Sunday, June 29, 2008



This last week I have been simultaneously wrapping up one teaching obligation and preparing for another.  First off I had to say goodbye to my precious little handfuls on June 26 - the last day of school. The last day of first grade for all of them, a time they will never get back. A time which will one day be a distant memory.  

Hopefully that memory will be one that makes them smile.  I know that they have given me many smiles over the past 10 months.  And although I will miss each and every one of them in ways unique unto themselves, I was ready to wrap up the school year and welcome other challenges.

I am teaching a course at Fordham University's Annual Summer Reading Institute for the second time.  The title of my course is Reading Skills for Children with Learning Disabilities. It is part of the Ennis William Cosby Hello Friend certificate program which teaches teachers more effective (systematic, sequential) ways to reach those students who tend to fall through the cracks of the educational system.  It is geared for teachers of young children, more specifically first grade students.  

According to Connie Juel "first grade is the critical year in the lives of young children: this is when they need to make essential inroads on understanding and acquiring the alphabetic writing system in order to make timely progress toward skilled reading." 

I know many teachers who share the same thoughts as one of my Fordham students when she wrote in her reflection paper "Then when I started student teaching I began to hear "Oh I would not want to start out in first grade...teaching kids to read I would not even know where to begin".  

But once you do gain the requisite knowledge (phonological & phonemic awareness, oral language development, alphabetic principle, differentiated instruction, etc.) it is amazing to see the kids take off.  The child you say 'hello' to in September is not the same child you hug goodbye in June.  

At least not in terms of reading and writing development.  For example here is a spelling assessment given at the beginning of the school year.  It is a measure of the child's skill at invented spelling. 

You can see that he knew a few CVC sight words like man, fat and hat. For the other words that he was asked to spell he put down the initial letter sound.  

He was at the beginning stages of writing development (farther along than the student who put down scribbles or random letters but not as far as the student who wrote an initial and final letter).  This gave me tons of information and I could target my instruction accordingly. 

By the end of the school year this is what he produced.

He was not only spelling many of the words correctly but this shows that he was using initial, final and medial letters.  He has an understanding of digraphs, blends and some familiarity with the silent /e/ syllable type.  In addition his handwriting has improved.  


And it is not unusual to see this level of growth. It is leaps like this that make first grade such a rewarding experience, as a student and as a teacher.

As Lauren and I completed the final report cards it was evident that gains were made across all academic areas. But honestly nothing beats the enthusiasm of  these little learners.  I have always seen it as my true objective that each child holds onto their joy for as long as they can.  Do you still have yours?  

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I Won't Wake Up!

Last school year our class was brimming with poets. Upon visiting them recently in 2nd grade I was happy to see that their way with words has not diminished. As they shared their poems with me I was especially taken with one entitled "I Won't Wake Up!" written by Max.

Who hasn't felt this way before?

I Won't Wake Up!

I won't wake up

I don't care that the school is waiting for me

I don't care that if my sister put the ice in my head

I don't care if I miss breakfast

I don't care if the bus is waiting for me

I Don't Care!!

Luckily for Max there are only 4 days left to this school year, so hopefully he will be free to stay in bed for as long as he wants.

Welcome Summer!

Pictured: My nephew Randy back when he still had his adorable freckles.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

You're a Good Man

Charlie Brown, that is!

Today our dual language (American Sign Language and English) school put on its own version of this Peanuts inspired musical. As all of the 1st through 6th grade students joined together to sing/sign the 'joy through a child's eyes' closing number "Happiness" I became flooded with emotion.

Clearly I am beyond the beyond when it comes to expressing that mixture of pride and power that this small moment in time captured for me. All of my precious little ones were up there happily smiling as they gave their all to the following lyrics:

"Happiness is two kinds of ice cream, knowing a secret, climbing a tree. Happiness is five different crayons, catching a firefly, setting him free. Happiness is being alone every now and then. And happiness is coming home again."
I kinda lost it sitting there in the, not dark enough to hide my tears, school auditorium. Have you ever been so moved by something that you had a visceral connection with that you found yourself sobbing out loud while simultaneously trying to cover the fact that something so seemingly innocuous has moved you to such a state?

But as I watched the faces of these children how could I help but feel?

I have a personal connection with each child up there. For most of them I could tell you what makes them smile or what worries them. I could tell you what they struggle with academically, which books they enjoy and who they prefer to play with during recess.

I am also a huge fan of Theatre for the Deaf or Theatre of the Deaf (the distinction can indicate who is involved in performing/producing). I actually came to teaching through my interest in Deaf Theatre.

One early inspiration was attending a production of 'An Italian Straw Hat' in 1995 performed by the National Theater of the Deaf. Amazing.

And more recently the Deaf West Theatre Broadway production of the Mark Twain/Huckleberry Finn musical 'Big River'. Stunning.

Although the reworking of these previously successful productions have found new audiences by incorporating innovative linguistic features, playing with language onstage does not always prove so successful.

I am referring to an Off Broadway production of 'Tea House of the August Moon' that Joy and I did about 10 years ago. The gimmick (to quote the stripper Mazeppa from Gypsy) was that all of the Japanese roles would be played by Caucasians and vice-verse.

So there you have Joy playing Miss Higa Jiga, yelling in her rather impressive Japanese while I am running around barefoot as Mr. Sumata looking for my shoes.

The best part of this was that during the crowd scenes the director told us to 'ad lib' in Japanese. What? I felt like a total idiot as I repeated my few lines over and over again testing various deliveries, trying to sound authentic.

When my friend James came to see the show all I remember is him sitting out in the audience laughing his ass off every time I opened my mouth. Not the most helpful thing to aid my concentration in my vulnerable state.
Oh the things young actors put themselves through in New York! Of course, I wouldn't change a thing.


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