Sunday, March 22, 2015


Oni and I are diligent about establishing and maintaining a positive classroom culture.  We want our students to safely explore those risk-taking challenges that push them towards an A-Ha! moment.

Our beliefs are couched within the premise that in order to own the learning our students must enjoy the ride.

Kids in First Grade do not have it easy these days.  We assess and test their progress at every turn.  Recently within a two week period they had a social studies test, performance-based assessments in writing (both formative and summative), an end-of-unit test in Fundations (on the building blocks of reading), Diagnostic Reading Assessments (to establish independent and instructional reading levels), and a 24-Question math test on comparing numbers (it's more difficult than you might think).

We always frame the assessments within the parameters of the fact that it helps us teach them better.  Tests and assessments let us know how we are doing.

To promote this "It's okay to make mistakes" mentality one student brought in a picture she found and colored which read, "Mistakes are proof that you are trying".

She shared it with the class and -- with a spirit I heartily applaud -- another little girl defiantly stated, "No!  I make lots of mistakes and I don't try!"

It is impossible to impart how much I loved her screwed up face and confusion as she tried to wrap her head around that golden nugget of wisdom.  It showed me that she is always questioning.

And that is something I encourage most of all.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Parent Newsletter

My former work wife, the incredibly beautiful and loving Lauren, and I created a series of videos in American Sign Language to instruct and inform.  That practice has started up again this year with my new work wife, the incredibly beautiful and loving Oni. How lucky I am to find myself surrounded by such dazzling, strong, and caring women year after year.

The latest incarnation of ASL videos takes the form of parent newsletters, which we place on our class page.  The newsletters are presented in English and ASL to provide options and accessibility for every parent and caregiver.  We write the newsletter together detailing the teaching/learning taking place in the classroom and then Oni weaves her magic on video (see below).

One of these days I look forward to starting up again with some instructional videos on ASL and providing literacy tips for parents. What ASL lessons would you find interesting?

Newsletter 5 from Gary Wellbrock on Vimeo.

Dear Parents and Caregivers,

We would like to share what we are currently learning...


  • Reading It's Back to School We Go! First Day Stories from Around the World by Ellen Jackson and Jan Davey Ellis
  • Stating the difference between fiction and nonfiction 
  • Understanding that a fiction book can have factual information
  • Identifying main idea (topic) and providing key details
  • Comparing and contrasting children from around the world using a Venn diagram
  • Finding evidence from the book to support their answers (close reading)
  • Vocabulary: World, classroom, chores, sports, applauded, languages, parka, shared, uniform, excited, primary, enjoy, attend, hut, arrived, candles, assembly, allow, elders, alarm
  • Learning to spell and read sight words: should, could, would, her, over, number
  • Learning consonant (e.g., st) and digraph blends (e.g., sch)
  • Introducing r-controlled vowels- ar, or, er, ir and ur.
  • Using conceptually accurate signs for words and phrases
  • Scooping sentences for phrasing/fluency
  • Guided Reading Groups focusing on developing reading skills and fluency (summarization, retelling, how to figure out unknown words, segmenting/blending)
  • The Writing Process - prewrite, write, revise, edit, publish
  • NonFiction writing - State a topic sentence, comparing themselves with a child from another country, give several examples of similarities and differences and providing a sense of closure
  • Vocabulary: compare, contrast, similar, difference, topic sentence, closing statement
  • Using ASL handshapes and classifiers
  • Using the 3 sentence rules: Capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, capital letters for proper names and places, capital I when it is used alone, leaving spaces between words, and ending punctuation (period,  question mark, and exclamation point), using commas
  • Comparing Numbers and Two-Digit Addition and Subtraction
  • Using symbols to compare numbers (greater/lesser than, equal to)
  • Making a model to compare numbers
  • Adding and subtracting double digits
  • Using a 100 chart to add
  • Using place value to add
  • Using models to add
  • Making 10 to add
  • Solving addition word problems
  • Vocabulary (including ASL): is greater than >, is less than <, equal to =, 
Social Studies
  • Families in Communities
  • What is a community?
  • There are different kinds of communities
  • How to use a compass
  • Community resources
  • Learning about the different NYC neighborhoods/boroughs
  • How we can honor our community
  • Why we have rules and laws in the community
  • Vocabulary: neighborhood, ethnic group, monument, natural resource, laws, holiday, resource, human-made resource, environment, borough, pledge, flag, citizen, leader, government, mayor, map key, symbol, sell, compass rose
Please reinforce these concepts and let us know about any connections your child is making at home.  

Your partners in education,
Oni & Gary

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Visit From Kirsten Hall

This is Book (with and without his unique jacket).  

Oh, Lordy!  I am simply in love Kirsten Hall's first trade picture book.

The Jacket is at once a gentle reminder of the simplicity of my childhood - sitting undisturbed and alone with a favorite book - and a smart, up-to-date take on creativity and overcoming disappointment.  In this way The Jacket feels timeless.

Book is a friend.  Book deserves to be discovered, read, and embraced.  So, when our kindergarten and first grade students had an opportunity to visit with Book and his creator Kirsten Hall we were all very excited.

During her reading Kirsten shared Book's desire to be loved and cared for "in a way all favorite books know" and the fact that sometimes being a much loved book can lead to some messy situations.

Especially when coupled with a playful dog and a puddle of ill-placed mud.

Oh, no!

Poor Book was a mess!  But luckily his friend, a resourceful little girl with some art supplies, designed a jacket for Book to keep him covered.

After the reading there was time for a question and answer session. It was then that Kirsten credited the idea for The Jacket to her son and encouraged the children to think of further adventures for Book. Hopefully we can enjoy more of his escapades in the future.

To get the students moving and actively involved, Kirsten brought along some supplies of her own. Each child was given a notebook, a large piece of paper, colored pencils, markers, scissors and glue and invited to create their own book jackets.

In this moment Kirsten's experience in early childhood education and her immense generosity became increasingly apparent.  She sat on the floor with the children and delighted in their creations from RoboCops and monsters to princesses and aliens.

In the end I couldn't resist buying several copies of The Jacket for my young great nephew Easton and great niece Lexi.  Oh, and one for myself which included a personalized message from Book whose speech bubble reads, "I love Gary!"

I love you too Book!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Catching Up With... Kindia

Sweet kindergartner Kindia is in the front row, second from the left.

My students have inspired, delighted, and charmed me.  They continually teach me a better way to view the world and provide insights I couldn't have dreamed of on my own. They amaze me.

In fact, the dedication page of my dissertation reads (in part), "For the past 20 years it has been my great privilege to teach a wonderfully diverse group of children.  This work is dedicated to those curious boys and girls for allowing me that honor".  I added the curious part as a subtle (or not-so-subtle) shout out to my favorite little monkey.

This year one of those precious students flew back to the nest. Kindia has returned as a high school intern helping out with my current class of first grade students.  She was a student who tugged at my heart strings because she was a child who was always grateful for every kindness and trinket she received.

Her agreeable outlook was a constant reminder of what is truly important.  It isn't material possessions or power.  It is love.  The beliefs her family instilled in her shone in her interactions with everyone.  She was never covetous or demanding.  I knew she would "grow up right" to become an adult who would have a positive affect on those around her.  And she did.  She is.

Kindia's return inspired me to add a feature to this blog to catch up with the lives of my former students.  So, I asked her if she would write a little something about herself and any memories she had from her years with Lauren and I.  Here is her response.

I am currently a senior majoring in dance.  I also intern at my former elementary and middle school, working with Gary and Oni's first graders on Tuesdays.  I am taking lifeguarding classes to earn a lifeguarding certificate and a guaranteed job in the summer.  
After I graduate I will hopefully know what college I've decided to attend, I haven't gotten any acceptance letters yet, but I've applied to 10 good universities.  I still don't know what to major in.  I still label myself as an undecided major but my plan Z is to become an interpreter for the deaf.  I am also thinking about deaf education but I'm still uncertain about it.

There are many things I can remember about being in Gary and Lauren's kindergarten and first grade class, such as the activities in the morning and the stories they read including Matilda and Curious George.  I loved to watch Lauren sign while Gary spoke in his funny voices tyring to match that character.  The writing celebrations we had.  As an intern with him I sometimes compare how things were then and now such as how the kids use iPads and Smartboards but when I was a kid all I had was paper, pencil, a huge notepad, etc.

Gary was and is a great teacher and I'm glad to be working with him.

Ah, so proud!

Thank you Kindia!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Tips From My Mom #17

In mid-December I "saddled up" my Saint (Bernard), Cal, in preparation for a long walk through our neighborhood.  Tradition demands at least one leisurely stroll during the holidays to take in the soft lights and well-placed decorations.

The sights, surprisingly unchanged from year to year, comfort me. They serve as an anchor in the cultural hubbub swirling around me, making demands on my time and limited funds.  Time alone with my pup on a wintery evening does wonders for my harried mind.

As we started out we were greeted by a neighbor and her small poodle.

"Can we join you?"

What could I say but, "Of course!" A little overplayed on my part, as is my tendency when caught unawares, but off we went.  The juxtaposition of her tiny dog and my giant one amused me.

We were both feeling chatty and the walk was pleasant, even if it wasn't the experience I originally had in mind.

After a while our conversation turned to, "So, what do you do?"

I told her I taught first grade, to which she replied, "That's nice and easy.  Lucky you!  No stress, unlike my job..."

And she went on about the demands of her position while in my mind all I heard was my mom saying,

"Everyone thinks everyone else has it so much easier."

It applies in so many situations.  People with children think individuals without children have much more money, time, and freedom.  Folks working 9 - 5 jobs think folks working from home have the life.  People doing anything but working with children think teachers lead cushy lives.

Of course I am overgeneralizing but I think we are all guilty of thinking the grass is always greener next door.

My mom cautions against that stance.  The fact is, things are not really easy for anyone.  We all work.  We all struggle.  We all experience stress at one time or another stemming from finances, health, work, and family - both real and imagined.  We all must be careful not to belittle the lives of others.

With my mom's voice playing in my head I simply smiled and said, "Yes, teaching is pretty great".  I meant the kids.  The politics and the bullshit are another story.  A story that is wearing me down and one that I continually fight against.

But at least I have it easy, right?


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