Monday, July 23, 2012

Environment is Created Together

When I first started teaching I loved getting "my" classroom ready.  I bought all kinds of cutouts for the walls--theme based and visually appealing and all pre-made.  Now 25+ years later I do still enjoy getting our classroom ready, but at this point all I'm doing is organizing and looking for ways to allow students to collaborate during the first few weeks of school to create our environment.  When I created the environment and it was totally ready and "done" when the kids came to school on the first day my kids still learned--it didn't hurt them.  Now, I spend my time looking for ways to allow students to work together to create our environment.  They feel more ownership and become a community much quicker than when I prepared everything.  

The first week of school we spend all of our time getting to know each other and creating places and spaces in the classroom.  The agreement we come to about how we will 'live' in our classroom is created out of our discussions about how we can learn and grow with each other (many of our discussions stem from the books we are reading like Mean Jean the Recess Queen, How Full is Your Bucket, ...).  We create a short bulleted list of some generalities that come out of our discussions through interactive writing.  

Interactive writing  helps us to create so much of our classroom.  We create a color/color word chart together, we Design and create a birthday chart, the alphabet chart, the beginnings of our word wall, the labels for all of our centers and classroom places (math, wonder table, abc center, library, book basket labels...), number/number word chart...  We spend the month of September learning routines and procedures together and then creating charts to help us remember.  Charts for how to talk about books, how to turn and talk, how to talk about our writing, how to share important information with each other--learning terms like reader and writer.  It sounds silly, but young readers and writers have a hard time thinking about themselves as the writer or thinking about who their readers are as they write.  Many of these discussions happen during interactive read alouds and shared reading of poems, big books, or during sharing time. The charts we create together hold multiple roles in our classroom.  They help us to become a community as we talk about and make decisions about many things that will be important to us as friends and learners. The charts also provide invaluable foundational literacy skills that each student will take from participating as part of a group, to small group, and to independence.  The experience of creating these charts allow our students to feel connected to each chart, label, and creation on our walls.  They want to read and re-read what we have done together.  They also serve as resources and reminders everyday.  Lots of times in the morning students will come in and say, "Hey, Mrs. Horton I think we need to make a chart about...." or they actually create charts about things they think are important and share them with the group. I love when they can't wait to write!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Creating an Environment That's Creative, Inviting, & Interesting

I'm continuing to read Beginning Literacy (Pinnell & Fountas) and A Place for Wonder  Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades (Georgia Heard & Jennifer McDonough).  Both of these books remind me page by page that our students need to create their own environment, BUT it's our job to make sure that we provide the supports and opportunities for them to be able to do that.  Kindergartners come in with a range of abilities; we need to create opportunities for all of them to feel successful.  The poem, Straight Lines, in the first few pages of A Place for Wonder is awesome and really speaks to my beliefs about young learners (pg. 2-3).  Georgia Heard says over and over that we must fill our classrooms with wonder.  Ok, I totally agree, but how do we do that and all of the things that New York State is demanding as well.  Even though I don't agree with a lot of what is landing in Kindergarten I still have a responsibility to make sure my students are meeting those expectations so they are  prepared for what is facing them next.  It's definitely not their fault that the educational system has become test bound.  I'm confident that by providing opportunities for inquiry, exploration, imagination, and creation that Kindergartners will become successful readers, writers, problem solvers, and innovators!  Curiosity is a great fuel for 4, 5 and 6 year olds.  To start with,  students need to get to know each other, Amy and me, and we need to know them.  Of course, like so many other classrooms we will need to provide opportunities for that to happen.  At the same time we need to give them lots of opportunities to work with their names and the names of their new friends to start our journey as readers and writers. 

Great books for shared reading, independent reading, and interactive read alouds are hugely important.  They need to believe they are readers and writers from the first day!  Some of the books on my list to start with are:

Pete the Cat  Eric Litman and James Dean (love the message that things happen--no big deal--go with the flow! I'm hoping some of Pete's logic will rub off in our classroom rules) 

Our Tree Named Steve Alan Zweibel and David Catrow (I'm hoping this will get kids talking about their own families and things that matter to them!)

Mo Willem's Books  (His books automatically make kids feel like readers.  All readers can relate to these books.  Some love Elephant and Piggie, some love the Pigeon and the Duck.  These stories compel kids to create their own stories.  These books make kids feel like readers and need to be included in our classroom library.)

No, David, David Goes to School, David Gets in Trouble all written by David Shannon  (Kids relate to these books in so many ways.  They understand David, defend David, Love David, and have their own stories about the David's in their lives.  These books absolutely make all kids feel like readers and writers--these are a must in our classroom library!)

I will continue to add to this list and start to create the baskets that will find a home in our classroom library.  The library really has to call to our kids!  I want them to WANT to be in that library!  This will be an important part to creating an environment that causes kids to wonder!  To be continued...

Monday, July 9, 2012

So many things to think about...

I'm a loooong time teacher and at this point in my teaching life am a K-2 Literacy Coach.  I have been teaching in first and second grades for the past two years. This year I am moving to K!  I am going to be co-teaching during the literacy block with another teacher.  I'm really excited to be working with Amy and getting to focus on K.  I've been re-reading Literacy Beginnings by Fountas & Pinnell.  There are so many pieces to think about when planning ways to provide opportunities for young children to grow as readers, writers, and thinkers.  Of course I live in New York where we are incorporating the Common Core as well.  One place I am really focusing is language learning.  Tony Johnston's book Opening Minds is helping me think about the power of language; both ours as teachers and our students'. With that in mind, I'm really thinking about how we organize our environment and instruction to allow our students optimal time to learn about, 'try out', and practice their language.  Fountas and Pinnell talk about young children really not distinguishing any difference between playing, reading, and writing.  They are always curious which leads them to discovery and learning. (p. 22) to continue to support that essence of 'play' to provide opportunities for our 5 and 6 year olds to be excited about what they are doing while they grow as readers, writers, and thinkers?! I'm starting to make lists of centers that will facilitate that thinking. Georgia Heard's book, A Place for Wonder, is one of the best I've read to help you think about how to continue to engage kids as 'wonderers'. Of course the first center on my list is the Wonder Center.  So far I've also included: writing (thank you Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover), books (making, reading, writing, sharing), imaginative play, art & music, and... still thinking! 

I will continue to post often as my thinking grows toward K and would love any input to help me keep moving my thinking forward!