Monday, April 25, 2016

#SOL16 Who's Ready for Kindergarten?

He hopped down the sidewalk on one foot, his joy and excitement bubbling over with each step. Just across the street we walked, but like another world- kindergarten. The first orientation for parents and students. How strange it was to be on the other side of it now- for ten years, I taught kindergarten and stood at orientations, smiling reassuringly about this milestone. Sitting in the cafeteria and listening to the principal and school specialists talk about kindergarten, I tried to hear what wasn't being said as much as what was. Tears fell as the psychologist read this poem. Letting go is not as easy as I made it sound when I gave the pep talk to parents. 

There was a packet and many, many papers. There was a book (If You Give a Dog a Donut) which was lovely, I thought. There was a list of sight words and a conversation about early literacy profiles and being picked up for reading if you  score low. Worry filled my heart, because my sensitive, bright boy is so very hard on himself, so easily frustrated and devastated when he feels he doesn't know something. We are working on it. How will he cope with assessments done early in the year? What will he think if he is found to be in need of remediation in the early days of kindergarten? Why can't we slow all of this down and let them learn without labeling them as behind at the get-go? 

And, so, tonight, I put on my kindergarten teacher hat that's been on the shelf since I became a third grade teacher last year. I typed up the words "I can", red for "I" and blue for "can." I told Alex we would be making a book together. He was having none of it and refused for quite a while while I went through the process with his little sister, Megan. Finally, he came around. I cut out the words and positioned them on the paper and had him tape them down. I asked him to tell me what he can do and then I wrote his words and he drew the picture. 

The ideas were all his. I especially loved the hug, with the heart above the two huggers. So, now we have a book that Alex "wrote" and a book he can read. Early literacy lessons implicit were words make up sentences, words go from left to right, words are made up of letters and words and pictures are different. I am hoping to teach him the high frequency words "I" and "can" through this book, as well as increase his self-confidence as a reader and a writer. I hope to throw in one to one correspondence by pointing crisply under each word as we read and reread the book. We can make similar books using different high frequency words. 

I hope Alex will make more books with me this spring and summer. I hope he will feel confident and have solid knowledge when he is assessed for his early literacy skills. I hope he will want to hop on one foot, bubbling with excitement, when kindergarten is the reality he goes to each day. I've been the teacher, assessing, noticing, listing who can't write his name yet, who can't follow directions, who doesn't know his letters or sounds. Now, as the mom, I hope Alex's teacher will see the whole child, my whole child, not as a checklist of what he can and can't do, but as a remarkable, curious, loving boy who WILL learn... as he is ready. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

#SOL16 Poems Hide

Sunday night, I participated in the #Read4Fun chat on Twitter. The topic was poetry, and the chat brought to mind some of my favorite poems. A long-standing favorite of mine is "A Valentine for Ernest Mann" where Naomi Shihab Nye writes, "Poems hide." 

Today, I found a poem hidden in the oversized, dusty Nemo that has been sitting atop the mailbox in my classroom. Nemo originally came from the board walk of the Jersey Shore, where I surprisingly won him in a game in the summer of 2004. Nemo lived in my kindergarten classroom for a long time. Now he lives in 3rd grade and he's part of the background, largely ignored.

My third graders and I were writing poems today, beginning with an image first. I brought in some objects from home and invited them to look out our classroom window, too, for ideas. At first, the room was chatty and I worried they weren't focusing, but soon they all found spots and there was a quiet hum of kids really working. I sat on the carpet with Nemo and wrote this poem:

By Kathleen Sokolowski

In his black, round eyes
are memories of salt air.
A thin layer of dust 
replacing sand
on his neon orange fur.
He has seen much.

Once he hung among the bright lights
illuminating summer evenings
boardwalk smells wafting over him,
buttery popcorn, fresh baked cookies.
A prize to be won.

A train ride, then,
to a place without ocean breezes.
Children's laughter still surrounds,
but more subdued here.
He became a comforting friend
to little ones missing home, too. 

Now, Nemo lives in 3rd grade
Atop a mailbox,
He fades into the scenery
Not really noticed
Never thought of,
Until right now. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Learning Outside of School #sol16

Two Saturday mornings ago, I received an email from a parent in my class. My student had been inspired by a school assembly called "Bash the Trash", where musicians used recyclable materials to make musical instruments. The buzz from many of the teachers, including myself, was that the assembly was a little quirky and not our favorite. Some of us felt ourselves being lulled to sleep as the recyclable instruments were played. But you just never know what is going to resonate with a student and this assembly really did for one boy in my class. 

With his dad's help, he created musical instruments out of soda and water bottles and cans taped together. He wanted to make a video of himself playing his instruments and his dad even joined him in the concert. Then, he wanted his dad to send ME the video. It was adorable, but also made me stop and think about the nature of learning in today's world:

  • We need to give kids lots of different experiences, including ones that involve the arts and creating, because you just never know what will impact a child.
  • When a student is excited about learning, that excitement carries over to home and time outside of school.
  • Students today view video as an important method of expressing themselves and seek the feedback they get when others watch their video.
  • Students are looking for ways to connect their school world and home world.
When we came back to school on Monday, I showed the class the video and my student answered their questions about the instruments he made very proudly. I could see other students thinking about ways they might try that, too. Yet another understanding: Students learn from their peers and are motivated by seeing what their peers create. 

Now, connection to my non-teaching life. Yesterday was one of those busy days after school where a dentist appointment led me to picking up my children after 5pm from my parents' house. By the time we got home, my son had asked to use the iPad and I still had to make dinner, so I said he could for a few minutes. Usually, any kind of homework or letter practice is a struggle (my son is in preschool) and he does not like to do it. Imagine my shock, then, as I sat down to eat dinner in the kitchen, Alex enters with a paper full of words. He had put the iPad away on his own (?!) and decided to surprise me with all the words he knows how to write. There were some exclamation marks and punctuation marks on the page, too. From the look on his face, I could see how proud and excited he was. Self-directed learning, outside of school hours. 

So how do we make this happen more, for more kids? Today, the Shared Decision Making Team at my school will be discussing summer learning for kids and how we can help them to keep reading, writing, and practicing math facts. How can we find ways to inspire them to keep learning? I would love to hear your thoughts on learning outside the school day and creating opportunities for kids in the summer. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

#SOL16 The Word Gap

I tweet. I vox. I even snapchat now. But I haven't really embraced podcasts until the last couple of weeks. After reading a great post by Kimberley Moran about the podcast her students created, I knew I needed to listen more to podcasts. I couldn't really envision a way for my students to create their own podcasts or even why they should do that until I saw the value myself. Now I can say I am a podcast lover!

One of the podcasts I started listening to was Penny Kittle's Book Love Foundation Podcast Teacher Learning Series. Today I listened to a podcast about teachers as leaders. During the conversation, a teacher shared how being part of a local site of the National Writing Project gave her confidence with her writing and support as she learned strategies to teach writing. Penny spoke about the model of teachers sharing with each other as being so powerful and how the Writing Project remains the most favored professional development. 

This was music to my Writing Project ears. I have been part of the Long Island Writing Project since 2002 and most recently became one of the co-directors of the site. Last weekend, my friend and fellow Slice of Life blogger, Barbara Suter, prepared and presented an engaging and rich conversation about poetry and ENL students. (ENL is the latest acronym for ESL- it stands for "English as a New Language.") Barbara had so many beautiful poetry books on display, as well as several samples of books her ENL students had created. 

She opened with a lovely Native American Prayer Poem, which we read together, as Native American inspired music played softly in the background. Then, Barbara moved to reading two separate pieces aloud, asking us to take notes and then pull together our thoughts on the two texts. One was an article about the word gap between children in poverty and children from homes with professional parents (the Hart and Risley study). The other piece was about poetry not being a test, not having one "right answer." From both pieces, I wrote a poem, which I will share for today's Slice:

The Word Gap

My 3 year old Megan
knows many words:
She sings all the time.
My father has taught her
to sing "Weave Me the Sunshine"
Megan sings, "Weave me 
the hope of the new tomorrow
And I'll be back again."
My mother reads to her,
sings to her, 
takes her to the library,
where she soaks up words
like a thirsty sponge,
then sprinkles them
smartly in conversation.

I am at work,
where my 3rd graders
are often puzzled 
by what words mean.
They stop me 
during read alouds
and in books they read,
jotting down the words
on a piece of paper
adding to our bucket 
of unfamiliar words.
The ENL teacher 
who works with me
one period a day,
stops to explain words
I take for granted they know.
I move full steam ahead,
Not understanding...
They don't understand. 

Many thanks to Barbara for a thought-provoking presentation that has given me much to reflect upon as a teacher who works with students learning English. The LIWP Director, Darshna Katwala, wrote a beautiful poem inspired by Barbara's workshop. You can find it here