Experiences for our Students

Saturday, December 20, 2014

     This blog post is dedicated to the great kindergarten team at Hiawatha and our AP, with a little shout out to the 5th Grade, too:  +Liliane Gelacio +Kara Wesolowski +Melissa Alper +Kirstin McGinnis +Bill Davini +Jane DeCaire +Jean O'Neil +Andrea Avila +Katie Cardelli 

     We expect a lot from our students these days.  We expect them to learn things at a faster pace, both at school and at home.  We support that learning through the great instruction that happens in our classrooms every single day.  But, we cannot control the life experiences that our students have coming to school.  Things like their exposure to nursery rhymes, reading with their family, tasting certain foods, experiences like baking, going places outside of the school walls, etc.  Those are the things that we tend to talk about, or perhaps show a picture of, but we really can't give those experiences to our students.

     Or, can we?!?!?!?

     I was talking with a 2nd grade teacher this week about moving the small moments unit further into the year, simply because they don't have shared experiences yet to write about.  She was saying that perhaps they needed to front load their field trips so that they have common experiences to pull from. She could be right about that.  Kids need to have things to write about.  They also need to understand what they are reading.  Unfortunately, some of them don't.  That's why our kindergarten staged a Goldilocks scene in their rooms earlier this year, and why our 5th graders had a Haunted Hiawatha on our stage (Videos below).  And, this week, the Gingerbread Man was loose at Hiawatha.

     It started with a lot of Gingerbread Man read alouds, with the last one being The Gingerbread Man Loose at the School.  They had gotten all their classes together, put the ingredients together for a real "giant" gingerbread man cookie with the students, and sent him off to the oven.  While he was cooking, they started to read the book below.

     In the middle of the story, they were surprised when a giant gingerbread man appeared in their room.  Banging on windows, busting through the door, and challenging them to chase him.  So, they did!  

     They chased him right into the school, where they found pieces of him leading to the office.  They burst into Mr. Davini's office, looking for the runaway cookie.

     Instead, they found a confused Mr. Davini, who had just taken their cookie out of the oven.  (Or, did he?!?!?!)  They went back to class and tasted a real gingerbread cookie, and many of them had never had gingerbread cookies before.  

    Our kindergartners did not just read holiday books this Christmas season.  They BECAME the characters in that book.  They got to chase a "real" gingerbread man.  The words, "Run, run as fast as you can.  You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man!" became more than just words on a page.  They got to be part of a shared experience that they will remember long after their kindergarten year.

     Teachers often feel like they don't have time to do things like this.  They often feel the pressure of the curriculum, and they feel the need to fill every moment of time with learning.  Well, my question is, how can learning be better than experiences like this?  As the videographer, I can tell you that this whole experience lasted no more than 30 minutes.  In 30 minutes, they heard a story, became characters in the story, and sampled the cookie for real.  THAT is the curriculum.  Nothing about that experience was random.  It was well planned out and supported those students in so many ways.  

    As we get closer to 2015, think about how you can support your students in the coming year.  Can you teach the curriculum and all the important lessons and concepts that we need to teach, but throw in some creativity and EXPERIENCES for the kids?  Can you make learning come to life for your students?  Can you use their time wisely and accelerate their learning through the gift of life experiences? 

Here is the link to the whole gingerbread experience (4 minutes):

Here is the gingerbread trailer version (1 minute): 

Here is the Goldilocks scene video:
This was the beginning of their fairy tale unit.

Here is the 5th Grade Haunted Hiawatha:
They then used this experience as a boot camp to write small moment stories.

Close Reading, Grinch Style

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

     My daughter is home with a fever today, which means I am home with a daughter with a fever.  What does one do with a sick daughter?  Go to Pinterest and make Christmas crafts together, of course.

     Her current favorite Christmas character is the Grinch.  So, we made some fun crafts together in honor of the Dr. Seuss seasonal icon.

     It started the other day with some ornaments for our tree.

     Today, we painted a paper plate brown and turned him into a reindeer, just like Max.

     Next, we found a way to make the Grinch by painting a paper plate.  (Pinterest has everything.)

     Then, we drew the Grinch and Max, his dog, following step by step directions we found.  This time, we each drew our own.  Keira was happy that we drew the same things.  Mommy/ Daughter bonding with smelly markers and dot dot markers.

     My favorite thing that Keira made, though, was her own picture of the Grinch.  She clicked on a picture of the Grinch from the ones I had searched in Google, because it was the picture of when he got his "wonderful, awful idea."

     As a literacy coach mom, I immediately thought about how my daughter close read that image.  She knew the exact moment in the story when that happens simply because of the expression on his face.  She has, in fact, noticed some differences between the cartoon version and the book.  But, most impressive to me is that she is inferring a character's feelings using illustrations and story events.  Take this conversation a few hours later:

"Mommy, why do some people hate Christmas?"

"Who hates Christmas?"

"The Grinch."

"I think it is because he didn't have love."

"But he has Max!"

"But did he really love Max?"

"He said "hating the Who's" in the movie.  I know he didn't love them.  He loves them now, though."

     Talk about character development.  That Grinch certainly develops over the course of the text.

     I love the Grinch, because it has always been a holiday tradition of mine.  But, perhaps he could mean just a little bit more.  Perhaps, it can be a door into deeper thinking with a mentor character who really leaves an impact on our students.

     On my search for Grinch crafts, I found a few fun things, and a great blog post from Scholastic, about how to actually use the text to do some close reading.  Here is the blog post.  She mentions some possible themes and social issues to explore, and gives some picture examples of annotated text from the book.

     On Fairy Tales and Fiction, they give some freebies for the Grinch.  There are some fun character activities for K-1, maybe 2nd grade kids.  Here is the link to their blog and freebies.

     This is a fun number identification coloring sheet, that I do not really think is Common Core aligned all that much, but makes the Grinch when complete.  Fun activity, not deep thinking.  Here is the link.

     I saved the best link for last.  This lady loves the Grinch AND taking photographs of her kids.  We had a conversation this week in 2nd grade about character traits vs emotions vs physical traits.  Her anchor chart is really a combination of the three things.  I suppose when asking kids, at 1st and 2nd grade, to describe a character we hope for great vocabulary, and less about which of the three categories the word falls into.  We want them to go beyond "happy."  But, using the word adjectives instead of "character traits" removes the argument about categorization, I suppose.  Perhaps that is a way to start the conversation with kids.

These images are from thefirstgradeparade.blogspot.com

     This post is really about holiday fun, mixed in with a little literacy fun.  Enjoy the season with your students and your family.

Teacher Leaders

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Teacher Leaders?

     Today I followed a Twitter Chat with ASCD about teacher leaders.  That is actually a topic I have thought a lot about recently, working with the various teacher leaders in my own school district.  I have the lucky position of getting to work with many teachers who lead others, both at Hiawatha and throughout the district in my PD role, curriculum work, the mentor program, and National Board mentoring. So many of these tweets made me think of D100 staff.  So, here are some of the highlights.  Do you see yourself in these tweets?  I do!  

How do you think the role of teacher leader should be defined?

How can admins support and empower current teacher leaders?

What are some ways that teachers can work on becoming teacher leaders?

What are some of the challenges or potential pitfalls of developing teacher leaders?

Tell us about a time when you were encouraged to be a leader, or when you encouraged someone else.

How can a strong teacher leadership structure benefit school climate?

What is the best advice you'd give to someone who wants to be a teacher leader or develop teacher leaders?

     In D100, we are blessed to have many opportunities to lead as teachers.  I am proud of the moments that I have been able to use the skills that I have to help others, but I am even more proud of the co-workers that I see every day lead others on their teams and in our building.  The things we are doing at Hiawatha fill me with pride, and none of those things could be accomplished without the drive, dedication, and perseverance of our teacher leaders.  New teachers, veteran teachers, teachers in between, all rising up and leading others with their talents.  Thank you for what you do.

     To quote @cvarsalona, "Reflective learners become the best leaders." Take time to reflect on your teaching, your students, your purpose, and your goals, and share your light with others.  We are a district full of teacher leaders, making a difference every single day for our students.  


(To see the entire Twitter chat, go to #ASCDL2L)