One Sunflower

lighting fires

When Maestra called in sick yesterday and I knew that I would have a sub working with me, I was worried about my writing lesson that was to happen at the end of the day.  My concern grew as the day developed into a nightmare with the students becoming more and more out-of-control in their behaviors and the tension between us heightened. I was just hoping to salvage some productivity in the writing lesson for the day.

During the last few writing sessions, I have been modeling the use of a “thinking” card.   The card has icons to help focus on the components of  story – what is happening, who is present, how did they feel. I have been demonstrating the card by thinking out loud as I choose my stories and the illustrations. My original goal for yesterday’s lesson was to have Maestra and I work in smaller groups to help the students begin to talk through the cards.   I had already sketched my story idea in my own journal, identifying a simple happening, the people who were present with me in the story and how they felt. 

Now with Maestra  sick I knew I wouldn’t be dividing the students into 2 groups but would be demonstrating a story in a large group. Since my story was to take place in my neighborhood, (we’ve been talking about neighborhoods lately and had created one with milk cartons on a table,) I decided at the last minute to have the kids use dye-cut houses as anchors for their stories.  I glued the house on my paper and went ahead modeling the use of the thinking card and writing my story. 

One day, I was in my house and I heard a fire engine, “weeoo, weeoo,” coming down the street.  I went out into my yard along with all of my neighbors who heard the sound and were curious about what was happening.  We followed the fire truck down the street until it came to a car that had burst into flames.  The people who had been in the car were standing safely next to it, having called “911” on their cell phone.    This story was entirely made up but it had all the elements I wanted for a story at this time – a neighborhood, drama with fire engines and a fire, sound bubbles and  people with gaping mouths on their tiny faces.

After I had told my story and had the students practice it with me, I sent them off to tables with their own paper and a house to create a story.  I wondered about the continuum of stories I might see, from those that would repeat my story to those that would just glue on the house, draw themselves and call it done.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that this story lit some new fires for my students.  Of course I saw lots of burning houses and fire engines but I also had comic-hero worshipers drawing motor cycles instead of Spiderman, and little girls drawing trucks instead of flowers and rainbows!  I had to figure out how to model drawing those motor cycles without making deprecating comments about my ability as an artist, but I did it.  I think I’ll practice in my journal too!



supporting journal writing

(Don’t you just love this picture by Daisy!!)

Today the lead preschool teachers in our district met to have a deeper discussion about supporting journal writing with our students.  The request for the meeting came out of our work last week when David Matteson was in our district.  Watching my students at work, reviewing the lesson and subsequently looking at journal entries by both preschoolers and kindergartners had several of us wanting more time to explore the ways we are modeling and developing writing in the classroom.

The questions I gathered from the teachers for discussion were:

How often should we be using the journals during the week?  What are some ideas for establishing routines for conferring with students about their work?  What are other ways we support writing/drawing during the preschool day?  Are there specific ideas for helping our students improve their “control” in their drawing?

Our discussion provided these answers for each other: 

Most of us are using the journals in a specific way at least once a week, a couple of us are using them twice.  We are all experimenting with how to confer with students finding that it is has challenged us to figure out how to do this within our current classroom routines.  Some of us have tried meeting with children during the actual writing activity period or pulling students aside during free choice time but none felt very successful at providing meaningful coaching to our writers.  David suggested identifying writers for each day that the teacher would promise to confer with.  He felt this would help students be more accountable on those days and provide real opportunity for a teacher to successfully meet with students.  Some of us decided to try this method out. 

We made a list of all the ways we are supporting writing/drawing with our students.  All of us are using white boards, some of us are using them for some “pre-thinking” activities before writing.  One teacher said she had her students create a “draft” idea on their white board and show it to her when they came to pick up their journal to do an entry.  One teacher uses the white boards as a check in activity when the students arrive in the morning, allowing them to practice whatever they want – writing their name, drawing, even scribbling – feeling that it gave the students a way to release energy.  I shared my “collaborative” drawing experience where I had several students participate in drawing various aspects of a figure or a house.  All of us are making sure we model drawing for our students, being intentional about being transparent about our use of shapes to drawing attention to our narrative elements.  We are also emphasizing quality, requesting that students start over if they start with a scribble or their pictures aren’t up to par for their abilities.

Hopefully this discussion will encourage each of us to try new things in this work and to evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts.  I have been offered the opportunity by the assistant superintendent to visit my fellow teacher’s classrooms and provide support to individual teachers in this process.  I’m hoping to do that before the holiday break so that we can come back in January, feeling enthusiastic about this necessary experimenting.

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face to face

On Friday I had the last of my parent/teacher conferences.  It was scheduled at 3:30 in the afternoon meaning that my aide (and translator) were staying late to accomodate this appointment.  I was a little worried it would be a no-show.   But at 3:40 the twins’ mom came hurrying down the hall fresh from her work in the potpourri warehouse.  She was bundled to the teeth, it has been extremely cold lately, and she explained that there is no heat in the room where she works.

We sat comfortably on the futon sofa in my room and after a quick greeting she asked urgently, “Are the boys being well-behaved?”  Her question reminded me that parents are often worried that the reason for our conference is that their child is having problems at school.  Usually I have time to explain the purpose of our meeting which is to share the results of our earliest assessments, to explain the current work happening in the classroom and the unique objectives we are working on with their child.  The conferences are scheduled so there is enough time to have real conversation, answer questions, and share personal perspectives and concerns.

The most rewarding part of these conferences is being able to demonstrate my relationship and appreciation for each child and family.   There is a point in every conference when the parents look at me with a light of new understanding; the information I am sharing coincides with what they already know about their child.  This understanding allows us to form a unique relationship where I am able to communicate my appreciation for their involvement and desire to create a better future for their child.

One third of my conferences included the father of the family.  One dad told me about how proud he was of his son’s curiosity about the world.  He spoke about taking his son on trips out to the field where they counted and compared the produce.  Another dad spoke about his concern that his son not have the same difficulties he had growing up and how he worries about being a good example.  I felt tears prick in my eyes as I shared how impressed I’ve been to see him at every conference and family activity, he is already setting a good example with these efforts.  His humble, “thank you,” spoke volumes to me.  It isn’t just the child that this conference is about.

check out other art by Nathalie Parenteau

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