Sunday, January 29, 2012

Performance Tasks

As the Common Core State Standards continue to roll out in NYC, teachers have begun to assess student progress through a series of performance tasks.

In first grade we created a performance task for a unit on narrative writing centered on our recent trip to the FDNY Fire Zone.  We reasoned that writing about a shared experience would "level the playing field" allowing us to compare/contrast student work fairly.

At the Fire Zone students learned about fire safety, played in a real fire truck, dressed as firemen and practiced what to do in case of a fire.  This educational trip was exciting and a bit frighting at times for the students.  It was also something they all wanted to write about which provided excellent motivation to complete the performance task.

The task, as told to our students,  was to "write about our trip to the FDNY Fire Safety Learning Center and include some details about what happened at the beginning, middle and end of our trip.  I expect you to go through the writing process to revise, edit and publish your work".

We set a flexible timeline allowing for students to work at their own pace. The first four stages of the writing process (pre-write, write, revise & edit) were done independently with only minimal support but we intervened at the publishing stage to ensure that the finished piece was generally free of grammatical errors.

Once a published piece was completed we asked our students to fill out a self-assessment rubric on the writing they just finished.

Although performance tasks are new to me, I did enjoy the process (this is the third performance task in writing this year, others included persuasive writing and opinion writing pieces).

Below is a sample of one student's work including pre-writing, writing, revising, editing and reflection.





At this stage, we evaluate their performance using a rubric based on our expectations.  A score of 3 in any domain indicates the student is meeting expectations while a score of 4 is exceeding expectations.  Scores of 2 and 1 indicate a student is approaching expectations or is far below grade level expectations respectively.

Our rubric is below...

Call out to teachers - How do you utilize performance tasks in your classrooms?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Making Connections

The report of the National Reading Panel (2000) identified five areas of reading instruction (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension).  Each section of the report "defines the skill, reviews the evidence from research, suggests implications for classroom instruction, describes proven strategies for teaching reading skills and addresses frequently raised questions".

The area of text comprehension is discussed in terms of skills children must develop in order to become competent readers.  These include visualizing, summarizing/synthesizing, inferring, questioning and making connections.

Making connections consists of establishing self-to-text, self-to-world and text-to-text associations. It is the latter component I silently applauded when my students made connections between two Greek myths this week.

I was reading the story of Icarus and Daedalus from The McElderry Book of Greek Myths that one student brought from home.  This story leads right into the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur but after reading for about 20 minutes I was going to stop before I began this next chapter.

However, the children were so disappointed that I was stopping and their persistence for me to continue was so strong that I kept on reading.

When I got to the part in the story where King Minos sends a fleet of ships to pursue Theseus after he defeats the Minotaur and escapes the labyrinth with Ariadne's help, they shouted out that this was just like when "King Menelaus sent Odysseus and all the ships to go after Paris and Helen".

It seems like a small thing I suppose, but I was floored by this connection because it was so perfectly spot-on.  It IS like that!

And I began to think how cool it is for first grade students to not only know the story of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but to make connections that are this brilliant?

Next week we tackle the story of Jason, the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece.  When I told them this one child made another connection..."Oh, I know Jason. He is that guy who goes around in the mask and kills people".

Oh, boy!  Not the literate connection I would have hoped but who could argue?  The kid has a point.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Deaf-Friendly School Trips

Planning a school trip is a very involved process that requires finely-tuned organizational skills.

In addition to coordinating dates, times and subject matter with each specific venue there are forms for parental permission, a "statement of purpose" to be submitted to the principal for his or her approval, paperwork for transportation (school bus or subway),  lunch forms (are we eating there or when we return?) and arrangements for payment (collecting money from parents or submitting a request for payment to the school's office manager).

At our school, we must also consider the scheduling of Sign Language Interpreters.  This process involves calling the Office of Sign Language Interpreting Services to check availability, followed by yet more paperwork.

However, there are some organizations that make this process a bit easier because they regularly offer interpreters as part of their standard operating practices.

One of these is the outstanding New Victory Theater.  Every one of their amazing productions has a sign language interpreted performance built into the schedule.  I simply request that date through their education department and we're off.

This past week I took my first grade class to see their production of Miss Ophelia (a play based on Ophelias Schattentheater by Michael Ende) and was blown away! They consistently offer high-quality, dynamic and engaging shows and their equal access policy pushes them even further ahead of any other theater for young audiences in New York City.

Another deaf-friendly institution that I frequently visit with my students is The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Met offers educational talks and tours of its galleries and provides sign language interpreters upon request.

Finally,  I must also applaud the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Our school visits to the Whitney have been particularly enjoyable because there we had no need of an interpreter.  For our last several visits our guide has been a deaf woman who communicated directly with our students via American Sign Language.

Thanks to the New Vic, the Met and the Whitney for making my job a bit easier and for providing outstanding services to support the education of all children.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Illuminations of Childhood

Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote,

...the experiences and illuminations of childhood and early youth become in later life the types, standards and patterns of all subsequent knowledge and experience, or as it were, the categories according to which all later things are classified -- not always consciously, however. 

And so it is that in our childhood years the foundation is laid of our later view of the world, and there with as well of its superficiality or depth: it will be in later years unfolded and fulfilled, not essentially changed.   

I came across this quote as I was reading The Mythic Dimension: Comparative Mythology by Joseph Campbell and it made me think about the influence teachers (and parents) have in shaping the future thoughts of the children in our care.

On the same day I finished this book I also finished rereading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  In it Scrooge is discussing the influence his former employer had over his workers stating,

"He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil.  Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count 'em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune"

Combined, the two quotes underscore the nature of teaching.

In my classroom I strive, every day and every moment, to make learning a joyful experience.  That doesn't mean there are not challenges, but challenges should be met with a smile and an "I can do this!" attitude.

I am honored to support the academic, social and emotional development of my students.  I may not always live up to my highest expectations but I can honestly say that I do my best to have them wake up in the morning and look forward to coming to school.

For me, "the happiness they give, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune".

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Visit from David Gordon

"Little rig, little rig, let me come in!"
"Not by the chrome on my chinny chin chin."
"Then I'll crash and I'll bash and I'll smash your house in."

Just before the holiday hub-bub set in, our first grade class was lucky enough to score a last minute invitation to visiting children's book author and illustrator David Gordon's presentation at our school.

I didn't know his books before this but my students did.  They were excited to meet the man behind The Three Little Rigs, a book several of them really love.  And I was excited because, well, he is a children's book author!

We entered the library eager to hear his stories but I felt a little unprepared. I hadn't read his books.  I didn't discuss his visit with the children beforehand.  We hadn't created a list of questions.  We went in cold.

So it was a delight for me when he introduced himself and started to read from his charming "lint free love story" Smitten.  It is a love story between a sock and a mitten...Smitten.  I was hooked.

Next, he read The Three Little Rigs. It is his motorized take on one of my favorite fairy tales.  The illustrations in this book are vibrant and happy but my favorite is the pig-faced wrecking ball.

It is always a treat to meet the author.  David happily answered our questions and even drew a few pictures before we bade him farewell.  Of course I had to get autographed copies of both books and ask him to pose for a picture with me.

Thanks to our inimitable librarian Sara for arranging another stellar author visit.  It is an embarrassment of riches at PS347!


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