Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Comparison:The Daily Five and Writer's Workshop

Overall objective
Improve Writing Instruction

Today's Learning Objective
Teachers will be able to identify similarities and differences betwen D5  practices and the Writer's Workshop approach.

Marzano's research in best practices has identified comparing and contrasting as a highly successful instructional strategy.  My goal in utilizing this best practice with the staff today was to help them recognize that they already have many of the tools to take our writing instruction to a new level.
Teachers list the similarities and differences between
D5/CAFE and their current Writer's Workshop

The Task 
Each grade level team was given a sheet of paper to make a comparison chart between Daily 5 and Writer's Workshop.  They could come up with a chart, a Venn diagram, or any other visual means to show the similarities and differences.  After each team completed the task, we discussed and recorded some of their ideas.

After each grade level made their own comparison charts, I recorded some of their ideas
for the whole group to see
It became quite apparent that there were far more similarities than differences.  The middle column shows how D5/CAFE and Writer's Workshop are similar.  Some of the similarities listed included:  conferencing, mini-lessons, building stamina, modeling, independent practice, read-alouds, and sharing.  Some of the differences included the amount of time built into their schedules for each--90 minutes for reading vs. 60 minutes for writing and during D5 the writing the students do is in response to texts.

It was my goal for the staff to see that many of the procedures they have taught their students and the practices they employ each day during their reading block will transfer quite nicely to the writer's workshop.  Realizing we have been on a 2.5 year journey to school-wide Daily 5 and CAFE, I know that there is still some work to do-- professional development, support and encouragement.  However, after today's comparison, I feel the staff believes that improving our writing block will be an easier path due to the foundation the D5/CAFE has provided.  Just one more reason to thank the sisters.  Thank you Gail and Joan! 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Kindergarten, Here I Come!

Last week, our school held it's second annual Kindergarten, Here I Come! event for incoming kindergarten students and their families.  This evening is dedicated to meeting our new students and their families and providing them with readiness activities that they can do over the summer to help prepare for kindergarten.  We began the event last year as a way to build a bridge between students' preschool experience and Kindergarten.  We have found that the outreach has proven to be a successful way of welcoming our students and their families and making them feel comfortable with our school. 

Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. M. explains a fine-motor activity
the families will complete in her classroom

We begin the event by having a meal in the cafeteria.  Families are encouraged to buddy up and sit with each other to network and get to know others.  We feel this relationship-building time is a key to helping our families meet others and develop friendships.  We then send siblings to the daycare room--another bonus for our families!  After all siblings are out of the cafeteria, we then dismiss our families to the first of four rotations through each of our four kindergarten classrooms.  Each rotation lasts approximately fifteen minutes.

During their visits to each classroom, the families have the opportunity to learn about our curriculum and complete activities with their child.  Some of the things we introduce are Daily 5 and CAFE--our school-wide philosophy and structure for teaching reading, fine-motor activities, counting, letter naming, writing, and other expectations of what their child should be able to do upon entering kindergarten.  Families leave with a file folder full of activities and several books for their child.

Mrs. B. explains a counting activity parents
can do with their child

We end the evening by having our parents complete an exit survey so that we can improve the event from year to year.  The majority of parents request more time with each rotation--a good indicator they are enjoying each activity!

We were very proud to note that over 2/3 of our future kindergarteners were in attendance at this year's event.  Building strong partnerships with the families now will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the students and their academic success.  What a fun and productive night!

Common Core Math Standards

Teachers learn more about
the common core math standards

The learning objective of our professional development time this week was to begin to understand the common core math standards with an emphasis on seeing the vertical alignment of the domains in grades K-5.  We began our sessions with a short video that gave some background on the common core standards and why they were developed.  As a staff, we discussed our current Indiana State Standards in Math and how difficult it is to "cover" everything.  Reflecting upon that last statement, I believe the word "cover" says a lot.  In the past, we have tried to "cover" all of the requirements of our state due to the high demands of standardized testing and the weight those scores carry.  It became a race to see if we could make it "through the textbook" or "through the entire set of standards."  Unfortunately, with an exceptionally high number of concepts to teach, not enough time was given to develop a deep understanding of the concepts before it would be time to move on to the next standard on the checklist.  This has led to our instruction becoming more about how many standards/concepts we can teach during our 36 week school year versus how much our students truly understand the mathematical concepts before moving on to the next topic. 

Through the process of unpacking the common core math standards, it became apparent that many of the concepts we are currently teaching at each grade level will remain the same.  However, it also became very apparent that we are going to need to kick our instruction up a few notches.  As someone in the video mentioned, the way our past state standards were written, they led to us to teaching "an inch deep and a mile wide."  With the move to the common core, the goal is to slow down and spend the time to really develop a deep understanding of mathematical concepts so that we are creating a solid foundation of mathematical reasoning.  We will need to focus our efforts on developing units of learning that will put more emphasis on the higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy.

Each standard was written on a sentence
strip and added to our standards chart to
create a visual of the progression of
learning from grades K-5
We also learned that it is going to be important for teachers to not only collaborate with their grade level teams, but for teams to collaborate across grade levels to ensure that students are able to build upon their learning from year to year.  The level of understanding that is expected with the new common core standards has definitely raised the bar for all educators.  We look forward to the challenge of developing ways to take our students to the next level.  We also look forward to the challenge of taking our instruction to the next level as well.  It's time to slow the pace and deepen the knowledge.  We are all in this together!

Creating a visual chart of standards from grades K-5 and
having each team present their standards with an explanation allowed the entire staff to see the vertical alignment of each domain