Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Word Walls

What is the first thing that pops into your head when I say--word wall? Did you envision a list of high frequency words assembled neatly under their beginning letter on a long abc...xyz chart in a classroom?

That is actually the most typical visualization, however it is only one type of word wall. The mental image you created of a spelling word wall is the most common word wall tool in the primary school used as a visual reference for students of high frequency words. The spelling word wall is used to support the growing number of words students should be able to read and spell correctly. They are introduced gradually with explicit instruction before being added to the wall. When done well, activities are built around the word wall offering extended exposure and chances for repeated practice are consistent until the words are mastered with great efficiency. The other type of spelling wall I envision is one centered around spelling patterns... -at, -ike, -ake, etc... Below are examples of some of the spelling word walls displayed and used in classrooms at Chets Creek.

Spelling Word Walls

A second type of word wall you would encounter in our classrooms is a writing word wall. Most commonly, our writing word walls are displayed as a tool for students to use during their Writers' Workshop to enhance the level of vocabulary used while writing stories. The typical writing word wall includes simple words, like said, that can be replaced with more descriptive or sophisticated terms, like squealed or whispered. In addition, as children learn about sentence structure and offering sentence variety in their writing, they might find useful words displayed by part of speech. On several occasions, I've also seen students with independent word walls on the back of their writing folders. These words are individualized and typically words most often misspelled in that student's writing. The personal word wall is used throughout the writing process.

Writing Word Walls

Reading Vocabulary is another universal word wall used in CCE classrooms. In Kindergarten through Third Grade, we use Scholastic's Text Talk series for explicit vocabulary instruction through children's literature read alouds. Several words per book are introduced with explicit instruction and activities using the words are taught. Furthermore, you will find reading vocabulary word walls that are built as students are introduced to words in the context of other reading. For example, one of the word walls below is from the chapter book, Because of Winn Dixie.

Reading Vocabulary Word Walls

Content Vocabulary Word Walls in Math, Science, and Social Studies are frequently displayed in CCE classrooms in K-Grade 5, too. Just like spelling, writing, and reading vocabulary word walls, content word walls are used not only as a display but as a reference tool, too. The primary goal is for student mastery and understanding of each of the terms. Some content word walls have the definition displayed with the word on the front of a card, others have the term printed on the back and are secured with velcro to a chart or stored inside a pocket chart making them easily removable by students. Also, other displays are a list of the words that teachers use for specific activities. You can see a few examples of each type below.

Math Word Walls

Science Word Walls

Social Studies Word Walls

Print rich classrooms full of resources including word walls are important to promote student learning and achievement. Word walls make words visible, usable, and accessible to our learners. I'd love to get a comment about the way you use word walls in your own classroom.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Reflective Conversations

The world of a coach, just like a teacher, gets busy on the first day of school and never slows down. "Is this your busy time of the year?" Is a question that always bewilders me, because truth be told, all 196 teacher days are a busy time of year. Something, I've come to believe only an educator can fully appreciate. Boarding a Lear jet on the first day of school depicts the typical momentum that begins on Day 1 and ends when the last bell has rung, the classroom is packed up, and we emerge on the other side for a blissful few uninterrupted weeks. Until, once again, the planning begins for the upcoming year, if it truly ever ended in the first place.

Hurling at mock speed, we often forget that a critical component of growing professionally is to reflect on our practice. Where have we been? Where are we going? Questions like these allow you to reflect, refocus, redefine, and reembrace your work. The answers certainly aren't fancy but get at the heart of strategic planning. For me, this type of reflection comes easily now, but in my early teaching years, it took a leader asking me these questions and listening attentively as I answered them.

This year, I'm trying this reflective practice with our new teachers. Each of them is meeting with me this week to answer these questions:
  • What are you most proud that you've accomplished so far this year?

  • What would you like to work on as you move into the second half of the year?

  • What do you need for me to do for you?
The reason for the conversations are two fold. First, I want new teachers to get in the habit of reflecting and second, I want to know, from their point of view, what they need to learn next. Each conversation has been intriguing. I've learned from them about their professional celebrations and their needs. The dialogue has captured a plan for me to move forward in supporting them. As we move into the new year, I'll be gathering some important content resources, setting up a couple of observations, demoing a few lessons, watching and giving written feedback, and teaching about wikis and Gizmos to name just a few things. What I like most about this process is that I am really getting to know each teacher better and I feel like I'll be able to meet their specific needs. This is definitely a practice I'll continue in the future. Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Math Anchor Charts

My last post described the anchor chart as a learning tool in classrooms across our school. I highlighted snapshots I took based on our reading instruction. I thought you might also like a glimpse into our anchor charts in mathematics.

Some math anchors are displayed to help students conceptually understand and remember mathematical vocabulary.

Others remind students to think about their noticings or connections as they pertain to specific lessons including math games.

Anchor charts also highlight foundational learning like finding combinations of numbers. A students ability to decompose a number is critical for developing number sense and flexibility when solving problems. Many mental math strategies come back to a student's ability to decompose numbers efficiently. In addition to combinations, students also work with doubles and near doubles as they build number sense. Often times, you will find charts like these hanging in our primary classrooms.

Furthermore, strategy charts play a prominent role. They are not charts that are premade and hung before instruction, rather are anchors built with students as new strategies emerge. Some charts show single strategies while others display many strategies.
Often times, when the chart lists more than one strategy, the strategies are listed by order of efficiency. The visual reminder helps students as they move along their learning pathway. In this case, a student's work may also become an anchor chart on the classroom wall as a reminder of a particular strategy that has been highlighted in a classroom math discussion.

We use Math Investigations as our 60 minute Math Workshop curriculum tool. Like many conceptually based programs, MI embeds story problems into many of their math lessons. Therefore, it is common for teachers to have anchor charts which guide a student through solving a problem. Sometimes the anchors are found on a student's desk, some are in their math journals, and others hang on the classroom walls.

Still other math anchors assist in building student knowledge throughout units of study or remind students of necessary skills like multiplication and division notations.

Regardless of their content, all math anchor charts have the same intent-to be a visual reminder to students of the thinking that has taken place and to act as a springboard for further learning. Classrooms displaying rich math anchor charts offer students the environment they need to become effective mathematicians.