One Sunflower

teaching and improv

So today was the “walk-through.”  One of my colleagues told me I was BRAVE to consent to a district walk through on my 10th day of school.  I think I was brave but I thrive on incentive to examine my teaching and really think about my work.

When my principal mentioned the visit to me – along with a tiny plead to change the timing of my lesson,  I wasn’t sure I was really up for it.   I knew that moving the time of my literacy circle up by 15 minutes was the first hurdle – preschoolers are such creatures of habit, tweaking their inner timelines sometimes sets off tsunamis.  The other challenge was that I felt like I was still in the process of  introducing the children to what this time of day together is all about.  We’ve been doing a mix of  story sharing, journal writing, and read-alouds;  I haven’t felt like I had a good plan for where I’m going. 

I could have backed out but the realization that I needed a kick to get going became the deciding factor to say yes, I’d love a “walk through.”  I knew that putting the lesson together would be a clarifying process, decisions I made about what I was going to be doing, and thinking about why, would help me get on the right track or at least a track.

I know I’m not the only teacher who wants to “perform well” during an observation and is crossing her fingers that her students also perform well. I have been doing some experimenting over the past 10 days with my students, finding out their tolerances for sitting and listening, moving between activities and responding to transitions and new expectations.  I knew that I needed to keep the activity short and engaging and I needed to have a clear idea as a professional as to what the lesson was all about and why it was important. 

I had decided to use our Letter People curriculum for the observation.  It was time to begin introducing the puppets and I had a bit of a plan around beginning this process.  I spent the weekend thinking about it and then really hashed it out Sunday night and Monday morning in my head – defining and refining.  (I wish I could say that happened with every lesson but it doesn’t.)

The heart of the lesson became introducing Mr. N in a way that I could duplicate each time I introduce a new puppet.  I used to have the puppets come out of a shoe box on the wall that I decorated as a little door.  I would knock on the easel, the kids would turn their heads to the door – aren’t kids amazing – and I would open the box and reveal the puppet.  But I’ve moved my circle time area, there are no walls nearby.  So I’m using a zippered lunch box shaped like a school bus that has the alphabet printed inside.  I ended up buying a squeaky dog toy, cutting out the squeaker and putting it inside my easel to “honk” when I wanted the school bus to arrive.

Then I needed to decide what was going to be the essence of his visit.  Mr. N is the first puppet to arrive because he is all about names.  My students are still learning each others names and we are practicing saying our names out loud and counting the syllables.  I decided that Mr. N would help the students practice introductions – big vocabulary word.  So that became the lesson – introduce Mr. N, read his Big Book together and practice introducing ourselves to Mr. N. 

A little bonus was that when the walk-through group came in – and tried to hover quietly in the back of the room – I chose to introduce each of them to my students.  The students were calling out to the principal anyway, so I made introductions to everyone the real beginning to my lesson. Mr. N arrived, the children were awestruck and pleased to greet Mr. N with a handshake and saying their names.  We reviewed our earlier calendar journal entry and then I sent the students with their own paper to a table to “write” a journal entry. 

I will hear more about how all the walk-throughs in each building went tomorrow when the elementary ed staff meet at our afternoon professional development meeting.  They were still in the process of putting the agenda together when I left school today but the principal told me it was amazing to go from classroom to classroom and see how each literacy experience at one grade level led into the expectations of the next.  He acknowledged that a big part of preschool is learning how to manage one’s body and transition between work areas.  He was surprised at how well my students did going from a circle activity to writing on a journal page after meeting Mr. N.

So – I was nervous but excited to be carrying out important work.  I’m eager to hear how my 15 minutes fits in with the other grade levels. I had expected the kids to be excited about Mr. N and they were, I wasn’t sure what they would do with their journal entries but they are improving in their picture writing every day.  They were a bit hyped up afterwards and we had to do some extra calming down but it went well.

Kudos kids!

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so this is the cool thing about blogging

Today I was searching the internet for information from other teachers about doing readers and writers workshop with preschoolers.  I stumbled upon another blog by an early childhood teacher:  Elbows,Knees, and Dreams at kiri8.wordpress.com .   She’s been blogging for year – I was fascinated by the set up of her site because it has been such a process to learn how to set one up – she’s using the same host that I am so I became really motivated to experiment some more.   I had thought starting a blog would just be a matter of cutting and pasting – unh, unh!

I didn’t have time this morning to really read through the site or do a lot of checking it out so I came home and looked it up again.  Lo and Behold, this teacher was responding to an article in NY Times that I had just finished reading!   The article is all about developing social skills through play.  It’s a great article – take a look:   www.nytimes.com.2009/09/27/magazine/27tools-t.html             

And take a look at my fellow blogger’s site – I’ve read several pages of it now and am inspired to continue experimenting!

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my plan for the “walk through”

I’m not sure what “walk -throughs” have been in our district in the past – having never been a part of them.  But last spring an article was circulated by our principal about doing walk-throughs like the “rounds” done by doctors in a hospital.  This is something I’m very aware of, having a son with a physical disability who has spent countless days at Children’s Hospital in Seattle.

I like the idea of district “rounds.”  When my son was in the hospital, I really counted on those docs coming in at 7:30 in the morning and 5:00 at night and giving me the scoop about my son’s progress after surgery and what was next on the game plan.  The other thing I really liked was that these trained and highly educated professionals looked to me, the mother of the patient, as a person with “inside” knowledge of their patient, who had a valid perspective and was going to be key in follow up care after surgery.

A “rounds” process could be beneficial to students, teachers, administrators and the district as a whole.  I’m a teacher that wants to feel that my work is appreciated and significant.  Ultimately I am accountable and so the more information and communication about my work, the needs of my students and my needs as a teacher, the better.   A “rounds” process may just take a snapshot, but if there are a series of visits in a timely manner,  these quick takes should eventually provide  a panorama shot of a teacher, the students, and the school community.

So am I ready for my “visit?”  Not quite – but I have a plan.  As a part of Let’s Begin with the Letter People curriculum, we have Letter People puppets.  It is part of our scope and sequence that these puppets begin their visits  to the classroom in the 3rd week of school – and that would be next week.  Mr. N is the first puppet in this parade.  He likes to talk about “names” and learn everyone’s name; he also has a noisy nose and needs to learn about being quiet inside the classroom.  The kids love these puppets – as goofy as they seem to us.

Mr. N will be arriving inside a little school bus lunch box with his “me” bag full of items that are special to him.  We will spend time naming those objects to practice phonological awareness and develop some vocabulary.  He has a big book to share about his name and we will sing our favorite chant about our names.  Mr. N has never failed me before, I’m sure he will be great on Tuesday.

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