go do it."
Kid returns to his table and starts cutting.

I could go on and on, but my blood pressure is rising just typing this.

We have had class meetings, class discussions, I have listed directions in 1, 2 or 3 step fashion. I've had the kids repeat back what the directions are. I've had kids model, kids explain, and kids help their peers. Not following directions is the leading cause of green cards going to yellow and then to orange in my room. NOTHING IS WORKING.

And it's not just 3 or 4. We're talking like HALF MY CLASS.

Please, for the love of my sanity, share some advice. I would greatly appreciate it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pumpkins for all Learners

Today was a great day for many reasons, one of them being an on-the-fly-pulled-from-my-behind lesson on the life cycle of the pumpkin. My plans said, "introduce the life cycle of the pumpkin." Um, thanks former self from last week. Great job with the details.

The only lesson we had done before today was to make a list of what we know about pumpkins and what we want to know.

So I grabbed a short non-fiction book with photographs and easy descriptions. The kids enjoyed the real pictures and the simple text of how a pumpkin grows.

Then we put the book down and retold it by drawing pictures on the easel.

Then we snuggled down into the carpet and acted out the life cycle of the pumpkin.

Then we switched on the Smart Board and sequenced the pictures in the appropriate order.

This all took about 20 minutes and it hit my spatial (drawing the pictures), kinesthetic (acting it out), linguistic (reading the book) and logical learners (organizing the sequence).

Through the lesson, we answered many of the questions we asked the previous day, such as "do pumpkins grow on trees?" and "do seeds need water to grow?" I know am patting myself on the back, I fully admit it, but I really thought it rocked.

I am congratulating myself with a burger and wine. Cheers!

What she said...

Everything I wanted to say has already been said.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Independence

I believe one of the most important things I can teach my students is independence. Whenever I am asked about my teaching philosophy, that word is always forefront. If you come into my room you might hear me tell a kiddo that I won't tie their shoes. They need to try it themselves or ask a friend. You might hear me tell a child that, "no, I won't open your snack. Ask a friend." I think it's incredibly important for these five year olds to understand that self-sufficiency is the bedrock of their success. If they can't do something, that's okay, but ask a friend. If a five year old is tying another five year old's shoes, they are both benefiting from that experience. The shoe-tying kid is strengthening their skills through practice and teaching through example. The shoe tie-ee is likely paying more attention because if their friend can do it, why can't they?

Sorting buttons...

I feel independence doesn't stop at basic life skills such as opening a Capri-Sun or tying a shoe. Most of my teaching consists of a focus lesson followed by independent learning centers. This structure carries over in literacy and math. I work really hard and setting routines and expectations so that a student knows what their job is, knows what to do at the job, and knows what to do when done. All without my assistance. This frees me up to work one-on-one with kids, to do our ever growing assessments, to work with a small group, or lately to chat with colleagues or reply to emails. It's the lately part that's making me feel just a tad guilty.

Um, hello TEACHER?! You're a teacher right? Shouldn't you be TEACHING? That's what the little teacher-nerd sitting on my shoulder is saying.

Color sort...

Of course I don't think I should go into these independent groups and shake it up with teacher-led instruction, but I do think I need to get a bit more involved. My fabulous co-teacher suggested I follow her lead and make check-lists for learning objectives I am looking for. Then while my wonderfully independent kiddos are working, I can circulate around the room making notes of who is demonstrating what. I love this idea and need to get cracking on these checklists. It will certainly make me feel more productive, it will force me to see if my centers are successfully supporting the learning objectives, and it will decrease the chance of my boss showing up in my room while my kids are at centers and I am emailing our IT guy about the latest gadget I want.
Number dominos...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Evolution of Writing Workshop

This is my fourth year trying to perfect the kindergarten Writing Workshop. I've been to see Lucy Calkins, I've been to see Katie Wood Ray, I've read many a professional texts and sat through many a professional development focused on kindergarten writers.

It's the hardest part of my day.

Until this past week, I've pretty much stuck to a similar format. We begin Writing Workshop (WW) with a mini or focus lesson. Basically, "this is what writers do... you are all writers... now go and do it." Then the wee ones are sent back to their tables for quiet writing times while I conference with individual kids on what they're doing. Then we wrap it all up with a share session that highlights someone's story that did what we were hoping to see.

Now I know I'm not all that flexible, but this format does change depending on the day, the needs of the kids, and well, my mood. Bad mood teacher = shortened WW. Some days we don't even make it back to our tables. We do shared writing (I hold the pen but get ideas from the kids) or interactive writing (they write the words), or we read stories by other authors who do a great job at writing about real things happening. Ezra Jack Keats is a fine example. His books about Peter, Willy and the gang are an awesome example of writing about everyday things that happen to you.

The whole point is to get our kids to understand that they are authors and they have stories to tell.

Pause....

Have you ever heard a kindergartner tell a story? What about a kindergartner with limited English, limited experiences, and limited ability to hold a pencil?

And that's why it's hard.

SO. This year, with the help of my fabulous co-teachers (gawd, I love that it's plural!), we are revamping what WW looks like. We're thinking about centers focused on drawing, concept of story, and beginning, middle and end. Independent writing will still happen everyday, but it will be a smaller part of the workshop. I'm envisioning something that looks similar to my Reading Workshop.

Already we've been working on drawing. Many of our kids don't know where to begin so we've broken things down into parts of a whole (one of the Patterns of Thinking) and shown them that they can draw anything, they just need to go one part at a time! You should have seen the elephant they did together today. Awesome. I will try to remember to take a picture and post.

This week and next we will be pulling small groups to work on beginning, middle and end as well as story vs. picture.

I've also chilled out with the "you must be silent during independent writing" shtick. Turns out if you're not all up in their grill about being quiet, they enjoy writing more. They might talk to their tablemates, but they're talking about their stories, and that's fine by me.

I'm very excited about this. I hope I have amazing results to report! Or at least results that don't mention me thinking how much I hate WW.

Health Hazard

Due to a change in our recess schedule, we now have 30 minutes for lunch, instead of 60. I KNOW I KNOW, many many of you are saying, "SIXTY? Who the hell gets 60 minutes for lunch?" Well girlfriends, we did. Our kids ate lunch and then our fabulous I.A.'s took them outside.

Our new recess schedule has us going out later in the day, after lunch and after math. I like it. It works. The only adjustment is now we have to eat lunch in the same amount of time as the rest of the school. Tough life right? Well, GIRLFRIENDS, yes it is.

Lunch is at 12:50. I arrive at 12:47ish just to get a jump on the process. At 12:55 my kids have finished getting through the lunch line and I have said, 19 times, "please get a straw and napkin." Actually, by the ninth or tenth time, I'm just saying "straw. napkin."

I leave the cafeteria at 12:56 and begin the marathon long walk back to my room. Luckily I have long legs and can bust it back there by 12:59. I now have 21 minutes until my bum is due back in the cafeteria to pick up my kids. Oh, and I'm both a stickler for being on time, and feel incredibly guilty for being late because if I am, then my fabulous I.A. doesn't get to eat her lunch when she should. 12:50 is stinkin' late for 5 year olds, 1:00 p.m. is stinkin' late for me, but 1:20 p.m. is stinkin' smelly late for our I.A.s. But back to the clock...

By 1:00 p.m. I am ripping into my microwaveable meal and popping it in. Some are 1/2 power for 4 minutes, followed by full power for 2. Some are full power for 3, some are slow cookers -- seriously, 7 or 8 minutes. Plus I share my microwave with fellow lunchers, because it would be rude and mean if I didn't, so my same lunch-time colleague and I politely jockey for microwave time.

After all of this nonsense, it's close to 1:10 before I sit down to eat. I have about 8 minutes before I need to leave my room to get back to the cafeteria at 1:20.

I inhale my hot lunch and inevitably burn the roof of my mouth.

This vicious cycle repeats itself until the weekend when I can enjoy hot meals like a normal person. Then I bring my healed mouth to school on Monday and we start the dance again.

(Alright fine, YES, I could bring a sandwich, or cold pasta salad, but that takes planning and time in the morning and frankly, tossing a frozen meal into my bag is much quicker. And then what would I have to blog about?!)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Browser Blues

Does anyone else experience annoying and frustrating browsers? Explorer and Firefox seem so sensitive. Blogger hasn't been working with Firefox (error messages galore) but works fine with Explorer. Explorer doesn't like many sites I use and tends to just shut down without cause or warning. Our county's web sites favor Explorer and forget even trying to use my home-Mac with them. Just blank screens that load and load and load...

What gives?

Line Cutters Unite

You might be shocked by this, but I have been supporting line cutting. Not cutting the whole class however, just one special friend. This is the second year with this friend and she has very serious needs. But in the process of working with her very serious needs, she also has developed a stubborn streak and will start a power struggle over things I know, and she knows, she can do. Using the bathroom for example. She doesn't like to use it unless she wants to use it. Well sweet pea, in my room, you use it when we have bathroom breaks. So use it. Now.

She has taken to walking very slowly in line. Giant holes in the line drive me nuts and I have spent more than a year telling her in English and in Spanish to hurry up, let's go, walk faster, come on Friend... I thought she might not understand the basics of line walking. But then I told the kid behind her to walk around her. WHOA. She totally gets line walking and she got pissed. And she walked faster. Success! So now my kids know that if she is walking too slow, they should pass her.

Hopefully this is a quick fix. My only concern is that it will turn into a game. When it does, I will think of something else.