I borrowed part of this mission statement from the classroom of another teacher. I'm hoping that someday soon my little charges can live up to it. I find myself quoting parts of it to the kids when certain situations arise, as they do. Everyday. All day. This morning started out with a new student, her mother and her 18 month old brother, an arguement over turns on the swings that spilled over into the classroom from the playground, a call from the district office trying to determine which kids of the 45 that are listed on my computerized roster are actually in my class so that I can begin to record data for the standards based reporting pilot I so brilliantly volunteered for last spring, the principal stopping by to check on the new student, and...and...and... Such a disjointed day. I felt befuddled and ineffective. What is the point of calendar if the kids are not engaged and the only voice I hear counting is Alexa's? Should I switch Readers Workshop and Writers Workshop because with intervention starting my 2 neediest students would miss half of writing time which I believe is the key to language development and reading achievement? What will the day look like if we don't start it writing? How do I squeeze in more than 20 3day lessons (according to the new adopted math materials) into the 6 week pacing guide sent out by the district 5 weeks ago? Is it good for my students to attempt to follow such a pacing guide? To whom am I most beholden? Get it together Ortner! Squirrel...
Readers Workshop is beginning to take shape. We made anchor posters for the ways to read a book and read to self. We've filled our book boxes with just right books, songs, and poems. We practiced read to self in a comfortable spot in the room; practicing reading the whole time and staying in the same place the whole time (not easy for 6 year olds). Tomorrow we will make an anchor poster for read to partner. I think my favorite part of the workshop is still Readers Chair.
I can't tell you where it came from. I didn't read it in a book or research article and I can't tell you why I didn't think of it sooner. My strength is in literacy instruction. I use workshop models for both writing and reading instruction (for math too but I'm still tweaking that one). An important part of our Writers Workshop time is Author's Chair. Students share a piece of writing with the class. The other students act as an audience and a sounding board for their classmates. Each child who shares receives at least 3 compliments on their work and then 2-3 suggestions for how they might improve their writing. Classmates are incredibly kind to one another during this time and come up with wonderful comments and questions. It's my favorite time of the day. Everyone learns something new whether they are the sharer or the audience. It's a powerful part of the Writers Workshop model. As we were completing our Readers Workshop time it dawned on me that this group could do the same thing as readers so today I created Readers Chair. I chose children to come and share about the reading they had done during our workshop time. Anjela came up and shared about her favorite part of the book she was reading the pictures of (readers can read words but they also read pictures to determine the story). In her limited English proficiency she named each animal, insect, and child she saw in the pictures of the book. Her classmates applauded her efforts and she beamed. I look forward to more opportunities for Readers Chair, for students to feel empowered in their learning, and for students to feel encouraged by their classmates. Readers Chair is a gift I didn't know we needed.
This is just a purely adorable story that I'm sharing because it reminded me of why I love teaching so much. In my second week back, the 1st graders are still learning to be good listeners. The afternoons have been pretty rough as far as following directions and accomplishing any sort of work. Ugh! So today I decided we needed to keep moving during math with the hope of keeping their attention and meeting some sort of learning target. We played a game called Inside/Outside (as named by the new math program adopted by the district). The kids had 10 linker cubes and a coffee filter (I didn't have the paper plates the lesson plan called for - I improvised). The directions were to toss up the linker cubes above the the coffee filter with some cubes landing "inside" the coffee filter and some landing "outside" of the coffee filter. We reviewed all the important saftey information for gently tossing linking cubes and spread out across the room to work individually on the floor. I also prepped the students to only toss the cubes when I said, "Go!" I also taught them the ASL sign for "go" in an attempt to limit the use/sound of my voice and thus the noise in our classroom. I gave the sign and the kids successfully tossed their cubes. They were delighted when cubes landed in the coffee filter. I had them show me how many cubes were "inside" the coffee filter with their fingers. Children across the room were holding up 2, 5, even 9 fingers to indicate the number of cubes in their filter. Then we did the same for the number of cubes that landed "outside" of the filter. Finally, I had them tell me how many cubes they had "in all." The first round was great! The kids were smiling and engaged and meeting a learning target. Way to go, Deb! After the second toss, I asked the students to show me with their fingers how many cubes were "inside" the coffee filter. Peyton (a wonderfully smart yet shy little girl that a few times has shown a bit of spark - wait for it, she's about to fully ignite!) jumped up and waved her 3 fingers in the air and as I walked around the room I noticed she was swaying her hips a bit as she waved her 3 fingers high. I asked, "Are you putting a little hip-shake to that 3, Peyton?" She was so pleased with her little "dance" that she added the disco arm (reaching across the body diagonally with a pointed finger or 3 fingers in Peyton's case - think Saturday Night Fever) and a huge smile. Before I knew it half of the class stood up to "dance" their numbers for me! I laughed so hard! I pictured Peyton's proud smile as I drove home this evening and I was still grinning from ear to ear. Disco Math was born! First grade is so much fun!
Poor Spencer! During a lesson of singing and signing, fluency practice, matching words to pictures, and illustrating all centered on The Rainbow song, one of my little guys blurted out, "I'll draw whatever I want!" with just a bit too much vigor for his 1st grade teacher. In many circumstances I would celebrate such independence but he
was going to miss out on one of the essential elements of the lesson: the pictures match the words on the page, a very important reading strategy for emergent readers. I asked Spencer to stay in the carpet area so we could talk through the situation. This only frustrated poor Spencer more until he finally shouted (with wild hand gestures), "Look! I just want to draw what I want to draw!" at me. Now we've moved beyond what he was saying and on to how he was saying it. He tried covering his ears to shut me out as we hunkered down on our hands and knees on the floor of our classroom. After several rounds of covered ears, examples of respectful/disrespectful behavior, and a break to get a drink of water hoping to help him calm down Spencer burst into tears and I gave up for the time being. Not wanting to ignore disrespectful behavior I made a call home that evening to Spencer's dad to explain the situation. Spencer's dad said that they struggle with the same things at home so they came up with 3 Rules that help Spencer to stop and think. Here they are: 1. Does it need to be said? 2. Does it need to be said right now? 3. Does it need to be said right now by me? I'm glad we were speaking over the phone so he could not see my gaping mouth. How profound! I told Spencer's dad that I would use his 3 Rules in the classroom not just for Spencer but for all of the kids. I just have one tiny thing to figure out: How will I teach the 3 Rules to 23 six year olds when I'm not sure I've learned them myself?
The first days of the school year are always filled with excitement and anxiety even for the teacher. This year has been especially nerve-wracking because I was unable to start the school year on the first day due to my health. I went for a few hours each morning because I can't imagine starting first grade without your teacher. Although, I had a wonderful guest-teacher, my former student teacher Jessica. My goals for the 2011-2012 school year are for my students to understand that they can do anything they put their minds to. Of course I hope they will make astounding academic achievements, but the most important thing I can pass along to these wonderous 6 year olds is that they have the ability to do great things. There will be many mistakes along the way. There have already been plenty from both students and teacher. But as I tell my little charges, "It's only a mistake if you don't learn from it."