Friday, December 11, 2009

5th Grade Spelling Bee

I always find pleasure in serving as a judge at the annual 5th Grade Spelling Bee, but I can honestly say, I am thrilled not to have serve as the announcer! Each year, Mrs. Phillips, does an extraordinary job in her role as the announcer as she calls each participant forward, carefully pronounces each word, and gives definitions and sentences when asked. I don't know if she feels like she's in a pressure cooker, but I know I feel it for her!

The Chets Creek youngsters that qualified last week demonstrated great ability today during the one hour spell off, and we made it to Round 6 before one student was crowned Spelling Bee champion. I am certainly proud of her accomplishment and the courage of each of the other contestants. Good luck, Jaime, in the next round of competition at the district level, you will represent us well!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

December's Book of the Month

December's Book of the Month, Santa Claustrophobia, authored by Mike Reiss and illustrated by David Catrow is a comical children's book that begins "North of the North Pole and south of the stars, lies a beautiful village called Stinky Cigars..." Principal Phillips, a former Kindergarten teacher, reads aloud beautifully and has the ability to engage the adult teacher audience. The room is full of giggles and teachers thoroughly enjoy their experience as she reads.

Each month, Mrs. Phillips ties a strategy to the Book of the Month, and this month's strategy is Fun Theory. As our forty minute session got underway, she engaged the teachers in a fun game of charades that involved parts of the text, the teachers then used their gestures throughout the text each time they heard their phrase, just an added piece of interactive fun! Then, after reading the text, she introduced the Fun Theory experiment.

She encouraged teachers, in this month of joyful celebration, to engage students and offer joyful fun experiences in their classrooms. Joyful classrooms offer rich learning environments where students enjoy active involvement and participation which leads to deeper learning.

As a coach, this strategy is very interesting to me, because it is all about the classroom culture. From my first hand experience, the classrooms that I enjoy visiting most are those that are joyful. Where students are excited about learning, where they sing, dance, and act silly, but not just for fun--for engaged learning activities. That is why I love visiting classrooms with interactive Skills Blocks, where teachers have replaced mundane pencil and paper activities with active participation from students. These classrooms don't sacrifice learning, in fact many times the learning is richer and lasts longer. I have to think if I am more engaged when I visit these classrooms, then students must be, too.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pow Wow

Kindergaten Pow Wow, the culminating activity for a Native American unit of study and annual Chets Creek tradition was held on Friday morning. The event which gets deeper and more authentic each year was a combined effort of Kindergarten teachers, paraprofessionals, parent volunteers, and our wonderful resource team. Furthermore, to enhance the week, this year, there was a special Fifth Grade connection.
Each of our eight Kindergarten classrooms studied a different Native American tribe. The tribes included the Inuit, Hopi, Nez Perce, Seminole, Sioux, Iroquois, Nootka, and Lenape.

Students researched the tribe and as a homework assignment created a cardboard cut out of a Native American to represent how their tribe dressed. Teachers, paraprofessionals, and parent volunteers created costumes for each student representing the attire of their tribe for students to wear for the day of celebration. Students gave themselves a Native American name which adorned their costume in some way.

In addition, during the unit of study students made artifacts to learn about their tribe. For example, Mrs. Alvarado and Mrs. Timmons' Nooktas made beaded bracelets, woven baskets, hunting spears, cedar bark robes, bearskin cloths, decorated headbands, and animal skin medicine bags.

Tuesday evening there was a Make & Take parent night. Families joined us for dinner and then went to their child's classroom to create a structure which sheltered their tribe. For example, Mrs. Mallon and Mrs. Dillard's students created wigwams, Mrs. Lankford and Mrs. Meissner's students created a chickee, and Mrs. Alvarado and Mrs. Timmons' students created a plankhouse.

In the state of Florida, our fifth grade standards also include the study of Native American tribes. As part of the fifth grade unit of study, students worked in groups to create dioramas to represent their tribes. Earlier in the week, the Kindergarten students visited the fifth grade classrooms for a presentation on their tribes. As part of the Family Night, the fifth grade students displayed and did oral presentations on their dioramas for families. Families received a special passport and upon completion of visiting the diorama centers went to the dining room to receive a special beaded bracelet from Chief Jumping Frog, Principal Phillips. In addition, Friday, the day of the culminating event, fifth grade students assisted by holding the flags for each tribe and roping off the area to keep students safe and the gathering area clear.

The morning of the big event, the stage had been set. The tee pee was fully assembled with the interior set for student instruction, the pavilion adorned with palm branches and full of artifacts including deer antlers, snake skins, mounted bear and wild cats, the fire had been built, and classrooms were prepared with centers to celebrate Native American foods, crafts, and artwork.

The audience including first grade students and Kindergarten families. The music sounded and the Pow Wow began. Chief Red Cloud welcomed the students and families and Chief Jumping Frog introduced each tribe as they joined us in the celebration area. Chief SingUmSong directed the music and Chief Red Cloud introduced each of the Native American dances as students danced a traditional dance. Then, Chief SingUmSong introduced two songs and dances. Chief Chets Creek followed as he beat a drum and chanted. The celebration concluded with Chief Jumping Frog sharing a story of how the tribes once lived and worked the land to survive.

After the ceremony, students spent the day in centers. They heard Native American stories and tales, saw some of the animals that roamed near their tribe, ate food their tribe may have eaten, sang songs, and created artwork out of food dyes, to name just a few.

I'm sure everyone involved including teachers, paras, parents, and students left absolutely exhausted from their day of learning and fun. I couldn't think of a more memorable culminating activity for this Native American unit of study. In fact, I have a High School son, Little Bear, and a Second grade son, Shining Moon, who participated when they were in Kindergarten. They each have fond memories of this special day and have kept their artifacts as lifetime keepsakes. Our school community provides such rich experiences for children, and for that, I am grateful.

Shared Reading

Last week, I hosted our second Vertical Content Conversation from 10-2, and our topic was shared reading. A group of ten teachers signed up to participate and our principal hired substitutes to cover their classes. Our day consisted of three demonstrations lessons, debriefs, conversation over lunch, and a text study from a chapter in Fountas and Pinnell's text, Comprehending and Fluency.

The day was very productive and teachers appreciated watching Shared Reading lessons in Kindergarten, First Grade, and Fourth Grade. (To read more about the lessons, please visit Timmons Times) They discovered many similarities and discussed the differences across grade levels, they pilfered implementation ideas, and grappled with how best to implement shared reading more often in their classrooms. They talked about shared reading ideas for Skills Block and Readers' Workshop, and in other content areas. They laughed together, questioned, and perhaps most importantly, bottom floor and top floor colleagues built relationships with one another-not an easy task with such a large faculty.

While teachers observed the lessons, they jotted notes on a recording template which asked them to think about what shared reading is, what shared reading is not, artifacts to support shared reading, and implementation ideas I have for my own classroom. We debriefed their observations and their conversation confirmed that these types of vertical learning experiences are valued by our staff.

To make the text study meaningful and connected, as stated earlier, I selected a chapter from Comprehending and Fluency. I grappled with whether to have teachers read this chapter in advance, or to integrate the reading into our day. I ended up deciding they should see shared reading first and then they would get more out of their reading. I knew we wouldn't have enough time or patience to sit and read the whole chapter, so I took ten questions from the chapter, color coded via highlighter each question, and assigned each participant with a question. I gave the participants the colored highlighter that went with their question, asked them to highlight the answer, and be prepared to share. The conversation was focused, shared from many speakers, and the momentum seemed appropriate. I also like the fact that these teachers can walk away with a resource usable for reflection and lesson building in the future.

I enjoy these days, because of the observation, dialogue, and reflection. And, the fact that it is a captive audience. The invitation is extended to all teachers advertising the topic so each learning leader in attendance has a desire to learn more, essential to the day's success. I look forward to more days filled with Vertical Content Conversation.

(On a side note, if you are going to watch the shared reading lessons, I encourage you to watch them all. Each of the teachers had great ideas that can be implemented regardless of the grade level you teach.)

Kindergarten Shared Reading

K - Shared Reading - Mallon Dillard 10-09 from Melanie Holtsman on Vimeo.

First Grade Shared Reading

1st Shared Reading McLeod 10-09 from Melanie Holtsman on Vimeo.

Fourth Grade Shared Reading

4th Shared Reading - Nash 11-09 from Melanie Holtsman on Vimeo.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Day of Learning

One of the things I admire most about our school is the focused attention taken on learning from others. We are a school community who embraces the culture of making teaching transparent and learning visible. We are not afraid of observing others, or inviting them to observe us. We welcome the opportunity to get and give honest feedback, and reflect on our classroom practice. Because of this unmistakable culture of observation, dialogue, and reflection, we move instruction and student learning forward each year.

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a day of learning with the Second Grade Math & Science Team. The agenda focused on Math in the morning and Science in the afternoon, and the greatest portion of our day was set aside to observe in classrooms and then meet to debrief and have conversation about what we observed. We asked questions, compared what we saw to our own practice, and then brainstormed as a team how to move the instruction forward.
We began with a 15 minute observation of EveryDay Counts Calendar Math in Karen Morris' classroom, and then stayed for her 60 minute Math Workshop. Teachers observed Karen going about her regular classroom instruction and jotted notes as they observed. They saw how impeccable Karen's rituals and routines were established, how flawlessly her students transitioned, and they commented on her incredible wait time. They also remarked, in debrief, about how Karen never was satisfied with an answer, but always asked why, and how strategically she pulled students during Work Period for small group instruction.
Interestingly, some of the teachers had already taught the lesson they were observing and others had not. This made for interesting conversation in debrief, not only about the content of the lesson, but also about the little nuisances of teaching, like the fact that Karen had cut out the geometric shapes and had them on the board making it easy for the shapes to move as she explained the game rather than having to introduce the lesson from her document camera.
The 2nd Grade teachers were very interested in watching Karen, in particular, because Mrs. Morris' is a math teacher with experience in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade at Chets, and her insight as a 2nd grade teacher related to preparing kids for future years, is of great interest to this group of teachers.
After Mrs. Morris' lesson and debrief, we went out to lunch. We had conversation about our families, our interests, and about school. We strengthened our relationships and spent quality time in fellowship.

In the afternoon, we dedicated our time to learning in Science. The team decided to observe in Patricia Wallace's classroom because last year Patricia was a Grade 5 Science teacher, and once again, the Second Grade teachers are intrigued by the similarities and differences across grade levels. We observed Mrs. Wallace teach the first two E's of the 5 E model, Engage and Explore using a Sink or Float Science lab. Teachers noted how well her students transitioned from the lesson to lab stations, the organization on the part of the teacher to have everything prepared in advance for the lab, how independently students moved through the lab sheet, and how well the student's teams worked together. They commented about Mrs. Wallace's facilitation of the lesson during Work Period and her depth of questioning without giving away the answers. In debriefing, the team inquired about Mrs. Wallace's process for planning for this lesson and others, and asked whether she would change anything the next time she did this lab.
I observed teachers jotting notes, asking for a copy of the lab sheet, and discussing how they were going to tweak the lab to meet the needs of their students. The watched, reflected on their practice, and pilfered new ideas for to improve their own instruction.

The rest of the day was spent on Science content learning in the Administrative Conference Room.

No matter how many of these days I participate in, and it has been too many to count, I always leave thinking that the day was productive and the learning taken away valuable. I also know that practice changes exactly where it needs to in order to move student learning forward--in the classroom at the instructional level.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Email Coaching Doesn't Quite Capture It

Each month I have to turn in an Activity Report that demonstrates exactly how I spend my time. The tool is a little time consuming, as I've complained in the past, but it really does give our district and school board a pretty good idea of coaching activities and whether they are getting any bang for their buck for funding coaches. (If that is how they are using the tool. I'm going only on an assumption.)

Anyway, as I try to capture exactly how I spend my time, I am trying to be as completely accurate as possible. I am confident that I capture the large items like Teacher Meetings, Vertical Alignment Content TDE's, lesson observations, and Curriculum Leadership Councils, etc...But, I realize that I haven't been able to give all the small detail that would give someone a more comprehensive look at my job. For example, I have email correspondence marked about an hour each day. But, I haven't found a successful way to capture the detail in that. Listing those activities individually would take me forever, but they are important. In an hour of email correspondence, I can read a new teacher's observation lesson plan to offer suggestions, read and edit a Standards Based Bulletin Board, make a plan for lesson observations, download the Social Studies state standards into a word document and email it to a Kindergarten teacher, respond to visitor requests, and edit an assessment. Email correspondence just doesn't capture the essence of the tasks, but I don't know how else to report it. Email coaching just doesn't cut it either.

Another common problem I encounter is logging the dialogue that naturally occurs with a teacher. I've toyed with reporting it as Deskside Coaching, but again that really doesn't capture the essence or depth of conversation that continually happens. No one would know that we discuss a teacher's struggles and successes, talk about how to motivate a struggling writer, or have dialogue about professional resources where they can pull ideas for lessons, to name just a few.

I guess, it doesn't matter so much how I log it, as long as I know I'm doing the work of a coach. However, I continue to regret that my Activity Report doesn't capture exactly what I do, because I do spend time logging my time. So, if you coach and have to log your time, I'd love to hear how you report your time so that it accurately captures what you do. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Developing Young Scientists

Each year, our professional development site, Schultz Center for Teaching and Leadership, conducts a year long pd session in Science, The Academy of Science. We have three Chets' teachers who participate in this learning, and many teachers who support the learning by offering live demonstration lessons that are videoconferenced in to the training.

Second Grade teachers, Ashley Russell and Melissa Ross, invited participants to watch their 5 E model lesson on matter. Melanie Holtsman recorded the video at Chets Creek to make sure it was available on our Setting the Standard Ning for our CCE teachers to view. The lesson was planned using the 5 E model and Day 1 offers the Engage, Explore, and Explain portion. The participants watching virtually applauded the teachers for their lesson, and those watching it on the ning are equally as impressed. When you watch, I'm sure you will agree that these teachers are turing their young students into curious scientists.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Science Demonstration Lessons

Last year, teachers filled out a professional development survey, and we discovered that the professional development sessions they found most helpful were related to differentiated technology. Teachers liked having the option to select their session and meet in small groups. So, we knew we had to continue that practice and find a way to offer more.

It didn't take long for visionary dayle timmons to come up with an idea. She thought we could choose a topic and invite teachers on a voluntary basis to participate in a day of lesson observation and debrief. Principal Susan Phillips agreed to secure substitutes and give it a try.

Per our School Improvement Plan and based on data, science is an area of focus for us this school year. So to begin with the differentiated offering, we found it fitting to focus on the 5 E model, and two of our Science Council members agreed to invite observers into their classrooms. Last Wednesday from 10 am to 2 pm, we offered our first session and ten teachers joined us for observation lessons and debriefs.

Rachel Bridges and Heather Correia co-taught a first grade lesson for their colleagues. We observed Day 2 of a 4 day lesson sequence. The four day lesson focus was for students to know that a push or a pull can change the motion of an object and for students to demonstrate using pushes and pulls to change the motion of 4 different objects. In addition, students needed to be able to record the motion of each object in their science journals using the words "push" or "pull."
On Day 2, observation day, Rachel and Heather's colleagues were able to watch the Explore portion of the lesson sequence. Students observed four objects and recorded in their science journal their predictions for how the objects would move. Then, during Work Period, students worked in pairs to explore how their objects moved and record their data in their science journals. To close, students returned to the floor to share their explorations as a whole class. Some students used the words push and pull, as well as fast and slow. Day 3 of the lesson will take the learning into the Explain portion of the 5 E model.
After the lesson, Rachel joined the group in the conference room for a debrief. The group was thoroughly impressed with the classroom learning environment, the young students use of science journals, and the teacher's implementation of the science word wall to aid student learning. They applauded the teachers for introducing journaling and a 5th grade teacher shared her connection with student's journaling in Grade 5. The observers asked questions, shared their ah ha moments, and immediately selected ideas they wanted to implement in their own classroom.

After the group enjoyed lunch together, we headed to Lynn Patterson's Fourth Grade classroom or another lesson. The students were trying to answer the question, How does the movement of the Earth affect the position of the Sun? Observers were able to watch classroom instruction on the first two E's, Engage & Explore. The Engage began with the teacher showing students photographs she had taken of a sunrise and a sunset with captions. They discussed what could be causing a change in the position of the sun and students recorded their hypothesis. Next, they quickly reviewed their materials and a procedure lab sheet before students set off to conduct a lab to explore the guiding question.
Students, in the lab, used models of the Earth and a flashlight to set up the scenario of a sunset and sunrise with the emphasis on the correct tilt and positions of the continents. Students worked in pairs to generate conclusions and record their findings. The lab sheet then provided guiding questions related to geography and required students to study maps in their Social Studies books to answer additional questions. Students gathered for Closing Session afterward and most students concluded that the sun appears to rise in the east and set in the west each day due to the counterclockwise rotation of the Earth on its tilted axis. Students also shared their learning related to the other questions.

After the lesson, the observers debriefed the lesson in the conference room. They all agreed that the students had adequate guidance to get started on the lab, but that the majority of the session required students to be independent learners. The teacher facilitated instruction as she visited pairs around the room, but the students were expected to read and follow the procedures to work their way through the lab. All students were on task and recording their findings. The observers were also impressed with the teacher's purposeful integration of geography, and having the conclusion in cloze form to get the students to think more deeply about their conclusions.

The teachers who participated appreciated the opportunity, raved about their colleagues classrooms, and each had ideas they wanted to implement into their own teaching. As a coach, I took note of those teachers who seemed eager to share and asked for further opportunities, as well as those that remained more timid. I think that one of the most important learning opportunities came when there were ah ha moments from intermediate teachers visiting the primary classroom, and primary teachers in the intermediate classroom were priceless. An element of the day that I hope we continue. I plan on follow up discussion with these teachers individually to find out which new ideas grew for them out of this experience and which ones they've successfully implemented in their own instruction.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Reading the Room

Today is Monday, the start of the fifth week of school, a time when rituals and routines are firmly established, and the steady hum of the school engine can rhythmically be heard. Which makes it a good time for me to just walk the building to observe instruction in classrooms. What are the students doing? What are the teachers doing? What artifacts are in place to map out the learning that is occurring? Many times, I question kids, read their writing, watch them participate in a math lesson, or have them walk me through their Science journals. But today, instead of doing that, I simply wanted to see what I could learn about teaching and learning from the posted artifacts in the classroom. What would I learn in a classroom where the kids and students weren't present?

I went to a departmentalized Grade 2 English Language Arts classroom while the students were at resource and the teacher was out of the room. What I learned is that you can find out a lot about a classroom by simply reading the room.

What I learned, in this particular classroom, is that there is an established Skills Block. Students have been learning high frequency spelling words and the language skills like nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Students have also reviewed punctuation. There is evidence of multiple presentation styles including embedded strategies in songs. In writing, students are working on Personal Narratives. They've learned about the story elements including how to make their seed idea grow, and how to sprinkle details throughout their writing. They've also learned how to write leads that engage the reader. In addition, students have learned editing skills to make their writing stronger. Students' writing samples are proudly displayed in the classroom and on the bulletin board in the hallway. And, they student has work in their writing journals tucked neatly in their desks.

Furthermore, it is very apparent that the teacher has provided an environment to grow an avid reader. There is an ample classroom library which includes a leveled library, genre library, and guided reading library. There are comfy reading nooks for students to relax and enjoy a good book. They've learned the habits of what good readers do, and have learned what a good listener looks like. The teacher has taught them the procedures for listening to a read aloud. Completed read alouds are displayed on a chart. The students are learning to identify the main idea in a passage or in their independent reading book, and are keeping book logs of the books they've read. I also noticed that the teacher has assessed students using the DRA 2, because on one table in the room the teacher has sticky notes with student's names listed on a pile of Guided Reading books. So, I assume her small groups will get started soon. The room is print rich. Vocabulary words, like contagious and distraction, are displayed on the word wall next to the Text Talk read aloud stories. In addition, students have an individual book bag with books that are on their reading levels.

I'm sure you would agree that reading the room is a valuable tool from the coaching perspective. You don't need long to get a snapshot of teaching and learning. And, it can be a valuable learning tool for other teachers. Visiting a colleague's classroom can inspire an "ahhh haaa" moment that may give you a fresh new idea.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009


FAIR, I know the word conjures up memories of ferris wheels, pony rides, cheesy games, cotton candy, and funnel cake, but all over the state of Florida, Reading teachers have learned that FAIR, in the educational realm, actually stands for Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading. A Reading inventory developed by the Florida Center for Reading Research given statewide to diagnose and prescribe instruction.

As you can imagine, with any new assessment comes training for the staff and first time implementation glitches. As mentioned in my last post, this training occurred in our last Early Release session. So, the next step after training was implementation. To support the teachers in Second Grade, I offered my services all week. On Monday morning, I watched dayle timmons model a FAIR assessment by administering it to a student while a small group of us watched. Then, we debriefed to make sure we understood the process.

Next, I dove in by modeling the FAIR with a student while several teachers watched me and then I watched as they administered a few. In K-2, this is a one-on-one test that also requires the states PMRN site to be up and running properly. In 3rd-5th, it is a whole group assessment administered in a computer lab. So, as our technology coach assisted in the tech lab, I went classroom to classroom to support classroom teachers' assessment work.

To our surprise, the week got off to a good start with relatively few computer glitches, and we began to feel confident that perhaps this FAIR assessment was going to work. Then, the major problems began Thursday morning. When we tried to log in, the PMRN site simply didn't work.
We waited about an hour and the issue was resolved. But, on Friday, not one student was tested, because the site was down all day. The testing window is a month and I'm sure our classroom teachers will be able to complete the assessments, if the computer issues on the PMRN site get resolved. If they don't, I'll be disappointed, because as I look at the reports, I think the teachers will get valuable information for planning instruction.

My advice, for teachers, at this point would be, to have a back up plan. Teachers will have to go in to each day with a plan to administer FAIR, but if it doesn't work, they'll need a back up plan. I know this is frustrating for teachers, but I also know they don't want to waste any classroom instructional time. In addition, I would caution teachers throughout the state that each student's test looks somewhat different because it follows a different path based on the student's needs. I administered three assessments in a row on Wednesday in about 25 minutes, but the next child took me 35 minutes, and when the computer kicked me off, I still wasn't done. I'm hoping that when I log back in on Monday, the student's data will be saved. However, some of my colleagues have logged back in to find vanished data. I know that there will be frustrations including time and computer issues, but I'm hoping that with firmly established rituals and routines, and tons of patience on the part of teachers, they will see the value in administering an assessment that gives them accurate information to prescribe instruction. I'm also hoping educators doing the computer lab scheduling don't simply give up, because they have to continually rebook students into a lab.

My advice, for coaches, at this point would be, dive in and help. Going classroom to classroom and assisting teachers has taught me a lot about the assessment itself, and about the problems teachers may encounter. It also has given me information that may assist in offering support to struggling students. I hope that the teachers I've assisted have felt better having someone standing beside them to get them started. Do I have tons of other things to get done? Absolutely. But, none as valuable as offering classroom support to teachers in their time of need.