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

Monday, May 11, 2009

job advantages...

I imagine that a disadvantage to having a job where you go to schools dressed up as children's book characters might be wearing that big, stuffy costume. There is also the limited vision and movement from the costume as you try to act out the book while someone else reads it.

Then again, when you're all done... you get to hug 100 children.

So, all in all, maybe not such a bad deal after all.

No, it wasn't me in the costume. But part of me wishes it were.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

digging in the dirt...

This morning I finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. This is the third time I've read it, but only the first time I've finished it. As with all writers that I love (and Kingsolver tops my list), I don't like finishing books because then... well, then they're over. To my mind, if I don't finish the book, then it's not actually done. Strange logic, I know, but it somehow works for me.

After breakfast, I went outside to attack our little sidewalk flower garden. After an April full of showers -- you should see the first grade April weather chart! -- and last week's insane amount of rain, the little garden was definitely worse for the wear, and in need of cleaning, pruning, and weeding. All of these I know very little about and could use a bit of a mentor in this area. It makes me long for my grandfather, who was an accomplished gardener. For now, though, I'm making it up as I go. We'll see how that works out.

As I dug out seed pods that had fallen from the tree above, pulled weeds, and tried to prune off bits of the dianthus plants that seemed spent or too long or just in need of a trim, I encountered bugs and spiders and earthworms (two!). Each of them made me smile, and I admit that I laughed in glee at the first earthworm. As I blundered through the garden I kept thinking: My students need to see this.

I think there is nothing more important in learning about life and life cycles and interdependence than to participate in it.

Now, planting pea seeds in clear cups so we can watch the plant and the roots is a good start. Believe me when I say that there is nothing more resonant than first graders discovering that their plants have popped up above the soil and the roots are growing down!

But, pea seeds in a clear cup inside the classroom don't ever get to interact with worms, and neither do six year olds. I want to build and cultivate a garden with my students. I want them to dig around in the dirt, to turn it, to weed it, to watch things growing above it. I want them to harvest greens and tomatoes and herbs and then make food that we've grown together. This makes me want a modified calendar school so we can be in school during part of the August harvest, or to at least have a garden already going that incoming students can help harvest, knowing that their first grade predecessors made the delicious foods available for them.

How, though?

I first would have to have more knowledge of gardening myself. A good friend of mine introduced me to square foot gardening, which sounds like it would work pretty well. We'd still need to build the frame, acquire soil & compost & seeds, and figure out how to keep it tended during the summer time when we're not in school.

None of these obstacles are insurmountable. In fact, I know it's very possible. I just need to find enough people willing to put in the time with me, to build it into the structure of our school so that it becomes sustainable and not simply a one person job.

Does anyone have experience with gardening at school? How did you/your school make it happen and how did you make it sustainable?

Or... does anyone want to come here and do it with me?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

poetry work stations...

Jenny wondered about some of the literacy work stations in our class that connect to the poem we learn that week. I've uploaded two pictures to show examples.

This one is our Pocket Chart Work Station. It's pretty simple: pocket chart, basket, pointer, envelopes. On a 9x12 mailing envelope, I glue a copy of the poem and then laminate the folder. I write the poem on sentence strips, then cut apart the words and put them into the envelope. At the work station, children have the choice of reading poems directly from the charts or putting together the poem and then reading it. This is a new(ish) station, as I haven't done it in many years. What I hope to do better next year is enlist the help of the children for other I can... ideas for this station. (example: include some Word Study as well...)

This station is very preparation heavy, but all on the early end. Once each poem has been made, it doesn't need to be made again, though words get lost every once in a while and need to be replaced. Here's how I make the tools for this station: First I print a copy of the poem (generally in 18 or 20 point font, Comic Sans or Century Gothic). I cut apart every word in the poem and glue them on brightly colored card stock. I also make a smaller copy of the entire poem for reference and glue that on the card stock as well. I laminate it (or cover it all with clear packing tape), then pour myself a glass of wine, for the next part is seriously tedious. I cut out tiny pieces of adhesive velcro (the scratchy hook side) and affix them to the back of each individual, laminated word, then cut each word out. See? Tedious. All the velcro words go into a ziploc bag along with the smaller copy of the poem that's been mounted and laminated.

I've made a couple of velcro boards on scrap pieces of cardboard by affixing adhesive velcro (the soft side this time) across it in strips. Though, really a piece of felt or a carpet square could serve just as well. In fact, we always use a carpet rectangle (ours are not squares) as the base for this station because it lets the kids spread the words out and keeps the words from sliding off the table. This is our Poetry Work Station.

The kids also get their own copy of the poem on paper that they illustrate and put into a binder. We call that work station Poetry Binders. There are many other options: putting a selection of poems on acetate for an Overhead Projector station, recording a selection of six or seven recent poems (or having the kids do so!) for use at the Listening Work Station, even creating mini stick puppets to go along with a poem and putting them into a Drama Work Station. All of these I've done before, but don't happen to be doing this year for various reasons.

Question to readers: what other literacy work stations do you use that you find the children enjoy and get a lot out of?

an organizational retro-fit...

In our class, we learn a new poem every week. Some of them are songs, some of them are related to curriculum, and some of them are just for fun! We use these poems for a lot of learning experiences during the week, and the poems show up in different literacy work stations.

Organization of these poems has been a difficult, but over the past few years, I finally got smarter and hung the poems on hangers. That way, they're more accessible to the children and they're easier to store.

The problem? Once we get more than eight hangers on the chart stand, it's easy for them to slip off the edges as the children flip through.

So, here was my solution: masking tape a small block to the top of the chart stand so the hangers hit the block and don't slide off. Useful? Yes. Elegant? No.

Has anyone else faced a similar problem? How have you solved it? (Or, for those of you reading that may not have experience with this -- do you have any suggestions?)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

little notes...

There are some times where I'm working with a group of students and there is a Stop Sign hanging behind me. That means: Do not disturb unless there is emergency blood or vomit. (the very important corollary was added by the students). Now, there is also a very real six year old need to share Very Important Information like: "Miz F, my eye hurts!" or "Miz F, I can't find my pencil." at the exact moment that they become aware of this information. Quite regularly, my lovely students would have these important things to share with me right when I was in the middle of working with other children.

So we made a little plan.

Now we have a little basket of papers on my desk that say: "Note to Miz F" with a cute little frog on it. The purpose of these papers change as the year goes on because children use them for a new reason and then that one catches on, too.

The great thing, too, is that I already had the template for these notes on my computer. I've used them in my classroom for many years, but I generally don't bring them out until our class discovers a need for them. They don't even know they exist! But because their writing skills (and the desire to write) develop so rapidly over the year, first graders almost inevitably suggest having a place to write me notes.

This one showed up in my box this week.

Ms. F, The "I" in April in the Poetry Work Station is missing. Love, J...

EDIT: I find it!

I just adore it, particularly because she went back and edited it when she found what she thought was missing. Ahhh, first graders. I do so enjoy them. ♥

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

work vs. fun...

Apparently this sitting outside and reading thing has become, well... a thing.

One night last week I was sitting outside after dinner, reading again, when my husband poked his head out of the window to see how I was doing. I held up my book and told him that it was still completely awesome, and that he should grab a book and come out and join me, but he said:

"I can't; I have to go upstairs and do a bit more for work."

"No!" I said. "No work! You're not allowed to do anything for work... um, I mean... only if it's fun!"

He laughed at me and I glared at him in mock-indignancy, "What??"

"I saw what you did there."

"What did I do?"

"You realized that you, too, were doing work, so you couldn't very well tell me not to..."

"I did nothing of the sort."


Yeah. Except I totally did.

In my defense, though, it was a really good teaching book that I was reading...

Monday, May 4, 2009

more structure...

One of my first educational mentors once told me that he thought a very important aspect of teaching was becoming a "professional child watcher." Now, his language was most likely far more eloquent than mine (it usually was), but it still rings true on a very regular basis.

I've mentioned before how deeply my class this year has challenged me, how the children have taught me so many things and reminded me of others.

Their behavior over the past couple of weeks has made me sit back and reevaluate some of the things I've usually thought. When my students and I build our classroom community together throughout the year, I always think backwards. I envision where I want them to be, what I want the different learning and social times of the day to look like, what I want it to sound like -- I enlist this insight from the children as well.

Then I move from the goal back toward the beginning. I think: what structure do I need to put into place now that will enable us to get to our goal? I think about the structure that needs to be there to guide us all, structure that can be taken away as children take on more responsibility, more independence.

What I don't think I've envisioned so well is that the same thing is just as important for the end of the year. As we head into the last six weeks of school, it brings up emotions and insecurities and excitement for all of us. My principal describes the end of the year fidgetiness and snippiness as: "a family that's been on vacation together for too long."

Maybe what I've been missing in my evaluation and planning is the sense that structure within the classroom needs to be fluid, it needs to be able to ebb and flow as needed. Right now my class is showing me that they need more structure -- not in every area, certainly, but that they need just a bit more from me.

And if they're doing me the privilege of showing it to me... well, who am I not to oblige?

[NOTE: I would be remiss if I didn't point out this great post by Chip Wood where he mentions the very same thing, though with many more concrete suggestions. I do so adore learning from other educators. ]