Monday, August 31, 2009

Kindle 2 - Text to Speech

My friend Franki over at A Year of Reading, just did a great post sharing her experiences and thinking about her Kindle 2. You can find that here. I thought I would share my latest thinking and bring an update to my previous entries. While I was setting up my classroom library and working in complete silence for several hours, I was looking for some noise, some productive noise and realized I had my Kindle 2 in my purse. Earlier in the week, I was at a class and a friend recommended Gorgeously Green to me and I instantly bought it sitting in a high school auditorium using my Kindle 2. That was pretty cool! While working in my classroom I couldn't sit and read so I tried the Text-to-Speech feature for the first time and loved it. You can start, pause, and stop the reading. You can also adjust the rate with slower, default, and faster. The voice can be a male or female. I'm not sure Gorgeously Green was the right book for this feature, there were a lot of things I wanted to clip or take notes on so I think I will actually read this book still. However, I could see having a fun fiction book and using the text to speech option and enjoying it. I would recommend turning the wireless off to increase the life of your charge. I think this will be my books on tape of Cd from now on.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Beginnings {Poetry Friday}

I have spent the past two days doing the "First Day of Kindergarten", twice. It's been interesting with a lot of learning going on for me and the students. Slow and steady I keep reminding myself. I've been trying to provide opportunities for connections between students to foster relationships, wanting them to return the next day. It's been a crash course on how much they need modeled and guided with how school and our classroom will work. Baby steps are important with our youngest learners. A colleague shared this poem with me for the children to do as they line up and get ready to travel in the hallways. I think something like this will promote literacy and help us think about what we are going to do as we travel through the hallways.

I'm giving myself a great big hug.
I'm standing straight and tall.
I'm looking right ahead of me.
I'm ready for the hall.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A small change...important

I was on the soccer field watching B practice this week and a new student of mine came running right up to me with a huge smile, "Hi, Mrs. Robek!" This little boy was so excited and I was started talking to him I realized after a few words I needed to bend down and be at his level, able to look right at his eyes while we visited. Then I thought about meeting all of them last week at our Kindergarten Welcome and realized I did a lot of bending down so I could be eye to eye with them. It felt right and comfortable. I want to be their partner in learning and respect every word they are saying. I think it's easier to do eye to eye, right at their level and not from an adult height that is towering over them.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Math Tub Labels

I posted on Twitter yesterday, knee deep in making book and math tub labels. I finished math tub labels last night and thought I would share my thinking with you. When I moved into my current kdg. classroom I grabbed a piece of furniture from the next room that holds twenty small tubs designed to hold math manipulatives and discovered my labels from eight years ago were still there. These were hand drawn and a bit faded. I knew I was going to reorganize our tools in general and quickly took off those labels as I washed each tub and soaked the manipulatives. This room is going to be squeaky clean for opening day!

I thought this time around I would use my digital camera and computer to make my labels. It didn't take much time at all to snap some fifty photos, my label craze had to carry over to our building and science tubs too. I resized my photos to ten percent, inserted them into a table, typed the label underneath using Century Gothic, and played around with white space. Right now Century Gothic is my favorite font for labeling. It's clear with a print lower case a and something I think the kids will easily pick up reading the labels.

I'm considering not only labels on the tubs but labels on the shelves so the tubs go back in the order they currently are. I've organized "like" items together. You'll see a photo soon of the labels in the room. I've been busy in the last week with our Kindergarten Welcome and I'm still putting finishing touches on the of my space soon, I promise KatieD.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Classroom Library Make Over

Spent a lot of time today thinking, organizing, reorganizing my classroom library. At the end of the school year, I had packed up all my chapter books and harder biographies. When I looked at my carpet today, I knew it was still too many books. Debbie Miller, Reading with Intention encourages teachers to have things spread out within a classroom, including books. I kept this in mind as I worked today. After looking at my math standards I tackled this grouping of books first. Packing more up to come home for my girls and created five tubs of picture books related to our math curriculum. These are located right with my tubs of manipulatives for the children to use. Next to my pet turtle and guinea pig there are tubs about each of the animals, both fiction and nonfiction. I have a great collection of poetry books but I think they are too difficult for kdg. students but I wanted them available to me so I put them on the top shelf of a five shelf with spines showing in alphabetical order. I then decided my song tub and ABC tub would good to stay as is. Then I wasn't sure where to start fiction or nonfiction and I chose nonfiction, the stack was smaller. Beyond Leveled Books by Sibberson, Szymusiak, and Koch has a wonderful addition in their second edition about setting up a classroom library for K - 1st grade. I also found More Than Guided Reading by Mere very helpful. I've read only the chapters applicable to organizing classroom libraries and implemented these ideas. I prefer clear plastic tubs to house all of my books in groups so the children can view the covers more easily. I grouped similar books together by author, topic, theme. I tried to pull out some animal books that I had several of for that topic to make an interest tub. I had a collection of easier biographies and I made a collection of people books. I'm labeling the books with titles I think five year olds will be able to read easier; for example bugs for insects, spiders for arachnid. Tomorrow I'm going to return to finish up the fiction tubs also and then I will be making lots of labels. I'm trying to decide how I will or if I should sticker these books in tubs in a way to help the children put them back where they go. Third graders easily put their books back, anticipating kdg. could be different.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

benchmarks,standards, What do I have to teach?

Yesterday, I spent a couple of ours with a good friend. We all know a good friend is someone who listens. This attribute is always something I appreciate when I visit with her. I also appreciate these other things about her; her willingness to help others in understanding Math Standards for the State of Ohio, her willingness to check my thinking as I align standards to benchmarks, and her knowledge about children and their mathematical learning. I am blessed to have her willing to still talk about these things since she is a retired math district coordinator who does her own consulting and a little bit of work for our state's department of education.

While I've worked through moving classrooms back in June and reorganizing life. I'm putting the finishing touches on my new environment and beginning to think about reorganizing my classroom library when I realized kdg. orientation is around the corner and besides seeing our classroom I have to have a grasp on the new curriculum I will be teaching.

To do that, I looked at the math Benchmarks for K-2 and then matched Content Standards to each one. I find math to be very concrete and the easiest content to begin looking at and working with for this type of work. I found several benchmarks do not have content standards in kdg. Therefore, I set those off in a pile I don't need to think about. The Benchmarks help us see the bigger picture, how standards work together, as blocks building and connecting our student's learning. These are some thoughts I had from this experience.

-Life will be very different mathematically from third grade.
-Building number sense is a big goal this year and such an important foundation to lay.
-Maybe we need to start an movement for "early mathematics" as we have for "early literacy"
-Several standards can be done and connect to other standards while working on one activity.
-I think there will be more connections
-I think the notion of math units won't be so defined and things will be mixed more
-Assessments are going to be shorter, hands on, observations
-Our community of learners should learn the standards and excel beyond

My friend offered guidance but no decision making. She really let me think about my teaching and integration of content as I did 13 years ago when I had her son for first and second grade. I'm going to begin with a unit in math I'll call, Objects Around Us. This will incorporate exploration of materials and kidwatching to see what the children know and can do. It will then move to more talk about sorting and classifying and while doing that we could use 3D blocks to sort which then touches on geometry standards. I think patterning will follow because I could see shapes being used to develop and finish patterning concepts. While all of these things blend and follow each other we will be counting and working on number sense activities. We brainstormed how my calendar could look and starting with the basics and adding one additional thing as we added it to our knowledge base each month. The calendar doesn't need to be overwhelming at first. I think my own next step so mathematics isn't overwhelming, is to create I can statements to use and help involve my students in their own learning. I find I Can statements help my own understanding and are a great tool for communicating with parents.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Formative Assessment with Dylan Wiliam

Today, I was presented with a great opportunity. Dylan Wiliam came to our school district to spend the day conducting professional development to an auditorium filled with teachers K - 12. Dylan Wiliam co-authored Working Inside the Black Box and Assessment for Learning, Putting into Practice. He began his session discussing and supporting the science behind achievement. We need to improve student achievement because it has been proven individuals will have an increase in their lifetime salary, improved health and a longer life. For our society, there would be an improved economy, lower health care cost and lower criminal justice costs. He spent a great deal of time talking about where the solution is and isn't. It's not smaller high schools or K-8 schools, this has been tried. It's not curriculum reform or textbook replacement. It's not charter schools or vouchers. It's not computers or interactive whiteboards, smartboards. Studies and research, which he shared is showing it's not even the school that increases achievement. It's the classroom for which you are in, it's the teacher.

The teacher quality includes advanced content knowledge, pedogogical content knowledge, and further teaching qualifications, degrees earned. This makes up and explains about 25% and the rest is unknown. His argument and researched shared today led us to understand raising student achievement can be achieved by improving teacher effectiveness. Improving teacher effectiveness isn't going to happen over night, small improvements throughout our lives need to occur.

After laying the ground work for improving student achievement he talked about formative assessment, with the focus on short cycles of assessments. The day to day things we do to know if students are understanding and using this information to guide our plans for the next day. This can be done by teachers knowing where their students are in their learning, knowing the learning destination, carefully planning, beginning the journey, making regular checks along the way and adjustments based on the regular checks knowledge. He shared many examples for checking along the way to guide adjustments. Mini white boards are great to use because each student is engaged and you can see all their responses with a quick glance around the room. To help foster more engagement and making it more random he really likes using sticks with students names on them and pulling them out after the question has been asked for students to respond to. Another great tool to use to foster engagement is to have more than one children share their responses and then to have a child summarize what a previous child has said. Engagement increases achievement. Engagement is also increased when students are interacting with a teacher or students discussing their thinking behind choosing an answer. He also promoted students assessing their own learning through the use of colored cups or laminated colored circles. Red indicates, I need help. Yellow indicates your are in the middle a bit more discussion could help and green means you are understand.

This is just a small snippet of his presentation today. I am going to participate in a course this fall where we read this book and do lots of discussion with our peers, trying things out to improve our effectiveness and our students achievement. Some of the things I saw today were a bit challenging for kdg. students but there were lots of ideas I want to explore. Young children can reflect and think about what they are learning. I believe they will be able to do continuous small assessment throughout our learning.

He then touched on teacher learning and what I loved about this part of the day he was encouraging and guiding us to think about choice and flexibility as part of teachers changing to be more effective. He really supported teachers as individuals and what might work for one teacher might not work for another. Teacher's number one responsibility is to promote learning in our students, let's begin.

Young MacDonald

by David Milgrim is funny, entertaining, and uses technology! In this book, Young MacDonald has a farm. Just what we would except when we think of Old MacDonald, but Young MacDonald makes an invention, a cross between a computer and something used in space to transport individuals, with the flip of a switch and poof they are gone. Young MacDonald's animals don't disappear but they do change. First, he creates a HIG! As you continue to read the traditional phrasing the words are changed to this to help you figure out just what a HIG is.

"with an Oink-Neigh here,

And an Oink-Neigh there,

Here an Oink, there an Neigh,

Everywhere an Oink-Neigh.

Young McDonald had a farm,


If that didn't help you figure out what a HIG is the comical illustrations would when you saw a horse with a pig head and tail. Young MacDonald goes on to create a Deese, a Shicken, a Mucks, a Cowl, until the animals take a turn at the invention and do their own creating. Luckily, Old MacDonald and Mrs. MacDonald return home before things get too out of hand and everything returns to normal with pizza. I think this book will be a great addition to a song box of books I plan on having in my room. I also could see the children and I having fun creating our own version of the story as our word knowledge increases. I easily see someone thinking of a rabird.

A creature part rabbit and bird.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Odd Egg

by Emily Gravett was an easy book to pick up when I was shopping, I didn't even read it. This is where I began to get to know Emily as an author and discovered I love her books! Yesterday B and I read it for afternoon book time and thoroughly enjoyed it. The warm, soft illustrations are very inviting and the front cover poses questions right away for the reader. As we were reading along, we were quite impressed when we found pages staggered as stairs and as you turn the page the shorter page fits exactly to the longest page on the left with the illustration partially changing to fit the story.

The begins with all the birds having laid an egg except, Duck. Duck finds one but it is a bit unusual. It's quite large with green polka dots. As you read the stair step pages, the other bird's eggs each hatch. B and I felt anticipation because we knew the pages were leading up to Duck's egg hatching. What a surprise we got when we turned the page, truly! The ending is quite charming. I asked B if it was possible and she said yes, Duck cared for it. I think there is a message here...caring for different things is enjoyable, rewarding, and love.

She has a great website about her new books coming, games, activities, and a bio. Something of interest for all ages. Also, notice the librarian is a sketch of Emily Gravett, herself.

Monday, August 3, 2009

At the Zoo

by Douglas Florian isn't new but is new to me. I was shopping at The Half Price Book store this week, looking for some deals to help my kdg. library grow and found this little gem. I am fortunate enough to teach and live right down the road from the Columbus Zoo. My own children have grown up going weekly for short visits and I know many children in my classroom will have done the same and have connections. Two things grabbed my attention when I picked up this book. First, was the simple two to three words per page. I thought what a great mentor text for emerging writers. Secondly, the illustrations are ones children will feel at home with. The animals are drawn with a pen outline and filled in with colored pencils. I look forward in using this text for several purposes this coming school year.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


by Florence Parry Heide caught my attention when my friend Franki reviewed it here. I was intrigued with her description of the character and the picture book format with four short stories within. I know one of the things I will miss terribly about teaching third grade is reading aloud a chapter book and the interactions a class can have together. However, after checking this book out for myself with B I think there is potential to use THE ONE AND ONLY MARIGOLD as a chapter book with kindergartners, later in the year.

It took us a bit of time to read it in one sitting because we had to have discussion along the way. As I read Marigold's New Coat I thought all kids could relate to wearing the same piece of clothing day in and day out even when it's too small. I think all kids have pieces of outfits they wear all the time at some point in their life. B made a connection and felt Marigold was Purplicious. Marigold's New Hobby begins with her sharing her hobbies by writing lists. What a great little model for our young writers. Marigold's New Dress is a great little story about friendship.

I agree with Franki, I hope there is more of Marigold to come. As I searched the Internet for more information on Florence Parry Heide the author, I discovered it was published in 2008 when she was 89 years old. That is something to celebrate.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-To-Be

by Mini Grey was a great new book I discovered at the public library this week. The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-To-Be uses the traditional story of the princess and a pea with a twist. It's told from the pea's point of view. Who would of thought of the story beginning with the pea being born in the Palace Garden? Who would of thought of the pea having brothers and sisters? Who would of thought of the pea being saved from a bowl of peas for dinner, for the queen?

Well, Mimi Grey did and with such personification for the pea. Of course the prince is getting older and the queen feels he needs to find a wife. She uses her saved pea amongst twenty mattresses to help find a proper princess. Many come and sleep very peacefully through the night and wake with manners and only kind words. Until, the pea recognizes the sleeping soul one night and decides to take action. After three hours of whispering in the sleeping souls ear, "there is something large and round and very uncomfortable in the bed under you" a suitable princess is discovered the next morning. You'll have to just read this story to find out who the sleeping soul was, the person was perfect and a great twist to the traditional tale we all know.