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.