Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thanks Mr. President

It feels pretty great when your profession is singled out by the president in the State of the Union, and then you get an email from a friend that says, "you're my favorite nation builder!"

Not to mention that the we-must-educate-our-children-better speech that we've heard so many times before began with the parents, not the teachers.

I would have certainly made some edits, deletions and insertions to POTUS's speech on education, but still, it made me feel good, and I'll take that!

Now back to the weather report... I'm feeling a snow day on the horizon!!!

Writer's Club

OMG, I am so excited. During a recent planning session, my fabulous co-teachers and I were lamenting how Writing Workshop seemed boring. Conferencing was painful and the kids who weren't with a teacher were disengaged. We were in a rut, the kids were in a rut and we needed to spice it up.

Introducing Writer's Club!!

I've blogged about how conferencing in our room works before. Briefly, each kiddo has a tab on a Google Doc file and the three of us (I still can't believe I am so lucky to have three teachers in one room during WW) conference with kids. We can see each other's comments, chat with each other, and follow up with each student's latest teaching point, no matter who the conferencing teacher was.

So now, we are using this to hold our little writers accountable. We each meet with two to three kiddos during independent writing. Based on that writer's needs, we give them something to work on. Sometimes a mini-lesson is involved, sometimes they just need to be told. We cycle through our two or three kids, being sure to meet back with each. If the student is independently working on what they were asked, they get to write their name on the club. Each week, Writer's Club gets to do something special. Sometimes lunch with a teacher, sometimes a special writing pencil, sometimes we'll go to a special writing place.

The kids ATE IT UP. I found my conferences to be much more streamlined and simple. I tend to focus on too many things and find conferences frustrating. But now I found myself saying, "Smart writers do _________. I'd like you to try this all by yourself. Do you think you can try?" The kids went back to their work with one specific goal and were then rewarded if they did it. We ended with "Now, for next time I want you to work on _______." Now there is a record for the next teacher. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

There are aspects of this that we will need to work on. One of the newest members of the Writer's Club completed his task successfully and then completely ignored the "next time" bit. We will need to help the writers understand that each skill is a building block. We also need to be prepared that the task might be too difficult independently. Most of our writers don't progress smoothly, it's a herky jerky ride. Two steps forward, one step back. We have to make sure they will feel successful so they have the confidence to try something hard on their own. Luckily, Google Docs have given us a format that allows us to see everything the writer can do, and everything they are working on.

Great Writing Workshop, thanks friends! Go team.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Google Docs Love Fest

Guess what? My fabo colleague did come over but we didn't talk shop. We played with my kid. So now, Educon is days away and I'm still not prepared... but she is, because she's awesome like that.

Time for me to organize my thoughts.

I've been thinking about how we've been using Google Docs for our writing conference notes and as the classroom teacher, this is why I love them:
  • I can't get to 18 kiddos during the week to conference, but because I am very lucky to have 2 other teachers in the room, we as a team, can. Our shared document allows me to review every conference with every kid. It's like we are one uber-super-teacher.
  • I've picked up language from my co-teachers and vice versa. We now speak in the same "writing language." This consistency is so important.
  • Our kids think we share the same brain, so it's amazing to see them view us as one entity, and every now and again, it's fun to mess with them.
  • This is a non-writing point, but if I see a possible behavior issue, I can use the chat function to ask a coteacher to look in on the offender.
  • In an environment when planning time is precious and hard to come by, using Google Docs allows us to plan and collaborate during conferencing, and also on our own time. We're already one or two steps ahead when we sit down for our face to face planning time.
I also use Google Docs for my own reading conferences, remediation logs, weekly lesson planning, and basically any other item that a kindergarten teacher might need. This is why I love them:
  • I hate paper. I HATE PAPER. Really hate it. Hate isn't a strong enough word for how I feel about paper.
  • All of my important information is in one location, and accessible from any computer with Internet access. My most-visited docs are on my iGoogle page for super easy access.
  • When other colleagues ask me about using Google Docs, or what my plans look like, I simply add them with view permissions. A colleague will often pop in and say, "hey, I see you're working on ______ next week. What are you using/doing?" And boom, we share.
The practical benefits of using Google Docs, or something similar, are so great, I can't imagine NOT using them. I'll never go back!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Upon further review...

...blogging about what my day looks like is boring. If it's boring to type, it's got to be boring to read. It didn't really promote reflection as I would hoped. Trash that one.

On another note, my fabulous co-teacher and I are headed to EduCon in two weekends to chat about using Google Docs in the classroom. We realized that we have not prepared one bit, so now is as good of a time as any right? We're at home due to the layer of ice over everything. She's coming over to visit this afternoon to play with my toddler. In between multiple reads of Moo, Baa, La, La, La, maybe we'll talk shop.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Poor Rosa Parks

Working with a economically disadvantaged population brings many struggles to my day, struggles that I happily take on because it's what I chose to do when I became a teacher. My kids don't have access to most things that I provide for my own child. They don't have a parent at home when they're home, they don't have nourishing meals, they don't have someone to read them a story, they don't have doctors that are concerned with their well-being, they don't have clean clothes, and the list goes on and on.

What they do have, and what knocks me on my ass, is a unbelievably sad perspective on the world.

I began my lesson on Martin Luther King, Jr. today by introducing Rosa Parks. Kindergarten students need to know that MLK, Jr. helped change laws that were unfair. So we read Rosa by Nikki Giovanni (edited as I went for their level), watched a short clip of the story on United Streaming and then talked about what happened. I wanted to set up that Rosa was treated unfairly, she wasn't doing anything wrong, but she was arrested anyway.

We were having a good conversation. The students seemed to understand that she just wanted to sit down and that the bus driver was being very mean to her for no reason. We discussed black skin, white skin, light skin, dark skin and all the shades in between. It was one of the best discussions we've ever had. (If you haven't ever been in a kindergarten classroom, you might not know that discussions about anything are hard. They're still learning to converse, not just answer questions. They're still learning to listen to the question, and respond on the same topic.)

Towards the end of the discussion, I prompted the class with, "So why was Rosa Parks arrested?"

I was answered with, "because she was poor."

Ugh. On my ass.

I tried not to tear-up and instead asked the child, who is poor, if she thought people got arrested for being poor. She knew where I was going with my question (she's quite bright), but it was clear she thought that her previous statement was correct. We talked more and moved beyond this, but I'm still thinking about it. Over and over and over...

Um, society? You have a whole lot of work to do if our five year old children in poverty think the police are there to arrest them, simply for not having money.

I look at a police officer and feel safe. This five year old looks at a police officer as a daily threat. And it's my test scores that are the problem........

Monday, January 10, 2011

Morning Meeting

Our school is a Responsive Classroom school, and while I love the entire philosophy, I haven't been able to implement the entire thing. I have, however, worked my morning meeting around much of its philosophy.

After my class has answered the morning question and checked in, I call them to morning circle. We begin the meeting with a song, chant or dance welcoming us to school. Then we go around the circle, practicing making eye contact, saying good morning to the friend sitting next to us. Then I open it up for share. Some mornings, like right after winter break, everyone wanted to share, but most mornings it's about 3 or 4 kiddos and 90% of the time I tell them that their share is a great idea for Writing Workshop.

After share the students move from a circle to their carpet spots and I fire up the SmartBoard. Much of my morning meeting and calendar math is done on the SmartBoard for three reasons: 1) I do not have the wall space to support all the calendar math requirements; 2) the SmartBoard allows me to be creative with the content and create some really fun interactive activities; and 3) the SmartBoard allows me to add other content in that I want my class to focus on.

Depending on the time of the year and the needs of my class, my morning message might have all the words to be read together, or some high frequency words missing, the day of the week missing, or just the first letter of the word. The text stays pretty much the same for a month, and then I might change around some words to support new HFW or simply to change it because reading the same message day in and out can be boring. The kids are in charge of filling in the missing pieces and then we do a shared reading of the message when it's complete.

After the message comes calendar math! I have a slide for the weather report where I also pull up weather.com so the kids can see what a forecast looks like, I have a slide for our Daily Depositor (a concept that I think is developmentally inappropriate, but I can talk about that later), and then depending on our curriculum, slides that support those current concepts. I love using calendar math to introduce a new concept or practice an old one.

After we finish with the SmartBoard, we move onto our 100's Chart, our traditional calendar (date, day, yesterday/tomorrow/today), and then we read the day's schedule.

It's all wrapped up with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Next up... Reading Workshop.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Everything has a purpose, right?

Have you ever sat back and thought about each minute of your day and wondered, "why do I do this this way?" I think as each year passes, more and more of my thought process becomes less of a process and more of a second-nature reaction... and frankly, this is dangerous. We must always be purposeful with every minute we have with these tiny minds. So, for now, I hope to pick apart my day, a bit at a time to reflect and ensure that what I am doing has a purpose.

First up, arrival!

When my class arrives, I greet each with a good morning and their name. Sometimes I change it up with a "hey there _____" or a hi __________," but each child gets a personal greeting when they enter. I don't shake hands, or high five, or even fist bump. I'm not so much a toucher, but kids need to feel comfortable, welcomed and special, so each one gets eye contact and a hello of some form. My I.A. is a good hugger... I leave that to her.

Until recently my kids went to their assigned seats at one of four tables. The assigned seats allowed my to quickly see who was absent, but those seats are also used at snack time and during writing workshop. I try to put a strong kiddo, a weaker kiddo, and some middle kiddos together. Strong, middle and weak can apply to academics, social skills, or leadership skills. It all depends on the kid and the table. Last week I ripped the names off because a) my kids can choose who they want to sit with in the morning, b) they can choose who to sit with during snack, and c) we working on helping them choose a smart spot for themselves during writing. If a child makes a poor choice, we simply suggest a better seat. This has proven to be a great change with two minor side effects. Snack time gets LOUD and trying to figure out who is absent is no longer a quick glance at the tables. But, hey, who cares, right?

Depending on the day, the children are directed to get their book boxes when they arrive, or they have a tub of math manipulatives on the table, or they have a worksheet waiting for them.

"A WORKSHEET?!" you gasp?! Yes. A worksheet. I don't even try to sugarcoat it with the label of "individual practice" or "handwriting reinforcement." It's a plain old worksheet. Any kid, no matter what school system, needs to learn how to sit down, put their name on a paper, and follow simple directions (usually oral). Those kiddos who think they can blow through the work by scribbling or not attending to the question get to do it all over again with a teacher. They learn this early. The topic of the worksheet is timely, this morning they added up dots on dice, one morning they colored a snowy scene, one morning they practiced writing their name. They all have purpose.

But the worksheet isn't everyday, more often than not, it's the book boxes and those allow kids to share the books they have or read their guided reading books. Our book boxes also contain a dry erase board and marker so many write their letters, words, or names.

I invite one table at a time to go to the cubbies and unpack. Each child is responsible to unpack their own bag, put their coat away, put the contents of the bag in the right spots -- snack goes in snack basket, guided reading books go in book box, library books go in blue basket, blue folders or Tuesday folders go in their respective homes. My only purpose is to oversee the unpacking and collect notes from home and lunch money.

After unpacking, the children go to the easel and read that morning's question with my I.A. and answer it. My I.A. ensures that each child is thinking of their own answer and not simply copying what has already been written. The question always focuses on something we're working on. What rhymes with... or, What is two dots plus three dots... or, What part of the body do you use to smell? Then those kids go to the Smart Board to move their name from the "home" side to the "school" side. This month each name also has its birthday. Soon, the name will disappear and the kids need to locate their birthday to check-in. We've done first names, full names, last names only, initials, and now birthdays. Up next - phone numbers. Then, back to their tables to await my call to clean-up and come to morning circle.

Next post... morning meeting.

Blogger-friend Love

The thoughts and comments is received on my last post were really helpful. Thanks friends.

Monday, January 3, 2011

BFF

Goodness... long time, no post huh? Blogging has always been my outlet to compose my thoughts, share funny kinder stories, gripe when needed, and whatever else comes to mind that I think others might be interested in. I would find comfort or solace, or a giggle anytime I posted. Blogging was my bff.

But I haven't really been into my bff lately and I'm trying to figure out why.

Some of it is that much of what has consumed me focuses on my role as our team leader and all the trials and tribulations that go along with that. I could write mountains -- good, bad, and ugly -- about this "job" but I know it's neither helpful nor appropriate. I don't think my bff is interested.

I also have one specific child in my room who I am truly struggling with. This is beyond my typical tough kid... and I've had some doozies. When this one walks down the hall in the morning, I sigh internally because I just don't want to see them. Nice, right? Stories about this child aren't funny, or sad, or in need of advice. They're just complaints. Again, my bff wouldn't really find my comments helpful or appropriate.

I'm also part of a fabulous team of 3 in my room and this has 95% positive return. The 5% that lingers though is that while I am trying many new things and approaches, I am feeling more and more disorganized and unfocused. My bff finds me boring and annoying when I am disorganized and unfocused.

Maybe my bff served its purpose my first three years and now I need a new friend. Maybe my bff and I are growing apart, who knows. I need to figure it out though, because right now my bff sits on my mental to-do list yet never gets crossed off. I hate that.

Has any other edublogger out there experienced this? Is there a time to hang it up? Or refocus?