One Sunflower

noise tolerance

I have a high tolerance for noise in my classroom – which is necessary.  About 75% of my students are second language learners.  Some come to school with a bit of English learned from older siblings, parents and T.V.  Some come with no English at all.  So I want to hear a lot of talking in my classroom and I love seeing how the power of “talk” teaches in my classroom.

I have one student who copies everything I say all the time.  It is like hearing an interpreter next to me except she is saying exactly what I’m saying just seconds after I say it.  I have to be careful not to giggle.

I have another student who is just beginning to understand my requests and is finally gesturing  to communicate.  The other day he sat down next to me and another student and pointed to the game we were playing and then to himself as an indication he wanted to play.

My personal experience with learning a second language is fairly limited. I took 4 years of French in high school.  I can understand most of what I read in French and I catch the meaning of lyrics in the songs I listen to on Canadian radio stations but I only speak the most elementary of phrases.

In 1981, I spent 2 months in Tonga with the Peace Corps. We went through intense language training.  Our mornings were spent learning about how this Polynesian language is constructed, the phonics of the letter sounds and some practical phrases.  Then we were sent into the local village with the assignment to buy lunch and then the food we would cook for dinner.  Being forced to converse every day helped me learn to speak  more Tongan in two months than I ever learned to say out loud in French.  But I’m not sure I could read it or understand a song.

“Use it to learn it” is my philosophy with my students. I am describing things and modeling asking and answering questions always using both common and interesting vocabulary.  It is more like talking to one year olds – but that is because  most of my students are like toddlers in their language acquisition.  I have native English speakers in my classroom as well so I’m always working to boost their vocabulary as well.

A core part of my curriculum is about using and exploring words and sentence structure but sometimes it is hard for my students and me to find a balance between listening and talking.

The March Slice of Life Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers begins in two days!   I’ll be using my other blog to write every day –  support other writers at TWT!


all in a day

A comment on my last entry had me thinking defensively about what I do in my classroom.  Yes, there is a lot of what I write about that sounds like school – elementary school.  The fact of the matter is, I teach in an elementary school.  Whereas I have taught in many other settings – homes, church basements, and remodeled houses, I am currently teaching in a typical classroom in an elementary school.  It is a small school of 250 students, one or two classrooms per grade but never-the-less it looks like, sounds like, IS the neighborhood school of my preschool students.

But – BUT – that doesn’t mean that what happens on a daily basis in my classroom is a watered down kindergarten curriculum.  Yes, there are mandated parts to our 3.5 hour day due to the fact that my classroom is a designated Head Start site.  My students have two meals on site but even though we are in a cafeteria, we eat family style in that the children serve themselves and we support lots of conversation at the table.  We can stay at our table as long as we want to – we aren’t hurried out to recess or on to another part of our day.

I have complete control over my curriculum except in the work I am doing with students in writing.  I am required to do two teacher modeled writing demonstrations each week and to meet with each student at least once a week as they draw in their own journal.  I also need to meet requirements of 30 minutes of moderate to strenuous physical activity.  But the rest of what I do to work with my students in five domains as well as English language learning is up to me to plan in a way that is developmentally appropriate.

There might be parts of our day that look very structured – I do have my students sit “criss cross applesauce, spoons in the bowl” but I allow lots of talking out loud – no raising of hands in my classroom – the better to learn and practice language.   I like messes and movement and noise.  Because that is the way we learn about cleaning up, being still and knowing quiet.

Come and take a walk with me on a typical day:

being together - the best part

listening to an older student read

playing doctor

every single block - every single one!

clean up - all on their own

play - is work - is play

morning meeting - a special sharing time

yup - here's looking at you, kid!

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in tandem

any arrangement of two things in which one is placed behind the other

“in tandem together” or in conjunction

When the primary teachers gathered at a meeting a few weeks ago, it was a nice surprise to find out that the kindergarten teacher and I were working on the same goal: creating and using a rubric to support students learning to identify the narrative elements in journal writing.

In preschool that rubric looks like a long sentence strip with icons used to cue my students to include people and setting details in their pictures as well as prompts to talk about what their characters might have been feeling or saying to each other.  Together we talk and walk through the story that goes with their picture. Even though it is set up as a checklist it is mostly me who is doing the checking as I think outloud in our conferencing.

The kindergarten rubric is a one pager the teacher created to use when she does writing demonstrations. She has individual copies for the students to use when they write.

Soon, I will be going in to the kindergarten room to observe the teacher lead a lesson.  In turn, I will videotape myself doing a lesson for us to watch together. I love it when colleagues can work in tandem like this!