Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Visit from Adam Gidwitz

Years ago I wrote a blog post entitled Fear in which I touched upon Struwwelpeter, the deliciously creepy series of German cautionary tales for children.  These fearful (pretty) stories with vile (funny) pictures meant to instruct good little folks are fairly freaky.

I blame my German heritage for the fact that I also find them entrancing. No matter how hard I push against my intrigue with darker subject matter I continue to peek through my fingers for a glimpse.

The latest glimpse comes courtesy of author Adam Gidwitz who weaves his tale of Hansel and Gretel into the original fairy tales by The Brothers Grimm. The brother-sister team of Hansel and Gretel do more than defend themselves from witches in tasty houses.  They outsmart and outwit crafty warlocks, well-meaning parents, frightful dragons and even the devil himself!

It is hard to stay away from tales this delicious so you can imagine that when Adam visited our school I found my way to the reading. I was early so had an opportunity to speak with Adam before the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students arrived.  He signed my book ("To Gary, A Grimm fan and a great guy - awesome to meet you!"), posed for a picture and answered all of my exuberant questions with a friendly charm.

As classes began to arrive I took a seat on the floor and settled in to listen to a excerpt from Faithful Johannes.  Adam is a storyteller.  It became immediately evident that his years as a teacher (he still teaches - bravo!) have prepared him well for stepping before an audience of children and holding their attention.

He also described the origins of the stories and how he came to write this book. Unfortunately I couldn't stay for the question/answer session following the reading but everyone told me afterwards how "interesting", "funny", "great" and "entertaining" he was.

The same adjectives can be used to describe the book.  It looks like the golden apple didn't fall far from the tree.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Multimoldal Reflective Practice

I recently attended a lecture by Dr. Sara Kadjer entitled Multimodal Reflective Practice in Teacher Education at Fordham University.

This talk was part of the research colloquium for students in the Language, Literacy and Learning doctoral program and our attendance was strongly encouraged.

The bulk of the presentation centered on blogs/vlogs as a tool for student teachers to reflect upon and share their learning.  Once upon a time (when I was a student teacher) all of our reflections were written by hand and it was up to our advisers alone to read our ponderous questions, usual gripes, ongoing struggles and intermittent successes.

This model was perhaps enlightening for the student - at least it was for me - but I am sure it was less so for the beleaguered instructor who had to schlep these tomes home every weekend to read and provide succinct comments.

New technologies have spurned a wave of innovative choices to tackle these same tasks.  Today advisers like Dr. Kadjer are inviting students to blog or vlog to achieve the objectives once only possible with a pen and paper.  The result has been tremendously positive and motivating for both students and teachers.  Now instead of feedback from an instructor alone, students also can comment on one another's posts.

Many years ago my friend Caye - who will become Dr. Cayne in May! - thought it would be interesting to conduct research on teacher blogs.  There exists a wide range of them out there.

In my original description I wrote that Follow Your Bliss was "the journey of one man who is doing what he loves".  I share my journey first and foremost from a place of gratitude.  The focus of other educational blogs vary.  Some focus on sharing reproducibles or links to pre-made lesson plans while others adhere strictly to what is happening in the classroom.  I even found one that served as a bitch session for a teacher who stated she basically hated being around children and complained about the things each child did.

Technology is developing at such a rapid pace that by the time we discover the 'latest' it is already passé. This may be frustrating but it is never dull.

Onwards and upwards!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fundamental Principle

Joseph Campbell was a brilliant, self-directed and disciplined scholar who, throughout his life, continued to uncover the mysteries of himself and our world.

He painstakingly outlined procedures for accomplishing his goals which are evident in one of his early journal entries in which he wrote his plan to keep "a careful dairy of my reactions, plans, etc., as an attempt to crystallize, more or less, my essential point of view - or at least discover what that point of view may be".

His journey was epitomized by self- reflection and reevaluation that continually altered the path he followed.  It is Joe who coined the phrase "Follow Your Bliss" that so many others have embraced (including me - obviously).

Following your bliss means remaining true to yourself, living an authentic life that feels right deep in the essence of who you are.  If you listen to that voice you will know your path but attuning yourself to hearing can often prove mystifying.

Joe wrote of the intensity of life.  The passion.  The pull of wanting to experience it all ensures a dizzying roller coaster ride of unfocused adventure that leaves one seizing the moment but ultimately unsatisfied. He posited that perhaps it is "best to carefully discriminate, and find what phases contribute most to poise, sympathy, sensitivity and organic growth - the whole thing being goverened  and selected from within rather than by chance. Then live intensely what you have intelligently decided you want to live".

This is akin to Dolly Parton's statement "Find out who you are and do it on purpose".

Good advice that isn't always so easy to unravel but I, like so many others, am committed to doing it on purpose.  And I am basking in the thrill of my purposeful journey.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Math Games

Kindergarten math is predicated on the belief that children require lots of hands-on practice to understand the concepts underpinning mathematical reasoning.  For this reason, many early elementary classrooms are equipped with a wide assortment of manipulatives and games. Manipulatives provide tactile, concrete items for the hands-on ingredient while games serve the practice component (as well as motivation).

Every day we strive to ensure that our students have an opportunity to engage in math games.  New games are generally introduced during whole class lessons and then placed in a math center for independent/partner/or small group practice.  Depending on the games chosen we will usually set-up about 3-5 different activities. At times children are assigned to a specific center (to build a particular skill) or they can decide for themselves where they would like to go.

This week we have been playing some old favorites and some new.  One of the new games is Egg Carton Math.  This game has three levels of difficulty, each one building on the prior.  At the beginning level students use an egg carton that has dots in each depression that resemble those found on dice.  Two tokens are placed in the carton, the lid is closed and given a good shake.  When it is reopened the student must count (add) the number of dots under each token.  We also have our students write number sentences for each (see picture).

The second level (shown in the top photo) moves away from the all-dot scenario and mixes in numerals.  This encourages children to count on - meaning, for instance, if one token fell on the numeral 10 and the other on 6 dots the child would say "10" and count on using the dots as support. However, it is possible that both tokens would land in only dots (providing reinforcement of prior learning) or only numerals ( a more challenging task).

The third level in Egg Carton Math is to place only numerals in the egg carton.

Our AUSSIE math coach, Chris, introduced us to another popular favorite called "Racing to 100".  In this game children use a spinner (click on picture to see details) to become the first to fill up their cards. Each card has a space for 100 cubes.  When one row of 10 cubes is full the 10 cubes are exchanged for a stick of 10 (called a "long") and once the card has 10 longs that is exchanged for a "flat".

The description may seem confusing but the game is pretty straightforward.  It promotes counting by 10, 1 to 1 matching of number and object and concepts of number among other things.

As our students play we are free to provide guided math instruction with small groups (such as writing numbers) and observe/document student understanding.  It is a win-win situation for all involved.

Next stop...Vegas!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Parent Teacher Conferences

Twice a year parents and teachers come together to discuss the academic and social development of our children.

Parent-Teacher conferences provide a formal opportunity for us to share our collective insights into each child.  They also strengthen the link between the home and school environments in a way that written notes and phone calls cannot.

I love parent teacher conferences.

This causes a bit of a problem because time is limited and I love to talk with parents about their children.  Likewise, most parents love to talk about their children so the meetings tend to run long.

Yesterday Lauren and I were on a very tight schedule with 14 parents to see in 3 hours.  I felt the pressure.

The children in our class are all growing in beautiful ways.  Most students are performing at or above grade level but we have a few who are approaching this goal.  The key is that they are all making progress.  We keep detailed binders on each child containing reading assessments, alphabet and letter sound knowledge, writing samples (collected each month), handwriting development, math assessments, ASL rubrics, science growth, conference notes, guided reading/writing records and observations of social/emotional interactions.  

We use this information to plan our instruction and it paints a clear picture to the parents of how their child is doing in school.  One parent stated that we didn't need to say a word because it was all there.  She could see it for herself and thanked us!  How lovely is that?

I'm always grateful to the parents for the gift of their children.

It is such a privilege to teach.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Tale Dark & Grimm

Adam Gidwitz, author of A Tale Dark & Grimm is visiting our school next week.

Our school librarian writes "he weaves Grimm stories into a wild - and at times extremely frightening - adventure for brother and sister team Hansel and Gretel.  The world seems pitted against them...will they survive when they are up against warlocks, the Devil and dragons that look nice one day and not the next?! "

This is not your Disney fairy tale (although I am a big fan of Mickey and his brood).  This looks dark and terribly exciting.  The only sad part is that it is recommended for grades 3 - 6 so my kindergarten class will have to miss out.  Although you can be sure I will try to get away to watch him read in person.


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