Thursday, April 18, 2013

Oh no, George!

Oh no, George! by Chris Haughton had to come home with me over the weekend.  George is a dog.  The text is simple.  There is a repeatable phrase to encourage a positive shared reading experience in my classroom.  The illustrations aren't your typical realistic colors.  George is a red and purple dog.  His nose actually starts a bit red and progresses in monochromatic shades to purple.  I love the white background color for the pages, it makes George stand out.  George is like my Annie!  George must be friends with Eli my other new favorite dog book.  George is left at home to be a good dog.  George spies a cake in the kitchen.  Not only does he spy a cake, he sees a cat, and he sees dirt.  I know you can imagine what George does with these three things.  Harry his owner returns home to find quite a mess.  Harry cleans up, George says he is sorry and they go out on a walk.  While on their walk George sees a cake, a cat, and some dirt.  However, this time George has control and receives praise until he comes across a challenge that might be just too big to control.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

If You Hold a Seed

If You Hold a Seed by Elly MacKay caught my eye over the weekend because it tugged at my heart and struck me as a gentle book.  The illustrations are in hues of warm brown with muted yellow, greens, a bit of orange and blue.  I was a bit frustrated when I couldn't find out how the illustrations were done.  At times, it's a form of paint and I wonder if sometimes there is a bit of collage carefully crafted with tissue paper so it blends right in.  Patience and time are messages that came to me while reading this book.  The reader follows the life of a tree from the very beginning as a seed til it's big enough to have people sit in it.  That's a lot of time.  The little boy in the story grows as the tree grows and shares his observations of the seasons as he watches this tree.  I found myself thinking about slowing down and observing what is right outside in my yard.  At the end of the story the reader discovers the little boys wish and how it came true.  I just can't tell you this.  I do hope if you need a moment of solitude and gentleness you will find this book to enjoy for the a moment.

Monday, April 15, 2013

I Spy on the Farm

I picked up the book I Spy on the Farm by Edward Gibbs at the Literacy Connection meeting this past Saturday from our favorite local vendor Cover to Cover and fell in love.  I only read the first two pages, closed the book and kept it in my hands.  A friend watched me do this and commented that was quick.  I've gotten very fussy about the books I put in my classroom now that I teach kindergarten.  There are so many wonderful picture books.  We all know picture books however are not always easy to read.  When I find a book with simple print, patterned phrases, interesting illustrations, frequent sight words I must get it.  

I bet everyone reading this post has played the game, I Spy.  This book is just that with language and illustrations in a book format.  We just went to the farm so the topic is more than perfect for my room right now.  On the left side of each two page spread there is a circle with the eyeball of a farm animal and the phrase, "I spy with my little eye..."  On the right side of the two page spread is a cut away circle shaded the color of the animal.  The text includes a color clue and the what the animal begins with.  There is a speech bubble with the animal sound too.  The reader would make their guess, turn the page and find a delightful illustration.  The animal covers the two pages, so it is large.  The illustrations were done digitally but I would of thought with pen and black sharpie to outline the details.  We do this a lot in my room so it would be a great mentor text for this medium.  I'd have no clue how to create these digitally.  Each animal states, "I'm a ..."  

I just read the book from front to back with my youngest in fourth grade.  She enjoyed it.  The ending of this book made me chuckle right outloud.  I never expected the interactive ending for the reader.  I had fun interacting with this book.  I can't wait to use it tomorrow with my students.  One little detail I enjoyed just from a craft point of view the corners are rounded on each page, giving it a softer feel and look.

I'm so excited to discover Edward Gibbs has two more books with the same format; I Spy Under the Sea and I Spy with My Little Eye.  I also just pre-ordered I Spy Pets which will be out for the first month of school next year.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Slice of Life - Gardening is Good

When I walked my students to the buses today it was warm, the sun was out and I began planning my evening.  If I ignored the have to do and try to achieve list I  I felt the need to plant something and as I chatted with our first bus driver I started to create a vision of what this could look like.  I could start cleaning out my beds.  That seemed like the first step.  I wish I had pansies.  My grandmother use to plant pansies each year around her house on the lake.  I didn't have pansies so I started thinking I could maybe tackle the vegetable beds.  After going on our farm field trip I was feeling inspired to grow.  

I had to stop at the grocery store.  Before I got inside they had pansies!  I knew I had to do something about this.  I bought two packages of pansies and picked up a few things we needed and stuff for an easy dinner so I could plant my pansies because the reality is I can't ignore the to do or to achieve list.  

My youngest and I planted three pots of pansies.  I took out the old morning glory plants in two more planters and I emptied my kitchen compost bin.  When I was done, I felt better in general.  My other grandmother always said gardening was good for you.  Getting your hands in the dirt, creating, nurturing, designing all of these things can happen while you garden.  

I came inside, back to reality and "googled" why gardening is good for you.  CNN had an article titled just this, Why gardening is good for you.  This article elaborates on gardening helping by being a stress relief, helps achieve a better mental health, exercise, brain health, and nutrition.  Early in the article it mentions gardening as a sensory activity.  Think about all of our students who have sensory needs.  Students who need to touch things.  Students who like to do things with their hands.  I'm thinking it's time to open the sand table filled with rice that hasn't made it to our to do/achieve list of learning which makes me sad, tomorrow!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Designing Personalized Learning for Every Student

Designing Personalized Learning for Every Student is a collaborative effort, a collection of work published together by ASCD.  This grabbed my attention while reading the preface, "These contributors are now the new hybrid educators who are engaged in reinventing schools into unified systems, where all the teachers and every student contribute to the learning and growth of the community of schooling."  

Then, as I began reading the introduction I knew this book was going to provoke my thinking.  "...the real purpose of schooling for any student, no matter how able or disabled, is simple: to enable all students to actively participate in their communities so that others care enough about what happens to them to look for ways to incorporate them as members of that community."

There is one more direct quote I need to share with you to help you follow my new learning.  "A unified educational system is based on the principle that each student represents a unique combination of abilities and educational needs and deserves individual help at various times throughout schooling to achieve important outcomes."

We know student learning is the outcome from our teaching.  I think sometimes right now with a lot of changes facing us we are focusing on learning as a means of content.  This book is reminding us that learning includes relationships and information.  One way to foster relationships and gather information to help plan learning is to use an ABA - Activity Based Assessment.  In the past, I have just skimmed the surface with a get to know you/interest survey/interview.  An ABA is quiet in-depth and looks for information about the student in three areas; caring for self, family, and friends, contributing to the community, and enjoying leisure and recreation.  Something I haven't done in the past is to let the student and their parents fill out an ABA at home and send it in to me.  I love having one on one time to get to know students but I don't have the time to  learn about the range of items an ABA could find.  The information from the ABA is then used as learning is planned for each student.

In looking at conditions, opportunities, and tasks for student learning I found the chapter on curriculum design quite helpful as it talked about three decision making situations.  We have some students that need an enriched curriculum where the student is shown a usefulness for their learning and create excitement for learning.  We have some students who need an enhanced curriculum because they learn quickly and others who need it enhanced because they struggle.  While trying to figure out how to enhance a curriculum we need to understand what type of learners we are teaching.  How can we draw on their multiple intelligences  Another decision we have to make as educators is to overlap or embed the curriculum.  How can we integrate and make connections for student learning?

Other topics discussed in this book are centered around family involvement where families are co-planners and work together to help with many aspects of learning.  The examples provided here are from a kindergarten classroom.  I really enjoyed reading about these ideas.  Long range planning and weekly planning are discussed.  There is a great chapter on mixed abilities and finding balance with our instruction.  This book touches on everything.  The final chapter addresses assessment.  When talking about personalized learning assessment needs to have three components; skills and content, performance, and self understanding.  This chapter ties in nicely with formative and summative assessment thinking.  A few examples for a generic scoring rubric where all children are allowed to feel successful has me thinking about this for next year.

If you are looking for a summer professional book, I would recommend this one.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why Field Trips are Important

This is a blog post I wrote to parents today on my classroom website.  We had a field trip today to an educational, working, organic farm.  We are so lucky Stratford Ecological Center is just up the road a bit from our school.  It reminded me why it is important we take our children out of the classroom to learn.  You don't see these things in four concrete walls.


We love Stratford      Ecological Center!  What a beautiful day we had with their staff and volunteers.  We spent two hours outside in fresh air on the farm.  I  mentioned this is my favorite day of kindergarten.  It reminds me to slow down and notice.  It reminds me the little things are big things.  It reminds me children are observers and inquisitive.  For example, I watched children notice that some trees have bumpy bark and some don't.  I saw children think about leaves being different shapes and that must mean there are different kinds of trees around us.  I saw children inquire about moss.  I saw children inquire and ask if a tree that looked like two trees but are joined at the base are one tree?  There are more things I noticed and heard.  I hope your child shares with you what they noticed and observed.  

I do have to share this one story.  Sometimes taking a child into a new situation is very eye opening.  We went to the barn and a friend did not want to go in the pen with the llamas and goats.  They stayed behind with a dear grandma and watched from outside.  I tried to coax a bit but got no where.  This friend wouldn't touch less than twelve hour old baby lambs.  This friend commented they have no dogs or cats and even feeding a goldfish can be work.  This is a confident student within my room and I found all of this a bit puzzling.  Things changed quickly when it was announced we were going to see a snake.  Giggles, jumps, can I hold it? were coming at a rapid fire pace from this little friend.  I thought no way.  A little known fact, Mrs. Robek does not like snakes!  Do you know where I am going?  Yes, you do.  This friend held the snake not once but three times.  Rubbing it like I did the baby lamb.  Smiling ear to ear while I hid behind my camera.  This story is why I love today in kindergarten.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

SLO is really about growth and not...

Image found @ Google Images

SLO - Student Learning Objectives are really about growth and growing children and not meeting standards as the primary focus.  Last night I attend the second session for the class my district is offering.  I stayed after the class to review some work our teacher had us do during the class. I wanted to ask my questions then while it was still fresh. In thinking about a prospective target, I was taking a Common Core standard and rewriting it as it is stated just to get started.  We've done a lot of work in recent years with unpacking the curriculum, writing I can statements and figuring out what new curriculum is really asking and/or stating.  Everything has to connect to the standards and we are constantly asking, are students meeting the expectations?  We want students to meet expectations but I know sometimes this is limiting for many students.  It might be a narrow lens and to move learning forward we need to make that lens a wide angle.

This work however is different.  Student Learning Objects are to guide our work with students to achieve growth.  Growth is different for each child.  This is going to cause us to personalize education to achieve growth.  While we have to keep the standard expectations in perspective and strive to have all children reach that, SLO are asking us to set a plan in action where each child grows.  For some children, they grow significant amounts and may not be meeting the standard and others meet the standard easily and we have to grow them beyond the expectant standard.  Therefore our SLO goals need to include a range of learners allowing growth for the ranges of abilities in our rooms.  I think if you live in a world with value added where no one explains the little black box formula and decides for you who is growing and who isn't then Student Learning Objectives might be the answer to empower teachers.  We are going to use or improve what we are currently doing to gather baseline data, plan instruction, teach, re-asses, adjust, plan instruction, teach, always charting growth for students.  

I came home and looked over my notes again to clarify my thinking about SLO targets.  
-What content will the SLO target?
-To what related standards is the SLO aligned?
-What will you teach?
-What will students learn?
-Consider the most important skills student s need to master.
-What are the essential learnings?
-What are the important concepts or skills?

My notes said to list or code the standards so this isn't rewriting them as is.  I think I prefer the word SLO goal, in seems a bit more global.

During our conversation my teacher said you can include more than one content standard.  You want a target to stretch your children and grow your children based on what you discover about your children.  This is not a space to restate the content standards, this is to be in your own words.  I hope I didn't panic her with my misconception and learning tonight, it was just a fog from spring break.  I'm glad I took the time to stay after because it was a huge ah ha moment for me.  My students don't really have the opportunity to stay after school and ask me questions, but maybe I need to listen more on our way to specials, lunch, or recess to see if are things I need to hear to help them grow.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Slice of Life - Me in Numbers

I was going to bed.  I clicked on Cathy's blog Merely Day by Day and started reading some of her monthly slices and decided I wanted to play around with an idea she got from other slicers.  I thought about continuing to slice weekly so here I am back again.  My friend Franki talks about me as a reader, why not collect numbers about yourself?  It's important to model math more for our students and show how we use math in our lives.

Me in Numbers

1 pet rabbit
2 dogs
3 girls
4  bird feeders in my backyard and in my observation window at school
5 people in my family
6 chairs at my kitchen table
7 a hard number to connect with
8 Regie Routman books on my shelf
9 cousins including myself

4000 the address of my house
2200 the address of my first house
528 the address  for my school
21 years I have lived in OH
3 plane trips this school year
44 students in my room - 2 classes
104 my room number
3 colleges I went to
487 twitter followers
3,298 tweets posted
144 my old room number
3 schools I've taught in
2 districts I have taught in
3 adult Saint Bernard dogs in our house at one time growing up
2 liters of Saint Bernard puppies we had