I have unshakable faith in children. They always show me the way. ♥

Monday, June 15, 2009

structure... taken away

Today was our school's annual Field Day. Classes start at one game and move through stations every 12-15 minutes for a little under three hours. It's exhausting. It's hot. And it's very, very fun.

This was the first Field Day in several years, though, that I didn't have fun. Even though the children had practiced some of the games in PE, even though we divided ourselves into teams of five (even with little colored yarn ties around each child's wrist to help them remember), and even with a little strategy for one team to split if there were to be four teams instead of five... Even with a practiced "two whistle" signal from my whistle, even with a map looked at (well) ahead of time... even with several different lead up days with time for any and all questions the children had...

It was a hard day.

The kids mostly had fun, I would say. Also, luckily, we started and ended with a couple of fun water-relay games, which always put a big smile on people's faces. But, personally, I was miserable for most of it. Children were getting frustrated with games and taking it out on their teammates. Children weren't showing the empathy or respect for others that they have become so masterful at this year. I spent a large portion of the time redirecting children -- redirecting, redirecting, redirecting...

In our school, we spend a lot of energy on Previewing experiences -- we talk about what it will look like, what it will sound like... we discuss and practice how we will handle things that come up that aren't desirable, we talk about how to be assertive in situations like that, and we talk about how to celebrate and share joy in ourselves and in others. With 12 minutes at each place and 2 minutes to get there, we didn't have time to do that between stations.

My class is a particularly needy class this year (I did just reread this post from the beginning of the year again) and today they only had me going through this brand new experience of Field Day with them. Looking back on today and this year as a whole (and yes, there is a glass of wine here with me as I write this), it hit me just how much routine and consistency I built into the school day for the children. Not because I'm some sort of consistency or structure guru, but because they needed it. With that structure, they were able to be incredibly successful and independent. We did a lot of work together this year; we learned and laughed and thought and wondered.

But when all that structure was taken away, even with our relationships and the strength of our community, it fell apart. It was as though we were learning it all over again.

It was a hard day.

And I do wonder... what is there *to* be done for days like this? There will always be times when a predictable routine will need to change -- and the children were just happy, relaxed and quiet at the end of the day, remembering some of their favorite times from Field Day. I don't think it's necessary or even desirable to *not* have days like this. We need them! I just wonder what additional structure can be built in to make it even more successful for everyone.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, June 11, 2009


One of my students had a fever last night, but seemed fine this morning, so his mother sent him to school, but called to let us know.

Well, by about 10:15, he looked exhausted and was burning up, so we took his temperature and it had shot up again. He just appeared at the door (the rest of the kids are in Art) with a buddy.

"I have to go home!" he told me, in tears. "But I want to stay! And learn!"

We gave him love as we got his backpack and sent him down to the clinic to wait for his mom.

I just thought... how amazing is it that kids in our school do everything they can to stay IN school, that they don't want to leave. ♥

Thursday, June 4, 2009

problem solving...

About ten years ago, when I taught Kindergarten, we opened a Conflict Corner in my classroom. It developed out of a belief that children could solve problems between them, and would if they were given both the autonomy to do so and the tools they needed.

Designating a space itself was a realization I had because several of my young lovelies were just not capable of solving a problem about the blocks if the blocks were right there. They needed to be separated from the problem in order to talk about the problem.

It was the sort of successful insight that I was so proud of having as a third year teacher. I was inspired by the ability to invent something that my children needed, simply by watching, learning, and knowing what they needed.

Of course, I was the tiniest little bit let down near the end of the school year when I discovered that it wasn't my invention after all, that classrooms in other schools had Peace Corners, Apology of Action spaces, and etc...

Ten years, two schools, and four classrooms later, I still always have a place in the classroom where children can go to solve problems. The needs of each class are different, as are the structures they need in place for the area. Some classes simply need the space, and the children are able to use and manage it with little to no support from me. Some classes need the ceremony of building an Apology of Action book, of developing the process for solving problems. Other classes, like my class this year, need a specific, but simple structure. (and how!)
This year, we have The Frog Carpet.

It's a space, right behind our classroom library, in fact, sort of in our classroom library, with a little frog carpet (ahh, we are clever titlers in our class) and a small pocket chart with sentence strips on it.

The sentence strips say:

Excuse me, ______, will you please come to the frog carpet?

When you _______, it ___________________.

I'm sorry, how can I help you feel better?

[high five, hug, special clap, short song, handshake]

These are the words that the class decided. I would have gone toward something a little more open-ended, but I mostly tried to keep my mouth shut as we talked about this, and pulled what I was hearing from the children.

I'm glad I did.

Since we put this into effect in February (much later than I should have), the incidence of: "Miz F, Marcella said/did/looked/ate/called me..." has gone down exponentially. Children use this space independently; they know that they can't use it during a lesson time (ie, at the beginning of Math), but that during a work period, it's fair game.

In classes past, I've needed a record keeping system because some children spent all of their time there, and this helped me regulate it for some of the frequent fliers. But in this class -- even with their need of this specific, almost rigid structure -- no one overuses it. In fact, I have kept an informal tally and each of my twenty-four lovelies has been there at least once. On a particularly rough day one of my students has gone four times (I counted), but my thoughts were: if he's having a rough day, and this is a tool that he has found helps him manage himself independently... well, why not?

It's kind of awesome.

NOTE: I do have a story from last week that really illustrates the power behind having a conflict space, but I also have about twenty minutes and report cards are calling my name (do you hear them?), so I shall type that up later. Peace out. ♥

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Some other glorious teachers at my school and I participated in a short online webinar several weeks ago with Katie Wood Ray. One of the things she mentioned that she's been thinking about and examining in student work recently is children's illustrations and how they can drive their writing.

I'm really looking forward to what she writes about this, because I've long found that their illustrations can be a rich, rich piece of writing. In mid-May, our class was reviewing what we'd learned about George Washington Carver. One of our learning experiences was that each child got their own copy of a book about Carver that our First Grade team wrote a couple of years ago. The children's job was to illustrate the book in a way that would let someone else who didn't know anything about Carver really learn it.

I love how different, yet detailed each of these illustrations are...

Each of these pictures is separated into two parts, with Carver studying science in one, and plants in the other. I just love the illustration of science here, with the test tube and the bubbles coming out. ♥

This student consistently likes to add labels to her illustrations -- she tells me that she thinks it helps the reader learn even more.

This one? Well, I just think the little excitement lines drawn over Carver's head in the second part of the illustration are nothing short of brilliant. I mean, it *is* exciting to study science and plants! I'll bet if Carver were to see this picture he'd agree that it's quite an accurate representation about how exciting it is to learn such things.


Yesterday, in the midst of talking about a book we'd just read, I was gesticulating wildly (as I am wont to do). Hannah watched me, then cocked her head and raised her hand, "Miz F, I saw your muscles. They're nice."

Good to know that while they're not as finely developed as those of my sister in law, or my friend (not)Angela Lansbury, or Ms. Swamp... they are still there. :)

elusive (as it were) standards...

This number begins to consume my life during the end of May. To those of you that aren't elementary school teachers, 16 is a reading level. More specifically, it's the end of first grade benchmark reading level. Yes. This number is a Big. Deal.

This brings up a myriad of insecurities and judgments as I move toward the closing of the DRA assessment window: how many children will meet or exceed the benchmark? who didn't pass? what if I had just two more weeks? why didn't they pass? did I honestly and truly do everything I could have for [insert any child's name here]?

The self-doubt is exhausting.

Case in point. Ammir. Oh, heavens, he is a glorious child. This boy has been moving along in reading this year. His effort is stellar, his connections many. Everything we've talked about this year is right up there in his brain: schema, visualizing, making connections, digraphs, consonant blends, long vowels, short vowels, quick & easy words... all of it.

It's not quite automatic for him, though. If he confronts a word he doesn't know, and someone says, "well, do you see a consonant blend? or another part that you know?" he will always find something, and nine times out of ten, he'll figure out that word. So, he has everything that he needs; he just doesn't have it automatically yet. It doesn't always occur to him to ask himself those questions.

He will, though. This will come. Things will start clicking into place and he'll make sense of things rapidly.

But, as of Friday, he was reading at a level fourteen. This, according to my school system, is not passing performance. You see, children in our school system are expected to pass or be reading on a level 16. The kicker, though? Our children are expected to pass or be reading on this level by last Friday. School doesn't end for three more weeks.

Just to throw another little piece of information into this example, Ammir turned seven a week ago. Another one of my darlings that passed the level sixteen turned seven in December. Ailanya has five more months of existing than Ammir. When one is in their thirties, five months might not seem like a big deal, but that's nearly one-seventeenth of his life. If Ammir had those extra five months, I am confident that he would be well beyond a level sixteen. And yet, even though he was born near the end of the school year, he is still expected to fit into the same little box with all of the other children.

So, that's a bit of a tangent, I know, but I think it helps illustrate my mindset. In some ways, this standard is helpful, but in other ways it's quite arbitrary. It certainly doesn't paint the rich picture of who Ammir is as a reader or as a person.

Now, I don't disagree with standards, and I don't disagree with having a measure with which teachers can consult to guide instruction. Quite the opposite. But I do think that the very act of having standards automatically brings exceptions and places where the standard isn't going to be the best measure.

This is clearly one of those cases.

If I had my druthers, I would much rather write a full page narrative about each child during each grading period and use that to communicate with families and other teachers. It would take a lot more time, yes. But it would allow me valuable reflection on every student in my classroom and their progress and development as the months have gone on.

And it would certainly give a much more developed picture of a child than a single number ever will.