Friday, February 21, 2014

The Winter That Never Ends

Are you having one of these? I am! We were "off" (teachers had PD) on Monday for President's Day, we cancelled on Tuesday after getting 6-7 inches of snow dumped on us and our backroads overnight on Monday. We came to school on Wednesday, and by the grace of weather system moving AROUND us, for once, we got to have school, and our annual Tea Party, on Thursday. By the time school ended  on Thursday, and through our whole tea party, it poured down rain outside. All the rain and snow melt froze. Cue "treacherous" back roads, and main highways covered in black ice And cue yet another snow day.

As of now, we will be going to school beyond the 16th of June. Our original end date was June 10. The June 16 date was BEFORE our cancellations this week. We have two options for making up time--add minutes (in 30 minute chunks) to our school day, or add full days to the end of the year. We have very few "days off" that are changeable in our calendar...and, at this point, is using those two possible days really worth it? Never mind the backlash we would get for removing those days off (one, in particular, is the Friday before Memorial Day, and our town has a HUGE festival over Memorial weekend...though we may still be knee-deep in snow then). And, never mind the fact that we are still looking at more possible days off...winter doesn't seem to be done with us yet, and then what happens when it warms up, and all this snow starts to melt? Oh, yes, fog. And we cancel for that around here, too.

Here's the kicker. We start school in September. Not August. We are required, by law, to not start our school year until AFTER Labor Day, to help promote Michigan's tourism industry. is almost every school in Michigan being in session a week to two weeks later in June HELPING the tourism industry? Wondering if there is any talk in legislature about the fact that, had we been able to start in August (even just ONE week in August), we would still be getting out fairly early in June.

So, yeah. This has just been my ramble as I think about yet another day being spent in my classroom in June. As I sit in my home, listening to the wind whip, and hoping I keep power, and praying that winter will loosen it's grasp soon (note: we have negative and single digit temps in the forecast for next week).

Hope it is warmer wherever you are, and you are getting to spend time with your students!


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

First Grade Thoughts...

So, I am a kindergarten teacher, and I have been for my whole career. I've been lucky enough to never have  my position cut, unlike most of the other teachers I was hired in with. I love teaching kindergarten, and I try to be good at it. Last year was very interesting for me, as both a kindergarten teacher and a parent of a kindergartner. I didn't think anything would top it...but this year, as a K teacher and parent of a Firstie...oh...yeah. It's topped it. Last year, I knew what my daughter was being assessed on. I knew what the tests were, how they were scored, why those things were selected as important, and so on. This year? Yikes.

I've hit a lot of roadblocks this year, especially being a parent AND a kindergarten teacher. My daughter's first report card was an eye opener for one thing. In K, we assess over 20 skills, between ELA, Math and Character/Work Habits. Now, first marking period, we don't do all of them, but we do at least half of them. For second marking period, we mark more than 3/4 of the items. Total, for the year, first grade marks 13 items. Huh? Our report card is almost double makes no sense to me.

Next up? Writer's Workshop. We use the Lucy Calkins version, but we may also use the MAISA writing units which build off of Calkins, to meet the CCSS. Kindergarten? We start "writers workshop" within the first few weeks of school. Do our kids know how to "write"? No. Do they know how to spell? No. Do they all know how to hold a pencil properly, or draw anything other than a tornado shaped blob? For many of them, the answer is no. Does that stop us from "writing"? Nope. 25 kindergartners, one teacher, and "workshop" time? It's a horror. It overwhelms me, I'll be honest. It is HARD and frustrating, for me and for them. I keep it short and sweet, as often as possible. It's about the process, not the product...but by the end of the year, by golly, many of them ARE writing simple stories. They are making recognizable pictures and labeling. They are using sight words. We put ourselves through the stress and torture than is Writer's Workshop with kinders from the beginning. What does first grade do? Well, as I discovered this year, first grade doesn't begin Writer's Workshop until the middle/end of November (I know this, because I got the letter from my daughter's teacher, stating "We are beginning Writer's Workshop"). I asked, in a meeting, why they started so late. The reason I was given? "They aren't ready". "We need to teach skills like letter formation". "It's not developmentally appropriate". First, hello, slap in the face for the time and effort every kinder teacher on our team puts in at teaching writing skills to our students. They aren't ready? Well, they sure were writing in June of the previous year, so how are they "not ready" now? Add to that, "It's not developmentally appropriate"???? If it isn't appropriate for first graders beginning the year, how would it be appropriate at ANY point of kindergarten? My final point will be discussed again in a moment, but it is..."we need to work on penmanship"...this takes me back to so many speakers I have heard in recent years, especially those who speak about assessing in multiple ways--what is being assessed? What is the point of the writing? Is writer's workshop about having perfect penmanship, or is it about feeling the power of getting a message, a story, information, on the page and sharing it with the world? In my classroom, it isn't about perfect printing, though we try to "write it so others can read it".

Enter the daughter brought home a note, attached to a page of D'Nealian printed this point in the school year, students will be marked wrong for "letters that are made incorrectly on the lines, uppercases, and backward letters" on their spelling tests. Do I believe that students need to know conventions of print? Yes. Should they be able to recognize the difference between a b and a d, and print the correct one? Yes. Should they be able to print their letters? Sure. All that agreement aside, what is the spelling test for? It's name would suggest a word is being spelled, and children are being tested on spelling. A reversed b or d is difficult to recognize, and, I agree, should be marked incorrect. A backward t? An incorrectly formed lowercase (D'Nealian) k? If it is recognizable, and it is a SPELLING test, it should be marked correct. If it is about printing, then it should be called a PRINTING test. If it is about spelling, it should be based on correct SPELLING.

Am I crazy? Am I overthinking things? Am I being too sensitive, both as a parent and a kindergarten teacher? I don't know. Is there a right answer? I am not sure.

What are your thoughts on the whole "report card" issue? How does your district decide on report card content? Do you do a writing program in kindergarten? What sort of "penmanship" do you teach? Do you teach penmanship lessons? (We don't...we use D'Nealian, and as we do our letter of the week, we do a letter printing page, but this results in us not working on certain letters until the end of the year, and bad habits sometimes set in, because, clearly, we still need those letters, even if we have not yet learned them).

One final note...I am THRILLED with my daughter's teacher, and her classroom experience this year. She is happy, she is learning by leaps and bounds, and she enjoys school. She is not upset about her report card being smaller, or about starting writing later in the year, or even about the whole penmanship on spelling tests thing...but I am glad we sorted out her b's and d's earlier this year....

Thanks for reading!