Supports For Good Teaching and Learning

I have several unpublished posts for this blog. That’s part of the beast for reflection in blogging. Now there is a blogging challenge put on by the folks of #Kinderchat. What a great opportunity it presents for editing the older piece and getting it out there. So thanks to Amy and the rest of the #kinderchat community for presenting #Kinderblog14.

I had a real blast teaching the science based curriculum that I created for the year.  The children were really engaged and the cross curriculum worked splendidly!

Even with all the good news, I know that it was not enough to satisfy my needs as an educator.  We all operate a bit differently and I am no exception. I finally got the IWB I had been whining about for years. What I didn’t count on was the challenge in making the system of tools work together with ease and practicality.

In an ideal world, the learning would be captured quickly and efficiently by having tech tools at the ready and doing what they need to do. Not the case! I couldn’t keep the laptop (a refurbished Mac) connected to the internet and the linking was slower than my old iPhone.  Later in the Spring, a newer hub was added that gave me a better signal but dropped me whenever it was idle which was often.  Kindergarten kids aren’t inclined to wait around minute after minute for me to get the material up and running. They also couldn’t get to record the audio and video of what they knew. Updates are rarely done on the equipment and I give too many hours in prepping them so I get behind. I miss that presentation piece.

In the old days, I used my PC and an attached webcam but apart from the minimal bandwidth and the old tech, the kids were able to regularly log on and present their newly acquired knowledge.

In many schools, students have a set of laptops, or better yet iPads, in each classroom. We all know how adept kids are about using technology, and a dedicated iPad in the hands of a kid can really be a rich and active experience. They demonstrate, collaborate, record with audio or video, and learn the important life skills associated with online learning. The posts in our feeds each day detail the wonderful apps that are available and making the learning more accessible.

We are an underfunded public school and the town defeated an override request which meant layoffs and zero funding for classrooms. To put it in perspective though, Massachusetts is highest in student ranking and spending at $13,361.Being third from the bottom is probably still higher than many other schools.

I think we may very well move lower on the per student funding charts from our already abysmal third from the bottom (for schools of our demographic) to an even lower spot. One of the things eliminated (along with several teachers) is the 1/2 time tech support – 1/2 time custodian. So about those technology needs…

Good Reading: “The Disturbing Transformation of Kindergarten”

Screenshot (25)I found this article by Wendy Lecker in my feed this morning and it took a round-about way of getting there. I will credit @JonFines and Twitter with the first sharing. It was then saved to the #kinderchat Daily which is aggregated for me and shared with a wider audience. I read the piece and saved it to Scoop.it/kindergarten which is my own curation of “finds.” The latest scoops appear in the sidebar of this blog.

Enough of the source information. The important thing here is I have experienced this disturbing transformation of kindergarten first hand.

We have parent teacher conferences going on now and I am struck once again by the consequences of too much rigor on all students. To boil things down into a nutshell of my own reflection…

  • … because some children can read, construct ideas, think mathematically, write, explain, all children will be expected to work hard toward that end.

This one size fits all doesn’t work. Some children appear to be smarter while others appear to have delays. That is just not the case. That boy who had no preschool and turned five a few days before the cut off date should not be expected to read to level D if he hasn’t bloomed yet, if he hasn’t made the vital connections that signal he is ready for rigorous instruction. He will struggle, lose confidence, get remedial help to push him along, and maybe more importantly, he won’t be doing what he needs to do to reach the readiness point on his own.

Next to that boy is another who came almost 6, had preschool, is thinking like an older kid and is less distracted because he can stay with the program. He will take the rigor with more ease, appear to be almost gifted because he can read a bit already, knows all his letters and sounds, counts to 100, and is even physically taller.

It is not a level playing field. Why can’t we go back to teaching students from where they are and not grouping them all in one basket? Why can’t the first child get the chance to develop skills at his own pace and not feel less of himself because he can’t read?

 

Science In Kindergarten

The Next Generation Science Standards are still in the works but I have rolled with them as is. The State of Massachusetts has yet to adopt them formally. I am excited to be teaching a science based curriculum. The other subjects integrate beautifully.

The past couple of weeks, we have looked at Simple Machines and the children have enjoyed the “play” aspects. We worked specifically with inclined planes, wedges, and levers. The play involved moving furniture, building inventions and structures and lifting heavy things. It was a delight hearing the children use the vocabulary during their Choice time.

Bringing the learning to the next step engaged students in the engineering and technology piece of the NGSS. Here is a class book of the simple machine inventions that students created.

Week In Writing

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I am eager to write a post today as it’s been a while since my last one and I feel the passion for sharing my practice. Coming up with a focus is at issue though. What are some of the things I could reflect on?

  • recent class assessments on narrative writing and clear expectations for kindergarten writing
  • using online math programs
  • plugging up the holes in my instruction (hey, we all have them!)
  • developmentally appropriate practice and why it is given short shrift
  • what to share with parents so they feel “in the loop”
  • new experience – Student Teacher on board for the first time

Iwriting-color think I really attacked this week with energy and greater focus. I was able to complete the kindergarten writing assignment / assessment so I will have artifacts for our district wide professional development sessions next week. I used the EGUSD rubric or matrix to assess learning to this point and found specific areas for instruction. Most visible is the need for learning punctuation, spacing, and the proper use of upper and lower case letters.

Sadly the assessment never asks for demonstration of a writer’s voice. That is a critical piece and is sorely lacking. It has been sacrificed to conventions and the more technical aspects of writing.

We are at a critical place in student writing when we ask them to share their thinking in kindergarten. There are delicate seeds of interest being planted and the students’ needs are quite evident. In my opinion, it is far better for them to tell the story in their own words, with passion and expression, and more challenging vocabulary. But by having them “write” the story with conventions as the primary focus, we put a pin in the balloon of interest and passion.

Students avoid challenging expression and usually lose track of their message as they break down phonemes and try to print them. They settle for a sentence or two that is all too often flat and less interesting. It is hard work and the message gets lost too easily.

The pre-writing experience I give them is much more exuberant. I have a display of icons on a white board. There is a smiley face for Who, a star for Where, a sneaker for What happened, and a heart for a personal Reaction. The icons help the students to target their message with enough detail to have a clear story.

The pre-writing process – I invite someone to tell us a story. As they stand in front of their friends sharing their thinking, I put a check mark under each of the icons when they hit that piece in their story. When they are finished, they turn around and see the display. Did they cover everything? Did they have lots of check marks? Are there any check marks missing? They can quickly revise the story to include those.

Now they take the writing paper to their seats. The icons are at the top of the page for easy reference. They try to write the letters and sounds for the words they want and they put checks under the icons as they go or when they re-read.

I conducted the writing assessment sessions in 4 small groups of 3 – 5 students, all of similar proficiency. Teacher help is quite limited during these assessments. Our district team of K teachers established quite clearly how the session would go from start to finish. This included a wrap-up where I pointed to each icon and asked if they included all of them.

We have a handful of children who can keep the flow of print going, but most students lose focus, as well as interest, after a short time. There is rarely any spacing, proper use of lower case, and no one has used any punctuation. More focused teaching during interactive writing and writer’s workshop will help that.

During the assessments, many of the children lost interest after a short time. A few needed all of the text written for them but this can actually mean a better story (writer’s voice) and a happier experience. Those students were encouraged (one-on-one) to contribute letters for sounds they recognized whenever they could but notes were taken saying it was not done independently, so no proficiency. Many of those who worked alone were easily distracted by a variety of challenges, including fidgety peers. Hey it’s kindergarten!

I know the students will grow and change over the coming months and they will become much more relaxed risk takers when it comes to putting words on the paper. It happens every year. They will have a better handle on the word walls, letter sounds, and sight words for a more fluid experience. Until that time, I will encourage them and share some student writing each day in a debriefing. That will help them build more confidence knowing that their work is “good enough” for their audience.

 

 

 

Hello There Parents! New Site Alert!

Parents can access the up to date class news via the new site I created for that purpose. It nests within the school website under “Classrooms.” You can also go right to the WordPress site itself for the clearest reading. Click on the image below. Some of you may have arrived here via a subscription so why not subscribe to the new site.

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