Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Princesses vs. Pirates

It is the versus in the title that most interests me.

Why can't it read Princesses and Pirates?

But, I am getting ahead of myself...

In our classroom we have a varied assortment of book bins arranged according to favorite authors (Todd Parr, Ezra Jack Keats, James Marshall, Dr. Seuss, Anthony Browne, Denise Fleming, Nancy Carlson, Mo Willems), favorite characters (Curious George, Clifford, Froggy, Rotten Ralph) and genre (fairy tales, counting books, ABC books, color books, holidays, how-to books, seasons, etc.).

Our latest additions, based on student interest, are princess books and pirate books.

I began to wonder if the popularity of these books would be divided along gender lines.  So, I asked the children privately which books they liked better.  Sure enough all of the little girls said "princess books" and the little boys all said "pirate books".

My follow-up question brought more compelling answers.  I asked the girls if they also liked reading pirate books and all but one said "yes", but not one boy said he liked reading princess books.  Not one!  And the facial expression accompanying the answer clearly let me know that this was a ridiculous question to be asking in the first place.

Are societal expectations regarding gender roles at play here or is it that boys inherently find pirates more interesting than princesses?

 Is it because it is simply easier for little girls to imagine themselves as a princess rather than a pirate?

I must admit that I find pirate books more interesting but have certainly become enchanted by a princess story or two in my time.

And so have these little boys.  They are just not willing to admit it or haven't realized that they do.

How about you?  Which do you prefer? Why?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Self Portraits

Our school is in partnership with the Children's Museum of the Arts which provides art education in classrooms across New York City.

Our artist in residence, Margaret, taught our students the fundamentals of color (primary, secondary, color mixing, tints, tones, shades, etc.) and line while engaging in motivating hands-on art projects.

Several weeks ago Margaret introduced us to self portraits through the work of artist David Hockney. She invited the children to create their own self portraits influenced by David Hockney's style.  This includes a strong, single colored, solid background behind the central figure of a face to include perhaps some of the neck and shoulder area.

We were guided through the process with Margaret modeling for the students as she created her own self portrait.

Each student was given a small mirror to look at themselves as they drew their portrait in pencil on large sheets of paper.  Margaret had prepared each sheet by outlining the edges with masking tape so that when the tape was removed (after painting) it would create a clean line to frame the art.

She instructed them in mixing paints to create their skin tone, how to paint eyes and to add finishing touches such as outlining the pencil marks in black marker to make it pop.

The finished pieces blew me away.  I could easily see them used as illustrations in children's books.

Totally brilliant!

I was very pleased to see some of the parents reactions to the self portraits.

As they stated, these are indeed worthy of framing.

This experience is just another instance of children surprising me with their talent and insight.

What a gift for Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Autumnal Bliss

Autumnal wonders never cease to amaze.

The colors, the crisp air, leaf piles, changes taking place that are seen and unseen, known and unknown.

I enjoy the anticipation of coming home to sit with a hot mug of mulled cider, warm pajamas, a comforting fire.

This is a time to slow down because nature demands we stop and pay attention.

Our students feel this as well.  On Monday we ventured out for a leaf walk to Madison Square Park. The task was to collect leaves of different shapes, sizes and colors.  It is wonderful that such a simple task can bring such happiness and excitement.

Especially pleasing was a particular assortment of leaves that had collected in one area just asking to be thrown in the air to gleeful giggles.  Leaves found their way into hoods, coats and Lauren's hair faster than a blink.

By the time we left, their little Ziploc bags were full of specimens to sort, graph and examine.

We have read some spectacular books to build knowledge about trees, leaves and the fall season (check out Leaves! Leaves! Leaves! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace for its information
and Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert  for its creativity).

Our classroom is beginning to look a lot like autumn - wreaths made of leaves decorate the walls and clementines covered with cloves hang from ribbons on our twinkle light wrapped palm tree.  It is a feast for the senses.

Who could ask for anything more?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Do You Know? - Trippin'

My life is full of blessings.

They include teaching, friendship, children, love, family and laughter.

There are many more. And as we state in church "it is right to give thanks and praise".

On this journey through life I am happy to have my best friend Joy walking by my side to share the good & bad and to continuously broaden my perspective.

She makes me laugh.

In our latest podcast entitled Trippin': Class Trips and Children's Books we discuss...you guessed it!  Class trips and children's books.

You can listen by clicking here. As always we invite your comments and feedback.

That's what we know!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Land of Many Colors

"Learning is first and foremost a process - a continuous making and remaking of meanings in the lifelong enterprise of constructing a progressively more and more effective mental model of the world in which one lives.  Learning is never complete" from The Meaning Makers by Gorden Wells.

Education is a process.  We are all teachers and we are all students.

Recently I was asked if I would support the growth of a postgraduate student, Jane, from the education department at Fordham University by providing a setting in which she could conduct research.  Her first assignment was to prepare, conduct and reflect on a read aloud in an elementary classroom.

Lauren and I agreed to work with Jane for several reasons including the fact that we always enjoy seeing things through a new perspective.  A fresh view helps us to grow and reflect on our own practices.

Jane was required to write a paper on her experience and was kind enough to share it with me. I was so impressed with it that I asked her if I could post a portion of it on my blog. Happily, she agreed.

When Gary and I initially spoke on the phone, we discussed his class’s dynamic, personality, and current lesson themes. Going along with the present unit on Social Justice Education, Gary mentioned a favorite book of his, The Land of Many Colors by the Klamath County YMCA Pre-school.

The Land of Many Colors is suitable for preschool- kindergarten aged students. In the story each colored group of people think that their color is best- the Blue people like blue food, the Purple people have purple pets, and the Green people think that green is best. They eventually run out of various resources and go to war. After the fighting is over, everyone must work together to rebuild their communities. They all learn that in fact it is working together and respecting the diversity of one another that is best.

On the day of the read-aloud, Gary introduced me to his class, and after joining in on their morning routine he explained to the children that today, I would be reading them a story.

As I read each page, the children had a lot to say about what was happening. Although I did not elicit individual picture vocabulary, the class often commented on what they saw or thought, saying, "Look a dog!" or "I think blue is the best."

When people in the story began fighting, the children became very excited and exclaimed things like, “Oh no!” and, “That’s Scary!” They also added sadly, “War is bad!”

After the fighting stopped, I paused to ask the class a prediction question:

Nearly all their hands shot up excitedly and as I called on them they spoke and signed, 
“The houses are ruined.”
"They are going to make food together!”
“They need food!”
“They are going to learn how to share!”

Many of them appeared anxious, and one child shouted,” Turn the page!”

Next in the story, a child whose color is obscured by dust and appears brown encourages everyone to stop and consider what has happened, and whether it would not be better to work together and respect one another. The many colored people then begin cooperating to build houses, care for pets and plant seeds. The children then had a pressing question, “Where did the brown person go?”

I explained that the person had been covered in dust, which made him look brown but now he was not dirty anymore. The children soon begin hypothesizing which person could possibly be the brown one. One child thought, “Maybe it's the blue one!” Another guessed, “I think it's the purple one!”

At the end of the story everyone lived happily and peacefully ever after. I felt relieved and happy to unanimously receive their approval. Several children shouted, “That was a good story!” 

After the story, I asked everyone to think about what the many colored people had learned.

“They learned how to share."
“They learned how to work together.”
“No color is the best!”
“Not to punch.”

Before joining Gary and Lauren's class I was not sure if the students would be able to understand and discuss the story. However, many of these students knew how to read and discuss ideas, and understood very well the concepts of respect, working together and sharing. They also considered details, like where the brown dust covered person had gone to, and ideas such as, if it was a land of many colors, why are there only people of three colors?

Jane also wrote about extension activities and remarked that reading articles about children and actually interacting with children are two very different things.


The strongest sentiment for me in her reflection is to never underestimate the brilliance of children. They will amaze you every time!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Saint Bernards are "Just Right"

I love my "puppy" so much that, like a Wild Thing, I could just eat her up.

In kindergarten we have begun having our students read "just right" books.

"Just Right" books are books that children can read either independently or with a little support from an adult or more knowledgeable peer.  The books contain predictable text, usually with patterns (I see the dog, I see the boat, etc.), strong picture support and some easy sight words (I, my, the, etc.)

Based on current assessments most students could use some assistance tracking print with his/her finger (one to one matching) to establish word boundaries and use of initial letters to figure out unknown words and deepening comprehension of a text.

The latter can be done by questioning him/her during and after the reading about specific text items or extending the ideas in the book to his/her own experiences.

One of my favorite "Just Right" book series is about a Saint Bernard named Winnie.  The illustrator, William Benedict, must have certainly spent quite a bit of time around Saints.  He captures their charm, tenacity and brilliance in each picture.  I love them!

If you are searching for these types of books for your emergent reader take a look at Brand New Readers. Not only do their books feature Saint Bernards but there are also MONKEYS!

Just another reason for me to love my work!


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