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


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